Private School Regulation


Registration/Licensing/Accreditation: Pennsylvania mandates licensing for K-12 private academic schools, except schools owned or operated by or under the authority of bona fide religious institutions, schools that are owned by colleges or universities, schools for the blind or deaf receiving Commonwealth appropriations, or schools accredited by accrediting associations approved by the State Board of Education. However, all exempted private schools may voluntarily choose to be licensed. The licensing requirements, enforced by the State Board of Private Academic Schools, govern health and safety, teaching and administrative staff, courses of study and instructional equipment, student attendance, records, fees, transportation, advertising, conditions of the premises, procedures for school closings, and financial responsibility. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6705 et seq. 22 PA. Code §§ 51.4, .36; 51.2, .6, .34, .121-125.

Pennsylvania's compulsory school attendance law requires K-12 schools that are owned or operated by or under the authority of bona fide religious institutions to register with the Department of Education by filing a notarized certification or affidavit of the principal. The notarized document states that subjects prescribed by the school code will be taught or offered in the English language for the amount of time specified, the governing religious body is a nonprofit organization, and that the school is otherwise in compliance with the provisions of the Pennsylvania School Code. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1327(b).

Recordkeeping/Reports: Private schools have an obligation to furnish district superintendents a list of the names and residences of all resident children between 6 and 18 enrolled in the school, to report the name and date of any pupil withdrawing, and the name of any child absent 3 days or the equivalent without lawful excuse. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1332. School administrators failing to comply with the reporting requirements may be fined. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1355.

Student health records maintained by private schools are confidential and may be released only when necessary for the health of the child or at the request of the parent/guardian. Records must be transferred upon request when a student relocates to another school. Private schools must not destroy a student's health record for two years after the child's withdrawal, but may give them to the child's parent/guardian if the child does not re-enroll in another Pennsylvania school. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 14-1409.

Length of School Year/Day: Instructional time for children attending day schools operated by a religious body must be a minimum of 180 days or 450 hours at the kindergarten level or 900 hours at the elementary level, or 990 hours at the secondary level. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. 13-1327(b), 22 Pa. Code 5.241. Licensed K-12 private academic schools must be in session a minimum of 180 days of instruction or the equivalent clock hours requirement with prior approval of the State Board of Private Academic Schools. Upon Request, the Board may approve a school year containing a minimum of 990 secondary or 900 elementary and 450 kindergarten hours of instruction as the equivalent of 180 days, when a meritorious educational program warrants. 22 Pa. Code § 51.61.

Teacher Certification: Only teachers holding a valid Pennsylvania professional certificate issued under Chapter 49 (relating to certification of professional personnel), a private academic teaching certificate or a private academic temporary approval certificate may teach in a licensed private school. The Commonwealth is not empowered to approve the faculty or staff of the registered, nonlicensed, religious schools. 22 PA. Code § 51.34., 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1327(b).

Instruction in English: Instruction in the private schools must be in English and from English texts unless a foreign language is permitted by the Secretary of Education as a part of a foreign language study or bilingual education program. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 15-1511.

Discrimination: Private schools are prohibited from discriminating in enrollment based on race or color. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 15-1521.

Curriculum: Attendance at an elementary day school operated by a religious body satisfies the compulsory attendance statute if courses are taught in: English, including spelling, reading, and writing; arithmetic; science; geography; history of the United States and Pennsylvania; civics; safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires; health and physiology; physical education; music; and art. Attendance at a secondary day school operated by a religious body satisfies the compulsory attendance statute if courses are offered in: English, including language, literature, speech and composition; science, including biology and chemistry; geography; social studies, including civics, economics, world history, history of the United States and Pennsylvania; a foreign language; mathematics, including general mathematics and statistics, algebra and geometry; art; music; physical education; health and physiology; and safety education, including regular and continuous instruction in the dangers and prevention of fires. A principal's notarized affidavit filed with the Department of Education stating these subjects are offered in the English language, by a nonprofit school, and in compliance with the law, is sufficient evidence of compliance with this provision. Nothing in this provision empowers the Commonwealth and its officers to approve the course content, faculty, staff or disciplinary requirements of any nonpublic religious school without its consent. Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1327(b).

