Homebound instruction, or “home instruction” as it is commonly called, is one of the more misunderstood concepts in public education. First, home instruction is unrelated to “home schooling,” which refers to the option parents have to provide educational programming for their children at home. In contrast, home instruction refers to the public school’s obligation to provide educational programming in the home to students who are absent from class due to a serious health condition or who have been deliberately “placed” on homebound instruction based upon an individualized assessment of a disability. However, “home instruction” has come to mean any services provided by schools to children who are absent from the school setting.
Q: How does a school district decide when to use home instruction for disabled students?
A: Home instruction represents one of the placement options on the “continuum” available to schoolchildren with identified disabilities. Under the federal mandate directing that such students be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” instruction in the home is generally considered one of the most restrictive settings and is therefore to be avoided unless other options—starting with the regular classroom setting—are determined to be inappropriate. Thus, when a child with a disability simply cannot attend school, the district of residence must provide home instruction at no cost to the student or his/her parents.
Q: Can I require my public school to provide home instruction services for my disabled child?
A: No. Placement decisions for children with disabilities are made exclusively by the child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) team or committee. That team must include regular and special education teachers and service providers as well as the child (when appropriate) and his or her parents. Usually, the team tries to avoid using long-term home instruction in favor of a more social environment. Therefore, home instruction typically is used as an “interim” placement for a child who is working to return to the regular school setting. Nevertheless, there are unique circumstances that well may require IEP teams to determine that homebound instruction is, in fact, the least restrictive and most appropriate placement for a disabled child.
Q: Can I receive instruction in the home for my ill child even if he or she has not been previously identified as disabled?
A: Probably. Most schools have policies that differentiate between “unexcused” and “excused” absences and permit make-up work for the latter. As a result, an otherwise non-disabled student will likely receive homework assignments—or even home instruction services—during any prolonged absence. However, the legal obligation to provide actual home instruction arises only when the nature and severity of the student’s illness represents a material restriction in a major life activity such as learning, reading, concentrating, and thinking. In those cases, an otherwise non-disabled child has a protected right to an equal educational opportunity and cannot be penalized (or “discriminated against”) due to his or her condition.In such cases, parents should openly communicate with the school district regarding the child’s impairment and educational needs. When appropriate, a “team” of individuals knowledgeable about the child will determine the child’s status and educational programming. If the child’s condition is or becomes serious or chronic, he or she also may qualify for special education services above and beyond home instruction.
Q: If I disagree with my child’s school about the special education he receives at school, may I keep my child at home and demand home instruction?
A: No. The special education laws do not provide an exception to the state’s compulsory attendance requirements. A child with a disability is expected to attend school regularly unless the child’s educational plan provides an alternative. Parents who disagree with their home district about their disabled child’s educational programming have the right to file a complaint with the State Department of Education or to pursue an administrative “due process” hearing before an impartial hearing officer appointed by the state. However, while those matters are pending, the child must remain in his original placement and parents cannot change that setting simply by demanding home instruction. Nevertheless, if the parents and the school agree, home instruction may be used as an interim placement, provided that such instruction provides an appropriate educational program.
Q: Can a school district use home instruction as an “alternative” disciplinary placement for a child with disabilities?
A: Under very limited circumstances, yes. No services—home instruction or otherwise—are required for short-term suspensions of either disabled or non-disabled pupils. However, disabled children who are removed from school for an extended period must receive educational programming in an alternative setting, and home instruction may be used if appropriate.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by John E. Britton, an attorney with the Cleveland firm of Britton, Smith, Peters & Kalail Co., LPA.