Families involved in the entertainment industry have some unique issues to address in regard to their children’s regular education in the Entertainment Industry, such as:
- Will their regular school allow absences for working?
- Will they be penalized with lower grades, less opportunities, etc. for being absent?
- What about auditions?
- Will the schedule be so rigorous that the child cannot balance both work and school?
- Should we attempt honors/AP/GATE programs when we know the work will be more demanding?
- Is my year round school schedule going to be a problem with the traditional school schedule that Hollywood seems to go by?
- Will the industry look upon different types of education as more advantageous than others?
- Will their peers in regular school treat them differently because they act professionally?
- What would I do if my child got a series regular role?
- What would I do if they got a job that filmed out of the country for an extended time?
- Am I qualified to home school?
- Will my child be able to make the transitions from set school to regular school and back again?
- Is my child ahead in some subjects and behind in others, and will working make that worse or better?
- Will working motivate my child to do better in school, or will it provide an excuse, or a temptation to fail because they already have a career?
- Should I let my child take a test to get out of school early so they can be competitive?
All these are valid considerations when choosing a school situation for your child. We can’t pretend to answer them or to tell you that there is a “right” way to school a showbiz child. We CAN tell you that you will probably have to give their educational situation more thought than the average parent. We can also tell you that your family may begin school on one path, and have to re-evaluate and change your plans as your child’s career progresses. What works when they are busy, might not work when things slow down, and visa versa. Same goes for ages, same goes for different children in the same family. This is evidenced by the fact that the Bizparentz founder’s families have used almost ALL the options listed below!
What we CAN offer you are some resources and facts to help you make your decision, and encourage you to do your own research and share it with us. That way we can all benefit from each other’s knowledge as we continually strive for a great education AND a great career for our children.
Legal Ways to Educate Children in California
There are three legal ways: public day school, private day school (including homeschooling options), and private tutors. The California Education Code states: “[A]ll children between the ages of 6 and 18 must attend a public full-time day school unless otherwise exempted.”
(§48200 ) This compulsory attendance requirement has two statutory exemptions: First, the private tutoring exemption for children who are instructed at least three hours each day, 175 days a year, by a teacher holding a valid California teaching credential for the grade taught (§48224); and second, the private school exemption for children enrolled in a full-time private school (§48222).
For a list of all legal schools in California, what type of school they are (public, private, etc) and their contact information, the State of California has a searchable database. Note that this is the database that will be used by the DLSE to see if the school you list on your work permit application is a real school, so no matter which type of schooling you choose, make sure it is listed here!
Parents do have rights in California, including the right to observe the classroom, volunteer, choose schools, etc. This is written in California law, also known as the Education Code and you can read your rights here. These rights apply to schooling on the set as well):
Regular attendance in a normal public school is how the majority of children are educated in this state. However, each school district is fairly independent and has their own philosophies about education, special programs (some have GATE, special education, sports, music…some don’t). Public schools get paid by children’s attendance, so excessive absences may be a problem (see Absences section below).
Charter Schools are a sub-set of private schools. They are publicly funded, so they will require you to keep attendance and take standarized tests. But Charter Schools feel like a hybrid of public and private. Often they are virtual schools, but there are charter schools that specialize in science, technology and performing arts as well. Charter schools do answer to a public school district, but since choosing one is more like “homeschool” we will address them in the homeschool section below.
Obviously, a great advantage is that public schools are free. It pays to do your homework though, especially if you are planning a move to another geographical area! Check things like test scores, transient populations, ethnicity, how many kids are on free lunch, teacher qualifications and the like. Most school districts have their own websites, but you can also do some background checks at GreatSchools.org.
Private schools are as varied as the crayon box. You can find schools that specialize in certain cultures, educational philosophies (Montessori, Waldorf and the like), performing arts schools, and parochial schools. Some are private businesses while others are owned by churches or non-profit agencies, and some are boarding while others are “day schools”. Private schools are generally more rigorous academically than public schools, but sometimes actors will find that they have more flexibility for working (since you are paying tuition to be there).
Private schools are not required to take part in state standardized testing in California, although many do provide some sort of objective assessment. Again, check their websites and check the information at sites like GreatSchools and Private School Review.
