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Court Declines to Hear Case On Home School Special Ed

April 25, 2001
By Mark Walsh

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a Nevada couple in a case raising the question of whether home-schooled children with disabilities are entitled to special education services from their local school districts.

Two lower federal courts had ruled that the main federal special education law does not grant that right to disabled children schooled at home, and the justices on April 16 declined without comment to review those rulings.

William and Catherine Hooks sued the Clark County, Nevada, school district in 1998 after it refused to provide speech-therapy services to their son, Christopher, who was taught at home. Administrators told the family that district policy prohibited the provision of special education services to home-schooled students, but they encouraged the parents to seek an exemption from the school board.

Instead, the parents filed a complaint with the state department of education, which was rejected. The state relied on a 1992 policy letter from the U.S. Department of Education's office of special education programs declaring that states have discretion in whether to provide such services to home-schooled students.


The parents then filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the district's policy violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires states and school districts receiving federal funds to provide a "free appropriate public education" to children with disabilities. The Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, Va., backed the suit.

Both a federal district court and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled for the 231,000-student Clark County district, which includes Las Vegas. (See Hooks v. Clark County School District.) The three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously last year that states have discretion on whether to define a home school as a private school subject to the IDEA.

"Nothing in the IDEA requires that school districts provide services to children whose parents have rejected the state's offer of an education and have failed to enroll in any 'school,' under the state's definition of that word," the 9th Circuit court said.

The ruling apparently was the first by a federal appeals court on the issue of eligibility of home-schooled students for special education services. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled in a 1998 case that home-schooled students had no right to participate on public school athletic teams.


The 9th Circuit ruled on the eligibility issue even though Nevada passed a 1999 law requiring districts to provide special education services to home-schooled children. The court said a question of reimbursement for the Hooks family's expenses for providing speech therapy had kept the case from becoming moot.

In its response to the family's Supreme Court appeal in Hooks v. Clark County School District (Case No. 00-1261), the district said it was perplexed that the parents had not sought speech therapy for their son from the district since the change in state law now authorizes it.

"This case has never been about Christopher's speech-therapy services," the district claimed in legal papers. "This case is, and always has been, an attempt to get a federal court to rule that home-schooled students are entitled, without exception, to the rights and privileges granted by the IDEA."

Reprinted with Permission of the EPE Library


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