IEP’s: The What, How, and When for California Homeschoolers

IEPS

Do you have a child that struggles in school or that you feel is just behind?  Or maybe you already have an IEP in public school and are confused if you even can homeschool.  Hopefully, this post will help answer some questions about what IEP’s are, How to ask for them, and when is the best time to start.

Note: I’m just a Mom writing about my experiences.  In no way should this be taken as legal advice.  If in doubt, check with your own state laws and local school districts for the most up to date information.

What: IEP is a public school term which stands for Individualized Education Plan. This makes it a tricky topic to discuss with homeschoolers. Some states will test for IEP’s, some will offer services statewide, some will offer services depending on your school district, some offer no services at all. To make it a little simpler I will only write about our state, California. If you are in another state the best way to find this information is to call your local school district for information on testing and services.

In public schools, the IEP is used to give students special education services.  This can range from anything from social issues, to testing accommodations, or even OT, PT, and speech therapy.  Homeschools will not need a lot of the things IEP’s offer.  We are, by definition, already individualizing the education for the student.  Parents automatically adjust and make accommodations for students specific day to day needs.  There’s no need for an aid to sit by a student because it’s already one on one.  Extra time or warnings for transitions can be built into a normal part of a students day.   However, there are times that, as homeschoolers, we need some extra support.  These come mostly in the way of needing a professional to help such as a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist, physical therapist, tutors, etc.  Not all homeschoolers in California are able to get these services though.

How:  This depends on the age of your children.  If your catching things early and you have a child that is under school age, not yet in kindergarten, then you need to go through your local school district for the best points of contact.  Head Start may offer your children everything you need without the public school obligation attached since these children are to young to attend school yet.  If you have a child in this age group that you suspect might need help, I encourage you not to wait.  Make the call.  The earlier services begin, the earlier the child gets help.  Catching problems early is the best way to fix them completely, or adapt for them in the long run, before you run into bigger and bigger problems.

If your child is already school age, this will depend on how you are homeschooling.  If you are filing independent, obtaining an IEP will not help you much beyond having a label to place on your child.  You can request testing through your local school district and, by law, they have to test your child.  They do not have to offer any services however.

If your child is enrolled at a homeschool friendly charter school, and there are many in the state of California, then you need to go through your charter to request an evaluation.  Your ES (education specialist) should be able to get the process started for you, but sometimes it might help to go straight to the special education department to request the forms yourself.  You will be sent paperwork to fill out.  Nothing can be done without the parent filling out the paperwork.  By law, no evaluation can happen without parental consent.  Some schools may ask for things such as vision or hearing testing in addition to the paperwork.  If you have these on hand, or are able to get them in quickly, then do it.  If not, submit the paperwork without it.  Once the paperwork is submitted it will take the school 60 days, almost exactly, to do anything.  You will have time to get the testing done through your doctor before a meeting takes place.

Once the paperwork has been submitted, an evaluation has to happen.  This is a way to see what, if any, problems your child has.  This does not mean you will receive services.   The school is merely trying to discover if there are any delays, problems, or disabilities.  As well as the evaluation, they also need to see if the student is eligible.  A student may have a disability, for example ADHD, but if the disability is not affecting school performance then the child is not eligibly for services. So if a student with ADHD is performing on grade level, no services will be offered, even though there is an ADHD diagnosis.

If services are found to be needed, then the school will write up an IEP plan. This will include goals the child is expected to meet within that year as well as what services and how often they are recommended.  For example, one hour sessions twice a week.  You should receive a copy of the IEP after it is written.

After the IEP has been written the IEP meeting will take place.  Remember, this is all within 60 days of the initial paperwork. The parent, ES, the person who evaluates the student (and more then one if more then one evaluation takes place), and the contact in special education will all be present at the meeting.  Some schools require this meeting to be in person, others do it as a teleconference, aka a phone meeting.

The meeting has a set pattern to it.  First, everyone will talk about the students strengths.  Then, it proceeds to areas of weakness.  Next, the goals and recommendations are agreed too.  As long as there are no questions or disagreements, the official IEP is sent to the parent to sign in agreement.  If you do not agree about any part of the IEP, you have the right to say so.  You can ask for more, or less services.  No one knows your child better then you.

After the IEP has been signed services should begin immediately.

When: Anytime you feel your child is struggling.  Getting your child tested for problems doesn’t hurt anyone and will give you some answers.  You child does not need to be school age to be evaluated, although they will not receive an official IEP until they are school age.  If it turns out your child doesn’t need extra services, that’s great. Nothing else needs to be done unless you want to reassess the following year if your still noticing problems or they are not making progress.  If they do qualify, know you are doing what is best for your child by getting them the help they need.

If you already have an IEP in a public school setting, you can still homeschool!  If you go independent, you will lose services.  If you transfer to a charter school your IEP remains open and your services will transfer with the student, keeping in mind that some of the goals or adjustments written in the IEP for your child may not apply in a homeschool setting.  Likewise, if you are already in a charter school and are thinking of going back to public school, your IEP will transfer with the student.  You do not have to wait until the beginning or the end of the year to move back and forth.  You can transfer your student at anytime.   You can also request testing at any time of the year.

Services are typically only provided during the school calendar.  Holidays, breaks, summer, no services will be provided unless your student has a proven need for an extended school year for services which needs to be documented by their therapists.

I hope this helps to answer any questions you might have about IEP’s and homeschooling. If there are any questions I didn’t answer, feel free to comment and ask!  If you are curious about our own particular IEP story come back to tomorrow.

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