Currently in America, there are hundreds of families who are homeschooling their special needs children. Parents often find that when they bring their child home full-time for school, the child begins to make significant progress. Gone are the comparisons, labels and social pressures that a classroom can bring. Parents can create their own IEP that is specific to the real needs of their child. They are free to bring their child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. For children who need to pursue a functional skills curriculum, learning takes place in natural environments. For medically fragile children the home provides the opportunity for careful monitoring. For attention deficit children who function best with less structured time and fewer distractions, home schooling is the answer.
If you are considering withdrawing your child from a public school, it is recommended that parents first disenroll their child and completely divorce themselves from any special services that their child is entitled to receive. There is a common saying that, government controls nearly always follow government money. The ‘controls’ may not be clearly visible at first, but will usually surface as soon as the parents disagree with the public school authorities’ recommendations for new or different therapies and programs. Parents are putting themselves at risk for legal action by allowing themselves to be under the jurisdiction of the federal Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA).There have been documented cases wherein the school district initiated due process proceedings against parents who they believed were not qualified to home teach. In one case, the school district began the due process pursuant to the EHA. They believed that the family was still under the jurisdiction of that act because the home schooled child was still receiving speech therapy.
The following is the purpose and intent of the EHA : "...To assure that all handicapped children have available to them...a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs, to assure that the rights of handicapped children and their parents or guardians are protected to assist states and localities to provide for the education of all handicapped children, and to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate handicapped children."
The central theme throughout the entire act is the purpose of making available a free and appropriate education to handicapped children. The act defines a "free appropriate education" as:
"Special education and related services which (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge, (B) meet the standards of the state educational agency, (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the state involved, and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under section 614(a)(5)[20 USCS s141(a)(5)].3"
Therefore, the intent of the act is to provide statutory guidelines for public schools in order to make available a free public education for the handicapped. The EHA is not a compulsory attendance statute for the handicapped child. Section 1412(2)(B) only allows the state to receive federal money for special education services.
Public schools have a great incentive for keeping our special needs children in the system. They are worth nearly twice as much in state and federal tax dollars which will be sent to the school district. It is easy to harass and intimidate these families because it is harder for the parents to prove educational progress unless they have an IEP specific to their homebased program. As the result of discriminatory treatment, many home schoolers have come to believe that they have less parental rights than everyone else. This cannot be farther from the truth. Parents home teaching special needs children are protected by the same First and Fourteenth Constitutional Amendments as everyone else.
The EHA standards for a free and appropriate education do not apply and were not intended to apply to special needs children in home schools and private schools who are not participating in public agency services. It is very apparent that parents who do not want to take advantage of a free public education for their handicapped child are not mandated to do so. Parents are not required to use any public education services. When the parents choose to privately educate their child they avoid the state’s controls pursuant to the EHA.
These are the steps to take in order to protect your special needs home school:
1. If your child is already enrolled in public school with a special education IEP, do not sign any form declining IEP recommendations. It is recommended that any family who plans to withdraw their child from a public school special education program should avoid signing any IEP forms stating that they decline to follow the school district’s recommendations for their child. (See step #5.)
2. Join Home School Legal Defense Association, tell them that you will be home teaching a special needs child. There are additional forms to fill out. HSLDA exists to defend the right of all families to home school. HSLDA will provide the aid of an attorney should your home school encounter any legal problems. Additionally, HSLDA can supply you with a list of professionals who are qualified to assist you in testing and setting up a plan for teaching your child. Contact Home School Legal Defense Association P.O Box 3000 Purcellville, VA 20134 Phone (540)338-5600
3. Enroll your child in a legal private school whether it be an Independent Study Program (ISP) or an Affidavit School of your own. This way your child will not be truant. Know what your state requires so that you will stay out of trouble. Mandatory school attendance for your child is the law. Most states have the compulsory school-age set between ages six and eighteen for all children regardless of disability.
4. If possible, plan to withdraw your child at the conclusion of a school year, or other natural break. Avoid telling school ‘authorities’ of your intention to home school. The decision you have made for your child is a private matter. It is best to withdraw graciously and not draw undue attention to your situation.
5. Close the IEP with a written letter. It is very important that you close the IEP, because as long as it is open the school district may have jurisdiction over your child. As a parent, you had the option to begin the IEP, now you have the option to end the IEP. In your letter state very clearly that you wish to close the IEP and will pursue private enrollment. Use this opportunity to express gratefulness to the educational staff that has been working with your child. Even if you were unhappy about the program it is best to find something to praise, so that you will not be ‘red-flagged’ as a malcontent. Again, do not state that you intend to homeschool. Try to remember that your private school is where you are enrolled, your campus is your home and the faculty is you! In this private school your special needs child is tutored one on one with a very small class to teacher ratio! Now that’s a real ‘free and appropriate’ education in a ‘least restrictive environment’!
6. Your private school should then request a transfer of records from the public school, and that will end your affiliation.
7. Set up an IEP for Home Education. IEP’s are not required by law. However, it would become invaluable if anyone ever were to challenge your home school program. Your IEP should be able to stand up in a court of law. The IEP will document the education progress that your child makes at home. It is the frame-work for a non-traditional education for special needs children.
8. Arrange for regular evaluations. One of the most important elements of your recording keeping should be the documentation of periodic evaluations of educational progress. As a general guide, the more severe the special learning need, the more frequent and thorough the evaluations should be. Consider using a quarterly evaluation schedule. Keep all records for a minimum of three years or until your child is beyond compulsory school age. HSLDA provides the following resources guides for testing your child: The Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery Revised and The Brigance Inventory of Basic Skills.
9. Obtain assistance in meeting your child’s special needs. Some resources would be educational consultants, private educational programs, and public school programs. Although HSLDA does not recommend the use of these services, many parents do home school and retain designated services through public school. The reason of economics and ease of access makes free public school service attractive. However, strings of regulation come attached to these programs and parents should proceed with caution if they choose to stay in the system.
10. Parents should keep careful watch on legislation in order to oppose any attempts to create excessive regulations for handicapped children being home schooled. In California contact Family Protection Ministries (Roy Hanson) P.O. Box 730 Lincoln, CA 95648-0730 phone: (916) 786-3523
The decision to home school a child with special needs is a serious one. Special needs children take a tremendous effort on behalf of the parents. Parents may meet with pressure from the school district, and may encounter criticism from well-meaning family and friends. Many begin home schooling with their own feelings of fear and inadequacy. Nevertheless, in record numbers, parents are choosing to home educate, and most are finding that the rewards far outweigh the costs.
For more information see:
The Right Choice Home Schooling, by Christopher Klicka, copyright 1992, Noble Publishing Associates P.O. Box 2250, Gresham, Oregon 97030 or call (360) 258-3119
Home Schooling Your Special Needs pamphlet, The Home School Legal Defense Association P.O. Box 159 Paionian Springs, VA 22129
This article has been exerpted from The IEP Manual for the Home Schooled Handicapped Student, Second Edition.
By Debby Mills E-MAIL Debby
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