Autism Scholarship Misunderstanding Ignites Huge Mess for Ohio Homeschooler
Teresa Brimage-Mayo started homeschooling her son Zach in 2021, following the COVID-19 pandemic. But she worried her choice would compromise his access to state-funded special needs therapy through the Ohio Autism Scholarship.
She understood that homeschool students and other non-public school students have access to the scholarships if they satisfy certain requirements. Zach had already satisfied one of them—an Individualized Education Program (IEP) issued by a local public school.
An IEP is a written statement that guarantees learning accommodation to students with disabilities wanting to meet certain educational goals. According to Ohio law, any child in need of accommodation in the school district is eligible for an IEP.
Zach obtained an IEP through his public school when he was 3, and maintained it when he transitioned to homeschooling in 2021. His IEP made him eligible for the Ohio Autism Scholarship, which gives Teresa the funds to cover Zach’s occupational and speech therapy from a third-party educational service.
Teresa also understood that Ohio required her to secure a letter of excuse from the local public school to legally homeschool Zach. The letter excuses a child from compulsory attendance.
She submitted her Notice of Intent to Homeschool in August. According to Ohio homeschool law, once the district receives the letter, the superintendent has 14 days to send a letter of excuse.
“You’re supposed to get the excuse letter after that,” Teresa said. “But I never did.”
Five months passed with no response, and that’s when she called HSLDA. Legal Assistant Jane White took her call and reached out to the school.
After multiple phone calls, Jane discovered that the special needs administrator believed that they could not issue an excuse letter to someone with an IEP.
The root of this claim was the school’s misunderstanding that the scholarship money derived from them—not the state. They thought students must be enrolled in the school to receive funding, and an excuse letter means the student is not enrolled. They wanted Zach to have access to funding, so they weren’t sending the letter.
Teresa needed the letter to prove the legitimacy of her homeschool and knew enrollment on paper was not necessary to securing Zach’s Autism Scholarship. In Ohio, funding isn’t dependent on enrollment, because the scholarships don’t come through the schools.
Jane explained the homeschool law to the administrators, who recognized their error and promised to provide excuse letters to all homeschool students in similar positions. But more time passed, and the excuse letter still wasn’t in Teresa’s mailbox.
The school then admitted they lost Teresa’s initial notice of intent, so she submitted another one. Still, no response came. So, Teresa reached out to HSLDA again.
This time, HSLDA Attorney Amy Buchmeyer sent a letter to the superintendent noting their 231-day delay and requesting a prompt response. Seven days later, Teresa finally received the excuse letter.
“A lot of times, the conflict between homeschoolers and public-school officials is not malicious,” Jane said. “It’s due to ignorance.”
Although the school’s actions were based on a misunderstanding rather than malicious intent, they still endangered Zach’s homeschool status and put him at risk for accusations of truancy.
HSLDA works to remind school administrations about homeschool law in order to avoid that kind of harm to parents like Teresa, so they can homeschool their children in peace.
Because her homeschool is legally protected, Teresa can tailor Zach’s learning to his needs and provide him with the assistance that helps him the most. She loves the flexibility of being able to homeschool, and to see firsthand where Zach is in his education.
“Anytime I try a different approach, I try to ask him what he wants to learn, and I’ll let him study,” she said.
Teresa provides Zach with a relaxed learning environment where he can pursue his interests. She enjoys watching his creativity flourish, and Zach loves picking what he learns.
If you’re an HSLDA member who is homeschooling a child with special needs and have questions about what it looks like to homeschool in your state, you can contact HSLDA’s legal team. And for more free resources on homeschooling a child with special needs, click here.