Parents may home school their own children pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-3050 by registering with their local school district. Parents choosing this educational option must meet specified educational requirements, test the child and report attendance to the local education agency at the end of the year.
By authority of the same statute, parents may also home school their own children by affiliating with and registering with a church related school defined by Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801. If a parent is exercising this educational option by home schooling a child who is in grade 9-12 they must also register with the school districtthey would otherwise be attending.
For parents exercising this option, with the exception of grades 9-12, the testing requirements are determined by the church related school. Church-related schools must determine what recording-keeping requirements are in place for these parents. However, church-related schools must keep daily attendance reports which pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-3007(d) shall be open to inspection at all reasonable times, to the director of schools of the system in which the school is located or to the director of school’s authorized representative.
There is an additional educational option allowing parents to teach their children at home in Tennessee that does not fall under the definition of “home school” in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-3050. Sometimes, the phrase “home school” is still used for this educational option and this causes confusion. This educational option and its requirements and obligations for parents and schools are described below for your information.
Parents in Tennessee may enroll their children in a church-related school, pursuant toTennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801. Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801 and State Board of Education Rule 0520-7-2-.05 govern the establishment and maintenance of church-related schools. Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801, these schools must be operated by a denominational, parochial or other bona fide church organization and the organization must be accredited by one of the agencies listed in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801(a). Alternatively, an organization not accredited by one of those agencies may seek approval directly from the State Board of Education as a Category IV school.
Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801 (b) states:
“The state board of education and local boards of education are prohibited from regulating the selection of faculty or textbooks or the establishment of a curriculum in church-related schools.”
The only regulations that church-related schools must follow are listed in State Board of Education Rule 0520-7-2-.05(2). This rule states that church-related schools must:
- “Comply with all rules and regulations and codes of the city, county, and state regarding planning of new buildings, alterations and safety.”
- “Comply with all rules and regulations of the Tennessee Department of Health regarding construction, maintenance and operation of the school plant.”
- Observe “all fire safety regulations and procedures promulgated by the Tennessee Fire Marshal’s Office.
- “Comply with the requirement of TCA § 49-6-5001 that each child in the school be vaccinated against disease.”*
- “Comply with the requirement of TCA § 49-6-3007 that the names, ages, and addresses of all pupils in attendance be reported to the superintendent of the public school system in which the school is located.
Please note that a child without proof of immunization may comply with Tennessee Code Annotated Section 49-6-5001, by meeting one of the exceptions under subsection (b) and/or (e) of the statute.
Because there is nothing in statute or rule that would prevent a denominational, parochial or other bona fide church organization from hiring or appointing parents to serve as teachers in their own homes as part of the school that the organization operates, many church related schools do hire parents to serve as teachers and establish schools in their own homes. This results in many parents teaching their children and possibly other children in their homes. Even though this is not defined in state law as a “home school” and actually falls under the definition of a church-related school operating at a home, many parents exercising this educational option refer to this process as “home schooling.” However, each church-related school - whether conducted in a church, school or home - must meet the requirements of State Board of Education Rule 0520-7-2-.05 listed above.
Parents teaching in such a capacity do not need to meet the educational requirements of the home school law, Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-3050. Whereas, parents merely affiliated with a church-related school but conducting a home school for their own children by registering with a church-related school pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-3050, are required to meet the educational requirements of the home school law. Parents who are home schooling pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-3050 must also ensure their children satisfy the testing requirements and they must meet the stricter attendance reporting requirements of that law.
Students attending church-related schools that do not meet the State Board of Education requirements for church-related schools are not in compliance with the compulsory school attendance law in Tennessee and must be considered truant. The sole responsibility and authority for the enforcement of the compulsory attendance laws is placed with the local board of education and its designated employees and officers. Thus, when working with associations, accrediting agencies and parents, attendance officers should rely on Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801and State Board of Education Rule 0520-7-2-.05 to determine whether a church-related school exists for purposes of enforcing the compulsory attendance laws. They may also require the organization operating the church-related school to provide assurance that they are meeting the requirements of the statute and rule.
If parents are members of one of the agencies listed in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-50-801, does that make their home a church-related school? No. The school, even if conducted in a home, must be operated by a bona fide religious organization and meet the requirements of State Board of Education Rule 0520-7-2-.05
How are the statutes and regulations regarding church-related schools enforced? Statutes and regulations regarding church-related schools must be enforced through truancy statutes. Local attendance officers may pursue truancy actions against students attending schools that do not qualify as church-related schools, or the requirements of any of the other approved categories of non-public schools.