Withdrawing a School-Aged Child from a Conventional School: When to File the PI-1206

If your child has been attending a conventional school (i.e., a brick-and-mortar public school, an online/virtual public school, or a brick-and-mortar private school) in Wisconsin and you wish to switch to homeschooling (i.e., a private, home-based educational program), the first thing you must do according to the Wisconsin homeschool law is file a Form PI-1206, online at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website. Regardless of when you choose to begin homeschooling, you must file the PI-1206 to be considered a legal homeschooler and you must do so before withdrawing from the prior school. The DPI has historically stated that, "If you withdraw your child from [a] public or private school prior to completing the online PI-1206 report, your resident school district may consider your child to be truant."

For continuing homeschoolers - i.e., those who were homeschooling at the end of the most recent school year - or for those whose children did not attend a conventional school in the previous year (i.e., a child at home was 5 last year but is now 6 and is, thus, old enough to be tallied under compulsory attendance laws), the PI-1206 should be submitted in a particular timeframe each fall (i.e., no sooner than the third Friday in September and no later than October 15). Indeed, there are important reasons for those not currently withdrawing from a conventional school to wait, as outlined here.

However, if you are withdrawing a child from a conventional school, you are in a different situation. Your reality is that - until he is formally withdrawn from the prior school - your child is considered to be enrolled in - and is expected to attend - that school. You cannot legally withdraw for homeschooling until you file the PI-1206 form. That's what the law has said since 1984, and it has not been recently changed. 

When a family decides to homeschool "in the middle of the year" - i.e., sometime after a conventional school's first day - this is self-evident. Your child continues to attend class as mandated by the school until you file the PI-1206 form. Then, after filing the form - whether that's on September 5, February 22, May 10, etc. - you inform the school of your child's withdrawal and move forward. Everyone knows you cannot just stop sending your child to school and tell attendance officials that you'll file the proper paperwork "later."

And the very same principles apply when you decide sometime during the summer to withdraw a child who was enrolled in a conventional school at the end of the previous school year. If you want to withdraw your child to homeschool, you must first file a PI-1206 form. You cannot withdraw prior to filing the form, and you cannot just keep your child home from school until you file the form and withdraw. In other words, if you are withdrawing a child from a conventional school at the start of a new school year, you must file your PI-1206 before that school's first day in order to avoid the possibility of truancy issues.

This is the advice - based on the actual language of the homeschool law - that has been given to new homeschoolers in Wisconsin for more than 30 years. Recently, though, some have begun advising new homeschoolers (i.e., those withdrawing from conventional schools) to wait until the typical filing window used by continuing homeschoolers - i.e., telling new homeschoolers not to file the PI-1206 until at least the third Friday in September even though their children will not attend school in the interim. This is new advice - no one with knowledge of the actual homeschool law counseled as such before 2020 - not grounded in any change to the homeschool law, and it is fraught with peril.

When a continuing homeschool family waits until at least the third Friday in September to file a new PI-1206 form, it doesn't cause a legal problem because the children are technically "covered" under the prior year's form until October 15. Similarly, if a family with a new 6-year-old who did not previously attend an outside school waits, it doesn't cause a legal problem because the child has just reached the age of compulsory attendance. But if a child previously enrolled in another school doesn't show up on the first day of a new school year and the school has no record that the family is now homeschooling - i.e., no PI-1206 form on file with the DPI - the school may very well make accusations of truancy. Indeed, the DPI says such accusations are permissible because the child really would be truant from that school if he were not attending the first few weeks in September and had not formally withdrawn.

If you are withdrawing from a conventional school to start homeschooling at the beginning of a new school year, you could take your chances and wait to file your PI-1206 form until at least the third Friday in September, hoping the school in which your child is still legally enrolled doesn't notice or care. But the better course of action - the advice which has been given by veteran homeschoolers since the mid-1980s based on a logical interpretation of the homeschool law - is to file the PI-1206 form before the start of a new school year (which is typically no earlier than September 1)...so that you can legally withdraw from the school before classes begin...so that the school does not expect your child to be in attendance on the first day.

Contrary to proponents of the new, revisionist advice, it is not illegal to file a PI-1206 form prior to the third Friday in September. Continuing homeschoolers do best to wait, as explained at the link above. But those new to homeschooling who are pulling kids from a conventional school at the beginning of a new school year would be wise to file early so that you can start your new home learning adventure without the specter of a truancy officer knocking at your front door.