American Disability Rights law was written to include all disabled Americans. The Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the ADA), ratified in 1990, states that:
The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.
If someone meets these definitions of “disabled”, that means that they are covered by disability rights law. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) (1975, 1990) stipulates that all disabled children who are part of a school district have the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). From the U.S. Department of Education:
“An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day. Special education may include specially designed instruction in classrooms, at home, or in private or public institutions, and may be accompanied by related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, and medical diagnostic services necessary to the child’s education.”
A Free Appropriate Education involves many accommodations and services disabled children have a right to, including an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
An IEP is a plan developed by teachers, staff and parents that outlines the child’s disability or disabilities and what kind of accommodations are necessary for them to achieve. It outlines a plan for everyone involved in the child’s education to agree on and follow.
Another aspect of the IDEA is the right of a disabled child to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment. This means that disabled children have the right to be educated in the same classroom with non-disabled children, and that they should not be segregated from other children. Disabled children commonly used to be kept isolated and segregated in institutions. Now, we mainstream disabled children, ideally, as much as possible, and have accommodations and services in place in the school, such as teacher’s aids, speech pathologists, therapists, and so on. One of the problems with isolating and segregating marginalized people is that it leads to abuse and suffering, and the horrific conditions of these institutions spurred laws like the IDEA into existence.
Along with the Least Restrictive Environment, the IDEA also requires that a child receive an Appropriate Evaluation. This section stipulates that there be an evaluation process that meets certain requirements and standards.
The IDEA has many sections that are comprehensive and important when it comes to the rights and education of disabled children. Other disability laws passed in the U.S., largely since the 1970s, outline specific rights for disabled children in public and even private schools. However, when it comes to homeschool, many states allow the parent or guardian to choose whether or not they would like their disabled child to have any of these rights and safeguards. Yes, that is correct- it becomes the choice of the parents whether to allow their child to have disability accommodations, therapies, or special education. If the parent wants, their homeschooled child will never have any accommodations like hearing aids, a wheelchair, speech pathology, a psychologist, and so on.
Today, law mandates that disabled children be mainstreamed in schools. [image of child with hearing aids and down syndrome working on a school lesson with seemingly able bodied student]
I have maintained in this blog, as readers know, that not providing disabled children with disability accommodations and therapies should not be a choice, and it is abuse. Organizations like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HLDA) have consistently pushed, since the 1980s, to remove as many regulations around homeschool as possible. The HLDA has also lobbied against the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), a comprehensive United Nations law on disability rights. If this convention were ratified in the U.S., there would be even more legal protections for disabled children, something which could affect homeschools. Ratification would mean that children in homeschools would have more rights around disability. The Republican homeschool lobby also effectively blocked the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), another convention that would give children more rights, and one of the world’s most widely-ratified U.N. conventions. The Homeschool lobby is an arm of the well-funded Republican Christian Right, which seeks to have total control over children in homeschools. Every time there is a homeschool torture case, protests occur from this faction, decrying any regulation around homeschooling at all.
My question is, why do disabled children in homeschools not have the same rights as disabled children in public schools? Since when are civil rights a choice? Allowing the dominant class, in this case, adult parents, to have that kind of power over marginalized people defeats the entire purpose of civil and human rights. No one should have the power to choose whether a marginalized person has access to rights, and what we have increasingly seen in this country is how parents use this loophole to deprive, isolate and torture children under the cover of a homeschool.
Not giving disabled children access to disability accommodations and therapies leaves them vulnerable to victimization, not only as children in their own homes, but as they grow up and join their communities. Disability accommodations provide independence. Even if a parent is not directly abusing their child, it is negligent to not provide disability accommodations, and can cause the child pain and suffering, and set them back substantially in the course of their development.
Now, this dearth of disability rights protection is creating a new institution: the home. Like the institution or state school of old, a homeschool is an area where disabled children are frequently abused, murdered, isolated, neglected, and deprived.
Some might say that the horrific homeschool child abuse and homicide cases that seem to be a part of the news every month are anomalies. The reality is, disabled children are vulnerable to victimization more so than their able-bodied counterparts, and experience crime at higher rates. Disabled children should never have to exist in a crossroads of no disability rights, no oversight, and no regulation- that is what happened in institutions and the results were horrific. The civil and human rights of marginalized people are routinely violated, and that is why oversight, regulation and enforcement is necessary to protect vulnerable citizens. Victimizers of children look for and use loopholes like this one to exploit, abuse, torture and murder children. Because homeschool provides such a good cover, the worst child abuse torture and homicide cases are often found within a homeschool.
There is an intersection with disability rights being upheld and regulations in homeschools. When this area is better regulated and disability rights are ensured to all children, I expect that the astonishingly high rates of disability abuse and homicide will start to go down. The home cannot replace the institution as the new disability asylum, and civil rights should be ensured for all Americans, as the laws are written.