Homeschooled Children with Disabilities Need More Attention

For Immediate Release: Disability rights law currently exempts homeschooled children. This is a problem.

Canton, Ma., 10/30/2019—A group founded by homeschool graduates in order to advocate for homeschooled children is drawing attention to cases where homeschooling has helped hide the abuse of children with disabilities. “Children who attend school are seen daily by teachers and other school staff,” notes Dr. Rachel Coleman, the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE). “This is not the case for children who are homeschooled, and children with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable.” 

Coleman is not opposed to homeschooling for disabled children. “Many families homeschool because they believe they can provide a more individualized education for children with disabilities, or because their children have health problems that make school attendance challenging,” Coleman says. “The challenge is that when families homeschool a disabled child, there are often no accountability structures in place to ensure that the child receives the services, therapies, and accommodations they need.” This leaves the child’s needs entirely in the hands of their parents, for better or—in some cases—for worse. 

CRHE maintains a database of severe and fatal cases of abuse and neglect in homeschool settings, in order to draw attention to the need for legal reforms. Coleman notes that many of these cases involve children with disabilities. Coleman points to the case of Joey Bishop, who died in 2017. “Joey was mobile and used in a wheelchair when he attended school prior to being homeschooled,” Coleman notes. “After he began to be homeschooled, his parents stopped him from using his wheelchair. At the time of his death from sepsis due to infected bed sores, Joey had not been moved from his bed for six months.” 

Joey’s case is not an isolated one. CRHE’s disability and accessibility advisor, Kate Corbett Pollack, has written about the role the lack of protections for disabled homeschooled children has played in numerous tragic child torture cases, including those of Mary and Elwyn Crocker, the Hart children, the Turpin Children, Matthew Tirado, Hana and Immanuel Williams, Erica Parsons, and Savannah Leckie. In each case, Pollack draws connections to the need for a disability rights lens in homeschooling law. 

Coleman believes that some of these cases could have been prevented by better protections for homeschooled children with disabilities. “When people ask me what could have been done better, I point them to Oregon’s homeschool statute,” Coleman said. Oregon law protects disabled students’ rights in three areas: access to disability services provided in local public schools; alternative assessments tailored to specific goals for the child’s progress; and annual plans developed by the child’s parents and service providers. 

“Homeschooled children with disabilities should not be an afterthought,” says Coleman, who argues that homeschool policy needs to be developed with disabled children in mind. Pollack agrees. “Disabled children who are homeschooled should have the same rights as disabled children who attend public school,” she says. “Disability rights law does not currently apply to homeschooled children, to these children’s detriment.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.

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