Private elementary schools are required to teach the following subjects: English, including spelling, reading and writing; arithmetic; geography; the history of the United States and of Pennsylvania; science; civics, including loyalty to the State and National Government; safety education, and the humane treatment of birds and animals; health, including physical education and physiology; music and art. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 15-1511.

Private high schools must provide during grades 7-12 four semesters in the history and government of the United States and Pennsylvania to develop an appreciation for the American republican representative form of government, the benefits of the American way of life, and the individual's duty to exercise the right to vote. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 16-1605.

A child enrolled in a day or boarding school accredited by an accrediting association approved by the State Board of Education is considered to have met the compulsory attendance requirement. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1327(c).

K-12 nonpublic and private school students have a right to refuse to dissect, vivisect, incubate, capture or otherwise harm or destroy animals. School administrators have a duty to notify parents and pupils of their rights 3 weeks prior to a scheduled exercise. Students who choose to opt out of the exercise must be offered an alternative education project. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 15-1523.

Special Education: Pennsylvania enrolls exceptional children in approved private schools when there is no public school special education program that meets the student's needs. An exceptional child is defined as "blind or deaf, or has cerebral palsy and/or neurological impairment and/or muscular dystrophy and/or is mentally retarded and/or has a serious emotional disturbance and/or has autism/pervasive developmental disorder." Costs are shared between the local school district and the Department of Education. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1376. When requested, these schools must provide for administrative purposes, the names, ages, and residences of all pupils enrolled, specifying the school districts liable for part of the tuition and maintenance and the per capita cost of and maintenance of pupils to the Department of Education. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1377.

All Pennsylvania private and nonpublic schools may offer special education programs. Such programs do not come under federal or state special education due process procedures.

Health: As directed by the Secretary of Health, private and parochial school administrators have a duty to ensure that every student, prior to admission to school, is immunized against diseases or parents have filed a request for exemption for religious or medical reasons. Certificates of immunization or exemption must be issued in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Health. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1303a.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has determined that speech and hearing correctional services are health services. The Secretary of Education has a duty to furnish these services free to nonpublic school students on the grounds of the school, provided that the services are also afforded to public school students of the school district wherein the private school is located. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9-971A. Similarly, the General Assembly has determined diagnostic and evaluative psychological services and visual services are health services that must be afforded to nonpublic school students on the premises of the nonpublic school, provided that the services are also afforded to public school students of the school district wherein the private school is located. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9-973.1, 2.

The State Advisory Health Board regulates the prevention and control of disease in private schools. 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 521.2. Local county/city health officers are charged with notifying public, parochial and other school teachers and administrators of the need to exclude children who are suffering from, or residing with persons suffering from communicable diseases and to make sanitary inspections. 16 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2190; 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 37306.

Nonpublic schools may access educational materials on the nature and effects of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and dangerous controlled substances through the intermediate units. Nonpublic school employees may also attend the in-service training programs made available by the Department of Education on these topics and provided by the intermediate units. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 15-1547.

The Pennsylvania legislature intended that nonpublic school students benefit from drug and alcohol abuse programs piloted by the state. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5311 et seq.

Nonpublic school employees acting in good faith in the scope of their official duty are immune from civil liability for negligent statements, acts or omissions made relating to student drug or alcohol abuse. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8337.

Safety: Administrators of private schools have a duty to provide instruction and training in the proper procedures to exit school buildings in an emergency without confusion or panic. Drills must be conducted at least once a month when the schools are in session. All schools are required to provide some regular instruction in the dangers of fire and the prevention of fire waste during the school year. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 15-1518.

Private school administrators must require applicants for positions with direct contact with children to produce with their applications a criminal history report from the Pennsylvania State Police and a clearance statement resulting from a background check for employment conducted by the Department of Public Welfare within the immediately preceding year. Persons not receiving a clearance statement are ineligible for employment. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. §6355. Persons convicted within 5 years of certain crimes specified by statute are ineligible for employment with some exceptions. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. §1-111.

