Special Needs Homeschooling 101
Homeschooling with special needs will present a different set of challenges. While it may work for some kids with special needs, it may not for others. eg: Even with autism, each kid is just so different - isn't that one of the reasons why school districts are struggling to fit our uniquely shaped kids into standard square holes.
Ask yourself some questions
1. Why do you want to Homeschool?
Is the district just not working for you & you are looking for temporary/longer term educational alternatives.
2. Homeschooling requires enormous time commitment.
This is in addition to whatever time we already spend (which is 24x7) on addressing the "special needs" component of our child.
3. What are your objectives with Homeschooling?
How do you think homeschooling will help your child grow?
On the other hand, many have found it to be a very rewarding experience. So research it well before plunging into it.
A Basic Understanding of the Homeschooling System
There are a number of ways you can homeschool your child in California.
1. Public Charter Schools
2. Private Charter Schools
3. PSA -Private School Affidavit (Form R4)
1. Public Charter Schools
(To summarize, public charters are at no-cost to you. They will provide you curriculum to do at home. You are the primary teacher at home and you meet up with a supervising teacher at intervals specified by the charter)
a. General Info
- Public Charter Schools are State Funded (just like school districts).
- Some public charters will follow a curriculum chosen by them (eg: only K12 curriculum), while others let/help you choose a different curriculum for each subject.
- Some provide you the materials/curriculum while others provide you a fixed amount of money toward purchase of pre-approved materials/classes/curriculum (this is really useful as the cost of classes add up).
- Some charters have additional classes (or access to classes) in addition to home based instruction.
- Some of them organize social events and fields trips.
- Parent is the primary teacher (or Learning Coaches)
- Public charters have credentialed teachers who act primarily in a supervisory role. Depending on the charter, you meet with this teacher (assigned to your case) at periodic intervals (anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months depending on the charter) to discuss curriculum, give work samples, ask questions, work out accommodations/modifications, testing the child etc.. These teachers are also available to guide you with questions you may have about the curriculum or if there are specific parts of the subject that are confusing etc.
- This structure and delivery mechanism may change at the high school level depending on the charter.
- State Testing requirements (ie: your child has to take STARS, CMA etc).
- Charters can be independent or fall under the umbrella of a school district eg: COIL falls under Fremont School Dist.
- Charters can be classroom based eg: Discovery School in San Jose (Note: This doc is going to focus on home-based options) or home based (independent study program)
b. Special Needs Context
- The charter will have IEPs with you just like a school district
- They provide similar set of services that a district would provide. Since there is no physical classroom, this essentially translates to services like speech, OT etc…
- They usually assign a Special-Ed teacher in addition to the General-Ed teacher to your case (depending on charter).
- They are strict about your child taking State Mandated Tests (CST). California law does not insist you have to take them but most Charters need to show 95% attendance for CST to get state funding. You can set up the necessary accommodations during the IEP. You have the alternative of asking for CMA in place of STARS, which is an easier version available under IDEA and Section 504
- They will do the Triennial assessments & any other assessments required under IDEA.
- Public Charters are kinder than School District's. This is in part because the teachers don't have to deal with the kids in a classroom setting so behavioral issues become less of an issue. Behavior is usually an overriding issue in School Districts.
- Curriculum is provided or guidance on the curriculum to use is provided by a credentialed teacher. Form a parent perspective, it’s nice not to have to think of what to teach at what level, instead you can focus on what modifications you need to make to suit your child’s learning style.
- Since a lot of the responsibility is put on the shoulders of the parent as the “learning-coach”, charters seem to recognize that the parent "knows" their kid and give lot of respect to your opinion, even with the special needs angle, at IEPs & meetings.
- You can also engage tutors/therapists to help you with specific portions of your homeschooling. (depends on your finances of course)
- Others (probably more.. have not thought about it yet)
d. Some drawbacks
- Some charters are not as knowledgeable about special needs. They are better equipped to handle very mild cases of any disability. But you can try to work with them to help accommodate your needs.
- You can use only the SLP/OT on their vendor list.
An alternative route would be to go to your own private OT/SLP through insurance (if that is available to you)
e. The State Testing Factor (California State Testing)
- Public Charters are required to show 95% attendance for state-testing to maintain their state funding. So your child will have to do STARS testing or you can ask for CMA.
- Since they do not have physical classrooms, State Testing is usually done at an off-site which is an unfamiliar environment for our kids (potentially problematic with anxiety etc).
- It is important to work with the IEP team to get right accommodations so that it is a less stressful experience for your child.
- Getting the right accommodations & implementation of these during testing time can be a little confusing from a parent perspective. But if you understand your child well and can work with your teacher as what is legally acceptable in terms of accommodations, you can get them done.
Don't confuse Accommodations with Modifications
Accommodations are things that will not affect the quality of answers/testing. It is simply changing the way the test is delivered to the student. Eg: - Examples of accommodations are 1:1 testing, testing at a different time (eg: afternoons when the place is empty), using a scribe to fill in the scantron circles for a kid who cannot write (dysgraphia), use of AC device etc.
Modifications is making things easier eg: use of a calculator, doing the easier problems etc. Too many modifications may mean that your child may not meet graduation requirements. Modifications are helpful when you are doing the regular lessons etc but not good for major testing.
f. Why do Charters have waiting lists
A charter's enrollment numbers is limited by the number of staff (general ed & special ed teachers, and other administrators) they have, as they have to follow state-mandated student-teacher ratios. So if some take longer or tell you they have a waiting list - this is the reason why. As they hire more teachers, they can accommodate more students as well.
g. How do I get started with a Public Charter
i. Start the application process
Apply to ALL the charter schools possible. As you talk to each one, you'll have a better idea of what they do and whether that charter is a right fit for your family.
