by Shelley Kenow
Photo by CDC
In March 2020, something unprecedented happened in the United States. We were hit with a novel coronavirus that created a pandemic. Most states across the country issued guidelines and restrictions for face to face interactions. Schools were closed with little to no warning. Children and teachers did not get to say final goodbyes or have end of the year parties. Education took on a completely different look for most people.
Teachers had to put all their curriculum into a virtual classroom and online format. They had to schedule times to touch base with their students and times to be available for one on one help or question answering. Parents suddenly became teachers. Students had to learn through a computer screen, via a phone call, and/or from their parents’ teaching of the material given them by a teacher.
Parents were very concerned about the education their children were missing because of not having a highly qualified teacher(s), skilled therapists, or interactions with other students. Multiple families found remote learning difficult if not impossible. Some families never completed one assignment while other families were begging for more. Almost all families found the hardship detrimental to their children. However, there was a small percentage of families who found remote learning to be of great benefit to their children.
Many of these families’ children were bullied at school, learn differently than the majority of the population, have anxiety about going to school, aren’t able to follow (for various reasons) the routine of typical classrooms, etc. These families found that their children did much better emotionally, academically, and behaviorally while doing remote learning. Many of them are considering not sending their children back to school full-time, even when it is allowed. All families have an option of home schooling and if a child has an Individualized Education Plan/Program (IEP) in place there is another possibility.
What happened in the Spring of 2020 was not the same as home schooling. Remote learning, or distance learning, was guided by the school district of the child. Each district developed a plan and implemented it through the use of their faculty and staff. There were teams of people trying to figure out the best way to move forward with the uncertainty of the next week or few weeks. Educators spent many hours planning, executing, and following up with students. Teachers directed the lessons and graded completed work. Most parents were working through the crisis from home as well as trying to teach their children.
Homeschool looks very different. Parents choose what the best option for their family is. Some parents work during the day and homeschool at night. The majority of the families I know, however, have one parent who does not work outside the home and does the home schooling during the day. Whomever and however the plan is to be implemented, it is all decided by the parents. States have different regulations and requirements for homeschool so those must be followed, but the rest is up to the parents. As the parent, you decide the schedule: daily, monthly, yearly. Usually a homeschooled child’s day is shorter than a typical public school day, not because there is less material covered, but because it just doesn’t take as long to teach one student as it does 15-30 students. Many states offer Homeschool Co-op groups for the socialization, field trips, and support for each other.
Another option for many students, but not all, is homebound instruction. There are two types; medical and special education. For medical homebound the child must have a medical need such as a surgery and recovery, broken limb, long term illness, etc. that will cause the child to be out of school for an extended period of time. Each state and in some states, each district, has their own guidelines on the time frame.
For students with an IEP where the student receives the education is based on a continuum of placement options. Homebound instruction is within that continuum. Some people interchange homebound instruction with instruction at home, however technically those are not the same. The difference that I see is that “At Home Instruction” is an option on the placement continuum for students with an IEP. “Homebound” is also on the continuum of placement for students with an IEP but an illness or medical condition that will keep them out of school temporarily also has to be present.
At Home Instruction and Homebound are determined by the IEP team. The IEP team should consist of at bare minimum: the parents, general education teacher, special education teacher, a local education agent (LEA) who is able to make decisions for the school/district, and someone who can interpret assessment data, others who can be included as part of the IEP team if appropriate are any related services personnel that might be providing services, the student, transition service personnel, and at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child.
This team will determine how many hours are appropriate for the child to receive either “at home” or “homebound” instruction. The school district is responsible for planning lessons, finding someone to execute the plans, and grading the completed work. The parent and instructor/therapists usually figure out the timing among themselves, however sometimes it is directed by the IEP team. The federal law, IDEA 2004, does not specifically list an amount of time per week the student should/could receive “at home” or “homebound” instruction. That has been left to the states discretion. Most states set a minimum number of hours (the average I could find is 5 hours per week) and most school districts will comply with the minimum and not much, if any more.
The person who provides the “at home” or “homebound” instruction is required to have a substitute teaching certificate or be a certified teacher. The qualifications for a substitute teacher certification vary widely from a minimum of a high school diploma to a maximum of a 4 year degree in anything from an accredited university or college, passing an exam, paying for the certificate, and registering that certificate with a local education office. The certified teacher does not have to be certified in special education, the subjects in which they will be teaching, or even the age they will be teaching. The certified teacher just has to be willing. It is possible the certified teacher is not even employed by the same school or district in which the child attends. A parent is not legally required to have a say in who becomes the “at home” or “homebound” instructor.
Below is a quick reference to the differences and similarities.
Shelley Kenow is not a lawyer and therefore this is not legal advice. She is a veteran special education teacher turned Education Consultant, Master IEP Coach®, Public Speaker, and advocate.