A school employee who has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of professional or other training and experience, that a student coming before the employee in the employee's professional or official capacity is a victim of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation by a school employee shall make a report to law enforcement officials and the district attorney. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. §6352.

School administrators may use the resources of the Office for Safe Schools established by the Department of Education through legislation designed to combat school violence. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. §1302A.

School administrators shall maintain updated records of all incidents of violence, incidents involving possession of a weapon and convictions or adjudications of delinquency for acts committed on school property by students enrolled therein. A statistical summary of these records shall be made accessible to the public for examination by the public during regular business hours. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. §1307A.

Upon adjudication, a delinquent child's building principal and teacher is notified of specific circumstances for the limited purposes of protecting school personnel and students from danger from the child and of arranging appropriate counseling and education for the child. Information provided to and maintained by the principal is maintained separately from the official school record. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §6341.

It is a misdemeanor to carry a weapon, i.e. an instrument capable of inflicting serious bodily injury, e.g. a knife, cutting instrument, cutting tool, nunchuck stick, firearm, shotgun, or rifle, on the grounds or in transport to a licensed elementary or secondary private school or parochial school. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 912.

An attempt to intentionally cause bodily injury to a teaching staff member, school board member, employee or student of any licensed elementary or secondary private school or parochial school while the person is acting within the scope of his/her employment is an aggravated assault and a felony of the second degree. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2702.

The sale of a controlled substance to a minor within 1000 feet of a private or parochial school brings an additional minimum sentence of at least two years confinement. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6314.

Fire extinguishers containing carbon tetrachloride are illegal when used in private or parochial school buildings or buses used to transport school children. School administrators permitting their use are guilty of a summary offense. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7304.

Industrial quality eye protective devices are required for teachers, students, and visitors at private schools when engaged in dangerous activities, e.g. the use of hot liquids, solids or gases; milling, sawing, turning, or grinding of solid materials; and repairing or servicing vehicles. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5301.

Permits for new municipal waste landfills, commercial residual waste treatment facilities or resource recovery facilities will not be issued for property located within 300 yards of a building owned by a parochial school and used for instructional purposes. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4000.511.

Transportation: Local school boards that provide transportation for public school students to school must provide identical transportation services for nonpublic school students enrolled in nonprofit schools within the district boundaries or outside the district boundaries at a distance not exceeding ten miles by the nearest public highway. Transportation must be provided when the nonpublic school is in session as determined by the directors of the nonpublic school. Local school districts transporting nonpublic students receive per capita subsidy from the Commonwealth. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1361; 21-2114; 25-2509.3.

School vehicles owned by or under contract with a parochial or private school that are used for the transportation of students must conform with Department of Transportation standards governing design, construction, equipment and operation. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4551.

School bus drivers must complete basic and refresher training courses with the costs borne by the school district or private or parochial school for which the drivers operate. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1509(C).

Private schools must ensure that every student is familiar with school bus emergency procedures and equipment and safe loading and unloading operations. The school must conduct a minimum of two emergency evacuation drills each year. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4552.

Motor vehicles bearing school bus or school vehicle registration plates must be used exclusively for the transportation of children and their chaperons to the private, parochial, Sunday school or related activity. The school adopts regulations governing the number of chaperons necessary. When the school bus is being used for other purposes, the words "school bus" on the front and rear should be concealed and the red and amber visual signals not operated. 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1343.

Public Aid for Private Schools/Private School Students: The Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits any appropriation of money raised for the public schools to a sectarian school. Pennsylvania Const. Art. 3, Sec. 15. In addition, appropriations to educational institutions not under the absolute control of the Commonwealth, other than teacher training schools, are prohibited unless passed by two-thirds of all the members elected to each House. Pennsylvania Const. Art. 3, Sec. 30.

