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March 15, 2006

Special Education Services Reinstated for Homeschoolers in Illinois

After a legal letter "tug-of-war," the Illinois Department of Education has finally relented. Their General Counsel contacted the Home School Legal Defense Association and has apologized for their erroneous memorandum of 2005 that effectively cut off special needs services to homeschoolers throughout the state.

In December of 2005, several Illinois member families contacted HSLDA because their special education services with their local public schools had been suddenly terminated.

One member family, the Blunts, had received a letter from the Director of Special Education of their local school district. The letter stated that according to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, the school district was no longer required to offer special education services to any private school that was not state recognized.

After having worked with congressional staff on the Education and Workforce Committee and with the legal counsel of the U.S. Department of Education for the last 10 years on this issue, the HSLDA legal staff knew that the letter the family received contained erroneous information. U.S. Department of Education officials have assured us that in states where homeschools are considered private schools, like Illinois, these private school children taught at home have access to special needs educational support through the public schools.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Chris Klicka drafted a letter on behalf of the Blunts explaining the school district's error. He informed school officials that special needs services must be restored to the Blunt family's child.

Shortly after sending the letter, HSLDA received a letter from the school district's attorney. The letter stated that the 2005 memorandum in question had been drafted by the Illinois State Department of Education's Assistant Superintendent as "interim guidance" for Illinois public schools. The memorandum defined eligibility based on whether the student was enrolled in a "state recognized private school."

The memorandum was inaccurate and contradicted federal law.

The issue of whether home-educated students are eligible to receive special education services had already been acknowledged at a federal level. In federal reports regarding issues surrounding those eligible for IDEA, the Federal Director of Special Education in a letter procured by HSLDA stated:

"The determination of whether a home education arrangement constitutes private school placement must be made on the basis of state law. Thus, if home education constitutes enrollment in a private school under state law, then the requirements of Regs. 300.403 and 300.452 apply when deciding whether to provide special education or related services to a child with disabilities who is being educated at home."

The above report makes it crystal clear that if the state recognizes a home education program as a private school in that state, then those home-educated students are eligible for the services.

HSLDA Attorney Chris Klicka sent a letter to the author of the 2005 memorandum explaining that the highest court in Illinois defines home education programs as private schools, and therefore, in Illinois, home-educated students are eligible for special education services. The Illinois Supreme Court held that no accreditation is necessary. Klicka's letter also specifically demanded a response within 10 days and that the memorandum be corrected.

Within the requested time, Klicka received a phone call from the General Counsel and a special director Illinois Department of Education. Somewhat apologetic, they admitted their error, assuring him that they will revise their memorandum soon by removing the offensive language requiring a private school to be "state recognized" before its students could be eligible for special education services.

Illinois special education home school students will once again be able to receive needed educational services.