Last Updated on August 30, 2022 by Sarah McCubbin
Are homeschool group bylaws important? It’s a pretty common question in homeschool co-ops, support groups and hybrid homeschool options. You might wonder WHY they are so important…especially since there is SO MUCH to do when you are running a group.
Homeschool group bylaws remind me a lot of my grandma’s old tattered rule book.
Growing up, my grandma and grandpa lived in a 100-year-old brick farmhouse with a white porch that wrapped partway around the old building. There were pigs in the barn and puppies under the porch, and it was a delightful place to go as a child. They had 11 children, so a whole mess of grandchildren was no problem to keep for overnights or “Cousin camp” in the summer.
One way grandma kept order was her “Rule Book.” It was a journal that she had FILLED with house rules designed to keep order. Grandma and Grandpa ended up with over 40 grandchildren (although there were less when I was little), so one of the big rules she quoted often was “No Running in the House.” Can you imagine if you had 20 children stampeding through the house…utter chaos! We laugh about some of her rules now, but the heart behind them was good…they were designed to promote order and fairness and a common understanding of expectations.
The rules were not a bad thing. They were a good thing.
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Good Intentions are Not Enough When Starting a Homeschool Group
Starting and running a homeschool group can quickly spiral into a TON of work. Between caring for your own family, other activities in life, and everything else going on, running a homeschool group can end up consuming more than its fair share of your time. I know because I was the President and Director of a co-op with 50 families (150 kids) for 6 years. I didn’t start the group.
But I became President when the founding President moved and the group took a Sabbatical year. When I stepped up, the group used that “fresh start” as an opportunity to revamp their programing and morph into an upgraded co-op. We changed from an electives-based co-op that met every other week to an academic co-op that met every week.
After being the Director for 6 years, I was running on fumes. Our family had been through a lot in those 6 years. We had fostered children and adopted 3, grew our family from 6 to 9 children and I was tired! We decide that it was time for me to step down and our family would take a break from homeschooling all together for a year. At the same time, the last founding member of the board was stepping down as she moved out of state. It was a changing of the guard. We were sad to go but knew that we needed to step into the next season of our lives and let others lead.
But over the next 9 months, we watched the organization we had loved, built and cared for, completely fall apart….a massive implosion!
I could write a book on this story, but I won’t since this is just a blog post! The leadership that took over had no formal training in how a board operates. (Frankly the rest of us hadn’t had much training…but we did have just enough to keep things running and keep things on mission). As a result of the lack of board training, each board member did not realize their role and how the group as a whole should operate.
Essentially this group had rulebook for how leadership should operate…so the leadership just started making stuff up and the members had no way to keep them accountable!
The Importance of Homeschool Group Bylaws (a.k.a. Rulebook)
I won’t bore you with the details of why the whole group fell apart and how people turned on each other and leaders and members all felt alienated. It was ugly. I was no longer a part of the group when it was falling apart, but I stepped back into the picture to help sort out what was happening and why and frankly, what I found surprised me.
Are you ready…what caused the biggest of big homeschool co-op messes with lawyers and splits and hurt feelings? The group had NO Bylaws. They had no Rulebook for the leadership of the group. They were incorporated with the state in 2009 but never got around to finishing the bylaws or voting them in. And they proceeded to operate for 14 years without bylaws. In one sense, it’s fairly impressive that the group managed to operate that long…but the whole mess could have been avoided IF they had bylaws.
As the organization started to deteriorate, members all started doing their own detective work…certain they must have recourse for the problems they were seeing. Old leadership was contacted. The lawyer who helped with filing the Articles of Incorporation was contacted. People scoured their computers for possible bylaws from years ago. They all came up empty.
You may be wondering…HOW DID THEY NOT HAVE HOMESCHOOL GROUP BYLAWS?
They didn’t have bylaws for the same reason a lot of things don’t happen in homeschool groups. In volunteer co-ops, there is always too much to do and not enough time/man power. Additionally, most homeschool leaders have not had a lot of board training so its easy to miss important steps! So in their case, they filed Articles of Incorporation with that state, established their board, and referenced bylaws (that they intended to write). When they incorporated, the new co-op year had already started so they were probably super busy and just didn’t get around to it. Sound familiar?
Homeschool group bylaws serve many purposes
- They are required by law to be a non-profit corporation
- They are like the handbook for how your board will operate. They tell current and future board members what is expected and required and how they should operate.
- It provides protection for your members (even if they are not voting members) because it tells them how the board is expected to operate and what should happen if the board fails at its duties. It provides a means of accountability.
- They help your organization continue to exist if you need to add members to your leadership team.
- When new leadership happens, the organization has consistency in the way it is run.
In the homeschool group that fell apart, new leadership had come on and had a NEW VISION for the group. Because they had no bylaws, the leadership was able to change everything about this co-op with no oversite or accountability to the members. They weren’t operating out of alignment with the bylaws…because THERE WERE NO BYLAWS.
- If you are starting a homeschool group and need bylaws, Carol Topp has samples bylaws to help you get started.
- HSLDA also offers a free example of bylaws
Write a Better Story for Your Homeschool Group
You might be thinking…where is the disaster? You promised a disaster. This just sounds like people problems. And the short version doesn’t leave room for all the juicy details. But the reality is that when a group implodes like this, it causes massive confusion, people are divided, kids no longer get to see some of their friends, money is taken from the bank account, people are hesitant to trust and it feels like a trauma. Right now, your homeschool group that you are building is a community…for some people it will be their family or even their church.
You as a leader have the opportunity to write a better story for your group…for your friends and all those future relationships by setting up your organization in a way that is solid and makes it easier to make decisions in alignment with your mission.
Need Help With Your Homeschool Group Bylaws?
I offer consultations to review your group’s bylaws or help you write them. If you find yourself in a tangled mess with lots of people problems, I offer consultations for that too. Contact me for more information.