“Can we homeschool part-time?”

Information valid for Ontario at the time of publication - August 2019


It's not uncommon for Ontario parents who are considering homeschooling to ask us the question:

"Can we homeschool part-time?"

But in order to provide the relevant information, first we need to know whether it's about homeschooling for a portion of the day (or for certain days of the week) or homeschooling for part of the year. These are two different scenarios with two separate answers.

Homeschooling for part of the day or part of the week

For some parents, what they're wondering is whether their child can do just half-days at school instead of attending full-time. Maybe their child just gets too overwhelmed and worn out when they're at school all day. The parents may be thinking in terms of school attendance as the default, but just want to reduce the strain of long hours, and use homeschooling as a supplement. Or maybe their child is struggling in school and they want to spend more time boosting their child's learning than they could through just after-schooling or helping with homework. They may still be thinking in terms of school attendance as the default, with homeschooling as a supplement that's more remedial.

For other parents, the question is about whether their homelearning teen can take a few courses at the local high school without having to be enrolled full-time. For example, there might be a need for a specific course as a pre-requisite for applying to a specific university, even if the OSSD itself is not an admissions requirement at that institution. Families in this situation often consider themselves to be basically homeschooling, with the partial school attendance just a supplement to cover a specific need.

From the school's point of view, both of the above scenarios would be considered part-time attendance, which is allowed by the provincial government (and the school gets partial funding accordingly), BUT it's at the discretion of the principal whether or not to allow it. We have more details on our page on Part-Time Enrolment in Ontario Schools.

Now let's look at the other scenario:

Homeschooling for part of the year

Sometimes, the question, "Can we homeschool part-time?" is asked by parents wondering how it would work if their school-attending child needs to be away from school for a big chunk of time (a few weeks or a few months) right in the middle of the school year. They figure they would have to homeschool during the absence from school, they're just not sure if that's allowed or whether they have to choose "all or nothing" - full-time school or full-time homeschooling - for the whole school year.

For one family, who had recently immigrated to Canada from a very hot and dry climate, it was a matter of wanting to keep their 6-year-old daughter at home during the winter months, as her body had not yet adjusted and she was therefore finding it unbearably painful and stressful to be outside in the icy wind and sub-zero temperatures she had to brave to get to and from school every day.

But for most families asking this version of the question, it's about their plans to be away from their Ontario home for an extended period of time each year, either travelling or residing elsewhere for part of the year. They're thinking in terms of school attendance as the default, and the homeschooling would just be "part of the time" - not as a supplement, but more as a temporary replacement - for when the children can't go to their usual school.

Putting aside, for the moment, the question, "What's keeping you from just switching to full-time homeschooling?" let me answer the question about what's legally and practically feasible.

By law, your child has the right to attend the public school that is assigned to the neighbourhood where you and your child reside (https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90e02#BK41), so while you're residing there, the school has to allow your child to attend (unless he/she is expelled for disciplinary reasons). When your permanent residence is in the school's district but your child is temporarily not physically there (for instance, you're travelling as a family, or living elsewhere for part of the year), obviously attendance is not possible, so you have to request the school's permission for your child to be temporarily excused from attendance under Subsection 23(3) of Regulation 298 (Operation of Schools – General), which allows a principal to excuse a pupil from attendance, when parents request it, for reasons not explicitly covered by the Education Act or the rest of the regulations:

"(3) A pupil may be excused by the principal from attendance at school temporarily at any time at the written request of a parent of the pupil"

https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/900298#BK20

While it's up to the principal to allow the absence or not, there are conditions outlined in the Enrolment Register Instructions that principals must follow, including requiring that the parent's request be in writing and specify the exact time frame of the absence (i.e. it can't be open-ended):

"The parent or guardian of the pupil [...] must submit a letter to the principal, requesting that the pupil be excused for a specified time (e.g., a vacation or family obligation) – that is the time frame must be explicitly stated and cannot be indefinite or until further notice 14. [...]

14 The pupil can be absent for more than 15 consecutive school days if they provide the appropriate supporting documentation with the time frame of their absence explicitly stated."

Also, in order for the school to still get their funding for the absent pupil, they have to provide the program of study that the child should use during the absence, so as to keep pace with the rest of the class and be in sync with that when they return:

"For the pupil to remain on the register the school must provide a program of study 15 for the pupil. Appropriate supporting documentation (i.e. the letter) and the certification by the principal that a program of study was assigned to the pupil must be retained on file for audit purposes. A referral to the attendance counsellor is not required. [...]

15 Boards should determine an appropriate program of study for pupils. In general, a program of study should be an academic program to help the pupil fulfill curricular expectations during the period of absence and to ensure that pupil can complete all courses upon the return to school."

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/forms/enrol/enrolment_register_instructions.pdf (MAINTAINING THE REGISTER AND ATTENDANCE RECORDS > Absence> Excused Pupils)

In other words, when you're temporarily away from home for a planned, extended amount of time, you don't have to "homeschool" in the strictest sense of the word (which is about parents taking full responsibility for their child's education, including choosing a pedagogy, curriculum, methodology, and materials to be used). Instead, you would implement the school's program on behalf of the teacher. This is, of course, assuming that you have submitted your written request for your child to be excused from attendance during the specified period of time, and have received the principal's permission and the program to be used.

However, if the principal does not allow the temporary absence, that doesn't mean you can't proceed with your family plans. You do indeed have the option to withdraw your child from attendance and registration altogether, with a Letter of Intent to Homeschool. Then, when you're back from your travels (or vacation, or other such absence), if you want your child to start attending school again, you can re-enroll them even if it's the middle of the year. Even if the principal does not like the arrangement, the Education Act requires them to accept the child for attendance.

For the purposes of school funding, it is to the school's advantage to grant the requested excuse from attendance, and provide the required program of study, instead of refusing the request and thus forcing the family to withdraw the child from the system and from the school's register upon which the funding for the pupil rests.

A word about pleading your case

When communicating with the principal about these options, remain amiable and cooperative rather than demanding. Interact with the principal as if you take for granted (even if you don't) that they share your desire to do what's best for your child within the circumstances that make the child's absence necessary (i.e. you'll be gone and you need to take your child with you). Most principals do prefer that children attend school rather than homeschool, and would have to acknowledge the fact that, if the child will be attending school again upon your return, it's best for the child if they remain enrolled and are given the relevant program of study to keep pace with the rest of the class. If the principal is unfamiliar with the rules and regulations that would allow them to grant your request, be helpful (not adversarial) in letting them know where to find the information. The excerpts and links on this webpage should suffice.

Having said all that...

If you're considering any of the above scenarios, the question remains:

"What's keeping you from just switching to full-time homeschooling?"

I encourage you to explore your reasons for wanting to keep one foot in the door of schooling. If you're willing to homeschool for part of the time, why wouldn't you want to provide your child with a freer, more custom-tailored education all of the time?

If you need help exploring your hesitation, concerns, or practical challenges, please feel free to get in touch with an OFTP volunteer.


© Marian Buchanan, 2019

Marian joined the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents a couple of decades ago, around the time PPM131 was being negotiated. Her unschooled son is all grown up now, but she remains involved in the homeschooling community through her volunteer work with the OFTP as well as running several homeschool-related websites, including the Canadian Home Based Learning Resource Page, University Admissions in Canada, and the Homeschool Media Network. She also offers a few downloadable activities for children through her Kids and Caboodles site.

Topics: Part-Time Homeschooling