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.
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.
- 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.