Call their numbers, find out what forms you have to fill. Most require you to send in your current IEP.
You still belong to your current school district till the day you have your IEP with the charter.
While you are applying, join some of the yahoo groups on homeschooling to get advice/feedback - make your comments specific so people will respond. Explore some of the websites on homeschooling. Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s a process.
ii. Initial IEP & Initial Assessment
- the moment you have an IEP with a charter, you are no longer with your school district. In general, your child cannot be enrolled in 2 places simultaneously. (There are exceptions to this)
- You will have an IEP with the charter to determine current level of your child and services etc.
- Depending on your last IEP, the charter may want to do fresh assessments. Keep in mind that the needs/direction have now changed for your child. The charters’ assessments may well turn out to be more behavior-friendly as the education is now happening at home rather than in a classroom.
- If you opted to get services through them (usually speech & OT) - the frequency will be determined by the assessment team/ IEP team and the services are usually provided by one of their vendors in the Bay Area.
- You may also be working with a general-ed teacher, spl-ed teacher, counselor or other staff to determine your child's grade level for each subject, modifications, how to get the materials etc.
2.Private Charter Schools
(Similar to Public Charter except, you PAY FOR EVERYTHING JUST LIKE A PRIVATE SCHOOL ($$$$$))
- The main difference is that you pay for everything (just like you would pay for a typical private school), instead of it being state funded. Again the reasons why you choose private school over the public school is the same reason you choose a private charter over a public charter.
- In terms of curriculum etc, equivalent of Private Schools
- Teachers don't have to be credentialed, just like in a traditional brick & mortar private school.
- Many use alternative curriculum, if that is your objective (eg: religious/ philosophy)
- May or may not require State Testing - depends on the charter
- Some private charters will also act as record keepers for you ie: you are essentially operating like an PSA ie: they will not interfere but will maintain records for you and give you transcripts etc. You are officially enrolled with them on paper & they file with the state each year.
3. Private School Affidavit (Form R4)
(To summarize, you are declaring yourself as a Private School & taking all responsibility for education)
- This option allows you the most flexibility. In CA, you simply file Form R4 with state and voila you are your own private school.
- Website for filing the PSA http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/affidavit.asp
- You have to file the R4 each year between Oct 1-15. You are required to keep a copy of the attendance records and also certify that you are qualified to teach your child. In CA, this requires that a parent is at a minimum a high school graduate. You are not required to have a teaching credential.
- If you decide you want to start homeschooling after above deadline, you can always do so eg: even in Dec/Jan. But you need to renew for the next year, within the deadline given above.
- Total Freedom (no mandatory state testing, no one breathing down your neck). Best of all - NO IEPs.
- Total Responsibility - You decide what curriculum to follow for each subject, what classes your child will attend, how to structure his day etc.
- Total Financial responsibility. ie: you pay for whatever materials you need for your child.
- If you can’t decide on a charter or are waiting to see what works, this can also be a good interim option for you.
- If you file today, you are out of the school district system immediately.
Note: the school district is legally obliged to give special education services to your kid till they leave high school. So if you change your mind about homeschooling at any point, you can always go back to the district. They will simply start the evaluation and IEP process over with you.
(Partial) List of Charter Schools
(An exhaustive list of Homeschools classified according to county, can be found at http://www.homefires.com/charter/)
BASIS@FAME Charter Public School. Dublin. Spl Ed: 925-875-9900. www.famecharter.org/BASIS@FAME.html
Feedback. Have heard that they have some classroom setup too if you are close by. Cover surrounding counties.
CAVA – California Virtual Academy www.caliva.org
Feedback: Only use K12 curriculum & they provide materials. Very academic based & mostly online. Meet teacher every quarter. Cover all counties in California
COIL – Circle of Independent Learning. Fremont CA www.myschoolonline.com/ca/coilcharter. (510) 797-0100 Hrs: 9-3pm.
Feedback: Good teacher guidance. Allowed good accommodations. Meet with teacher every 3 weeks. Cover surrounding counties.
Connecting Waters: www.connectingwaters.com
Ocean Grove Charter School (831) 338-7298 www.ogcs.org.
Feedback: Lets/helps you pick different curriculum for each subject. Also will pay for outside classes like art etc. Meet with teacher every 3 weeks.
Almaden Valley Christian School. 408-777-6691. Private Charter School
Pioneer Family Academy: Campbell, CA . 408-313-5113 email@example.com www.pioneerfamilyacademy.com/
Trinity Christian School. San Jose, CA. Curriculum counseling, record-keeping, high school planning & courses, standardized testing, high school transcripts & graduation ceremonies, parent & small group meetings, planning days, field trips, mom’s retreat. 408-573-7270 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Useful Yahoo Newsgroups on Home Schooling (Partial List)
Great places to get ideas, network with other parents and get guidance & investigate which charters ones will work for you
Some good Homeschooling websites to start with. These will lead to many other useful sites:-
Some personal feedback
- I found it mentally less stressful because I was not always trying to fight the system and instead found the system trying to help me.
- I found that teachers very willing to work with me (parent) to figure out ways to make it work for my student.
- IEP's were so NOT STRESSFUL
- Make sure your child is getting out the house by involving them in other activities/classes. This also gives a great mainstreaming opportunity.