Customized Education with Special Needs Services—How Is This Neglect?
by Dan Beasley • March 24, 2020
One of my favorite things about working as a homeschool lawyer is getting to meet homeschooling parents who are committed to providing their children with the very best education available, even when—no, especially when—that education doesn’t look the same for each child.
Each child is unique, and one of the primary benefits of homeschooling is a parent’s ability to custom tailor the educational program for their students.
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Last year, I had the joy of getting to know a Georgia HSLDA member family who were homeschooling twins. Despite some obvious similarities, these twins were very different. And so were their education plans.
A casual observer would likely have determined that Vanessa was doing very well academically, while her twin brother, Jacob (not their real names), would likely have appeared to be struggling. But closer observation would have made it clear that they were both excelling because their momma was doing an excellent job creating and providing customized education plans for each of them.Jacob had several learning challenges and a very low IQ, so his plan involved some speech services through the local school system, while Vanessa’s plan looked more like a traditional education plan.
After homeschooling for a couple years, Jacob’s parents became concerned about the adequacy of the services Jacob was receiving through the local school system.
Because Jacob was homeschooled, the school district was not required to offer the same services that they offer to public school students. And over time, an acrimonious relationship developed.
Jacob’s parents tried enrolling him in a local charter school to try to get more services, but this didn’t work either. Eventually, they decided to meet his needs 100% privately, at home.
But they soon realized that their strained relationship with school officials was just the beginning of a major disruption.
Summoned to Court
The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) received an allegation about their children’s education, and after a cursory investigation, the DFCS caseworker falsely determined that Jacob and Vanessa were not receiving an adequate education. The investigator reached this conclusion without evaluating academic progress or even talking to the children’s primary teacher—their mom. This led to a petition in court alleging educational neglect.
This theme is one we see all too often here at HSLDA. When school officials and parents disagree over the best educational plan for a child, and parents eventually decide to cut ties with the school system and meet their child’s needs privately, school officials can be unwilling to let go without a fight.
For Vanessa and Jacob, the fight was on, indeed.
When I met with this homeschool mom and reviewed her education plan and work samples, I was impressed. She was a credentialed educator with prior special education teaching experience. But she was investing her time and talents in providing a robust educational experience for her twins, one that was tailored to meet the individual needs of each precious child.
That’s not the way the state’s representatives viewed the case, though. The first meeting with the state’s attorney was initially hostile. But as we began to provide evidence to contradict the state’s misguided narrative, the hostility eventually turned to inquiry.
Making a Case
We compiled work samples, curriculum plans, and an expert review of each child’s progress and the homeschool program itself to present to the court. The conclusion was clear: these children were receiving a top-notch education at home. While at different academic levels, they were both making substantial progress in accordance with their abilities. The progress just looked different for each child.
The state still wasn’t ready to drop the case, though.
To add insult to injury, mom received a letter in the mail, informing her that her name had been added to the state’s registry of child abusers. Shock and frustration were noticeable in her voice as she described the letter to me over the phone. I told her this would not be the last word—she’d get her day in court.
This meant we now had two cases: one defending allegations of educational neglect in court, and the second appealing the state’s entry of mom’s name on the state’s child abuse registry.
Slow Path to Victory
The litigation persisted in typical, slow-moving fashion. And all the while, Jacob and Vanessa continued learning, thriving at home.
After an evidentiary hearing, the administrative law judge reversed DFCS’ decision to place mom’s name on the child abuse registry. But the case still wasn’t over.
The state’s attorney insisted on moving forward with the educational neglect case in court, even though this would require another trial on the same facts.
Finally, though, several motions and months later, the state dismissed the case.
It was humbling to get to read this mom’s letter of thanks after the happy ending:
“We could not have faced last year’s challenges without the help of you and the HSLDA team. You took a toxic situation and completely turned around the outcome, calming my fears in the meantime. A simple thank-you is not enough. Please know that I have the highest respect for what you and the HSLDA team do for homeschoolers every day. Thank you again for all that you do.”
This mom’s membership with HSLDA allowed us to take care of the legal issues while she focused on educating her children. Our familiarity with homeschooling and experience in homeschooling cases allowed us to effectively advocate for this excellent homeschool program.
Your membership makes this possible.
Thank you for supporting HSLDA so that homeschooling parents are free to provide their children with the very best education available.