When it comes to private academic schools in Pennsylvania, there’s a complex web of accreditation, registration, licensing, and approval processes that institutions must consider. This article aims to break down these requirements into a straightforward guide for better understanding.
Private academic schools in Pennsylvania have the choice to pursue accreditation instead of licensing. If a school is accredited by a state board-approved accrediting association, it doesn’t require licensing. Only accrediting organizations endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education can provide accreditation to these schools. These approved organizations need to submit an annual report to the Department, outlining their accreditation activities, including accredited schools, fees, visits, and other pertinent details. Additionally, they must promptly inform the Department of any educational institution gaining or losing accreditation.
Only religious schools in Pennsylvania need to register under the compulsory school attendance law. These K–12 schools, affiliated with legitimate religious organizations, must submit a notarized certification from the principal to the Department of Education. This certification confirms adherence to the required subjects in English, nonprofit status of the governing religious body, and compliance with the PA Public School Code. Accreditation or licensing isn’t obligatory for religious schools. In contrast, non-religious private K–12 schools can choose between licensing and accreditation.
Pennsylvania necessitates licensing for K–12 private academic schools, with exceptions for religious institution-affiliated schools, college/university-owned schools, and state-supported schools for the blind or deaf. Also, schools accredited by state-approved associations are exempt. Despite the exemptions, these schools can choose to pursue licensing voluntarily. The state’s private academic school board enforces licensing standards, which cover various aspects like health, staff, curriculum, attendance, facilities, and finances. Discrimination based on race or color in enrollment is prohibited.
Only educators with valid Pennsylvania professional certificates, private academic teaching certificates, or temporary approval certificates from Chapter 49 of the State Board of Education Regulation can teach in licensed private academic schools. The state lacks authority to approve the staff of registered religious schools without licenses.
Children attending religious day schools need a minimum of 180 days or 900 hours (elementary) and 990 hours (secondary) of instructional time. Licensed private academic schools (K–12) must have at least 180 days of instruction or an approved equivalent in clock hours. On request, the Board can accept 990 hours (secondary) or 900 hours (elementary) and 450 hours (kindergarten) as equal to 180 days, given a strong educational program.
At religious elementary day schools, subjects like English (including spelling, reading, writing), arithmetic, science, geography, U.S. and Pennsylvania history, civics, safety education (fire prevention), health, physiology, physical education, music, and art are required. A notarized affidavit from the principal, confirming English instruction, nonprofit status, and law compliance, suffices for proof. The Commonwealth lacks authority to approve content, faculty, staff, or rules of nonpublic religious schools without consent.
For secondary day schools run by religious entities, the curriculum must encompass English (language, literature, speech, composition), science (biology, chemistry), geography, social studies (civics, economics, world history, U.S. and Pennsylvania history), a foreign language, mathematics (general, algebra, geometry, statistics), art, music, physical education, health, physiology, and safety education (fire prevention). A principal’s notarized affidavit, confirming English language instruction, nonprofit status, and law compliance, serves as proof. Similarly, the Commonwealth cannot approve content, faculty, staff, or rules of nonpublic religious schools without consent.
Private elementary schools must cover English (spelling, reading, writing), arithmetic, geography, U.S. and Pennsylvania history, science, civics (including loyalty to government), safety education, humane treatment of animals, health (including physical education, physiology), music, and art. From 7th to 12th grade, private high schools must offer four semesters of U.S. and Pennsylvania history and government. The goal is to promote comprehension of American representative governance, the importance of the American way of life, and the duty to engage in voting.
Private schools must provide district superintendents with lists of resident children aged 6 to 18 enrolled, report withdrawals, and notify unexcused absences of three days or more, under the risk of fines. Health records are private and only shared for health or parent/guardian requests. Upon school changes, records must be transferred upon request and retained for two years after a child’s withdrawal. Private school counselors, nurses, psychologists, or clerical workers aren’t required to disclose student info without consent in legal proceedings or investigations. Consent from a student or parent (if under 18) is necessary. This rule doesn’t exempt them from the Child Protective Services Law.
Private and parochial schools must ensure student immunization or proper exemptions as per health secretary directives and regulations. The state advisory health board is responsible for supervising disease control measures in private schools. Health officers at the county and city levels are required to communicate with schools regarding the exclusion of students with illnesses and to conduct hygiene inspections.
Private school administrators must train on safe building exit procedures and conduct monthly drills. All schools must teach fire dangers and prevention. For positions involving child contact, private school administrators must demand applicants submit a criminal history report from the Pennsylvania State Police and a recent clearance statement from the Department of Public Welfare. Applicants without a clearance are ineligible for employment.
Parochial and private school vehicles used for student transportation must meet Department of Transportation standards for design, construction, equipment, and operation.
Private schools must ensure students know school bus emergency procedures, equipment, and safe loading/unloading, conducting at least two evacuation drills yearly. Vehicles with school bus plates are solely for child and chaperon transport for the school or related activities, regulated by the school’s chaperon rules. When not used for this purpose, the bus should hide “school bus” markings and not use red/amber signals.
In Pennsylvania, the Secretary of Education is obligated to provide textbooks and instructional materials without charge to K–12 nonpublic school students. The Secretary’s expenditure for textbooks should not exceed $20 per student, and for instructional materials, it should not exceed $10 per student.
Pennsylvania doesn’t enforce any state policy mandating or offering testing for nonpublic school students. Private and nonpublic schools can choose to engage in state testing, the same as public schools.
For private schools in Pennsylvania, successfully navigating regulations requires grasping the intricacies of accreditation, registration, licensing, approval, curriculum, safety, and other aspects. Adhering to these guidelines allows private schools to meet standards, ensuring a secure and enriching educational journey for their students.