Special Needs

The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide every student with special needs a free appropriate public education, also known as FAPE. This means that children with special needs have the right to receive educational services appropriate to their needs at public expense. Parents who choose to homeschool are waving this right for their children, but may still be eligible for certain special needs services through their local public schools.

IDEA requires public schools to identify, locate, and evaluate children with special needs, whether or not they attend public school. This means that public schools are universally required to offer free evaluations to homeschooled students suspected of having special needs. Additionally, should a student be determined to have special needs that hinder the student’s performance, the public school must convene an IEP team, made up of the student’s parents or guardians and assorted teachers and professionals, to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

While homeschooled children with special needs have a right to both evaluation and an IEP, these services are not mandatory and parental consent is required. While an IEP developed at a public school can be of use to a homeschooled student—note that the IEP team cannot order a homeschooled child into public school and must take into account the parent’s decision to homeschool the child when developing the IEP—its usefulness depends largely upon what services the student needs and what services, if any, the school makes available to homeschooled students.

A portion of federal IDEA funding is earmarked to provide additional services for children enrolled in private schools. In states where homeschools operate as private schools, homeschooled students are eligible for services made available with this funding. However, there is no requirement that this funding be distributed evenly, and no individual special needs student has an individual right to it.

Some states go beyond the bare minimum mandated by IDEA and require public schools to use state funding to provide services to students with special needs attending private schools and/or homeschools. Even in states that do not require public schools to offer services to homeschooled students with special needs, individual school districts may choose to offer services anyway depending on funding and availability. Finally, in some states a homeschooled child with special needs may become eligible for services if the child’s parents enroll the child in public school part time.

Parents who are homeschooling a child who has been diagnosed with special needs, or whom they suspect may have special needs, would benefit from an awareness of what special needs services their children may be eligible to obtain through their local public schools. In addition to a familiarity with both federal and state law on the subject, they should contact their local school districts.


Understanding Special Education, http://www.understandingspecialeducation.com/

20 U.S.C. § 1412

  • For FAPE, see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)
  • For evaluations, see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)
  • For IEPs, see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(4)
  • For IDEA funding for private schools, see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)

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