In ARTICLES A-Z, Education, Jr & High School

CA legislators want to restrict Independent Study.

Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

Following is a letter I wrote in conjunction with two other local homeschooling parent/teachers, Heddi Craft and Hiranya Kliesch. Readers of this blog know that I started homeschooling when my younger child was in crisis. I continued homeschooling when my older child’s academic needs couldn’t be served in a typical school. Heddi and Hiranya, both certified teachers, have similar stories.

Here in California, the portion of education law that allows children like ours to remain public school students while also homeschooling is threatened. Faced with the news that a significant portion of California parents are considering using this part of the law to keep their children home out of fear of Covid, legislators are considering changes to the law that would force those parents to make harder decisions.

However, legislators are largely unaware of the way that the law is used for many students with special needs across our state. Some of the changes they are proposing will decimate the public schools that were created to serve these students. Here in Santa Cruz County, our students can choose from site-based, family-focused programs like Alternative Family Education or Ocean Alternative, or they can enroll in Independent Study charter schools like Oasis or Ocean Grove. Although the student numbers are small, the influence of these programs on the lives of those students is immeasurable.

Please read this letter and share it with your local legislators. For a PDF version that you can send out, please click here.

Dear Senator Laird,

Thank you so much for meeting with us. Below, please find a summary of the points we made to you that express our concerns over the proposed changes to Independent Study (IS).


Independent Study has been around for more than 30 years. The law was originally written for students with special needs: social/emotional issues, illness, travel, or unique learning needs. Not all IS programs are charters. Many families who might not otherwise attend public school families are a part of IS programs, bringing needed funds to the districts’ district-created programs.

How is Independent Study used?

Independent study is a family affair, with parents often serving as the child’s primary instructor with the support of a certified teacher. Students have the flexibility to explore their passions with one-on-one conversations and experiences with a parent. Families rely on the flexibility of IS and appreciate the need to check in on a monthly, not daily, basis, especially in situations regarding illness, anxiety, or travel.


  • Our first concern is with the change to daily synchronous instruction (whether opportunity or requirement) in 51747 (e)(1-3). Requirements to have daily video or in-person check-ins with all students dilute or restrict the much more meaningful interactions already happening. AFE and Ocean Alternative offer valuable class days in addition to meeting with parents. Monthly meetings are lengthy and generate deep discussions about learning while optional class days allow students to do group activities, often in multi-age settings. In addition, students who are travelling or have health or social/emotional issues will have difficulty committing to daily check-ins if they are required.
  • Our second concern is with the requirements of detailed tracking in 51747.5 (a-d). Planning and daily schedules are unique to each child in most established IS programs, so requirements for daily tracking means making an individual lesson plan and gradebook entries for each child. Independent study is designed so that students who need more time on a topic can work as slowly as needed and those who have already mastered a topic need not waste time on work they already understand. In addition, the one-on-one aspect of independent study with parent and child means there isn’t always a paper trail for learning experiences. Teachers would have to write up unique learning plans and gradebook entries in virtually every subject for every student, significantly adding to their workload.
  • Finally, it is unfair to families who are enrolling/signing contracts for the coming year to then have the Independent Study laws rewritten with potentially impactful changes after the school year has already begun. This doesn’t give families a chance to make choices about their schooling plans in advance. These changes would negatively impact currently existing, successful and longstanding programs such as Alternative Family Education (AFE) and Ocean Alternative Education Center (OAEC) in Santa Cruz County.

We recommend adding a tier or category to the existing programs and calling it Distance Learning (or another name) for the temporary students who would not attend classes due to the pandemic, rather than changing the Independent Study laws without accounting for the unintended consequences to unique and long-standing programs like ours.

Please see the attached recommendation for preserving the existing IS laws.

Thank you,

Hiranya Kliesch, certified teacher and AFE parent,
Heddi Craft, current Ocean Alternative teacher and former OAEC parent,
Suki Wessling, former AFE and OAEC parent, current online education teacher,

Recommendations for Modifications to Independent Study

These recommendations were compiled by parents and teachers with extensive, pre-pandemic experience in how Independent Study (IS) programs are implemented in their communities.

  1. Respect that Independent Study has a long history of serving a wide variety of at-risk and unusual learners. How IS was used for a wider range of students during and post-pandemic is an anomaly.
  2. Understand the special needs populations that IS serves:
    • Working full-time to support their family
    • Avoiding classroom settings due to mental health needs
    • Going through gender and identity transitions
    • Medically fragile (chemotherapy, life impacting illness, addiction recovery, etc.)
    • Pregnant or parenting
    • Enrolled in Community College courses concurrently
    • Traveling for competitive sports or work in the entertainment industry
  3. Continue to allow maximum flexibility in these programs, due to the needs of families and students to schedule their learning and interactions in appropriate ways.
  4. Remove the mandate for daily meetings with staff, as this does not recognize the high value that students receive from weekly and monthly in-depth interactions. Ref: 51747 (e)(1-3)
  5. Respect teacher workload and do not increase daily tracking that will take away from the value of student-teacher interactions. Ref: 51747.5 (a-d)
  6. Respect contracts already signed by IS students at schools across the state for the 2021-22 school year.

Compiled by:
Hiranya Kliesch, certified teacher and AFE parent,
Heddi Craft, current Ocean Alternative teacher and former OAEC parent,
Suki Wessling, former AFE and OAEC parent, current online education teacher,

For more information:

Image: Alternative Family Education (AFE)

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