Getting Started in Montana
So you are thinking about home schooling your children? Below are some important requirements and information, regarding home educating in Montana.
Every state has compulsory attendance laws. In Montana the compulsory attendance laws for instruction is 7-16. That means that every child in Montana must be enrolled in public school when they are at least 7 years old, and up to 16 years old - UNLESS they are exempted by attending a nonpublic or home school.
In Montana a home school is defined as "instruction by a parent of the parent's child, stepchild, or ward in the parent's residence". To satisfy Montana law there are five requirements to be met (20-5-109 MCA):
Maintain records on pupil attendance and disease immunization and make the records available to the county superintendent of schools on request;
Provide at least the minimum aggregate hours of pupil instruction in accordance with 20-1-301 and 20-1-302 ;
Be housed in a building that complies with applicable local health and safety regulations;
Provide an organized course of study that includes instruction in the subjects required of public schools as a basic instructional program pursuant to 20-7-111 ; and
Notify the County Superintendent of Schools, of the county in which the home school is located, in each school fiscal year of the student's attendance at the school.
Notifying the County Superintendent of Schools: The annual notification by the home schooling parents [for students age 7-16], needs to be delivered to the COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS - NOT THE LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT. (The ELECTED County Superintendent of Schools typically has an office in the county courthouse). The public school district superintendent is a different office AND has NO responsibility with home schools OR the required annual notification requirement.
IMPORTANT: Until notifying the County Superintendent of Schools, the child(s) is not EXEMPT from the 'compulsory attendance' law in Montana - thus they could be deemed truant. One other thing to consider, in most Montana counties, if the student(s) are absent in their school district (not attending public school) for more than ten days, they are considered truant. So technically, ten days after their school district year starts, and the County Superintendent's office has not been notified, they are truant in their school district.
To view a complete listing of all the County Superintendents of Schools in Montana CLICK HERE
(CLICK HERE for a sample notification form to print out and use)
A Special Note about the Superintendent's possible request for student names & grade level(s):
It is important to understand the purpose (and legislative intent) of notifying the County Superintendent of Schools - it is an annual requirement to achieve EXEMPTION from Montana's compulsory attendance law. The 1983 Legislature worked very hard to craft legislation that would create a law providing for families to choose an educational venue other than public schools. Even though the annual notification section does NOT specifically state that the notification (not registration) information provided include the student's name, exemption could not be 'connected' to a child without the name of the child. There are times when families have multiple children, and are NOT home educating them all (some may attend public or private school). Therefore, the intent of the legislature was to simply allow parents to notify the County Superintendent as to which of their children are being home educated and thus satisfy the law for exemption.
Regarding the issue of requesting student grade level, ALL schools (public, private and home) are required by federal law to be advised of their right to participate in some specific federal grant programs ('FP'). This request (and notification requirement) varies depending on student grade level (elementary v. high school). The County Superintendent's office often includes the FP question on a form to help sort out who has interest in participation (a YES or NO question). All they ask for is whether the family is interested in participating in their school district's federal programs, (a description is often provided). If they do, then the school district sends them information in the Spring. If they don't want to participate, they will not be contacted again.
Knowing the grade level of the student(s) helps the County Superintendent's office provide the correct form. This is a federal requirement that has been in existence for over 30 years (and in 50 states).
Attendance Records (upon request): Until about 10 years ago, attendance for the year was reported in days (180 days for year). The law was changed to remove required days, thus leaving only the required hours (720 or 1080 hrs / year) (see 20-1-301 MCA). (This was done by the legislature to provide flexibility to the public schools for 'snow' days, thus eliminating longer school years for making up 'lost' days) Attendance records need to be reported to the County Superintendent only IF REQUESTED. Some County Superintendents will provide a form to use as a courtesy. There is no mandate to use their form if you have your own. The hours of instruction are from July 1 to June 30 annually.
