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Our secular and inclusive Florida-wide Informal Education support group acts as a resource center and clearinghouse for homeschoolers, informal learners and alternative educators interested in enriching their learning environments and maximizing their learning opportunities, as well as an advocacy center for Curiosity Driven Learning.

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We're all inclusive and free of charge, and we're here for you!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Special Education Services for FL Home Educated Students

This update is forwarded from the Home Education Foundation (HEF) is a homeschool and private school lobbying group headed up lobbyist Brenda Dickinson.

Special Education Services for Home Educated Students

HEF received inquiries from several home educators in Duval county who
were concerned that gifted and special education services would no
longer be provided to home education students and students in
for-profit private schools. After numerous conversations, and a
meeting with the Duval ESE Director in Senator Wise's office in
Jacksonville, HEF discovered the source of the problem.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was
reauthorized by the federal government in 2004. The federal law
states that home education students can only receive services if their
state law defines them as private school students. Florida law does
not define home education students as private school students;
therefore they are not eligible for services.

Why has it taken so long for districts to deny services to home
education students? Most districts, until now, have just been
providing those services at their own expense and absorbing the cost.
School districts cannot include them in their federal count to
receive money for those students, because that would be in violation
of the federal law. The districts could actually count these students
as a portion of the amount the district receives from the state for
full time students, but determining the hours and what portion thereof
would be too much of an accounting nightmare, so districts have just
been absorbing the cost.

However, with the huge budget cuts and the ones predicted to come in
the near future, districts are looking at every way possible to cut
costs. So, those that have not realized yet that they are not
receiving dollars for home educated students, may follow the lead of
Duval county.

Let me say that it was not a mean spirited move on the part of Duval
. or a distain for home education, it was merely a new ESE Director
trying to make sure he was following the law and began asking
questions which lead to the information that home education students
could not be provided services under the federal law.

Gifted student services are not part of IDEA and districts are not
required to provide services. Gifted services are paid for by the
State of Florida. These services are no longer being provided because
of the budget cuts. If a home educated student attends gifted classes
each day at the public school and the district has a part-time
enrollment policy, then it would easier for the district to count the
student for funding purposes.

The only option a home educating parent has for their child that needs
special education services at this time is to enroll the child in a
non-profit private school. There are numerous non-profit private
schools in Florida that serve home educators. However, the school has
to be willing to take on this responsibility. They are not
automatically given services for their students. The school districts
are required to have a meeting with non-profit private schools each
year and determine the services needed, what the district is willing
to provide and determine how many students can be served with the
proportional amount of dollars they receive for private school
students based on their Child Find count. It is very complicated, but
if a school wants their students included, a representative must
attend the meeting.

Duval Co. is holding their annual meeting in early August, therefore
the school must contact Mr. Kenneth Sutton immediately at 904-390-2923
(or email )to be included. If a nonprofit
private school in another county is interested in receiving services for children
with disabilities in their school, they may want to call the district ESE director in the
district where the school is located to find out when the district
will be holding their annual meeting. The district is only required
to provide services to students at a nonprofit (501(c)3) private
school located in the district, so for students that do not live in
the same district in which the private school is located there may be
a problem. That question needs to be asked.

This is a very complicated area of law. The IDEA is a federal law and
there are generally federal regulations passed to implement the law.
Then each state passes its own rules based on the federal
requirements. The state rules in Florida were adopted in 2006. In
order to change the way home educated students are treated under IDEA,
it will require a change in federal law when IDEA is reauthorized in
2010. HEF has never gotten involved at the federal level. We have
left this work to HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association).

[LIFE Note: HSLDAs work in the federal legislation arena has been cause
for concern in the past and LIFE urges caution when considering tampering
with federal law in way with respect to home education. While special services
are important, LIFE believes any changes in how they're administered should be
applied across the board and not centered on homeschoolers specifically. ]

If you are a member of HSLDA you may want to contact them and begin working
on this issue. Federal legislation moves very slowly compared to Florida. You may also want to contact your US Congressman to engage his/her help. HSLDA has the network to
work with home schoolers in other states who can contact their
congressmen and congresswomen. HEF will be glad to work with HSLDA on
this issue, but it is vital to home education families to get some
help for special needs students since their tax dollars are used to
pay for the services.

HEF has worked on a state level to try to get home education students
included in the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities.
HEF worked last year with the House Select Committee on Autism and
Development Disabilities
. The work product from that committee was
excellent, but it was introduced too late in the process and the
Senate refused to pass it. Therefore, HEF will again be working to
encourage Senators to pass this much needed legislation. Hopefully,
Rep. Andy Gardiner will be elected to fill Sen. Daniel Webster's seat.
Rep. Gardiner was the chair of the Select Committee and he will
probably introduce the legislation, if elected to the Senate.

Now is the time for home educators to get involved in elections. It
can make a huge difference in getting your voice heard. Please
consider involving your family in an election this year.

Brenda Dickinson

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