Homeschooling in Montgomery County
Welcome to the xMinds Homeschooling webpage! Whether you’re considering homeschooling an autistic child in Montgomery County, MD, or you’re a current homeschooling family, you’ll find information and resources to help you on your journey.
Some families find that homeschooling is the best fit for their autistic children. At times, traditional school can be overwhelming and stressful for autistic students. Busy classrooms, bustling hallways, and a crowded cafeteria can lead to sensory overstimulation. Unfortunately, schools can’t meet the special needs and education goals of every student. Even autistic students who excel in academic coursework may struggle in social situations or have difficulty understanding the intentions of their classmates and teachers. This can sometimes lead to behavioral concerns. For these students, homeschooling may provide a nurturing environment in which they can grow and develop. Homeschooling allows for individualized programs, breaks as needed, and scheduling around therapy appointments and other services.
If you’re thinking about homeschooling, you’re not alone. Nationwide, the number of homeschooled students nearly doubled from between 1999 and 2016, increasing from 850,000 to almost 1.7 million, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). About 16 percent of homeschooling families identify their student’s special needs as an important reason for selecting homeschooling, according to NCES.
In Montgomery County, just over 2,500 students were homeschooled in 2018-19, pre-covid. Homeschooling surged in popularity during the pandemic, with nearly 3,900 homeschooled county students in 2020-21 , according to the Maryland State Department of Education. See more homeschooling statistics across Maryland.
All 50 states permit homeschooling, with each state determining the related regulations. Under Maryland law, a parent or guardian who chooses to teach his or her child at home must provide “regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.”
For families living in Montgomery County, supervision or oversight of this instruction may be done in one of two ways:
• Option A: Under the supervision of Montgomery County Public Schools. The family maintains a portfolio for each child receiving home instruction and submits the portfolio(s) for review to MCPS near the conclusion of each semester.
• Option B: Under the supervision of a nonpublic entity registered with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Also known as “home-school umbrellas,” these entities are often affiliated with a church or religious organization and generally charge a membership fee. Homeschool umbrellas often provide support to their members as well as portfolio reviews. They sometimes require specific courses and a statement of faith.
With either option, families must complete and return the Home Instruction Notification Form 270-34 to MCPS at least 15 days prior to beginning home instruction. In subsequent years, families must complete and return the Annual Notification to Continue Home Instruction Form 270-36. To find the full procedures — including information on how to create the portfolio required in Option A and how to undergo the portfolio review process — families can refer to MCPS’s Home Instruction webpage.
Homeschooling provides a great deal of freedom, but along with that comes the responsibility of providing instruction. There is no one way to homeschool. Options include online courses, in-person experiences and classes, self-directed learning, at-home tutors, participation in a homeschool co-op, guardian/parent-led instruction, and purchased curricula, some complete with workbooks, learning manipulatives, and materials for science experiments. Families often mix and match to find what works best for their children.
Below are resources and information to help guide your homeschooling journey. Please note that inclusion of any organizations, services, products, or classes on this page does not constitute an endorsement by xMinds. We welcome recommendations of additional resources.
While there are plenty of upsides to homeschooling, families should be aware that it means losing the following benefits that come along with public education:
Maryland Autism Waiver. Homeschool students in Maryland are not eligible for an autism waiver. To qualify, a school-age child must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with 15 hours of special education and related services, making homeschooled students ineligible. The Maryland Autism Waiver Program provides services to families with an autistic child who is at risk of being institutionalized. Waiver services include therapeutic integration, intensive individual support services, and respite care. Given that there’s a long waitlist — currently about eight years — homeschool families are encouraged to register now and see what their circumstances are once their child gets to the top of the list.
Maryland Special Education Services. In 2006, Maryland’s attorney general released a letter stating “neither IDEA nor the State education law requires that a local school system provide speech therapy services to a home-schooled student. However, neither do they bar the school system from providing such services.” The upshot is that Maryland public schools can provide special education and related services, but they are not required to, other than Child Find evaluations.
