Last month, this series focused on resources and concern that many special needs children in Texas are falling through the cracks of the public school’s Individual Education Program (IEP) evaluation process. From that blog, our readers and THSC members responded with many replies and calls to our special needs department wanting to share their stories or asking for assistance in helping their children avoid becoming one of those statistics. As always, your stories touched my heart. So, I decided to share some of them as a segue into the companion topic that we will be talking about this month, IEPs for the home school.
A recently transplanted special needs family decided to enroll their child in public school when they moved to Texas. Before their move they had home schooled their child in the state where they were living, but thought it may be a positive change to transition their child back into public school at the time of their move. Upon enrollment, an ARD (Admission, Review, and Dismissal) meeting was called (per the TEA, or Texas Education Administration, enrollment mandates for the transfer of special needs students) and their child started the evaluation process for an IEP. In the meantime, the parents realized public school enrollment had not been the best choice for their child, so they withdrew to home school before the IEP meeting took place. But that was not the end. The public school continued the IEP process and that is when the parents contacted THSC. It was explained to the parents when they called that the school was required to complete the IEP to its end, with or without the child being enrolled. In the end, the parents felt they had made the best decision in withdrawing their child as the IEP test results showed much lower scores than they knew their child was capable of achieving at home. Additionally, the goals provided for their child, they believed, were not set high enough to challenge their child’s scholastic skills. So, at the end of the IEP process, these parents made it clear in writing that they were not going to pursue the services the school was willing to offer their child.
A family that had never considered home schooling until this year called THSC wondering how they could start the process of withdrawing from public school their child, who struggled with Dyslexia. Their reasoning for reconsidering their educational choice was because after a year of meetings, testing, and fighting against the public school for services for their child, the conclusion of the IEP evaluation was that the school would accommodate by offering one-on-one reading tutoring 30 minutes per week–that was it. All the hopes this family had placed in the public educational system to help their child advance academically, with services they knew were necessary, were squashed when they received this long awaited piece of paper. In the end, the family did withdraw their child from the public school. They were able to find a very good reading curriculum from our THSC Special Needs Resource list that would help them start to teach their child ways to overcome many of his reading challenges. Plus, they are now able to do one-on-one reading instruction with him every day instead of just 30 minutes a week.
A home school family whose child had been receiving services from the public schools called THSC asking for advice on how to respond to a recent notice from their district that stated their child’s services were being discontinued. After discussing the details of the situation, it was found that the reasoning behind the discontinuation was that the child had plateaued in regular occupational therapy IEP measurements. It was a baffling situation for the family as they knew their child had the ability to keep progressing. But what was further explained to the family was that the school district has a very narrow parameter in which it provides therapy, that being centered around the public school process and integration of state standardized academics. Thus, once a child is able to navigate within the goals outlined in those parameters, the school will no longer provide therapy. Therefore, when this family’s child successfully navigated the school bus steps, and did so in a consistent manner, the school’s occupational therapy was done. In encouraging the parents from this milestone, we suggested they continue to work on occupational therapy goals at home and build them into their own IEP so they can chart their child’s continued progress.
I know what some of you are already thinking as you read the end of that last story, “A homeschool IEP?” “Is that legal?” “Could I really create my own documentation to support my child’s needs for modifications and accommodations?” Well, you are not alone in making an initial assumption that home schooling removes your ability to access IEP and Rehabilitation Act, Section 504-type documentation. Many educators, like Angie Delaney who wrote the paper entitled “Perspectives of Parents of Students With Disabilities Towards Public and Homeschool Learning Environments”, make the same assumption. Specifically, Ms. Delaney makes the following statements in her paper, based purely on the deductive reasoning from her exposure to the IEP and 504 processes in the public schools:
IEPs are specifically designed in the public school systems with each student’s needs in mind. Unique to federally funded institutions, the child’s IEP team considers the student’s strength and weaknesses individually. Measureable annual goals are written and any support and interventions are legally enforced as part of student’s educational plan . . . . Unlike the laws public school systems follow, private and homeschooled students with disabilities do not have individualized documents, such as an IEP, to guide educators and therapists when working with students with disabilities” (page 40).
“Parents considering homeschooling need to understand that by choosing this method of education for their child with disabilities, they will be waiving their Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) . . . . At this point in the United States, public schools provide students with disabilities with a legal written document supporting their educational future; however, students with disabilities not enrolled in public schools do without this benefit” (page 40).
In doing more research on the subject of IEPs and 504 paperwork, which create legal documents in the public schools for special needs students, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not concur with Ms. Delaney’s argument. Instead, the ADA’s website page on accommodations states that, “Any documentation if required by a testing entity in support of a request for testing accommodations must be reasonable and limited to the need for the requested testing accommodations.” And, the specific forms of documentation listed below are acceptable forms of proof for requesting testing accommodations for any test that is “ . . . administered by any private, state, or local government entity related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes . . . .” (http://www.ada.gov/regs2014/testing_accommodations.html)
- Past Testing Accommodations
- Formal Public School Accommodations
- Private School Testing Accommodations (a home school is a type of private school in Texas)
- First Time Requests (usually relating only to recent injuries, diagnosis, or medication changes that have a recent physician documented request)
- Informal Classroom Testing Accommodations
- Qualified Professional Testing and Diagnosis for Accommodations
Furthermore, the ADA’s website states that the “ . . . testing entity should generally limit its request for documentation to those one or two items and should generally evaluate the testing accommodation request based on those limited documents without requiring further documentation.” Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .” [29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a)] Public schools are bound by the ADA and Section 504 laws that make it mandatory for them to create these forms of paperwork, but public schools do not have a monopoly on the ability to create disability documentation for children and young adults with special needs as they commonly tell parents they do.
Additionally, home school parents must consider the IEP process in the light that this document was created to give parents a voice into their child’s education. For this reason, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents the upper hand in the entire public school IEP process by allowing them the final say as to whether the people on the IEP team have created a satisfactory plan for their child.
The team includes the child’s teacher; the parents . . . an agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education; and other individuals at the parents’ or agency’s discretion.
If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request a due process hearing and a review from the State educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the State agency’s decision to State or Federal court.”
For those reasons, a homeschool IEP becomes the perfect place for home schooling parents to document their children’s needs, warehouse testing, and diagnostic records, give basis for necessary modifications and accommodations, and store ongoing records of measureable goals and assessments for targeted learning instruction. Because of the ADA and IDEA laws, which support the weight of the evidence gathered in a home school IEP, home school parents can confidently present their IEP to any testing entity that would recognize a public school IEP as long as it contains equivalent diagnostic measures.
Watch, stand fast in the truth, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
It is the goal of THSC to help special needs families stand firm in their convictions to home school and to be brave and strong in exercising those freedoms. This blog series is just one of the ways THSC is helping special needs families; but keep your eyes open, because coming in 2016 a new member benefit will be added to the THSC website, specifically for special needs families. THSC is currently working on making the process of creating a home school IEP a whole lot easier. As a THSC member, you will soon be able to use an IEP generation tool that will lead you step-by-step through the IEP creation process and will result in a professional looking IEP, generated specifically for your child. A first of its kind and made specifically for THSC members!
Although all this information is very exciting in itself, there is still more to come in this series. Next month we will discuss special needs graduation requirements and issuing home school diplomas, so make sure to stay tuned.
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Since 1986, THSC has fought to Keep Texas Families Free. During that time, the coalition has recognized that special needs families are battling to keep free in many ways. You can rest assured, THSC will stand by its members to continue protecting the rights of your family and to support you along the way. Is your family a THSC member family? If not, join today!