Homeschooling Laws for Children with Disabilities
There are many advantages to home educating children with learning difficulties. These children generally do better in an educational setting with a higher student/teacher ratio, which is just what homeschooling provides. Instruction can be totally individualized to meet the child’s specific needs. The parent can take advantage of all the teachable moments throughout the day. Homeschool families don’t have to undo bad habits learned in the classroom.
There are also challenges when home educating children with disabilities. The parent needs to spend extra time learning about the child’s specific learning challenge and appropriate teaching methodologies. Some children with disabilities will be dependent on the family for years and require an enormous amount of supervision. Overall, parents with children with disabilities say homeschooling, while challenging, is very rewarding.
The homeschool statute, ORS 339.035, makes provision for home educating children with disabilities. This portion of the statute is interpreted in OAR 581-021-0029 which deals specifically with children with disabilities.
If I have a child I think is disabled, do I have to follow these rules?
No. Homeschool students can always be tested using a standardized achievement test. You would follow the regular homeschool rules (OAR 581-021-0026). If you want to avoid the standardized achievement test, use a privately developed plan (PDP) for your child, or you want your child to receive special education services at the public school, you should follow the rules for children with disabilities.
Can I follow these rules if I suspect my child is disabled?
Your child has to qualify as disabled to follow these rules. You would need a diagnosis from a doctor, a learning specialist or the public school. If your child is unable to pass the standardized achievement tests, there is a good chance he has a disability and you need to get him evaluated.
Which children qualify as children with disabilities?
This administrative rule addresses two groups of children with disabilities. First, children who have one of the disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This includes children with:
- an autism spectrum disorder
- a communication disorder
- an emotional disturbance
- a hearing impairment
- mental retardation
- an orthopedic impairment
- another health impairment
- a specific learning disability
- a traumatic brain injury
- a vision impairment
Parents of these children who choose to homeschool have three options for evaluation: 1) nationally normed standardized achievement tests with other home educated students; 2) an IEP through the public school, or 3) a PDP with the help of a service provider of the parents’ choice at the parents’ expense.
The second group of children who may qualify under these rules are those who have a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (which includes learning). These children are considered disabled under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. According to the Department of Education “Parents who believe that their child is disabled under Section 504 may be required to provide documentation of disability upon request by the ESD.” This might include a diagnosis of ADHD/ADD from your family physician or a diagnostic evaluation from a special education teacher. The rules do not require that you must be able to provide the diagnosis of a Section 504 disability to the ESD. That is, however, the interpretation of the Department of Education.
Children disabled under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act may homeschool under a privately developed plan (PDP). The schools are not required to provide an IEP and related services for these children. Previously, these children had no option but to take the achievement test with other home educated students. Now, under the PDP the service provider and parent may choose a more appropriate evaluation tool to measure “satisfactory educational progress.”
When parents intend to home educate a child with disabilities, they need to notify the Educational Service District of their intent to home educate. The letter is the same as the letter for non-disabled children. If you plan on using the standardized achievement test to evaluate your child’s progress AND you do not plan on using any services from the local school, you would not include information about the child’s disability. If, however, you know you are going to want services from the public school or you plan on using a privately developed plan to evaluate your child, you should let the Educational Service District know that information.
What are the School District’s Responsibilities?
Once the local school district is informed or suspects your child is disabled, it is required by federal and state law to offer you an evaluation to determine the child’s eligibility to receive special education and related services. As a parent, you may refuse consent for evaluation in which case the school district will send back a letter saying they “stand ready” to evaluate your child whenever you might give consent.
Once your child has been identified as a homeschool child with disabilities, the school district is required to send you an annual letter saying that if you enroll you child in public school, they will provide him with a “free appropriate public education.” These letters are not pressure tactics from the schools. The schools are required to do this so they have documentation that they offered the federally mandated services to you and that you refused. This gets them out of the responsibility to provide those services and you out from being forced to have your child in public school.
How often is a child with a disability evaluated?
All home educated children, even those with disabilities, must be evaluated in the 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grades. As with other children, you may start counting them as 1st graders the year they are 7 on September 1st. The evaluation must be done sometime between September 1st and August 15th of the above mentioned grades. These evaluations must be kept in the child’s permanent record and turned into the ESD if requested.
As with most home educating parents, however, you will be doing continuous evaluations on the progress of your child. In fact, Home School Legal Defense Association recommends you make contact with your service provider about four times per year. This could be something as easy as talking on the phone about progress toward goals and brainstorming ways to work toward them.
There are three options for evaluating homeschool children with disabilities. 1) Have them evaluated using standardized achievement tests. 2) Have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) developed by the public schools for the child. 3) Evaluate them according to a privately developed plan (PDP). These three options will be explained in more detail following.
1. Standardized achievement test
This option is usually the least amount of work for the family. If the child can score above the 15th percentile without too much stress or difficulty, this is probably the best option. You would not need to have your child identified as disabled. Even if they have been identified by the schools as disabled, the standardized achievement test is still an option.
2.Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
If the local school district suspects that a homeschool child has a disability, they are required to offer an initial evaluation to determine the child’s eligibility to receive special education and related services. If you think your child would benefit from services from the local school district, this would be the first step. If the child would be eligible for special education services if attending public school AND if such services can be offered in conjunction with home education, the school district is required to develop an IEP for the child.
