Shared Services and Special Needs

Am I allowed under Wisconsin law to homeschool my child with special needs / disability?


Can I obtain special services for my homeschooled child with special needs or disabilities from the school district?

Generally, no.

Public school districts are not required to provide special services to homeschooled students.

However, homeschooled students are entitled under federal law to disability assessment by their public school district, at no charge.

A federal law called IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has several provisions that require certain funding and special services for students with special needs or disabilities. Most of IDEA applies only to students enrolled in public school, with some specific funding provisions for children parentally placed in private schools. Under Wisconsin law, homeschools are not private schools; homeschools are a distinct legal category of legal schools in Wisconsin. Therefore, most of IDEA does not apply to homeschoolers.

However, one provision of IDEA, called Child Find, does apply to homeschoolers. Child Find is a general requirement that states make efforts to identify, locate and evaluate every child through age 21 in need of special services. (34 C.F.R. §300.111). This mandate includes children with disabilities or special needs who require early intervention (before age 6) or special education services. Strategies for identifying kids are outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (34 C.F.R. §300.111), and some examples have been given in court cases. The Child Find Mandate is meant to identify kids who need further evaluation.

The Child Find mandate does apply to homeschoolers, in that school districts must make efforts to identify all children in need of special services, whether or not those children attend public schools.

A child may be identified for evaluation through screening by many different agencies, and many different people – including doctors, teachers, social workers, and parents – may refer a child to a school district for an evaluation (Wis Stat 115.77(1)(a-c)). A parent may choose to identify their own child to the district, in order to request an evaluation. Once a child is identified, the district must provide the parent with an assessment plan and a copy of procedural safeguards within 15 days of receiving the referral. Parents have 15 days to approve the plan and return the informed consent form, or decline the assessment. (Wis Stat 115.77(3)(a-e)).

If a child is identified as needing assessment, or if a parent requests an assessment, and a parent consents to that assessment, the public school district must convene an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to create an IEP Service Plan for the student.

Other provisions of IDEA include the requirement that public schools provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to every child, and that every child who has been found to be eligible for special services is provided with the services outlined in their individualized educational program (IEP).

However, the provisions of IDEA that require a school district to fulfill the IEP – that is, to provide services – apply only to students enrolled in public school.

This means that in Wisconsin, homeschooled students are entitled, under the Child Find mandate, to an IEP evaluation and a copy of their child’s Individualized Education Plan. Once a parent has an IEP in hand for their child, they can decide whether or not to enroll their child in public school. If they choose not to enroll their child in public school, the school district has no obligation to fulfill the IEP.

Is there federal funding available for providing services to homeschooled students?

No. Under IDEA, there are specific funding provisions that apply to students parentally placed in private school. These provisions do not apply to homeschooled students in Wisconsin.

What if my homeschooled child with special needs / disability is also taking a class or participating in extracurricular activities at our public school?

The public school would be required to meet some federal law, but not to provide your child with a FAPE, under IDEA.

The public school would not be required to provide the homeschooled child with all the services mandated under IDEA (including providing FAPE or fulfilling an IEP), because those requirements apply only to public school students. A homeschooled student attending class or participating in a public school activity is not a public school student.

However, the public school would be required to provide the services required by Section 504 of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which gives certain specific protections to every person with a disability in any program or activity that receives federal funds.

Can a Wisconsin school district ever provide shared services to homeschool students? Has a Wisconsin school ever provided shared services to homeschool students?

WHPA does not know. We are currently working to find out more about the possibility of public school districts using federal funds to provide shared services to homeschooled students if they choose to do so. There is no mechanism in the law to require it.

Last Updated on 09/18/21

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