Thursday, January 13, 2011

Homeschooling: How I did it

In response to a post I wrote about my son's education, Jennifer Johannesen (right) shares why she made the decision to homeschool her son Owen (left) and how she did it. Many of you know Jennifer at her blog YES or NO. Thank you very much for sharing this Jen! Louise

Homeschooling: How I did it
By Jennifer Johannesen

Even before I had children, I knew I wanted to homeschool in an unschooling fashion. Open learning through experience, without text books. Letting the child's interests lead the activities. Getting out in the community and immersing yourself and your family in your environment. The principles of self-directed education greatly appealed to me. When I had Owen, I had to rethink everything.

Owen had multiple severe disabilities, including spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, dystonia and deafness. He was non-ambulatory and required full custom seating. His physical disabilities greatly interfered with his ability to initiate activity, express knowledge or preference, or clearly demonstrate his awareness of his surroundings. (Owen passed away in October 2010. He was 12.)

As most of us new moms in these circumstances do, I threw myself into the therapies and early interventions. I was exhausted but determined. Then two years later, Angus was born... a typically-developing child with a whole other set of needs. At some point, I knew I couldn't continue at this pace. I asked one of our early intervention specialists to facilitate a transition to school.

Owen attended several facilities, each possibility deserving their own blog post! But I'll summarize here:

  • two years at a special needs preschool in midtown Toronto.
  • two years in kindergarten in Markham –  this was our local public school which had limited experience with children like Owen. Because he was not yet in Grade 1 and couldn't yet be officially 'identified' as disabled, he was given a support worker in a regular classroom. Probably the most positive schooling experience he's had.
  • two years in a 'contained class' in Markham – junior and senior segregated classes for children with severe disabilities like Owen's, inside a regular public school. Students were integrated into their age-appropriate grades for music, gym etc. For the rest of the time, the children were working through their own individualized education programs with the support of the education assistants, personal support workers, social workers and nurses.
  • one year in a fully segregated school in Toronto.
Our experience in this last placement and Owen's increasingly fragile health prompted me to make the decision to break away from formal/institutional education. I was disheartened not by the education (there was none to speak of, but I didn't really care), but rather the lack of connection, beauty and meaningful experiences. I always knew that Owen's time with us would be shorter than most – I feared that he would die with his last experiences in an institutional setting.

Since removing him from school, the quality of all our lives improved immeasurably. But I couldn't have done it without financial assistance and without the fantastic support of the various caregivers I employed. (But again, this deserves a whole blog post!)

I had accessed homeschooling funding in Markham when Owen was much younger – in fact I think we were the first family to request it after the legislation passed, allowing for funding. When we moved to Toronto, the process was slightly more figured out and our CCAC caseworker did a good job in mobilizing the powers-that-be to get us on track.

If you are considering homeschooling your severely disabled child and are interested in accessing funding, here is a short summary of what to do:

  • Homeschooling in Ontario is legal. You must send a Letter of Intent to Homeschool to your local public school, who will forward the letter to the Board. Then the Board sends you a letter excusing your child from attendance. You are assumed to be educating your child properly unless a third party (nosy neighbour, suspicious mother-in-law....) complains. Then the onus is on the Board to prove you are not providing appropriate education. As a homeschooling parent, you do not need to submit your curriculum or send reports.
To get funding for homeschooling, there are more steps:
  • Generally speaking, your child is eligible if she would have required physical support at school, like a PSW or nursing. A child with 'only' developmental disabilities but who is physically high functioning is generally not eligible.
  • I had to find a local community agency willing to flow-through the funds to me. The contracts are managed by the CCAC, which is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Once the flow-through agency was approved and the contracts were signed, I invoiced the agency monthly and they would write cheques for the workers. The agency would then invoice the Ministry, who would reimburse the agency. The agency receives an admin fee from the Ministry.
  • This arrangement worked well for us. I decided though that it wasn't fair to ask caregivers to wait until the middle of the next month to be paid... So I paid them bi-weekly and when they were paid by the agency, they paid me back. I basically fronted the money and I was the one who was reimbursed.
  • I interviewed and selected my own caregivers – there was no caregiving agency involved.
  • The rate of pay is based on the school board's rate for personal support workers, which in my area was $23.93/hr. I paid this full amount to the caregivers for the time they were on the homeschooling clock. Afterhours, I paid a different, lower rate. Owen's allotment was six hours a day per School Board school day, including PD and PA days. This is the maximum allowed. CCAC determines eligibility for number of hours. Thanks to superstar Clare at Life With A Severely Disabled Child (who occasionally posts here), the total eligible hours can be used 12 months a year, not just during the school months.


Hi Louise and Jennifer...
Just a couple of things to add to the homeschool fund information. Here in London, the CCAC directly administers the homeschool fund and pays the workers directly via cheque or direct deposit. It is my understanding that since our "dicussions" with the CCAC in this regard, all homeschool funds in all CCAC's are supposed to be administered in this way. Double check with not only your case manager (who is very likely not up to speed on this), but with the head of your local CCAC. The rate of pay is now $30.76 per hour and the CCAC is NOT SUPPOSED to take any admin fee from that. The ENTIRE pay should go to the worker. The worker must know that the CCAC will not take any CPP, taxes or any other deductibles off the cheque. That remains their personal responsibility. Home school hours are not restricted based on PPM 131 of the education act. You are allowed ANY 6 hours per day (meaning you can have a split shift), ANY 5 days per week, (which means you can have a worker on weekends), ANY months of the year, to a total of 192-4 days in the year (depending on what the Ministry of Education set out as the required number of school hours in any given year). These hours cannot be pooled. Use your 30 hours per week wisely! We have assurances from the CCAC office here, in writing, that thes policies were implemented across Ontario to all CCAC's. If you are having trouble with getting your homeschool fund properly administered (and I have had people tell me their case managers said that there was no such thing as a home school fund), you must keep talking until you know someone who knows the score. Currently, the Ministry of Health is "reviewing" the wording of the homeschool legislation to make it clearer, which should avoid problems in the future. Thanks.

