Private School Regulation


Registration/Licensing/Accreditation: Wisconsin will approve an institution's educational program as a private school, on request, if the school complies with the statutory definition of private school. Wisconsin's criteria for a private school is: 1) the primary purpose is to provide private or religious-based education; 2) the program is privately controlled; 3) the program provides at least 875 hours of instruction each school year; 4) the program provides a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health; 5) the program is not operated or instituted to circumvent the compulsory school attendance requirement; and, 6) the pupils return home annually for not less than 2 months of summer vacation, or the institution is a licensed child welfare agency. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.165.

If an accrediting agency submits an affidavit that a private educational institution meets the criteria of § 118.165 above, and the state superintendent attests that the institution meets or exceeds the criteria, the Superintendent shall determine that the institution is a private school. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.167.

Recordkeeping/Reports: By October 15, private school administrators must report to the Department of Public Instruction the school enrollment on the 3rd Friday of September. Based on this information, the Department will prepare reports to enable the private schools to make projections for school buildings, teacher supply, and necessary funds. In addition, private schools must report whether the school meets the criteria under 118.165(1) (cited above). Reporting forms are provided by the Department. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 115.30.

Private schools must maintain records required under 115.30(2) and 120.18. Records must be open to inspection of school attendance officers. When requested, the private school must provide information regarding any pupil enrolled. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.16(3).

Private schools must provide all necessary information and reports to the local school board, when requested, to assist in coordinating public and private school bus transportation. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.56.

See also Safety, annual reports of fire drills.

Length of School Year: According to Wisconsin's statutory definition of private school, a private school must provide at least 875 hours of instruction each school year. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.165(c).

Teacher Certification: Private schools are not obligated to employ licensed or certified teachers. However, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has the authority to certify teachers employed at private schools. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 115.28(7)(b).

Curriculum: According to Wisconsin's statutory definition of private school, the private school must provide a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and health. This requirement does not mandate teachings in conflict with the school's religious doctrines or exclude any teachings consistent with the school's religious doctrines. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.65(d).

Private schools must display the U.S. flag during school hours. The pledge of allegiance must be recited in grades 1-8 at the beginning of school at least one day per week. No student may be compelled to recite the pledge against his objections or his parent/guardian's objections. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.06.

The school board of a school district operating high school grades shall allow a pupil enrolled in a private school, who has met the standards for admission to high school, to take up to two courses during each school semester if the pupil resides in the school district in which the public school is located and if the school board determines that there is sufficient space in the classroom. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.145 (4).

Special Education: Wisconsin may authorize the payment of board, lodging, and transportation costs for nonresident students with exceptional educational needs who are enrolled in private, nonsectarian special educational programs. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 115.88(3).

Health: School buildings, including parochial schools, may be inspected for communicable diseases under a warrant. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 143.02(1). 1908 Op. Atty. Gen. 650.

Employees at private and parochial schools (grades 1-12) must have a physical examination, including a chest x-ray or tuberculin test, prior to employment. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 143.16.

Safety: Private schools are required to conduct fire drills monthly unless inclement weather endangers the health of the students. Private schools are required to file an annual report on forms provided documenting the drills. The report must be filed with the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations and the local fire department. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.07(2).

No person may possess or consume alcoholic beverages on school premises. No one may possess or consume alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle if a pupil is present or while at a school-sponsored activity unless approved by the school superintendent in writing. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 125.09.

Licenses to serve or sell alcoholic beverages may be restricted on premises located within 300 feet of a public or parochial school. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 125.68(3).

Private and parochial school employees are prohibited from conducting a strip search of any pupil. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.32; 948.50.

Private schools must maintain a standard first aid kit for emergencies. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.07(1).

School warning signs will be placed on any street bordering a private school by the street maintenance authority. The authority may also designate school crossings. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.08.

Transportation: With some exceptions, school boards operating high schools must provide transportation for private school students if they reside within the private school attendance area but 2 miles or more from the school, and not more than 5 miles beyond the boundaries of the school district. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.54(2).

By April 1 of each year, each private school must submit its proposed attendance area for the next school year to the school board of each school district having territory within the proposed attendance area. If no proposal is submitted, the existing attendance area remains in effect. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.54(2)(b)3.

By May 15 of each year, each private school must notify the school board of the names, grade levels, locations of all pupils, if any, eligible to have transportation for the next term. The deadline may be extended by the school board. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 151.54(2)(b)4.

School boards must provide transportation for children with exceptional educational needs who attend private schools if the request for transportation is approved by the state superintendent. Approval is based on whether the child can walk to school with safety and comfort. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.54(3).

School boards providing transportation to private school pupils may do so by contract with the proper officials of any private school or school association. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.55.

School boards may provide transportation for private school extracurricular activities if the private school reimburses the board for the costs. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.54(7).

The local school board coordinates public and private school transportation to ensure the safety and welfare of the pupils. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.56.

Private schools operating school buses must maintain an insurance policy covering bodily injury and property damage. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 121.53.

Home Schooling: A parent, guardian, or designee has the right to select a home-based private education program for his or her child or children, in order to comply with the compulsory school attendance law. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.15 (4). An instructional program provided to more than one family unit does not constitute a home-based private educational program. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 115.001 (3g). A home-based private education program is not considered a private school. The statute requires the parent or guardian to register the child for home based education by completing and submitting a form to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.15 (4).

The program of instruction must provide a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and health for at least 875 hours each year. Testing of students is not mandatory under Wisconsin law. A student enrolled in a home-based private educational program may pursue the requirements for a GED certificate but do not receive a traditional Wisconsin high school diploma. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.165 (1)(d).

Home-based private education students are allowed to attend their local public high school on a part time basis. A school district, space permitting, must admit a home-based private education student to take up to two courses per semester in the high school in which the student is a resident. Students must satisfy the high school admission standards of the school district. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.145 (4).

Public Aid for Private Schools/Private School Students: The Wisconsin Constitution prohibits any withdrawal from the state treasury for the benefit of religious societies or religious or theological seminaries. Wis. Const. Art. 1, Sec. 18. The term "religious seminaries" has been interpreted to include nonpublic schools where religious instruction is provided. State ex rel. Reynolds v. Nusbaum 115 N.W.2d 761 (1962).

Wisconsin's Constitution expressly permits the state legislature to provide transportation for children to and from any parochial or private school. Wis. Const. Art. 1, Sec. 23.

Parent/guardians may request the school board to provide a child with a program modification which includes enrollment in any nonsectarian private school located in the school district which complies with Federal civil rights laws. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.15((1)(d).

School Districts may allow private school pupils to participate in public school remedial programs. Op. Atty. Gen. 45-86, Nov. 14, 1986.

Miscellaneous: Parochial and private school administrators, principals, pupil services professionals and teachers are not liable for referring pupils to law enforcement authorities or removing pupils from school or school-sponsored activities for suspicion of possession, distribution or consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 118.257.

Building inspectors may distinguish between public and private high schools when issuing building permits for private high schools based on the general welfare of the community. State ex rel. Wisconsin Lutheran High School Conference v. Sinar, 65 N.W.2d 43 (1954).

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.