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Special education: challenging in several ways

When a family in the Cayugos Elementary School District decided to begin home schooling, they delivered a notice to their local elementary school that they were withdrawing their daughters from public school and enrolling them in a private school. They assumed that this would end their involvement with the public school.

They were wrong.

School district personnel repeatedly contacted the family, requesting meetings with the parents. Because the children had also been enrolled in the elementary school's special education program, the school district felt that it was their responsibility to verify that the children were enrolled in a "correct" special education program.

The family attempted to allay the district's concerns by delivering letters that formally withdrew their children from the special education program, closed the special education IEPs (individual education plan), and referred the district to the private school independent study program where they had enrolled their daughters. None of this deterred the school district from continuing to contact the family--at the father's workplace as well as at their home.

When repeated phone calls rose to the level of harassment, the family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association.

Attorney Michael Smith immediately addressed a letter to the school district, explaining that once a family has withdrawn their children from a public school special education program and no longer wants services, the school district does not have jurisdiction to evaluate the educational program of the private school in which they are enrolled. Parents who choose private education are free to reject services provided pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Federal law does require each state to offer each special needs child a free, appropriate public education, but does not empower states to make special education mandatory.

Upon receipt of HSLDA's letter, the school district official indicated that there would be no further requests or contact with our clients.

Public schools do not have authority to evaluate the curriculum or programs of private schools in the state of California. This is no different for special education children. In a rare instances, HSLDA has come across school districts making threats that a family could be charged with neglect if they withdrew their child from a special education program. However, refusing public school services does not constitute neglect. Parents still have the right to make those decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their children.

- J. Michael Smith