The IEP team would set forth goals and a plan of service for the child. The parent is considered part of the team as both the child’s regular education teacher and parent. The IEP team also states how “satisfactory educational progress” is determined. They have three options: 1) testing with a standardized achievement test on the same schedule as non-disabled home educating students, 2) identifying another measure to be used, or 3) allowing the PDP team to determine satisfactory educational progress.
What if the school denies my child special education services?
Some children who struggle in school do not qualify for special education services. Other children qualify for services which cannot be provided in conjunction with home education. These are legitimate reasons for denial of special education services to home educated children. There is also some confusion about new federal guidelines for special education services for children in private and home schools. This may cause your local school district to decide that they will not provide services for your child. If this happens, contact the Oregon Department of Education to evaluate the situation. The rules are clear that if the services can be provided in conjunction with home education the local school district should provide them.
However, a parent of a home educated child with disabilities is not entitled to a due process hearing to contest a school district’s decision not to provide special education in conjunction with home schooling. If a school district refuses to help you and the Oregon Department of Education supports their decision, you are not entitled to take them to court. Your child is still entitled to a free appropriate public education if he is enrolled in the public school, but if you choose to home educate, you can’t take the district to court to make them provide special education services.
3. Privately Developed Plan
A privately developed plan is a new option for Oregon home educators. It involves a parent choosing a service provider to come alongside to help set goals for a child with disabilities and evaluate the child’s progress against those goals. During grades 3, 5, 8 and 10, the service provider provides a statement to the family on whether or not the child is making “satisfactory educational progress.”
Who qualifies as a service provider for a PDP?
The Department of Education left the qualification and selection of the service provider up to the family. The family should choose someone knowledgeable about the child’s condition and supportive of home education. The service provider should be willing to evaluate the child, work with the family to set forth academic and/or developmental goals appropriate to the child and provide a report to the family on the child’s progress.
Nothing in the rule requires the service provider to be located in Oregon. If you can receive the support you need, a specialist residing in another state may prove beneficial for your family. Whoever is your service provider, make sure they are willing to sign their name to a statement of whether or not your child is making satisfactory educational progress.
What does a service provider do?
You should choose a service provider that can give you guidance for your special needs child. He or she can help you assess your child’s current level of functioning, set academic or developmental goals, provide necessary therapies, teach you how to provide them or recommend someone who can provide them. The service provider can help you make periodic assessments and evaluations of your child’s progress. They are required by rule to provide you with an evaluation in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 of the child’s progress. You keep this evaluation in your permanent files. They also provide a summary statement of the evaluation stating whether or not your child is making satisfactory educational progress. If requested, you turn in a copy of the summary statement to the ESD. You do not turn in the entire assessment to the ESD.
How can I find a service provider?
This is a fairly new law and professionals who could be of service to the homeschool community may not be aware of the law or may be reluctant to provide the services necessary to help you develop a PDP. You will have to be very familiar with the law and do some educating of those who may be able to help you best.
We have provided a short list of resources at the end of this section. You can check with the local societies for your child’s disability such as the Autism Society of Oregon. Check with your local library for information on your child’s specific needs including organizations.
OCEANetwork will attempt to gather names of service providers willing to work with home educators. If you find one who has been helpful to your family, please call OCEANetwork at 503-288-1285 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does a privately developed plan look like?
The Administrative Rules state that a “PDP shall include individual educational goals for the student. . . “ The individual goals help you plan your course of study. They include academic and/or developmental goals appropriate to the child’s age and abilities.
The PDP also includes “. . . a statement indicating how satisfactory educational progress will be determined for the student.” This statement should include the tool or method that will be used for evaluation. The service provider may need to establish a baseline to evaluate academic and developmental “progress.”
All this, plus the initial evaluation and periodic progress reports should be kept in the student’s permanent file. However, nothing except a summary statement regarding “satisfactory educational progress” is ever turned in to the ESD.
What does the ESD want turned in to them?
ESDs want your service provider to provide them with the following statement: “______________ is making satisfactory educational progress as defined in OAR 581-021-0029” and sign their name.
What is “satisfactory educational progress?”
“Satisfactory educational progress” is defined in the rules to mean “educational progress across academic and/or developmental areas appropriate to the child’s age and abilities.” The rules state that the student does not need to complete all the goals in order to determine that he or she has made satisfactory educational progress.
Reporting for children with disabilities is the same as for children without disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities should turn in the summary evaluation statement during grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 if the ESD requests it. Remember, the ESD may have requested that you report in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 when they responded to your letter of intent to home educate. (See Reporting in the Homeschooling Laws for Children without Dis)
Students with disabilities may also be home educated. The notification process is the same as that for other home educators. They must also be evaluated on the same schedule as other home educators: grades 3, 5, 8 and 10. There are several options for evaluation for these students. Children who would qualify for an IEP if they were enrolled full time in the public schools have three options for evaluation: 1) the same standardized achievement test used by other home educators, 2) an IEP through the public schools or 3) a PDP with the help of a service provider. Children who are disabled under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (i.e., they have a disability that has been diagnosed as interfering with learning or other activity of living) have two options for evaluation: 1) the same standardized achievement test used by other children or 2) a Privately Developed Plan with the help of a service provider.
Thanks to the 1999 home school law, home educating families in Oregon have many more options to allow them to home educate legally. OCEANetwork works diligently to preserve homeschool freedoms in Oregon. Please consider supporting this work by becoming an OCEANetwork Supporting Family. Make sure you sign up for political action alerts from OCEANetwork so you can help preserve your homeschool freedoms.