Parents have the right to home educate their children with special needs.
The federal law, Child Find, requires all school districts, upon request of the family, to identify and evaluate any child from birth to age 22 in their area who may qualify for special education services. The request cannot be denied or limited only to those children enrolled in the local district schools and regardless of the severity of the disability. More information is available through Wrights Law. They have a particularly helpful article about diagnosing learning disabilities, and Response to Intervention.
Until the child is of compulsory attendance age, which is age six by September 30 of the current school year, the child is still eligible for special ed services through the district. Here are the NH Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services resources for children prior to age 3, often called the Family-Centered Early Supports and Services (FCESS) and the preschool resources for children aged 3 to 5.
Once the child reaches "school age" and not enrolled in a public school, either through the local district or a charter, the district is not obligated to provide special education services because the family has declined a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Some districts may offer services to homeschooling families through RSA 189:49 but it is unusual. If a district makes a particular type of special education service available to a non-FAPE child, then they must make it available to all qualifying students in their district regardless of the child's enrollment status.
If you are beginning your child's home education program, the district may ask you to sign additional papers that indicate you are refusing special education services. You are not required to sign them. By signing, you are agreeing with their decision to deny your child any services; it is an option for them to extend services although many do not. There is no obligation to respond to the letter. Your district may also say that your child "loses" his/her IEP when withdrawn from public school. It is still in place, although not in use. Likewise, a child does not "lose" their ability to later resume the IEP or get testing done again through the district. The access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) can be resumed again later if/when the child is re-enrolled in the public system.
Process to Request Testing
At the March 2019 Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC) meeting, Helen Rist of the NH School Administrators Association, talked extensively about the process for homeschoolers to obtain testing if they suspect their child has learning differences. This appears in video #4 beginning at mark 8:05 and continues into video #5. She confirmed that districts must provide testing upon request by a resident homeschool family. To initiate the process, the family must request a “referral;” that is the magic word. You may wish to have a certified letter come from your doctor or therapist's office to initiate the referral. The initial contact may be made to the principal or special education coordinator of the school the child would be assigned to if he/she was enrolled in the local school. The school has 10 days to respond. The first meeting is when the district gathers a team to evaluate whether or not testing is appropriate. Here is a helpful article from the Learning Disabilities Association of American re determining eligibility for spec ed services. The family should bring evidence that supports their request, such as a doctor’s report, homework samples, quizzes or writing work, a recording of the child’s reading fluency, observations in their home ed setting, any feedback from outside education providers, plus any information about what the family has already tried to address the concerns. The team then works with the family to determine if a formal evaluation is appropriate. They can also make short-term intervention suggestions that the family can try at home. The goal is to determine if that is sufficient for the child’s learning needs. If testing is appropriate, then the district will schedule it with the family within a short period. Based on those results, the team may determine if an IEP is appropriate. If so, the family is given the option to receive services which requires enrolling in the school or declining the services and a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). As a follow-up, districts are required to annually contact families if they received testing and it was determined their child is eligible for services.
If your child was previously enrolled in the local public school, you may request that they keep the IEP/504 on file should you need access to these records for another educational service, reference, or testing accommodations. The IEP is typically reviewed annually and the student is completely re-evaluated every three years.
More information is available in the NH Special Education Procedural Safeguards Handbook, updated April 2018 as well as Ed 1100 Standards for the Education of Children with Disabilities. Both of these sources are specific to New Hampshire. The Parent Information Center developed a guide to the NH Standards for the Education of Children with Disabilities. This link is the NH Department of Educations webpage for the Bureau of Special Education Support.
Many families home educate children who have different learning needs. You are not alone. But also know that IEPs and 504 plans are not necessary to homeschool your child. A diagnosis is helpful to understand the child's unique needs and how to support his/her learning, but they are designed to help a child with differences fit into a public education. Often homeschooling families find they have more success because they no longer need to argue to obtain the necessary supports for their child or have them limited to pull-out services that interrupt the child's school day. Home education allows you to integrate all of your child's services, accommodations, and modifications into his/her learning day as you deem appropriate and to work with the professionals of your choosing.
Here is a collection of GSHE articles that may encourage you.
IEPs Are Not for Homeschooling
Sophia's Story: Thriving in Home Education
Success with a Learning Disability
Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs
Family Profile: Home Educating a Child with Special Needs
Some families report that the Parent Information Center (PIC) and the Disability Rights Center, both in Concord, are particularly helpful. They provide a variety of services including assistance over the phone, parent-to-parent support, referrals, and more. There are private advocacy organizations that also have a good reputation: Student Matters and Wishtree Consultants.
Some families choose to pursue testing and services through private organizations; we have an extensive list of providers, all recommended by other NH families. Sometimes families are able to have special education services partially or fully covered through their health insurance. It is important to know which professionals are able to diagnose particular learning differences as some within the public school system may not be qualified for all areas of concern.
Some families find they are able to provide therapies and support at home. There are several great sources in this article from Sped Homeschool. There are more good resources at NH Family Voices, Not the Former Things, and Homeschooling with Dyslexia. Bright Hub Education is another good source for homeschool special ed information. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) also has good information and offers consulting services.
Also, we compiled curriculum suggestions that may be helpful to consider.
We also provide a Facebook group called Families Helping Families, a community support group for NH families with children with special needs. We are not sped professionals, but want to provide help, resources, and advise to each other as we guide and support our children with learning differences. It is not exclusively for homeschooling families, but open to anyone trying to support a child with special needs in any educational environment.