I'm not just a PT, I'm also a parent!

I'm not just a PT, I'm also a parent!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Homeschooling and IEP's - An Impossible Combination?

When my husband and I were newlyweds, he stated that he wanted his children to be homeschooled.  I was a bit dubious, mostly because I doubted my abilities to educate my own children.  What if I wasn't good at it and my kids underachieved???  But my teacher husband promised to support me and when my oldest son turned 4, we dove into homeschooling.  After all, how hard is it to teach preschool?

My son thoroughly enjoyed his homeschool preschool curriculum and we had so many opportunities to go on fun outings/field trips.  However, I noticed that he was having difficulty with his fine motor skills, particularly writing and drawing, and he seemed to have some sensory processing issues.  The district recommended that we place him in a Kindergarten readiness class 2 days a week so that a member of their staff could observe him and report on his progress.  Upon the advice from his Pre-K teacher, I requested an IEP from our school district, but since he did not have a formal diagnosis, they could not proceed. 

When he turned 5, he was "old enough" to be formally diagnosed with ADHD, which we knew all along.   He started a homeschool Kindergarten program through the county and was thriving academically, though he continued to struggle with his writing skills.  As the school year progressed, the expectation for written work increased and he became more frustrated, more oppositional, and more unwilling to do his schoolwork.  We revisited the IEP process and thanks to an incredible RSP teacher who took the time to look at my son's work samples, we were on our way!

My son's IEP recommended 40 minutes of RSP per day and 45 minutes of OT per week.  He was to be mainstreamed the rest of the time, since he was doing well academically.  We enrolled him in the public school for the last 2 months of the school year, but were undecided as to continue there or resume homeschooling for first grade.

I contacted several homeschool programs, including charter schools and not a single one of them would accept my son's IEP as written.  Some schools felt that since I would be his primary teacher, I should provide those services (since when am I a Special Ed teacher or Occupational Therapist?).  Others said that our family would have to seek those service privately and pay for them on our own.  Yet others insisted on holding their own IEP meeting so that they could decide what services he should receive.  Frankly, this last group of schools frustrated me the most -- we had already dragged my poor son through the assessment process and he had to go through it again?  What was wrong with his current IEP?  Why wouldn't they answer my questions about all this?  Who is on their IEP team?  No answer.  How do these schools provide services, and by whom?  No answer.  Why did the emailed letter from one school say he has "exceptional needs" when he is mainstreamed and performs well academically?  No answer, except re-sending the email.

I find it sad that families of children with special needs have no options other than traditional public schools.  We pay our taxes.  We should get the services we pay for.  Many families (including ours) cannot afford hundreds of dollars per month on therapy services.  Many families cannot afford private school, either.  And it seems that homeschool programs are less than willing to accommodate IEPs from a school district as they are written and provide services as recommended.  Last I checked, charter schools are public schools that receive public funds, so they should honor IEPs as written.  Interestingly, section 51745(c) of California Ed Code states "No individual with exceptional needs may participate in Independent Study, unless his or her individualized educational plan (IEP) specifically provides for that participation."  (Interestingly, there is an official difference between homeschooling and independent study, but I can't get a straight answer without legalese as to what exactly the difference is)  Here is the "official" definition of "exceptional needs" in the state of California:

56026.  "Individuals with exceptional needs" means those persons who
satisfy all the following:
   (a) Identified by an individualized education program team as a
child with a disability, as that phrase is defined in subparagraph
(A) of paragraph (3) of Section 1401 of Title 20 of the United StatesCode.
   (b) Their impairment, as described by subdivision (a), requires
instruction, services, or both, which cannot be provided with
modification of the regular school program.
   (c) Come within one of the following age categories:
   (1) Younger than three years of age and identified by the
district, the special education local plan area, or the county office
as requiring intensive special education and services, as defined by
the State Board of Education.
   (2) Between the ages of three to five years, inclusive, and
identified by the district, the special education local plan area, or
the county office pursuant to Section 56441.11.
   (3) Between the ages of five and 18 years, inclusive.
   (4) Between the ages of 19 and 21 years, inclusive; enrolled in or
eligible for a program under this part or other special education
program prior to his or her 19th birthday; and has not yet completed
his or her prescribed course of study or who has not met proficiency
standards  or has not graduated from high school with a regular high
school diploma.
   (A) Any person who becomes 22 years of age during the months of
January to June, inclusive, while participating in a program under
this part may continue his or her participation in the program for
the remainder of the current fiscal year, including any extended
school year program for individuals with exceptional needs
established pursuant to regulations adopted by the State Board of
Education, pursuant to Article 1 (commencing with Section 56100) of
Chapter 2.
   (B) Any person otherwise eligible to participate in a program
under this part shall not be allowed to begin a new fiscal year in a
program if he or she becomes 22 years of age in July, August, or
September of that new fiscal year.  However, if a person is in a
year-round school program and is completing his or her individualized
education program in a term that extends into the new fiscal year,
then the person may complete that term.
   (C) Any person who becomes 22 years of age during the months of
October, November, or December while participating in a program under
this act shall be terminated from the program on December 31 of the
current fiscal year, unless the person would otherwise complete his
or her individualized education program at the end of the current
fiscal year.
   (D) No school district, special education local plan area, or
county office of education may develop an individualized education
program that extends these eligibility dates, and in no event may a
pupil be required or allowed to attend school under the provisions of
this part beyond these eligibility dates solely on the basis that
the individual has not met his or her goals or objectives.
   (d) Meet eligibility criteria set forth in regulations adopted by
the board, including, but not limited to, those adopted pursuant to
Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 56333) of Chapter 4.
   (e) Unless disabled within the meaning of subdivisions (a) to (d),
inclusive, pupils whose educational needs are due primarily to
limited English proficiency; a lack of instruction in reading or
mathematics; temporary physical disabilities; social maladjustment;
or environmental, cultural, or economic factors are not individuals
with exceptional needs.

So let this be a warning to those of you who are hoping on homeschooling your children with special needs:  It will not be an easy decision-making process.  You and your child may have to revisit the assessment process yet another time.  Your child may not receive the services he or she requires.  You may have to make a large financial sacrifice to obtain these services for your child.  You may have to jump through hoops just to get answers.  You will most likely be asked to send your child's IEP paperwork to the school before they will consider enrollment.  You may have to make the difficult decision whether to homeschool, or whether to enroll in public school to obtain necessary services paid for with your tax dollars.

My advice:  Do your research.  Advocate for your child.  Do not sign anything without being 100% confident in what you are agreeing to.  If you are completely committed to homeschooling, recognize that you may need to do so without the assistance and support of an IEP.  Do what is best for your child.

I wish you the best of luck!  

Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.  I'd love to hear how different families have dealt with this. 

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