Homeschooling and Independent Study—4 Legal Choices
It is estimated that over 2 million children are homeschooled in the United States today, with the rate growing at 3% a year. In California alone, there are 198,947 homeschoolers, not counting those attending public Charter schools, which function much like homeschools. Homeschooling is no longer unusual, and it is extremely common for entertainment industry children. Sources for general homeschooling info:
Cathy Duffy Homeschool Reviews (reviews of over 1000 curricula, conventions, tips)
Pro Tip: Considering Homeschooling? Take a moment with your kids and watch the movie Class Dismissed, available on Amazon Prime. It chronicles the rocky journey of one California family from public school to charter to homeschool. It will give you a launch pad to discuss with your family.
1. Private School Affidavit
Homeschooling is not a term that is used in legal circles in California. The state allows homeschooling as most people know it, but they classify homeschoolers as “private schools”. A private school affidavit, also known as an R-4 Affidavit, is a document filed with the state whereby you declare yourself as a private school, doing independent study.
The affidavit is filed online immediately when you start school, and then each year between October 1 – October 15. Occasionally the State stops the online filing of new R-4 affidavits to process to update their systems. Here is the California CDE link that explains withdrawing from your public school, and the State timeline where the gap might be.
You must teach certain subjects (such as reading, math, science, etc) but what curriculum you use, specific topics (geometry or algebra this year?) is up to you. You also have complete control over finances and it is free to register. The cons are that you must create your own support systems (homeschool support groups, outside activities, etc) and you must be self-disciplined enough to manage running a school by yourself. More info on Private School Affidavits:
State of CA FAQ Page about Schooling at Home
Resources for finding your own curriculum, and unique online class options to supplement your regular curriculum:
Oak Meadow Curriculum (also allows enrollment like an Independent Study Program below)
The REALM Creative Academy, Santa Monica (also allows enrollment like a an Independent Study Program below)
The Good and the Beautiful Curriculum (free/low cost)
Elite Colleges that Offer Free Online Courses
2. Private Independent Study Programs
In this case, administrative matters are handled by the school. Often they will provide testing, curriculum design, sometimes complete curriculum. Commonly they are religion based and operated as a wing of a private school, which allows students to take advantage of a private schools’ enrichment activities. There are tuition costs, sometimes curriculum is mandated, and there is some accountability to teachers and administrators. Ask your local private school if they have a homeschool program. Here is an example of a private school ISP website (and by the way, it has a great high school manual for those considering high school homeschooling).
In a twist to this concept, there are private schools that are set up to be completely virtual…in other words, every student (sometimes thousands!) is homeschooling. Several cater to kids in the entertainment industry. Some examples are:
3. Public School Independent Study Program or Charter Schools
In an effort the reign in the exodus from public schools in California, many public school districts have developed independent study programs, or permanent home school departments. Your child is still in public school! In most cases, students will use regular public school books and materials, and although they are taught at home, they will check in with a public school teacher periodically. The amount of freedom in choosing what to study depends on the school and your assigned teacher, and students usually follow the public school district calendar. Many kids who are planning to homeschool for just a year or two, and then transfer back to public school, choose this option. For more info, you can call the District office of your local school district.
Charter Schools are a slightly different breed, although they are still public. The state allows local school districts to establish charter schools, but the charters are not always located in their geographical area. The school district is responsible, but the schools are usually experimental in some way, and focus on kids with some unique interest or need (a performing arts charter school for example, or a at-risk kids’ charter school). They have much more freedom in curriculum, and sometimes parents are required to contribute to the school in some volunteer way. Charter schools have become VERY popular in California, and by their nature are unique and hard to define. In some ways, they offer the best of both worlds—a free education, with some unique aspects and local control. An example of this type of school, which offers both in-person and online learning is Santa Clarita Valley iLead School.
Read more about charter schools at the California Charter Schools Association
Popular online charter schools for actors in California include California Virtual Academy, and Connections Academy as examples. They offer pre-packaged, complete curriculum along with all the supplies—for FREE. Many also provide a stipend (usually about $2500 per year) to pay for outside electives from contractors that offer music, acting and other useful showbiz skills. Caution: These types of schools have been criticized for their lack of effectiveness and studies are now showing that kids lose as much as a year of education in math and reading. If you choose this structure, there is very little accountability. You will need to be vigilant to preserve your child’s education. Another choice for a hybid of online/in person charter schooling is a chain of charter schools called Options for Youth, which has a school in Burbank and is commonly used for high school students.
