by Madeleine Fernandez
This is Joanna. She is 11 years old and stands about 30" tall. She has been in special education in the public school since pre-school. When she was in second grade, having already home schooled my two older sons, decided to home school Joanna as well. Note: This was written in 1993. I am still home schooling Joanna and she is doing great!! She is a joy to be around and everyone can tell she loves the Lord.
On Monday, August 30, I received a phone call from the vice principal of a local school, who informed me that my daughter Joanna's evaluation results came back and that I needed to come in and talk to them.
For those of you that don't know, Joanna has been in the public school special education program for the last four years. I personally don't believe she needs to be in special ed, because she does not have a speech impediment, nor is she physically or mentally handicapped. The only possible handicap she might have is being small in stature: she is eight years old and thirty inches tall.
In May I had decided to pull her out of public school and to home school her. I felt that God was showing me it was time. I had her go through one more evaluation by the D.O.E. in June because they told me that I had "signed" for it earlier this year.
The schools receive funds from the government for special education children, and I was aware that they would try to do whatever they could to keep her in the school system.
So I tried to get out of this meeting, and asked, "Can't you just send me the results?"
"Oh no," was the answer, "It's mandatory that you come in." When I heard that word mandatory I started getting a little edgy. Reluctantly I agreed to meet with the vice principal on Thursday, September 2nd. As Christians we always want to do the "right" thing. Because something is "mandatory," however, it doesn't always mean that it's right. It just sounds so official that oftentimes we are intimidated by this type of "authoritative" dialog.
The next day I received a certified letter from the local School informing me of the purpose of the meeting. First of all, it was to discuss and explain the District Office's evaluation and recommendation for my child, (she was eligible for their special education services), and secondly it was to review, revise or develop the Individualized Educational Program (IEP). It went on to say that if I was unable to attend the conference, the IEP will be developed by the school and become the special education plan for my child.
If I were to sign my name to that, it would mean that I was agreeing with them doing the IEP for Joanna! I immediately called the school and canceled my appointment and asked them to please put their request in writing, which is what I should have done in the first place.
The following Saturday I received a letter from the school. In it I was told that 048 conferences must be held to discuss with me the district office's evaluation and recommendations. Another thing it stated was that there are guidelines under this federal program which they are mandated to follow, and that they would continue to develop Joanna's IEP yearly even though she is being home schooled.
I faxed this letter to HSLDA with a letter explaining my situation. The following Monday I talked with Dewitt T. Black, the attorney in charge of Hawaii. After having listened to my story, he assured me that there's nothing in the law that said it was mandatory that I take these "free" services. I had the right to seek private help on my own. He asked for the school's fax number so that he could fax them a letter. He told me that his secretary would call back for the number.
I called the school, but they said that their fax machine wasn't hooked up yet. After I got off the phone with them, my phone rang. It was the vice principal, who wanted to reschedule our appointment.
"Just a minute," I told her, trying to control my emotions. I explained that my attorney would be sending her a letter, and that I wanted my daughter out of the system.
Her reply was, "You have to file for a notice of impartial hearing and would have to go through some kind of court procedure." She said I had to fill out form 050 to remove her from the system.
I couldn't believe my ears. She went on to say that they had a deadline to meet (which was three days past due) and that they had to file for an extension, which was another form I had to fill out. Puzzled by all this, I requested the forms to be sent to me. No sooner had I hung up the phone, when I got another phone call.
This time it was the HSLDA attorney's secretary. When I told her what the vice principal had said, she cautioned me not to file for an extension as I wasn't the one that had a deadline to meet, but they were. I felt like I was in a tug-o-war. I knew HSLDA was right. So I decided to just sit tight until Pukalani School receives the letter from the attorney. Even if I got the forms in the mail I would not respond to them.
Dee Black wrote the letter to the school and faxed it to me. The following was quoted directly from the letter he wrote to the vice principal:
"Apparently you are under the misimpression that special education services are mandated for children in a home education program in Hawaii, but the applicable Administrative Rules make it clear that such is not the case.
"I draw your attention to Section 8-12-14 of Hawaii Administrative Rules relating to education and related services. This section clearly states that these services shall be made available to home-schooled children, but these services are not mandatory. The last clause of this section states that these services are to be provided to children 'who request the services.'
"Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez recognize their responsibility as parents to provide whatever special education services may be needed by their daughter, Joanna. However, there is no requirement in the law that these services be received from public school through implementation of an IEP which has been developed for the child. Parents are free to obtain these services from private sources, and this is the election that Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez have made concerning their daughter.
"We trust this information will resolve any misunderstanding concerning the public school's right to compel any additional meetings with Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez concerning these services. However, should you wish to discuss this with me or require any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me."
Since that episode, I received a letter from the vice principal apologizing to Mr. Black for miscommunicating the need for me to be at their conferences.
Please continue to pray for wisdom for my husband and me. We want to do the right thing. I feel that I'm being obedient to God by home schooling her. (I saw what being part of the public school system did to her, and that in itself is definitely not godly.) And at the same time I don't want to neglect her needs if she really has them.
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