"Whenever you take money from the school district, the potential for the school district to tell you how to raise your child is always going to be there."
A third private placement option is the homeschool. Tom Bushnell, president and director of the National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network (NATHHAN), estimates that some 30,000 children with disabilities are homeschooled in the United States.26 Membership in NATHHAN, an information and resource network for families homeschooling special-needs children, numbered 4,100 families in 1996.
Bushnell says parents turn to homeschooling for many different reasons. Some want control over curriculum and its religious and moral content. Others feel a regular school doesnt provide a safe environment for their special-needs child or doesnt provide enough protection against "school-yard bullying" by other nondisabled students. Some parents resent the labeling of their children. Still others turn to homeschooling after confrontations with public-school officials over how best to educate their child.
Says Bushnell, who homeschools a blind daughter, a child with Down syndrome, and a child with cerebral palsy, "Sometimes its easier to do it yourself than fight. When you have to go to an IEP [Individualized Education Plan] meeting and face a multidisciplinary team of six or eight professionals, its stressful. Its you against the world. Parents get tired of fighting." And, he says, parents worry that the adversarial relationship with the public schools will affect the quality of care the schools give their child. "Would you want someone who you had to fight in an IEP meeting put a catheter into your child? " asks Bushnell.
Devorah Weinmann began homeschooling her eldest daughter, who has a learning disability, after the school psychologist refused to allow her daughter to start school one grade level below her age group. Says Weinmann of her adopted daughter, "She had been through five [foster care] placements by the age of four-and-a-half. She went through hell and back to become fairly secure. [The schools] werent looking at her as an individual. . . . She would just be shuffled along until she failed. I said, Im not doing this."27
Now Weinmann homeschools all four of her children, three of whom have disabilities. She uses instructional materials altered to suit their needs and creates lessons from everyday experiences. Each child has an apprenticeship position for one-hour per week with a local business, for example. Weinmanns nine-year-old son apprentices at a produce store. He feels responsible and valued for his work. And he sees how business runs, says Weinmann. To comply with New York state laws pertaining to homeschools, Weinmann has her children tested by an independent evaluator annually or biannually depending on their age, to measure their academic progress.
Homeschooling for children with disabilities is legal in every state. But some states have enacted legislation hostile to its practice. For example, in Arkansas, parents must hold a valid special-education teaching certificate if they wish to provide to their children non-academic, special-education courses, such as occupational and mobility therapy. In Oregon, public-school educators must participate in the design of the students home-study plan, even if the homeschooling family declines government support.28
Public funds and services, depending on the states laws, are often available for homeschooled children with disabilities. Bushnell counsels parents against accepting them, fearing government intrusion. "As an organization, we encourage parents, if at all possible, to do it without government funding. . . . Whenever you take money from the school district, the potential for the school district to tell you how to raise your child is always going to be there." Bushnell recounts complaints from homeschooling parents who have been contacted by social-service agencies, or hotlined to the Child Protection Services by anonymous callers concerned about homeschooling. Says Bushnell, "These parents love their children and want whats best for them. They take their responsibility very seriously. What they want from government is they want to be left alone."