While there is no legal right to services when a parent withdraws a child from public school, a local school system may choose to offer some services. MCPS provides eligible homeschooled students with a modified IEP offering speech and language related services. MCPS will also provide a 15-minute case management consultation if the parents wish to access county or state-wide assessments. This practice is subject to change as the Maryland State Department of Education brings new and updated decisions. Contact your local school for more information.
High school diplomas. While Maryland law allows students to meet their education requirements through home instruction, these students do not earn a Maryland high school diploma for completing a home instruction program. However, students can pursue a state-issued diploma by taking the GED test. Individuals who pass all four modules of the GED test are awarded a Maryland High School Diploma.
Umbrella organizations and homeschooling parents can create their own diplomas indicating that a student completed a course of study, but this is not a state-issued diploma and cannot be labeled so. For more information on diploma options, see the Maryland Homeschool Association site.
Local In-Person Resources
Some homeschooling families choose to join a co-op, a group of parents/guardians who come together to provide instruction to their children in certain subjects or on certain days. Families all pitch in, dividing teaching duties and other responsibilities, or collectively hiring teachers. These programs foster a sense of community, teach students how to work together, and expose students to different teaching styles. Co-ops allow parents/guardians to share their strengths, and in turn, their kids benefit from others’ expertise.
Co-ops can be an important part of a home instruction plan, assuming they follow state regulations. The Maryland State Department of Education notes that “a co-op cannot provide regular daily instruction to an organized group of students who are not in the same family because this may constitute an unapproved nonpublic ‘school.’” For more details, see this explanation by the Maryland Homeschool Association and Question 9 of the MSDE’s Frequently Asked Questions.
Before joining a co-op, check whether it is appropriate for your child’s special needs. Most co-ops require parents to be on-site, which could provide your child with additional support. Below is a list of some local co-ops; this is not an endorsement.
The following classes are geared toward homeschooled students and are usually scheduled during typical school hours. They are also known to be receptive to neurodiverse students. Be sure to check with the organization or teacher to ensure that these programs are a good fit for your child and can support specific special needs. This is not an endorsement of any specific programs or classes. For a list of activities for autistic students, see our Recreational Activity Guide.
Homeschool days/field trips
Montgomery County and the surrounding area abound with opportunities to explore and learn about nature, history, science, the arts, and more. Many local facilities offer “homeschool days” with programs designed to enrich home instruction. Families might also create their own field trips — or they can simply embed outings to local playgrounds, swimming pools, nature centers, and gymnastics studios into their day. Below are a few local opportunities to explore. Check websites for current schedules and openings as programs may change.
For information about additional Homeschool Days, check out this resource listing from the Maryland Homeschool Association. For field trip suggestions, see these lists compiled by The Homeschool Mom and by Time4Learning. Some facilities offer virtual field trips.
MCPS Virtual Academy
For the 2021-22 school year, MCPS is offering a virtual academy that provides online learning for students in kindergarten to Grade 12. Known as Montgomery Virtual, the program lets students take classes from home, but it is not considered “homeschooling” or "home instruction." Note: The virtual academy is closed to new applicants for the 2021-22 school year, except for some narrow exceptions, including serious health concerns.
Virtual academy students are enrolled in MCPS; courses are taught by MCPS teachers; and students can participate in MCPS extracurricular activities. Elementary and middle school students have full days of live instruction. High school students have the option of a full-time or part-time program.
Students interested in the program are required to apply for admission and must be approved to participate. For the 2021-2022 school year, the program will serve students with qualifying extenuating circumstances (including physical and mental health-related reasons, as well as demonstrated academic success during virtual learning). If your child has an IEP, be sure to check how placement in the virtual academy could affect any services your child receives. For more information, see the MCPS Virtual Academy.
One of the beauties of homeschooling is that families can select an instruction style that works best for their children. “Unschooling” or “self-directed learning” is a popular style for teaching autistic homeschooled children. Rather than having a rigid curriculum, this method allows students to follow their natural curiosity and explore topics that interest them; parents/guardians or tutors facilitate learning.
In contrast, some autistic students do well with Direct Instruction, which emphasizes well-developed and carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks.
The articles below describe some of the most popular homeschooling styles. But don’t feel limited by these. Families often adapt these styles or combine approaches to fit their needs.