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August 19, 2004

Federal Court Holds that Homeschooled Child Must Submit to Unwanted Special Needs Evaluations

On August 18, 2004, a federal district court held that public schools could force homeschooled children to be evaluated for special needs without their parents' consent. Ignoring HSLDA's arguments to the contrary, the court held that the school district had both the right and the responsibility to find and evaluate all special needs children in the district, including children with disabilities who are privately educated and receiving private services.

Sean Flanders is a thirteen-year-old child whose parents chose to exercise their constitutional and statutory right to homeschool him after years of disagreement with their school district over providing him with special education services. On November 13, 2002, when Sean was only eleven, Mr. and Mrs. Flanders notified the Camdenton R-III School District of their decision to homeschool Sean and waive his right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

The FAPE, a provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is designed to ensure that special needs children have access to public education that will suit their needs, however Mr. and Mrs. Flanders had their son's needs privately evaluated upon his withdrawal from the public school, and they were providing private special education services for him accordingly.

The Camdenton R-III School District was not satisfied, insisting that it would not relinquish its responsibility to evaluate Sean for special needs, even though he was being homeschooled. On December 10, 2002, the District filed a request for a due process hearing when the Flanders refused to cooperate with its attempts to coerce them into allowing the District to evaluate their son.

HSLDA defended the family's rights before a three-member hearing panel, but on April 4, 2003, the panel ruled against the Flanders family, forcing the family to allow the District to evaluate Sean.

HSLDA Litigation attorney Jim Mason explains, "Under its ‘Child Find' provision, IDEA requires that states must merely have policies and procedures in effect to ensure that all privately-educated children with disabilities who are in need of special education and related services are made aware that free public services may be available."

Mr. Mason further clarifies, "The provision does not, however, eliminate the right of the parents to refuse to allow the child to participate in such special education activities."

On May 6, 2003, HSLDA answered the panel decision with a federal lawsuit against both the school district and the Missouri Department of Education, and moved for summary judgment in the Flanders' favor in July of 2004. On August 18, 2004, however, the federal court ruled that Camdenton R-III had not only the responsibility, but also the right to evaluate Sean, and Mr. and Mrs. Flanders parental rights' would not be violated by the school district's action.

"The court didn't even consider the constitutional implications of bypassing this family's parental rights," HSLDA General Counsel Michael P. Farris said of the decision. "School districts cannot constitutionally force an evaluation. Their only responsibility is to ensure that policies and procedures are in place which make public services available to children who qualify for special needs assistance."

HSLDA is appealing this decision.

 Other Resources

Camdenton R-III School District v. Mr. and Mrs. F