Home Schooling with Special Needs
Can my home-schooled child still receive therapy services?
As home schooling becomes more and more popular, so does this parent concern.“I want to home school my child who has an IEP, but I don’t want to give up the therapy services. What can I do?”
Luckily, you have several options. But the answer to whether you can retain services is…maybe.
And unfortunately, in typical advocate fashion, I have more questions for you than answers.
First, ask yourself this. Are you truly home schooling your child? True home schooling means that the parent develops the curriculum (or buys/uses one); in other words, the parent chooses the curriculum and is responsible for teaching all of it.
In recent years, cyber charters have become more popular. They may also be called Virtual Charter or Distance Learning. There are several names for them, and not every state has them. But in most cases, they are considered a public school and, therefore, are bound to all the laws, including IDEA. Now, I’m not knocking all the hard work that parents have to put in for cyber charters…since your kid is home all day. And I see why many find it easier to just say, "We’re home schooling," but it’s not really the same. Your child is enrolled in a school; therefore, you would follow the IEP process just as you normally would in your home district, although the logistics might be different.
Please, please research the charter laws in your state and seek assistance when you are told no. There is a ton of misinformation out there regarding charters, much of it even coming from the charters, but in most cases they are considered public schools and have to educate all kids…even the disabled ones!
Now, if you say to yourself, “Nope, I’m doing true home schooling. I will be responsible for all the curriculum, state testing, etc.” Then it gets a bit more complex. My first advice is if your child needs services, ask for them. Meet with the special education director. Offer to drive the child in for the services if that is within your ability (and the child’s). If they say no, ask to see the policy. I have seen some special ed directors agree to this arrangement. Ok, actually it was only ever one in 10 years, but I have seen it happen. After all, you are still a taxpayer in the district, right? So ask. How far you get depends on how far you want to pursue this. There might be some legal precedent that works in your favor. Who knows? Generally the thinking and policy is that if you are not enrolled in the school, you do not get services. However, I don’t know of too many people who have pushed for it. Some states and districts actually offer this, but it is more common that it doesn’t happen. Still, doesn’t hurt to ask.
Another option, of course, is to use your private insurance and your child’s Medical Assistance if he has it. This will likely be your path of least resistance, and if it works, go for it.
Another consideration or question to ask yourself: Was your child’s placement changed to home bound? Home bound is very, very different from home schooling. Home bound is not usually a choice, per se. Families choose to home school. Children who are either too ill or too disabled to attend school may get a placement change to home bound. This is only a placement change per the IEP, so you have to watch this carefully. If your child was moved to home bound, then it’s likely that her needs have increased, not decreased. So do not let them take away therapy services if your child still needs them.
In my experience, I have found the home-bound option to be abused terribly! Usually the instructor hours drop to 5 per week, the instructor they send out may not be certified, often doesn’t show up and so on. Home-bound and hospital are among the most restrictive placements there are, so they should only be used in extreme cases. Home-bound instruction should not be used because the school just “doesn’t want to deal” with your child and it’s easier for them if your child is home. The decision to move your child to home-bound instruction should be like any other part of the IEP — team should gather, discuss it, come to a conclusion, provide PWN and so on. Push back if this is not what you want! If it is what you want, progress monitoring is going to be essential, because it’s all going to fall on the parent.
I hope this helps a bit, or at least puts you on the path to getting your answers.
Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.