Prior Year's Attendance Records: In some counties in Montana there have been county superintendents who include a request for PRIOR YEAR attendance records, as well as the current year's. The purpose of submitting attendance records is to comply with 20-5-109(1) MCA to obtain exemption from compulsory attendance. The minimum aggregate hours of instruction required (20-1-301 MCA) are the same for public, nonpublic and homeschools. Those hours are for the current school year from July 1 to June 30. There is no mention in law for any of the school venues to include prior year records. The submission of attendance records is for exemption in the CURRENT YEAR only. Prior year records simply are not relevant for the current year consideration, and are thus not necessary.
Birth Certificates: Home school parents have no requirement to provide their child's birth certificates to your local school or district superintendent. Your only annual obligation for exemption from compulsory attendance in Montana (7-16) is to annually notify the COUNTY Superintendent of your intent to home school your children. Requesting a birth certification is beyond the requirements of 20-5-109(5). The county supt may request attendance records and immunization records, but that is it. In 1991 MCHE worked to passed a bill that created 20-5-111 MCA that further delineated our God-given rights in MCA, thus no state testing, no authority over curriculum, etc. The section of law that is often referred to [regarding birth certificates] is 44-2-511 MCA and it is related ONLY to public schools. Home schools (and private schools) students are not 'enrolled' in a school district. Home schools are 'county', not 'district' schools. And thus, it is the county supt that we report to, not the school district or school supt. Home school students are not enrolled OR registered with the county supt. Parents are only required to annually ’notify’ their county supt.
Attending public school part time: HB396 was passed into law in the Montana 2023 Legislative Session. HB396 modified several sections of law and provides for a parent to enroll their children/student(s) on a part-time basis in the local public school. The effective date of this law change is 07/01/2023. More information on this can be found under the 'Law' section.
Here are some great sites that offer Attendance Record and Transcript Forms:
Disease Immunization Records (upon request): If requested by the County Superintendent, Montana home educators are required to provide disease immunization records to the County Superintendent, UNLESS the parent has a religious or medical exemption (see Montana law: 20-5-405 MCA).
CLICK HERE for an exemption form to submit to the County Superintendent.
Participating in Public School Sports CLICK HERE
Here is a great article from an experienced home educator for those considering home schooling in Montana:
For a complete general checklist of home schooling startup tips, visit:
Home education in Montana is slightly different depending on the age of your children:
Montana Content Standards & Model Curriculum Standards CLICK HERE
What about getting into Montana colleges? CLICK HERE
Regarding Accreditation (and 'accredited' programs):
Often, home educators seek out instructional programs that are ‘accredited’ in order to have a degree of assurance that their child (aka student) will have little problem with a possible re-entry into public school OR that the ultimate high school diploma will be equal (to public schools) in acceptance by higher educational institutions (aka colleges or universities or vocational schools).
The use of the important word ‘accredited’ can cause those who are analyzing a program(s) for their use, to assume that it is fully accredited in Montana, on equal footing with Montana’s public (or accredited private) schools. It is not. The Montana Board of Education, over the years, has fulfilled Montana law (20-7-101(1) MCA) by creating the requirements for accreditation that the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) is charged with administering. No school, private or home, can achieve comparable accreditation outside of strict adherence to OPI’s standards. These standards include teacher certification, curriculum approval, etc..
In seeking out home education programs that advertise as being accredited in Montana, it is important to challenge the company to provide proof of their accreditation approval by Montana's OPI. There have been a number of cases over the years, where families were using 'accredited' home education programs, expecting NO difficulties in possible re-entry to public schools, and/or entry into universities, colleges or vocational schools - and they ended up with problems.
A complete list of Montana laws related to home education can be found under the 'Law' section.
HSLDA: For over 35 years Montana home educators have benefitted from important legal counsel and assistance provided by Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA provides legal protection, one-on-one homeschool coaching and practical resources for homeschooling. HSLDA will protect your right to homeschool in court, advocate for homeschool freedoms in our Montana legislature and work to advance homeschooling the the public arena. Please consider joining this important association.