Alabama

Alabama law allows parents to educate their children at home through enrollment in a church school or private school, or under the state’s private tutor law. Most parents choose the church school option. Many church schools exist solely for the purpose of enrolling homeschooled students. 

  • Church school: Parents may homeschool under the state’s church school law by enrolling their children in church schools and teaching them at home. Parents must provide one-time notice to the local school district and maintain attendance records. There are no parent qualification, instruction time, subject, or assessment requirements.
  • Private school: Parents may enroll their children in a private school’s “home program.” Parents may also create their own private schools, but must provide annual notice, maintain attendance records, submit other reports, maintain immunization records, and offer physical education (the state’s private school law does not have teacher qualification, instruction time, subject, or assessment requirements).
  • Private tutor: Parents may homeschool under the private tutor law, which requires one-time notice, a teaching certificate, 140 days of instruction “in the several branches of study required to be taught in the public schools of this state,” attendance records, and other reports, but has no assessment requirement.

Compulsory attendance applies to children “between the ages of six and 17 years.” A parent may postpone enrolling a child in school until he or she is seven by notifying the local school board in writing. See Alabama Code § 16-28-3.


Church School Option

 

Enrollment in a church school satisfies the requirements of the state’s compulsory attendance statute. According to state law, church schools are those that “offer instruction in grades K-12, or any combination thereof, including preschool, through on-site or home programs, and are operated as a ministry of a local church, group of churches, denomination, and/or association of churches which do not receive any state or federal funding.” See Ala. Code § 16-28-3 and § 16-28-1(2). It is possible to operate a homeschool as an individual church school, but to do this a family must be sponsored by a church or similar entity. In most cases, parents enroll their children in church schools set up for the purpose of providing legal cover for homeschooling families. 

Notification: Parents must file a one-time notice of their child(ren)’s enrollment in a church school, sign by the church school administrator, with the county or city superintendent. Should a child cease to attend a church school, the church school must notify the local superintendent. See § 16-28-7.
Qualifications: No state requirements.
Days or hours: No state requirements.
Subjects: Church schools must “offer instruction,” but what instruction is not stipulated. See § 16-28-1(2).
Bookkeeping: The principal teacher of a church school must keep attendance; however, there are no required days or hours of instruction and no reporting requirement. Unlike private schools or private tutors, church schools are not required to “make and furnish all reports that may be required by the State Superintendent of Education [or by county or city superintendents].” See § 16-28-8.
Assessment: No state requirements.
Intervention: The attendance officer may investigate students absent from school to ensure that there is “valid reason” for the child’s absence. Enrollment in a church school constitutes a “valid reason” for the child’s absence from school. See § 16-28-16.
Other: n/a

Private School Option

Enrollment in a private school satisfies the requirements of the state’s compulsory attendance statute. According to state law, private schools are those that “are established, conducted, and supported by a nongovernmental entity or agency offering educational instruction in grades K-12, or any combination thereof, including preschool, through on-site or home programs.” See Ala. Code § 16-28-3 and § 16-28-1(2). Because “home programs” were only added to the statute in 2014, it is unclear how many private schools offer them. A parent may, as “a nongovernmental entity,” establish their own, individual private school, but must follow the requirements below. Most parents continue to use the church school statute, which comes with fewer requirements and is more established. 

Notification: On the fifth day after the start of public school, private schools must report the names and ages of all enrolled students to the county or city superintendent. See § 16-28-7.
Qualifications: No state requirements.
Days or hours: No state requirements.
Subjects: Private schools must offer “educational instruction,” but what instruction is not stipulated. See § 16-28-1(2).
Bookkeeping: The principal teacher of a private school must keep attendance. Private schools must “make and furnish all reports that may be required by the State Superintendent of Education [or by county or city superintendents].” See § 16-28-8.
Assessment: No state requirements.
Intervention: The attendance officer may investigate students absent from school to ensure that there is “valid reason” for the child’s absence. Enrollment in a private school constitutes a “valid reason” for the child’s absence from school. See § 16-28-16.
Other: 1. Upon enrollment in a private school, each student must present a certificate of immunization (church schools are exempted). See § 16-30-4

2. Every private school must “carry out a system of physical education” that conforms “to the program or course outlined by the Department of Education.” See § 16-40-1


Private Tutor Law

Parents may choose to homeschool by hiring a private tutor. It is rare for homeschoolers in Alabama to choose this option. See Ala. Code § 16-28-3 and § 16-28-5.