Thanks for chiming in Claire - hard to keep it all straight. Not only do we need to stay on top of knowing about services, but we have to stay on top of the agencies delivering the services! Sheesh.

Wow! Thanks Jennifer, Clair and Louise. This info is so empowering. We are preparing to transition Caelan to high school and with his multiple needs it is a very challenging exercise to find a school that provides him with a safe, happy and stimulating learning experience. I did not realize that funding was available for home schooling - access to funding and the additional worker support makes this a reassuring 'real' option as we explore high school possibilities. I had previously assumed that if I home schooled it would all be down to our own resources - and while I know that a LOT of time, energy and money is involved I
did not realize that govt funding was accessible.

One quick additional question.... At what age does this funding stop?

Thanks for sharing!

I believe it goes to 21, the official age public school attendance stops...

Good luck! is not necessarily so that homeschooling is expensive and hugely time-consuming. Of course, I don't know what your child's abilities are, but, tons and tons of stuff is available for free or for very little on the 'net. I belong to Enchanted Learning...$20 per year and I have access to incredible material of all sorts and fab links. Once you are set up and arrange a schedule of activities, the whole thing can run rather smoothly. My daughter, for instance, gets art and games in the AM, reading, writing, math, in the PM. If she is unwell, we switch things up a bit to be more sensorial in nature. The dollar store can be your best friend. Montessori sites and activities are also excellent resources as much of it can be re-created in the home environment.

Wonderful article! We plan on unschooling Skyler as well, though his needs are less severe. He's legally blind and requires hormone replacements everyday. I'm not sure there's any funding available in Manitoba for homeschooling. Though I am really wondering what will happen with the CNIB because I know they have an in-school program that assists visually impaired children, but I don't know if they will work with us at our home..

Thanks again Jennifer and Claire. Had a week with "issues" so delayed in my reply. Caelan has been attending a segregated school for the last 7 years. We tried integration when he was entering the school system however after a year of camping in the principal's office trying to get Caelan's needs met we gave up. We were relieved to move to his current school - it has been a caring and supportive environment and I am so thankful for the happy years we have had there. Caelan has a few challenges - he is Developmentally Disabled, uses a wheelchair, is non-verbal, and has lots of sensory issues. We have our IPRC meeting on Monday. As we begin the search for a High School placement I have two items that are not negotiable - I need to feel that the placement is one which provides a safe and caring environment and one that provides age appropriate stimulating content. I have noticed over the last couple of years that the curriculum (and Caelan has an alternative curriculum) has not really "grown up" with him - while the goals he is working towards may be the same I would like to see themimg that is more aligned to the interests of a typical youth. I cringe when I hear that they are still singing "Row Row Row Your Boat" when there are so many other songs they could be using. Because it is such a struggle to find a caring and safe environment I wonder if I can ask for more (as in a more engaging age-appropriate curriculum) but I think as we enter this new search for a placement we will hold this as a primary goal as I think it comes down to dignity. I feel empowered knowing that homeschooling is an option as I am not too optimistic about our chances of finding a great solution within the current school system. Thanks again!

Interesting posts. I am homeschooling as well and have accessed this funding (Thanks Jennifer!).

It seems every CCAC is still administering these funds in their own way. My local CCAC (downtown Toronto) insists I use the funds only during the school week and year. If its the Christmas holiday or March break, I can't use the funds.

I'm also capped at $23.93 per hour for personal support. I don't get $30.76 per hour in Toronto. Hmm.

Its never occurred to me to bill them for the full rate, then pay a lower rate for the rest of the hours I use. That's brillant!

Also I get cash in advance at the beginning of each month, paid to me. Then I pay the workers.

Unfortunately I'm still fighting with the CCAC to get any "after school" PSW support. I do qualify for some hours but I can't actually use them, because I need someone who can adminster g-tube feeds and accompany my son on various outings (like his swimming lessons) and apparently the CCAC can't find someone who can do both. I either get a nurse (who can administer g-tube feeds but not leave the house) or a PSW (who can leave the house but no g-tube feeds).

Anyway still steamed about that one.

Hi, I don't live in there but do you know if this is also availed. in the states? how would I look something up like this is it the LEA but then IEPS? right? are these state funds your getting? how is the process? where ? what? how? is my question... I clicked on the blogger link it's gone. just letting you know. thanks for all this I hope there is something like that out here would help a lot.

Hi Darsey - I wish I had some answers for you! Honestly it's been so long that I accessed this service, I'm no longer familiar with the current status of homeschooling funding even in my own province. I believe it is still the same, but I'm not sure. As for equivalent services in the US, I would guess it varies state by state, and the best people to ask are those who are local to you. Best of luck - I know how frustrating it is to find funding :(