The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal program authorizing state and local aid to students in need of special education and related services from birth to graduation (or age 21, whichever comes first). Under IDEA, schools are required to undertake something called “Child Find.” This means they are to "identify, locate, and evaluate" any child within their district with a suspected disability (or in the case of private school children, within the district in which the private school is located)
More background can be found here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/b/300.111.
How does Child Find impact homeschoolers?
The answer to the question regarding how homeschooled children must be served is in Question A-4’s answer in the question-and-answer part of the 2022 IDEA information from the U. S Department of Education. The language is clear.
You can find it here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/files/rts-qa-child-find-part-b-08-24-2021.pdf and below.
"Question A-4: Do the child find obligations apply to children enrolled by their parents in private schools or who are home schooled?
Answer: Yes. As a result of the educational disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a considerable number of students withdrew from public schools to attend private schools or were home schooled. As stated in the responses to Questions A-1 and A-2, SEAs and LEAs are responsible for carrying out child find obligations to all children residing within the jurisdiction. 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.111 and 300.201. This includes children whose parents have chosen to home school them or place them in private schools, rather than enrolling them in the public schools. Generally, the LEA where the child’s parents reside is responsible for conducting child find activities, including initial evaluations and reevaluations, for children who are home schooled. As noted in the response to Question A-2, the LEA in which the private school is located is responsible for child find activities for parentally placed private school children, which could be different than where the child resides. 34 C.F.R. § 300.131."
In the past, and in IDEA itself, the language has been “parentally placed in private schools,” which worked in those states where homeschools are private schools (like California and Kansas) but is a little muddy when it comes to states where homeschools are a separate entity and not a private school (like Maine).
This document clears that up and makes it crystal clear that the public schools are still responsible for conducting initial evaluations and re-evaluations for children who are homeschooled.
What happens is this: Under Child Find, the local school district is to “identify, locate, and evaluate” all children with suspected disabilities. (However, a parent is allowed to decline the evaluation, no matter what type of school the child attends).
When the evaluation is completed, the school holds an IEP meeting, to which parents are invited to participate. In this meeting, the evaluation results are shared and discussed, and a determination is made whether or not a child has a disability requiring special education. If it is determined that the child needs special education, an individual education plan is developed. This plan is what services the child would be offered and receive if the child was enrolled in the public school.
If the child is enrolled in a private school (“parentally placed in a private school” is the IDEA’s wording), then the proposed IEP services do NOT go into effect as written in IDEA. The school district receives a specified amount of federal money that it can ONLY use to service children “parentally placed in a private school.” The school district must “meaningfully consult” with the principals or directors of private schools within the public-school district’s boundaries. However — and this is key — no child who has been “parentally placed in a private school” has “an individual right to services.” After the school district has “meaningfully consulted” with the directors of private schools, at that point the school district can decide how to spend that small pot of federal money that is designated for private school students.
So, Private School A could have six children who need speech therapy. Private School B could have four children with dyslexia, who need specialized Orton-Gillingham instruction in reading. And Private School C could have a profoundly deaf child who needs ASL instruction. The school could divvy up the money and provide services to all the children, OR it could decide just to serve one or more children with the money it has.
Children with disabilities “parentally placed in a private school” and who receive services from the public school under this provision have an “ISP” — Individual Services Plan — instead of an IEP. The ISP delineates the services to be provided to the child by the public school. But an ISP is not like an IEP. An IEP is a legal document, and parents have legal rights under an IEP for due process. There is no provision in an ISP for due process, and essentially the ISP is just a document stating the services the school will provide, and brief goals.
IDEA is silent about homeschoolers in states like Maine where homeschools are a separate entity (e. g. not private schools). Some states serve them under the “parentally placed in a private school” section of the law and some do not. In all cases, private school and homeschooled children do not have “an individual right to services” the way that they would if they were enrolled in public school.
The question-and-answer section quoted above, clearly clarifies that homeschooled children are entitled to a special education evaluation under Child Find. The clarification in this document should help districts understand their responsibilities to evaluate homeschooled children.
The U. S. Department of Education has a regional Office for Civil Rights in education in Boston (Contact OCR | OCR (ed.gov), where a family can make a complaint if they feel the school is not doing what they should regarding Child Find or any other area of special education law in IDEA. Representatives from that office will meet with the school to facilitate.