Originally Sent: 1/16/2014
January 16, 2013
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How Can I Legally Homeschool My Child with Special Needs?
By Tj Schmidt
Can I homeschool my child with special educational needs? Are there specific legal requirements for teaching my child at home with such a need? Do I have to follow the IEP (individualized educational plan) he or she has? Can I withdraw from an IEP? What about the annual assessment requirements of my state? Could CPS (Child Protective Services) force me to put my child back in school?
These are the questions that I and the other nine attorneys at the Home School Legal Defense Association get just about every day. For a parent with a child with special educational needs, these questions are extremely important. Some parents won’t take the plunge and homeschool their child until they know the answers to these and many similar questions. Others are so overwhelmed by the prospect of homeschooling a child with special needs and their own lack of training in the special education field that they abandon the idea before they even begin.
HSLDA helps families who desire to teach their children at home navigate the legal issues surrounding their decision. We provide daily support and reassurance to families who are teaching their children at home. A parent who is homeschooling a child with special educational needs has enough to worry about. They need to be told they can succeed. My personal belief, one shared by many working at HSLDA, is that God has given parents unique insight into their child’s needs and has given them the highest desire to meet those needs. While we might not always know how to meet those needs, with the help of others we can provide an educational program designed specifically for our children that will provide them with the best opportunity to learn and ultimately become what God has for them.
The best place to turn to on a national level for answers about homeschooling is HSLDA. We are the only national organization solely committed to defending the right of parents to teach their children at home; assisting local and state homeschool organizations (like HEAV), and lobbying local, state and federal officials. All HSLDA staff attorneys and their families are currently homeschooling their children or have homeschooled in the past. Many of our attorneys have had children graduate. Four of us, and our wives, were taught at home and graduated from a homeschool program.
HSLDA’s special needs/struggling learner consultants homeschool their own children or have worked with homeschooling families for many years in various capacities. All of us are committed to assisting families who are teaching their children with special needs at home just as we are committed to teaching our own children.
So, are you required to do anything differently when you want to teach your child with special educational needs at home? In most states, including Virginia, the answer is no. In the few states where you are required to do one or two additional things, HSLDA staff members can walk you through the steps to begin a successful homeschool program. In no state will you be prohibited from homeschooling your child.
For most parents with a special needs child, the homeschool journey begins after trying the public school system. However, for those parents who seek to homeschool their child right from the start, we can let you know whether you are required to notify your local public school district or state that your child has a special educational need. In all situations there are pros and cons for doing so. In most states you will not be required to call attention to your child’s unique educational needs.
All children are entitled to a free, appropriate public education (or FAPE) and an evaluation to determine if they have any special educational need. Fit parents cannot be forced to choose public school for their child. Your local school district cannot force you to evaluate your child to determine if he or she has a special educational need. However, we must caution that if parents enroll a child in public school, they can be forced to let the school evaluate him. While we occasionally have situations arise where a public school official insists that a homeschooled child be evaluated to determine exactly what special needs he or she has, in these cases we have always been able to defend the parent’s decision to refuse this evaluation. At times we have had to go to court to do so. So, in order to avoid such possible legal entanglements, HSLDA’s legal staff and special needs consultants encourage families to seek private evaluations and services, if at all possible.
Each homeschool is, by nature, a unique and individualized educational program. While some parents spend more time individualizing each of their children’s educational programs, every homeschool program is naturally adapted to each child’s need in a way that never happens in the public school setting.
While it is true that parents who homeschool are not required to follow the IEP that their child with special needs had in the public school system, sometimes the wisest path is to continue with some or all of the elements of the IEP, but using a private provider.
The HSLDA special needs consultants suggest that families select and follow appropriate goals and helpful instructional strategies that may have been a part of the former IEP. In order to avoid possible allegations of educational neglect, parents are encouraged, but not required, to draft (and keep in their homeschool files) their own written plan, often referred to as a student education plan in the homeschool realm.
Helpful HSLDA Articles
Resources for drafting your own Student Education Plan:
The IEP Manual: Individualized Education Planning for the Home School-Handicapped Student by Jim and Debby Mills, available from
The Student Education Plan (SEP): A Preparation Guide by Judith Munday
Homeschooling Children with Special Needs and “Curriculum Planning Resource Guide” by Sharon Hensley,
Luke’s List and Luke’s Life List by Joyce Herzog
State by State
Nearly half of the states require some sort of assessment for homeschool programs with some states requiring an annual assessment of each child. In many of these states, a minimum score is also required. For parents with children who have a more serious special educational need, this can be very intimidating. However, in just about every state there are several options and alternatives that you will have at your disposal if you are in this situation. We can help you determine what is best for you and your child. One thing to remember is that in no state are you required to teach your child at some artificial, age-based grade level. Instead, you are free to teach your children at the level that meets their needs and abilities. Be sure to visit our HSLDA website, or call your HSLDA legal representative if you have questions about your state’s assessment requirements for a child with special needs. We are here to support and guide you in this process.
For more information on how you can homeschool your child with special needs, access our free, downloadable brochure, “You Can Homeschool Your Struggling Learner.”
Members may access HSLDA’s sample IEP withdrawal letter.
Are you in need of a private evaluator, therapist, or tutor who is home school friendly? Check out our Find a Professional database.
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