Notification: Before beginning to instruct a child, the private tutor must submit to the county or city superintendent “a statement showing the child or children to be instructed, the subjects to be taught and the period of time such instruction is proposed to be given.” See § 16-28-5. On the fifth day after the start of public school, the private tutor must report the names and ages of all enrolled students to the county or city superintendent. See § 16-28-7.
Qualifications: The private tutor much have a state teaching certificate. See § 16-28-5.
Days or hours: The private tutor must provide “at least three hours a day for 140 days each calendar year, between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M.” See § 16-28-5.
Subjects: The private tutor must offer in the English language “instruction in the several branches of study required to be taught in the public schools of this state.” See § 16-28-5.
Bookkeeping: The private tutor “shall keep a register of work, showing daily the hours used for instruction and the presence or absence of any child being instructed and shall make such reports as the State Board of Education may require.” See § 16-28-5.
Assessment: None.
Intervention: The attendance officer may investigate students absent from school to ensure that there is “valid reason” for the child’s absence. Instruction by a private tutor constitutes a “valid reason” for the child’s absence from school. See § 16-28-16.
Other: n/a

Services Available to Homeschooled Students

Special needs: Homeschooled students are eligible for special needs testing through their local public schools, but not entitled to special needs services offered through these schools. This is because church schools are considered distinct from private schools, and IDEA only requires public schools to share some of their special needs funding with private schools.  
Part-time enrollment: State law neither prohibits nor requires public schools to allow homeschooled students to enroll in individual classes, leaving the matter up to the local school district.
Athletics: The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) changed its eligibility rules in 2016 to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics provided they do not receive more practice time than their public school peers. You can read the old AHSAA Eligibility Rules here.
Other: n/a

Background:

When the modern homeschool movement began in Alabama, the state’s private tutor law, which required instruction to be provided by a certified teacher, was not an option for most homeschooling parents. Many parents turned instead to a 1982 “church school” statute, which allowed Christian schools to bypass the state’s requirement that private schools employ certified teachers. Some homeschooling parents enrolled their children in Christian schools with the understanding that they could teach their children at home; others created “church schools” for the sole purpose of enrolling homeschooled students and providing them legal cover.

Some of these “umbrella schools” or “cover schools” function similarly to homeschool co-ops or support groups, with co-op classes or field trip groups. Others require only an enrollment fee. With the advent of the internet and online enrollment, individuals running church schools designed to provide legal cover for homeschoolers could enroll students that completely remotely without ever physically meeting them or their parents. Some of these programs require monthly or annual progress reports, submitted online; others require nothing but an enrollment form. Some offer students a transcript or diploma; others do not.  

In 2014, the Alabama legislature passed Senate Bill 38, which deregulated the state’s private school. Prior to this bill, private schools were required by law to obtain a certificate issued by the State Superintendent Education showing that they met certain requirements, such as employing certified teachers. SB 38 removed this mandate. Private schools were now defined as “schools that are established, conducted, and supported by a nongovernmental entity or agency offering educational instruction in grades K-12, or any combination thereof, including preschool, through on-site or home programs.”

SB 38 opened the door for children to be homeschooled through the state’s private school law, either by enrolling their children in a “home program” of a private school or by, as a “nongovernmental agency,” establishing their own private school. However, state law still has somewhat different reporting and enrollment requirements for private schools than for church schools, and there does not appear to be a mass exodus from using church schools as a legal cover to using private schools as a legal cover. 

The bigger change that SB 38 brought was a validation of the homeschool legal situation that already existed in Alabama. The bill revised the statute’s definition of church school to reference both “on-site or home programs,” recognizing and codifying parents’ longtime use of church school enrollment as a legal cover for homeschooling. 


Resources:

The Alabama Department of Education does not offer any information or fact sheets on homeschooling in Alabama.

Ala. Code § 16-28

Alabama, International Center for Home Education Research


This overview is for informational purposes only and does not constitute the giving of legal advice. Page last updated September 2018.