Caution: some charter schools are sub-contracted to private, for-profit companies. Some of these companies are less than stellar and many have been criticized for fraudulent behavior. For students this can mean that a school can close suddenly, lose student records, or simply misbehave. If you choose the charter school option, be VERY aware of who is actually operating the school and keep maticulous records yourself. For younger students, a school closure of their online school is not too devastating, but for high school students, where you need your academic record for college admissions, this kind of thing can be a tragedy!
For a list of public school charter schools by county, check out AtoZ Homeschooling for a list.
4. Credentialed Teacher/Private Tutor
California law allows a parent with a current California teaching credential to teach his or her own children under the private tutorial exemption. A parent can also hire a private tutor for the child. The tutor can only teach the grades and subjects their credential covers. This is often the education of choice for kids who have regular roles on a series or multiple feature film roles, because it would allow the child to continue with the same teacher regardless of whether they are shooting at that time or not. If you decide to go this route, consider negotiating the teacher fee into the work contract.
12 Tips For Schooling Your Actor in California
In California, academic performance is tied to your work permit. So it is essential that your child keep their grades up, no matter what education you choose.
- You will need someone to sign that work permit every six months, so you may want to consider the “hassle factor” of who will sign it when choosing a school option.
- There is not grace period for mandatory attendance in California. If you are working here they know you are here and you must attend school. There is no function for being “on vacation” for months during pilot season.
- Most schools have a “teacher request” option in the spring of each year. You may not be able to request a teacher by name, but you might be able to request a teacher with qualities that might help showbiz—flexibility, lesson plans distributed weekly (not daily), creativity, etc. Use the system to increase your odds of getting a teacher that will support your child’s career.
- Public schools get paid by attendance. Much of the school’s truancy policies are based on money, not on concern for your child’s education. In other words, they could be getting straight As and still have problems with the school.
- Consider carefully how soon in the school year you discuss the entertainment industry with your child’s regular teacher. Most teachers do not take kindly to any interruption of their lessons or absence from class. You may want to wait and see how busy your child will be before tackling the issue and creating a prejudice.
- If your child’s teacher is supportive, it might be a good idea to keep communication open and have a few contingency plans for getting school work when you get those last minute calls. Go to Back to School night and get the yearly curriculum and goals sheet that they hand out. Keep informed of the subjects and topics your child is studying. Make sure your teacher KNOWS that school is a priority in your family. Try not to make extra work for the teacher.
- For teenagers there are basic work hours issues (see the “Work Hours for Minors” grid on this site) that encourage teens to get out of school early. If you have a teen, please CAREFULLY read the Emancipation/CHSPE article on this site. There are very specific choices to me made and planned for in relation to school for teens.
- Schools are not legally required to excuse students to go to auditions.
- Union auditions are supposed to occur after school hours (3:00PM to 8:00PM- commercials, 9:00PM- theatrical), per SAG-AFTRA contract. It is inferred that the since absences aren’t legally excused – auditions need to be held after school hours. It is not uncommon however, for Casting Directors to request homechooled children to come in earlier, as they acknowledge that their school schedules are more flexibile.
- Please handle your dealings with the schools professionally, keeping in mind that other entertainment parents may follow in your footsteps. Your handling of these tough situations will no doubt affect the experience of those that come after you, and we all need to stick together to make this experience positive!
- Be aware that you can’t have everything. There may come a time that you will have to choose between traditional school and a busy schedule in the entertainment industry. It is a privilege for our children to be able to work, so we cannot demand that schools accommodate our needs.
- Think about success. What will you do if you suddenly get a great role that shoots out of the country? A Broadway tour? A TV series? Do your research ahead of time so that your excitement about a really great job doesn’t force you into a bad school decision.
For public schools, there is a law (AB 776, passed in 1997) that requires public schools to give an EXCUSED absence to children who are working and attend school on set with a studio teacher. There is a bit of misunderstanding about this law. It allows for a maximum of 5 absences of 5 days each. According to the letter of the law, and according to a confirming opinion letter issued by Delaine Eastin’s office (Secretary of Education), this means 5 absences — not 25 individual, one day absences. You may be fortunate enough to book 5 guest star roles of five days each. Great! You got your 25 absences excused. But if you book 5 one-day commercials, you have used your allotted excused absences.
The bill also states that work completed on set must be accepted by the regular school when the child returns. The text of the bill is here.