An Interview with the Forstroms
At age three, Gregory Forstrom still wasnt speaking. His parents, Howard and Ellen Forstrom, were worried. They took their son to the only avenue of help they knewa local public school with an early intervention program. The school found that Gregory had a communication deficit and enrolled him in the program.
When Gregory was ready for kindergarten, the Forstroms planned on sending him to the private Christian school his older sister Katelyn attended. But the Christian school told them, Were just not equipped to handle these kinds of problems.
So the Forstroms went to the public school, which welcomed the boy. Wed be glad to take him. Well put him in a regular classroom and give him speech therapy.
When Howard asked how they would handle Gregorys anticipated problems with reading, the school said, Oh, no problem. We use whole language, and all of our teachers are experts in their field.
|LEARNING TOGETHER: Howard, Gregory, Katelyn, and Ellen Forstrom visit Dunluce Castle, summer 1998. The family accompanied 21 teens to Northern Ireland on a mission trip with Touch the World.|
But, returned Howard, all the research Ive read says that children with Gregorys problem dont learn well with the whole language method. Statistically, they learn better with a phonics-based approach.
The school official replied. You dont need to worry about it now. Well just put him in a regular classroom and then if he needs additional help in a few years, well take him out and provide it.
Howard Forstrom didnt think that was a good idea and he asked, Why would you subject a child to failure just so you could fix it later? The official didnt have an answer.
We were searching for answers, Howard Forstrom said. My wife had already been convinced that she was going to home school Gregory. But I wasnt sure. It just so happened that some friends invited us to a dinner theatre and we ended up at a table with a couple who home schooled. All evening, we heard wonderful things about home schooling. I was convinced.
The Forstroms started teaching Gregory at home. Soon, Katelyn asked them to home school her as well.
Home schooling was the best thing that ever happened to us, Howard Forstrom said. Our daughter and son get along better than ever. My sons education can be customized to his needs. My wife has done a lot of research on reading disabilities, and God has opened other doors as well. For example, we recently moved to a new house. One of our new neighbors is a Christian special education teacher. She told my wife about a new curriculum for children with Gregorys problem and helped us obtain it.
Now that Im a member, what do I do?
I had heard of Home School Legal Defense Association as soon as we started home schooling, said Howard. I knew wed be taking Gregory out of public school, even though he wasnt actually enrolled yet. So, we joined right away.
As soon as the Forstroms received their membership card, Howard was on the phone to HSLDA. Now that Im a member, what do I do? he asked. HSLDA attorney for New Jersey Dewitt Black helped the Forstroms draft a letter notifying the school district of their decision to home school and requesting speech therapy for Gregory. The school gave no reply.
Howard followed the letter with a phone call to the school superintendent, who asked the parents to come in and talk to him. At that meeting, Howard repeated his request to continue speech therapy for Gregory, reminding the superintendent that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required public schools to provide such services to private school students with special needs.
The superintendent refused to waste public money on a home schooled child.
Thats when HSLDA litigation attorney David Gordon got involved. It was obvious that the district was not going to help the Forstroms. David sent two registered letters on behalf of the family, but the school denied the requests.
|LESSONS ON LOCATION AT YELLOWSTONE: Gregory and Katelyn Forstrom studied geology and pioneers during a family educational trip to the West in September 1999.|
David told Howard and Ellen, Look, were Christians. Suing the district is not the first thing we should do. Lets try to get mediation. But the district refused mediation.
OK, David said, Lets try the next step-an administrative hearing. But the New Jersey Department of Education refused to grant a hearing.
In February 1998, HSLDA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Forstroms in superior court. Ironically, the very department that had denied the Forstroms a hearing now urged the judge to dismiss the case because the family had not followed proper procedure.
Finally, in April 2000, Judge Isabel Stark ruled, This family was denied due process, and ordered the district to reimburse the Forstroms for the three years of speech therapy they had to obtain privately. This decision is currently being appealed by the school district and state department of education.
Lots of people have said, 'I dont know how you can do this, Howard Forstrom reflected. But there are two things-first, God has been in control. Second, Ive been a bystander. HSLDA has
handled everything. I show up at court and they argue the case.
One of the reasons we went through with this lawsuit, was not because we couldnt afford therapy, but because we knew that there were other families our case would affect. We wanted other home schooled children in the state to be able to get special education services. And if we dont see this through, whats going to happen to the next kid? We were told, You could lose the money youve put out for therapy, but thats not why we did this.
When asked the alternatives to the district funded therapy, Howard replied, We would pay for it ourselves. We as parents have to ask ourselves: Are you committed to home schooling? I dont believe we can let the public school hold us hostage for services.
Sure, Gregory, Lets Try!
Gregory is now nine and receiving services at a local college. [Editors note: These services are not covered under the federal law, but the Forstroms find it is the best option for Gregory. They are paying for this program themselves with the help of a special auditory therapy grant.]
The teachers at the colleges special reading clinic asked the Forstroms, What are you doing with Gregory? Hes making great progress and were not doing any therapy with him yet!
Howard told the Court Report, Gregory is far ahead in some areas. Hes behind in reading, but way ahead in math and history. We do a lot of hands-on education in our home schooling program and thats how Gregory learns best. His mechanical ability is amazing. In 3rd grade, my daughter wanted to build a lighthouse as project. She was trying to wire the lighthouse to make it light up, but wasnt able to do it. Gregory really wanted to try. I didnt think he could, but I said, 'Sure Gregory, lets try. I turned away from the project for just a minute, and when I turned back, he had it hooked up and working-at age five!
We plan vacations and field trips to encourage learning. Weve studied the Revolutionary war-we went all over the place-Lexington, Battle of Monmouth, Valley Forge, Philadelphia. When we studied the Oregon Trail, my children stood in ruts made by thousands of wagon wheels. We learn together as a family.
Rising to the Challenge
The challenge of home schooling a child with special needs is real! Howard Forstrom stated honestly. But I firmly believe that with the help of the home schooling community and the resources that are available, like curriculum, that parents can far exceed expectations-that we can home school special needs kids. You need to persevere and look for many methods of teaching your special needs student.
We shouldnt be scared because of special needs, he continued. Rise up to the challenge and go for it! We know Gregory-we know his strengths and weaknesses. You know your child. Teachers dont know your child-it takes them three to four months to learn kids personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Thats a third to half of an academic year! And then the kids get a new teacher every year. Parents have the benefit of teaching their children year after year.
The techniques are out there and parents can learn them, Howard pointed out. We examined 13 reading techniques and tried several before we found what works for Gregory.
Public school teachers usually know one technique and generally dont have time to keep looking for curriculum thats right for your child. But a mom will persevere. No one else will show love like a parent.
I believe Gregory would feel inadequate if he were in traditional school, but because he can excel and work at grade levels above his age, he feels good about himself. Gregory has a sense of accomplishment thats not going to happen in an overcrowded classroom.