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January 24, 2017

Massachusetts boy

Mom Fights to Bring Son Home from Boarding School

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Like most moms, Jill C. would do anything to help her child.

Mike Donnelly MIKE DONNELLY Contact attorney for Massachusetts

After pursuing every option to provide the best education for her teenage son, who has special learning needs—including anxiety from attending public school—Jill finally turned to home education. But the transition was not easy, as public education authorities and even her own friends and families questioned her decision.

Public school officials had recommended that her son attend a residential school for severely disabled children as the “least restrictive” option. After much consideration, Jill had agreed to send him.

However, the placement turned out to be very negative for her son, who is highly intelligent but had difficulty interacting fluently with others. After attending the residential program for some time, her son continued to tell his mother that he “didn’t belong” there.

Facing Criticism

When she announced her decision to homeschool her son, Jill encountered a lot of pressure from her friends.

“They told me, ‘Jill, you’re leaving all this money on the table. The school will pay for your son to go to a special school, and then you won’t have to deal with his special needs,’” Jill said. “My friends, the school officials, and even my son’s counselors all said he needed expert intervention to make progress.”

“But I just couldn’t stand him being away from home and his brother anymore,” she added.  “I missed him. He missed us. It felt wrong. And I knew that he was smart. He kept telling me, ‘Mom, I don’t belong here.’ Finally, I realized that we needed to figure out something else—for our family and for him.” 

The local public school filed an appeal with the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) to seek a determination that its recommendation for Jill’s son’s education was the most appropriate. After being served with a demand for documents related to the hearing, Jill contacted Home School Legal Defense Association.

I wrote to the school district saying that Jill was homeschooling her son and that he was no longer subject to the compulsory attendance law. After I spoke with the school district’s attorney, the district withdrew its request for the BSEA hearing and the case was dismissed.

Secure and Confident

Adjusting to the flexibility that homeschooling offers was a challenge for Jill. She was used to being told by school officials, “This is how you must do it.” It took some time, but Jill finally understood that home education is about customizing a program for the unique needs of the child.

Jill said that HSLDA’s support was instrumental in her ability to homeschool with confidence. She knew she needed to homeschool, but she needed support—both legally and emotionally. I was able to help her understand that she, as the parent, knows what’s best for her son. And resisting the school officials and getting the case dismissed was crucial, because it was a major point of stress for Jill.

One of the best parts of being an HSLDA attorney is helping new homeschooling parents feel secure in what they are doing. Here at HSLDA, we stand up for homeschooling families. It’s just what we do. And I love doing it.