Finding Help for Children with Special Needs
by Betsy Kocsis
In Spring 2003, a mother reported that the county was discontinuing her child’s special education services. The county had evaluated the child -- an annual practice for children receiving county-funded special services -- and the evaluator determined that the child no longer qualified for special services. The parent disagreed, as did the therapist who was working with the child. After consulting several agencies, among them WV Advocates, a legal service, and WV Parent Training and Information Center (WVPTIC), the mother found private services for her child, which are covered by the family’s insurance policy — for now. She said that fighting with the county for funding was too stressful but believes she may have to do it if the insurance money fails to cover the expense at some future time.
To learn more about the issue of special education services for homeschooled children, I spoke with Pat Haberbosch of the WVPTIC (http://www.wvpti.org/, 304-624-1436). WVPTIC is federally funded, and has eight regional trainers/consultants located throughout the state. All the consultants have one or more children with special needs, are experienced in working the system, and in being advocates for their children. They help people understand the law and obtain services in their counties, and they provide training and advocacy. One consultant (in the Monroe, Greenbrier, Mercer, and Summers counties area) has homeschooled her own special needs children.
Ms. Haberbosch says that in her many years with the center she has never known a homeschooling family to be denied services. She says sometimes you have to get creative and find the right people to talk to in your county. That's one way the center can help — the consultants know who to talk to.
When there is a disagreement between the county and the family about a child's qualification for special services, Ms. Haberbosch says the parent should request an independent evaluation for the child. The county has two choices: it can pay for the independent evaluation or go to court. Because the independent evaluation is cheaper, the county usually opts for that.
When WVHEA’s Legislative Committee talked with WVDE’s Karen Larry in April, we discussed what services were available for homeschooled children with special needs. Ms. Larry said that when the child leaves the public school system, the Individual Education Plan (IEP) “goes away,” or is no longer in effect for that child. (For a public-schooled child to receive special services, he must be evaluated and have an IEP drawn up.) A county may provide services to a homeschooled child through its discretionary budget if the needed service is available at the schools, but the county is not obligated to do so. In her June memo to the county superintendents and homeschool contacts, Ms. Larry mentioned that she and Dr. Dee Braley are working on the directive in the law that requires the state board to “develop guidelines for the home schooling of special education students including alternative assessment measures….” (WV Code § 18-8-1(c ) (1)). Such guidelines will apply to those children who homeschool under the approval option. [Update: The guidelines have not yet been developed as of February 18, 2012. --BK]
If you have questions about homeschooling children with special needs, get in touch with Mary Ellen Sullivan mary.ellen at frontiernet dot net 304-795-4388. Heather Laurie, a homeschool mom in the Fairmont area, has a website to help families homeschooling children with special needs http://specialneedshomeschooling.com/. You can reach Heather at blueknightdawn at yahoo dot com 304-376-1504.