Although Oregons homeschool laws are very lax, I was rather shaken into reality last week when I attempted to enlist the help of the local public high school to test my oldest son for his learning disabilities.
Accommodating to his needs hasn’t been a problem. We’ve found ways to make learning possible. It was through done trial and error, but that was many years ago now and we’ve basically got it figured out now.
So, an IEP or a 504 isn’t that valuable to me. It can’t do anything I’m not already doing. Since legally in Oregon homeschools are a separated kind of organization, different from either the public or the private school, I am not required to have either of those.
I had tried in the past (when he was in grade school) to have him tested and we met with challenges that included not being able to find someone well-versed in learning disabilities and also his high intelligence possibly masking some of the problems.
What got me started on this train of thought to revisit the issue is multiple conversations in various online forums. One mom insisted that unless I got him an IEP now, at the beginning of highschool, he wouldn’t be afforded any accommodations when he got to college.
First if all, this sent me into a panic which I admit was an overreaction on my part. I was in the middle of fighting another kidney infection and not thinking clearly through the pain. So I freaked out and started doing all the research I could to find out how I could guarantee that my son would have accommodations if he needed them in college.
The lady on the one forum who pushed me hard to go the public school lives in a state where any homeschoolers are already under the authority of the public school.
She had no idea that my laws were different and that if I pursued this I had the potential to lose the ability to make educational choices for my son. By choosing to use the public school system, I was giving up our autonomy and choosing to have their oversight.
Now, before I go farther, I should clarify something. I’m not anti public school. I don’t think you’re in sin if you send your kids there, wrong if you use a charter school instead of traditionally homeschooling, and I’m not about to diss the public schools.
I’m a homeschool graduate, so people assume I’m anti public school. I’m not. I have extreme philosophical differences with the public schools and I don’t believe that their method of educational is the only way or even the best way. But that’s just an opinion about methods.
I have significant trauma from my public school years, but my best friend in high school attended public school and had no problems. She even thrived there and graduated with her faith intact.
So with those caveats, let me move forward with my explanation of why you need to know your state laws, why it’s not good enough just to take advice from any random person on Facebook or a homeschool forum without checking that advice against your laws specifically.
– Laws vary by state.
– In Oregon homeschools are considered a separate entity –legally recognized as separate.
– To partake in the public schools in Oregon is to relinquish our autonomy as a homeschool and place ourselves under the public school’s authority.
– Once I relinquish that autonomy the decisions about my son’s education are no longer mine alone to make. I only regain that authority by removing us from the public school again.
– No one in my little town has ever tried to get a homeschool teen tested for learning disabilities at the public high school. It has never been done, so there is no precedent regarding how this situation would be handled. The school administration had to have a special meeting about how to handle our situation.
– A similar attempt to access school services in a different town near us (which we pay for and are legally available to us homeschoolers) resulted in Child Protective Services being called because the special ed teacher –who had exactly zero knowledge of homeschool law– decided that the mom –who was in obedience to homeschool law– was not doing enough to educate her special needs child. This was at the middle school level.
– Once you access government services like public school, you lose access to representation like that which is available through HSLDA because, legally you’re not homeschooling anymore.
– The school insisted that I bring proof that I was educating him even though they didn’t know what the legal homeschool requirements were or what proof was legally required ;they wanted to see tests, quizzes, etc. Since we do online school, did delight led, unschooling, and oral work when he was younger, and only do state mandated tests every few years (the last one was almost 3 years ago), I didn’t have anything concrete and in paper form to show them. They really didn’t like this. They really didn’t understand how homeschooling works.
– They were willing to do a meeting to explore possibly testing him, but any additional services were contingent upon me enrolling him full-time in the high school. I think that is against federal law but I don’t have the energy to fight it. I am pretty sure it would require getting a lawyer and then do I really want my child around people who I forced to help him against their will?
– Many parents have successfully gotten their children enrolled in special needs services through the public schools, but it is nearly always done at a younger age.
– The fact that he was still struggling with learning disabilities and that I did not diagnosed him when he was younger was apparently an indication to the special ed teacher that I was not doing my job properly. I’m not sure how that makes sense logically since many bright students don’t get diagnosed, and learning disabilities don’t go away simply because a child gets of high school age.
– I was only interested in help with the learning disabilities. However, help was not available through the school district without strings attached. This is the case with many government programs, unfortunately.
This is why it is imperative that you know the laws for your state. If I had followed the advice that worked in other states, I had the potential to open a can of worms I didn’t want to have to deal with and a can that may not have easily been reclosed.
In some states, homeschoolers are already under their local school or already are regulated about what they have to do when or even answer to public school teachers.. In some states, you wouldn’t necessarily lose your homeschool status by using those services. I do know families in Oregon who use the school services and the school leaves them alone to homeschool, but none of those families tried to access those services at the high school level. The high school seemed keen on proving that I was not doing a sufficient job, because if I had been my son wouldn’t have needed their help.
In the end, we declined the public schools offer to enroll him full time and chalked it up to a lesson learned. Instead, we’re looking into having the testing done at a local college. Apparently, contrary to what I was told, it is quite common for colleges to diagnose learning disabilities and even if he had an IEP or 504 in high school, it would have to be revisited and reevaluated when he got to college anyway.
So all my stressing was for nought.
Remember how I mentioned before that the pressure for homeschool moms to succeed is immense? Even those of us who champion ignoring that stress and letting your child learn naturally occasionally lose sight of that and give into the stress.
It was actually my husband who finally calmed me down. We were out to dinner alone, and I was venting all my frustrations about the situation and telling him how I was doing the boys a disservice because we didn’t have them properly diagnosed.
He told me that in his observation the learning disabilities are not causing as many problems as I feared they were. He reminded me that many kids don’t get diagnosed with learning disabilities until adulthood (myself included), and that they fare well when they receive support, accommodation, and encouragement (which my children have).
He squeezed my hand and told me it would be alright.
His confidence in me and in our son’s ability to attack whatever challenges he faced was reassuring.
We’re still looking into other options, but they’ll be private options because I’m unwilling to allow someone at the public school to have power over my son’s education.
Next time, hopefully, I will think before I freak out.
This is just one incident, but it serves as a good reminder that we need to know our state laws and how to work within those so that we don’t accidentally shoot ourselves in the foot.