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Improving K-12 education for students on the autism spectrum in Montgomery County, MD

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.

Getting Started

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.

or,

• 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 provide support to their members as well as portfolio reviews. They sometimes require extra 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 and submit the portfolio required in Option A, 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 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.


General Resources


  • Maryland Homeschool Association is a volunteer, grassroots organization dedicated to supporting families who educate their children at home. The organization provides information about local homeschool resources and state legislative updates.
  • Montgomery County, MD Homeschoolers is a private Facebook group for MoCo homeschooling families. The forum offers a place to discuss homeschooling concerns and share information about local events and activities.
  • FrederickHomeschooling.com is a resource website for homeschooling families in Frederick County and surrounding areas (including Montgomery County). The site features links to local classes, activities, co-ops, and umbrella groups.


Important Considerations


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 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 165-minute case management consultation if the parents wish to access county or state-wide assessments. Contact your local school for more information.

High school diplomas. Maryland law allows students to meet their education requirements through home instruction; however, they will not receive a Maryland high school diploma upon the completion of a home instruction program. Students may choose to pursue a diploma by taking the GED test.


Local In-Person Resources


Homeschool co-ops

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.

  • City Kids provides multicultural, science, literacy, and arts education, with a focus on anti-racist and anti-bias curriculum.  Programming is offered four days a week, with classes for kids ages 11-14. In-person classes meet mostly in Northwest Washington, D.C.
  • LEAP is a Christian co-op that meets in Derwood MD. LEAP meets on Mondays and offers classes for PreK through 8th grade. The co-op is made up of 27-30 families. Classes include science, history, art, music, PE, and more. The classes change every semester and are taught by LEAP parents.
  • Sankofa Homeschool Enrichment Collective is an African-centered homeschool collective geared toward African-American students and other children of color. Classes meet on Fridays in Northeast Washington, D.C. Classes include “Pan-African History,” “Empowered Economic Entrepreneurs,” and “Black Girl Magic” (literature).
  • Sligo Creek Cooperative is a secular group formed to complement at-home learning for students ages 5-18. Parents and guardians teach the courses, which include science, writing, art, and social studies. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays in Silver Spring, MD.
  • Roots & Wings Learning Community. Offers farm-based experiential classes for elementary and middle school Students. Classes meet at Freetown Farm in Columbia, MD, and focus on nature, health and fitness, and social and civic action.  

Classes

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.

  • Compass Homeschool Program teaches more than 130 courses each quarter. Most classes meet once a week at the school’s Herndon, VA, location. Compass offers American History Alive! at its Silver Spring, MD, location. The program features historical reenactments starring Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Martha Washington, and other historical figures.
  • Fitness for Health offers a fitness class for homeschoolers, ages 8-12. The 50-minute, once a week class helps students achieve their physical education requirements while further developing their gross motor skills, social interactions, body awareness, and self-confidence. Located in Rockville, MD, Fitness for Health works with children with special needs, including those with autism.
  • Fusion Academy offers an extensive selection of one-on-one courses to meet students’ individual needs. In addition to being an accredited private middle school and high school for full-time enrollment, Fusion offers classes part-time to supplement home instruction. Courses are offered in Rockville and several other campuses in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Online classes are also available.
  • Learning Outside the Box offers courses in geography, philosophy, literature, world affairs, and more. Some classes take place onsite in Bethesda, MD, while others are taught online.
  • Rethink STEM Classes conducts science and engineering classes for ages 8-14. Classes are held in-person in Greenbelt, MD, or over Zoom.


  • VisAbility Art Lab provides artists of all ages and abilities with a creative space, art materials, and guidance from professional artists. Participants are neurodiverse, and while most are adults, the program is open to school-age students upon request. Offered through VisArts in Rockville, MD.

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.

  • Imagination Stage offers sensory-friendly performances for individuals who have sensitivities and/or autism. These performances at the Bethesda, MD, theater feature limited attendance to allow guests to select the seating that works best for them, designated areas for breaks, and low lighting throughout the show to allow patrons to navigate the theater easily.


  • Montgomery Parks welcomes homeschool students to it parks, historical sites, museums, nature centers, gardens, and athletic facilities. Students can immerse themselves in the natural environment, engage in science, and explore the county’s vibrant history through official “homeschool days” and casual outings.


  • The Building Museum in Washington, D.C., lets students design buildings and places while focusing on teamwork and problem-solving skills. Homeschool programs accommodate ages 4–14 and a range of ability levels and learning styles.


  • Dumbarton House invites homeschool students ages 5-12 to “travel back in time” 220 years and explore the early history of Washington D.C. Each program includes an interactive tour of the museum, snack, and an activity.


  • Mount Vernon welcomes homeschooling families to discover the 18th century by exploring “the Farm” at George Washington’s estate in Northern Virginia.

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 2020-21 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."

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). For more information, see the MCPS Virtual Academy.


Homeschooling Styles


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.   

  • Find Your Homeschool Method. A guide to 10 popular homeschooling methods. Provided by Homeschool.com, an online resource guide for all homeschooling families.
  • Homeschooling Styles. An introduction to several common styles, including unschooling, unit studies, and the Montessori method. Provided by The Homeschool Mom, an online resource guide for homeschooling families.
  • Types of Homeschooling. Information on roadschooling, worldschooling, traditional homeschooling and more. Provided by Time4Learning, which offers online interactive curriculum for PreK – 12.

Social Media


  • Montgomery County, MD Homeschoolers is a private Facebook group for MoCo homeschooling families. The forum offers a place to discuss homeschooling concerns and share information about local events and activities.


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