Group of Homeschooled Grads Advocates for Disabled Homeschooled Students

CANTON, MASS - 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.

According to a release, "Children who attend school are seen daily by teachers and other school staff," noted 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, 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 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."

Bishop'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 stated.

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," stated Coleman, who argues that homeschool policy needs to be developed with disabled children in mind.

Pollack agreed. "Disabled children who are homeschooled should have the same rights as disabled children who attend public school," she stated. "Disability rights law does not currently apply to homeschooled children, to these children's detriment."