• This article is part of a larger story on home-schooling in Palo Alto. Read the story here.
Home-schooling families have several options for complying with California education requirements: enroll in a public charter school or a local school district's independent study program, if available, or file an affidavit with the state to establish a home private school.
Locally, many families choose free charter school Ocean Grove, which is sponsored by the San Lorenzo Valley School District in Santa Cruz County but also serves students in Santa Clara, San Mateo and other Bay Area counties. Santa Clara County families account for almost half of the school's more than 2,400 students, said Director of Education Support Services Cynthia Rachel. There are currently 37 students from Palo Alto enrolled at Ocean Grove.
Palo Alto parent Annette Fazzino described Ocean Grove as "home-school in a box." The school provides structure and accountability through its educational specialists, all credentialed teachers. They monitor students' academic progress through regularly scheduled in-person meetings. Ocean Grove is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (the same organization that accredits the Palo Alto Unified School District) and can provide official transcripts to students. And like any public school, Ocean Grove is required to administer state tests at the end of the school year.
Ocean Grove also provides families with stipends for curriculum materials or to pay for extracurriculars, from music and language lessons to martial arts instruction and field trips, Rachel said. Each family gets up to $2,000 in instructional funds from the state per year to use at their discretion. This is often a boon for single-income families working to make ends meet while home schooling. Parents said home-schooling can quickly become expensive as the costs of private tutors and classes pile up.
Ocean Grove is also a popular option for families with special-needs students. The school's special-education department provides an array of services, such as specialized instruction and speech therapy, and like any public school is beholden to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The number of Ocean Grove students with individualized education plans (IEPs) doubled in the last year alone, Rachel said.
This parallels a rise in overall enrollment at Ocean Grove, which opened in 2005. The school saw an 11 percent enrollment increase last year and has a wait list several hundred students deep, Rachel said.
"Part of it is (people) becoming more aware of the opportunities available," Rachel said.
Parents who want more control over their children's education than they can get through a charter school can file a private school affidavit with the California Department of Education. This allows them to operate a private school within their own home, with the freedom to select and provide curricular, instructional and other materials. The affidavit exempts students from the state's compulsory-education law, which requires that children age 6 through 18 attend a public, full-time day school.
The Department of Education suggests that students receive instruction in the areas of study required in the state's public schools, but there is no legally required reporting or testing. (Parents who want to can pay for their own testing.)
Parents must file the affidavit form annually and maintain certain records, such as attendance and courses of study, according to the HomeSchool Association of California. An online affidavit form asks only for information such as the applicant's address and the ages and number of students enrolled. Parents designate themselves as school principals.
Jessica Galbraith, a Palo Alto mother of eight who currently home-schools her son William, a seventh-grader, said the affidavit process is relatively easy and the least-restrictive option in California for home schooling.
She started home-schooling her children in Utah, where she said state regulations are less stringent. (The family moved to Palo Alto nine years ago.)
At home, curriculum can be more progressive and flexible, Galbraith said.
"You can be more forward-thinking. A lot of our educational system is set up for some antiquated philosophies," she said.
Unlike families in other school districts, those who live in Palo Alto do not have access to any public independent-study program. No Palo Alto district administrators were able to speak to why this is or if the district has ever considered adding such a program.
The Mountain View Whisman, Cupertino Union, San Jose Unified and Fremont Unified school districts all have dedicated programs for home-schoolers.
Mountain View Whisman, a K-8 district, provides home-schooled students with access to curriculum, instructional guidance, enrichment classes and field trips. The program is small, with 11 families currently enrolled, said Chief Human Relations Officer Carmen Ghysels. Enrollment fluctuates from year to year but remains relatively low, she said.
Similarly, the K-8 Cupertino Union School District's home study program provides families with curriculum, materials and a coordinator who oversees the work they complete at home. Middle schoolers are also allowed to take one or two classes at one of the district's campuses and have access to activities like clubs and athletics.
The district launched the program in 1989, said Pam Pell, a credentialed teacher who coordinates the home study program, helping families with lesson planning and meeting with them regularly to evaluate students' progress.
Cupertino's program currently has 18 students enrolled. Pell said she's seen enrollment decline "considerably" over the years.
"There's a huge explosion of other programs and charter schools that have opened up over the years, giving families more options," she said.