HSLDA Media Release
April 11, 2000

Home Schoolers Take Special Needs Case to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

For immediate release
April 11, 2000
Contact: Rich Jefferson
(540) 338-8663 or media@hslda.org

SAN FRANCISCO—A precedent-setting case that centers on a Nevada special needs home school student will be heard Wednesday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Hooks v. Clark County School District could decide whether special needs home schoolers will receive education services in all 50 states, or only the 12 states in which home schools operate as private schools.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congress sends money to local school districts to fund special needs education for public and private school students. In California and 11 other states, home schools operate as private schools, and special needs home schoolers receive assistance.

However, in the other 38 states, home schools are not, as defined by statute, public or private schools. Nevada’s Clark County School District has taken the narrowest possible definition of the law in an effort to exclude the smallest fraction of handicapped students, such as Christopher Hooks, the minor child of William and Catherine Hooks.

“The issue is whether there is equal protection under the law for special needs home schoolers,” said Michael Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “If you live in a state where home schools operate as private schools, you can get services. If you don’t live in one of those states, you can’t get services. It’s that simple.”

HSLDA, a national organization advocating for the parental right to home school, represents the Hooks family. HSLDA argues that the school district’s position is contrary to the intent of the IDEA, the federal statute under which the funds are paid to the states. That statute plainly says that its purpose is to provide services to all students. To exclude home school students from special education benefits would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

If the court rules for the Hooks, the school district will be required to pay for the speech therapy the Hooks family has already purchased, Farris explained. Nationwide, handicapped home schoolers will receive the same treatment as their public and private school counterparts.

The school district has argued that a 1992 opinion from the U.S. Department of Education supports its position to deny services. In the letter, the Department said the determination of who is a private school student should be made according to state law. Since home school students are not private school students under Nevada law, the school district denied Christopher services.

The Ninth Circuit must decide whether this policy and practice of the school district, in conformity with the DOE letter, contravenes the intent of IDEA, or violates the Equal Protection Clause. The case is important because a number of school districts, and even state departments of education, are excluding home schoolers on this basis.

“Now we have a crazy patchwork of conflicting rules discriminating against one small group,” Farris said. “If the Hooks family prevails, there will be one simple rule for everyone.”