By Valle Dwight
Mimi Enriquez was an experienced homeschooling parent when she noticed that her third child, then age 6, was not learning as easily as her older kids. Her daughter had a speech delay and was struggling with reading. Through a homeschooling seminar, Enriquez found out that she could have the local public school test her daughter for a learning disability.
After the evaluations were done, the school district told Enriquez that her daughter was eligible for extra services. But after Enriquez explained that she did not intend to enroll her daughter in school, the administration seemed uncertain about how to proceed.
“The administration of the school was not very knowledgeable about how to service homeschoolers,” she says.
What Enriquez discovered is that where homeschooling and special education meet, there can be confusion, tension, and lots of unanswered questions. An estimated 1.5 million families in the United States homeschool their kids, and, of those, 4% say they are homeschooling because of special needs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that legal rights for homeschoolers vary from state to state, according to Darren Jones, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association.
The first part of the special education process is straightforward: Every child, no matter what state he or she lives in, has the right to be evaluated for special education. But once the testing in completed, all consistency goes out the window. The level of services schools provide to homeschoolers varies from state to state, and sometimes from town to town. In 12 states homeschooling is considered the same as private schooling, and students have access to services at public schools, Jones says. But the other states have different rules.
“If it’s a half-hour a week of reading help, most schools will provide that,” Jones says. But if your child needs extensive physical therapy, for instance, parents might meet resistance.
Enriquez’s daughter was offered speech therapy twice a week, and she brought her daughter to the school for the sessions for about four months, until she felt it was no longer effective. But the school never addressed her daughter’s reading issue. Ultimately, Enriquez turned to a private organization for help teaching her daughter to read.
For homeschooling parents who suspect their child has a learning disability, Jones suggests finding an expert within the school system who can tell you your rights and explain the process.
But realistically, he says, “it doesn’t always work that easily.” If that’s the case, he suggests checking with the state education department and finding its parent advocate or ombudsman to help guide you.
And don’t give up even if you’re in a state that does not mandate services for homeschoolers, Jones advises — it’s always worth asking.
“But if the first answer is no, that may well be the final answer,” he adds.
Jones has a few tips for parents of public school kids on IEPs who are thinking of homeschooling: