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May 6, 2011
Homeschooling for Sick Children—HSLDA Defends It

For children who suffer from chronic health problems, homeschooling offers great advantages. However, at times, such illness can lead to consequences beyond the doctor’s office. The Dowds’ daughter (name changed to protect privacy) was enrolled in public school but, because of mononucleosis, was not able to attend.

Their pediatrician suggested homeschooling because of its flexibility and because it would not require the girl to leave her home. After the family was referred to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) because of truancy, they knew they needed to make some changes. They decided to homeschool their daughter and joined HSLDA.

The school district had referred the Dowds to DCF because of her absences due to illness. However, social workers properly determined that their daughter was ill—not neglected. In the meantime, the school district responded to their notice of intent with additional requirements. The family called HSLDA for help.

Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly contacted the school district and informed them that the Dowds had submitted sufficient documentation to comply with the law. Shortly thereafter, the family received a letter from the school superintendent approving their homeschool program.

Another member family’s daughter suffered from Lyme disease. The family had been investigated previously, several times, because of relatives who disagreed with the family’s choice to homeschool. The most recent referral, however, was made by a medical provider who wanted the girl in school for “social reasons” and who further accused the mother of “pathologizing” her daughter with too many doctor visits. Although the girl was being treated by a Lyme specialist and had been positively diagnosed with Lyme, social workers continued to conduct a longer term “family assessment,” creating increased stress on the family.

Lyme disease is a pernicious and difficult condition known all too well at HSLDA, where a number of our co-laborers suffer from this malady. Appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell, HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris serves as chair of the Virginia Lyme Disease Task Force. He wrote a letter to DCF on behalf of the family, which, along with previous communication between Donnelly and DCF, helped accelerate the agency’s closing the investigation—a great relief to the family.

These stories illustrate that homeschooling is a valid option for children suffering from chronic illness. HSLDA’s support helped these families maintain the confidence to start and keep homeschooling when uninformed or hostile medical providers caused problems.