Under Pennsylvania law, the Secretary of Education has a duty to loan textbooks and instructional materials at no cost to children enrolled in K-12 nonpublic schools. The Secretary is not required to spend an amount in excess of $20 for textbooks and $10 for instructional materials per student. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9-973.

Legislation authorizes the Department of Education, through the intermediate units, to purchase technology items including computer hardware, software, connectivity and related materials to loan to Pennsylvania nonpublic students enrolled in grades K-12. Professional development opportunities for teachers can also be provided through the intermediate units to ensure teachers can use the technology within the curriculum. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1505-A.

Private school students are entitled to auxiliary services through the intermediate unit on an equal basis with public school students of the school district within which the nonpublic school is located. Auxiliary services include but are not limited to: guidance counseling and testing services, psychological services, visual services, services for exceptional children, remedial services, speech and hearing services, and services for the improvement of the educationally disadvantaged. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9-972.1.

Miscellaneous: Private schools must display the United States flag, not less than three feet in length, in all school buildings during each day that schools are in session. In addition, the schools must provide instruction to develop allegiance to the flag and to promote a clear understanding of the American way of life. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7-771.

Private schools may join the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association for athletic competition. 24 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5-511(b.1).

Private and parochial school organizations that promote extracurricular activities may sponsor small games of chance for the purpose of raising funds for public interest purposes. The organizations must be recognized by the governing body of the private or parochial school. The games are strictly regulated by the state. 10 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 312 et seq.

Private school guidance counselors, nurses, psychologists or clerical workers working for a guidance counselor, will not be compelled to disclose information during any legal proceeding or investigation that was obtained from a student without the student's consent if over 18 or without the parent's consent if the student is under 18. However, no such person shall be excused or prevented from complying with the Child Protective Services Law. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5945.

Parochial, private and nonpublic schools have the option of providing armed forces recruiters a list of prospective graduating seniors for recruitment purposes. Costs incurred by a nonpublic school are reimbursed by the armed forces recruiters. 51 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 20221 et seq.

No street may be laid out and opened through any grounds occupied by a building used as a parochial school or educational institution unless the owner consents. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 57006.

No property used for a parochial school or educational institution can be taken by a township for the purpose of extending the system of water distribution or to erect public buildings. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 57703; 57803.

Home Education Programs: A home education program is not considered a nonpublic school in Pennsylvania. The parent or guardian or such person having legal custody of the child or children, who has a high school diploma or its equivalent, is designated as the "supervisor" and is responsible for the provision of instruction. A notarized affidavit must be filed at the commencement of the home education program and each August 1 thereafter with the superintendent of the school district of residence. The affidavit must contain the name of the supervisor; the name and age of each child participating in the home education program; the address and telephone number of the home education site; a statement that such subjects as are required by law are offered in the English language, including an outline of proposed education objectives by subject area, evidence that each child has been immunized and received the health and medical services required for his or her age or grade, and a certification that the supervisor and all adults living in the home and persons having legal custody of the child or children have not been convicted of certain criminal offenses related to children. 24Pa. Cons. Stat. § 13-1327.1

The supervisor of the home education program shall maintain a portfolio of records and materials, including a log of time spent, title of reading materials and samples of writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the child and results of standardized tests in grades 3, 5, and 8 with an evaluation of the student's education progress by a licensed clinical or school psychologist or a certified teacher with two years experience or a nonpublic school teacher or administrator with two years experience in the last 10 and provide it to the superintendent annually by June 30 or as requested in writing.

The school district of residence shall, at the request of the supervisor, lend to the home education program copies of the school district's planned courses, textbooks, and other curricular materials appropriate to the student's age and grade level. 24 PA. Cons. Stat. § 13-1327.1

A home education program for a child who has been identified under the Education of the Handicapped Act (now IDEA) as needing special education services (not gifted) must be a program which addresses the child's specific needs and written approval of the program be received from a certified special education teacher or licensed clinical or certified school psychologist and submitted by the supervisor with the affidavit prior to beginning the home education program and annually thereafter.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 1999 - This information is presented for research use only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Please consult an attorney for further information.