Distributed Learning

One of my readers, Vicki Parnell pointed out to me that the information on my Distributed Learning page was rather thin and she was right.  She offered to do a guest blog which I gratefully accepted. So below is the first of what I hope will be a series of guest blogs.

Thanks Vicki.

Distributed Learning Option

Any family in British Columbia can choose to opt out of bricks-and-mortar schools and have their child learn at home. While it is possible to register your child as a homeschooler with any BC school district, and provide an educational program without any interference from the government, another popular option among home learning families is to enroll with a Distributed Learning (DL) school. A child enrolled in a DL is considered by the government to be a public school student, not a homeschooler, but in most cases this is merely a legal distinction, as a DL student’s education IS provided at home, by the parents.

The most important thing for families of autistic children to know is that if you choose a DL, it can mean access to thousands of dollars of additional funding for autism intervention.  This is because in a bricks-and-mortar public school, special needs funding is absorbed into the school’s budget to provide resource teachers, SEAs, and other specialized staff, and to buy materials for special needs students. Many DLs, however, pass along the responsibility of providing additional support to the student with autism to the individual families; the parents work with the special ed staff to create an IEP (Individual Education Plan), then they find ways to implement it at home or in their community, using a portion of the Ministry of Education’s special needs funding.

How to choose a DL

There is a remarkable variety of DL options in BC. A family can enroll with any DL in the province, depending on their needs and interests. A list of DL programs maintained by the Greater Vancouver Homelearners can be found here: https://sites.google.com/site/gvhomelearners/home-learning-options/local-and-popular-dl-programs. Another informative site is Learn Now BC: http://www.learnnowbc.ca/

Once your child is enrolled, you will work with a special needs coordinator at your DL to develop an IEP.  It’s important to note that many DLs with Special Education programs have a waiting list for access to Special Ed services; enrolling with a particular DL does not guarantee that your child will automatically be placed in their Special Education program. Depending on which DL you choose, you may have access to thousands of dollars of Special Education funding on top of the amount you currently receive from the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s Autism Funding Unit.

Special Ed Funding

In preparation for writing this post, I surveyed two online groups of home learning parents in BC, and asked for information and experiences from parents who have chosen the DL option for their child with autism. Please keep in mind as you read that this information is anecdotal and that policies are constantly shifting, so the procedures and dollar figures mentioned below may not reflect your own experience if you choose one of these options in the future. However, as I get new information, I will do my best to provide updates for this article.

The most popular DL among the parents who responded to me is SelfDesign (http://selfdesign.org/). SelfDesign provides comprehensive information about their Special Education program at this site: http://selfdesign.org/k-12-learning-programs/distributed-learning/special-education-support/  The two parents who wrote to me in detail about their experiences with SelfDesign reported that $13,400 and “about $14,000” of special education funding were made available to their families, respectively. Both of these families developed an IEP with their SelfDesign Learning Consultant and a Behaviour Interventionist, in association with an ABA clinic in the Lower Mainland; the clinic staff worked with the child, and billed the DL school directly for their services. Anecdotal reports from other families I know who have enrolled with SelfDesign suggest that this DL is extremely flexible in terms of how the Special Ed funds are allocated and spent, with the family given a great deal of input and control over their child’s intervention. The parents are responsible for providing an educational program at home, although from time to time SelfDesign offers special classes at their learning centre in the Jericho area of Vancouver. SelfDesign’s educational philosophy is unique, and worth exploring to ensure that it’s a good fit for your family’s beliefs about how children learn.

My own two children with ASD have been enrolled with another popular DL, EBUS Academy (http://ebus.ca/), for several years now. EBUS is operated by the Nechako Lakes school district, and offers no in-person classroom learning options (although there is a good variety of “V-Classes”  available – students log in to a secure site every week at a certain day and time to receive instruction from a teacher, and interact with the teacher and one another using a microphone or typing into a chat window). From time to time EBUS will offer special field trips and outings, but for the most part, you receive curriculum support and a learning plan from a teacher and you, the parent, are responsible for delivering your child’s education.

The Special Education support at EBUS has worked very smoothly for my family. A staff member works with me at the beginning of each school year to develop an IEP for each child. We have access to $10,000 per child of special education funding, per school year, which I have used to hire various therapists and provide tutoring to both children. The specialists are chosen by me, based on their ability to help my child fulfill specific IEP goals; they bill EBUS directly for the services. I check in with the Special Ed staff each time I am considering adding a new therapist or tutor to the roster, to ensure that the expense is connected to a goal the IEP; they are always willing to update and adapt the IEP goals throughout the year, as my child’s needs change.

There are other DLs in the province which provide Special Ed programs or funding for ASD families (see the list linked above, from the Greater Vancouver Homelearners site). At this time I don’t have any details on how these DLs work with families and how much control parents are given over the selection and implementation of intervention. One parent told me that funding of “around $13,000” was available from both Regent Christian Online Academy (https://regentonline.ca/) and Traditional Learning Academy (http://www.traditionallearning.com). I have also heard from staff at Kleos Open Learning (http://www.kleos.ca/), who confirmed that they do have a Special Ed program, with varying dollar amounts made available to Special Education students on a case-by-case basis; they did not respond further when I asked them to provide a range of dollar amounts so that families could compare apples to apples. If I find out more, I will send updates for this post to Milburn.

Academic Program

It’s important to be clear that as the parent of a DL student you are, in most cases, entirely responsible for your child’s academic education and for reporting on his/her academic progress to the DL. Reporting requirements vary from one DL to another. For example, some DLs ask for brief weekly summaries of learning activities, others ask you to send in a portfolio three times per year with work samples from the child, and others may have a teacher visit with your family regularly to document evidence of the child’s learning. The DL may provide you with textbooks and workbooks appropriate to your child’s grade, or other curriculum resources.  As a general rule, DLs will provide all students (whether typical and special needs) with about $1000 per school year to spend on curriculum, supplies, lessons and other things to supplement the home learning program. Several popular DLs in the lower mainland provide one, two or three days per week of classroom activities in a school building with a teacher, but it appears that the DLs offering these classroom days generally don’t provide generous access (or any access at all) to Special Ed funds. One parent reported that her son attended the New Westminster home learners’ program, which provided an SEA on the days he was in the classroom, but that “he received no extra funding above what a typical learner does.  We spent the standard $1000 that everyone else receives.”

While there are aspects of the home learning lifestyle that are liberating, fun and rewarding, it’s also hard work and it takes a huge amount of commitment from the parents. It’s entirely up to you to ensure that your child has a social life, so you have to be quite motivated to research suitable outings, classes and activities for your child, and to advocate for your child’s unique needs with the instructors or leaders of these programs, who often have no experience or training with autistic children. With all of that said, my family and many others have found this option to be a wonderful fit for our children. My two kids have made great progress during the years since we made the switch from bricks-and-mortar schools to DL, and on the whole it has been a very positive experience for us. If you’re thinking about enrolling with a DL, feel free to contact me at autismparentpower@gmail.com and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

Note from Milburn: If you pose your questions in the comments below, Vicki has graciously agreed to answer any questions on this page so we can all learn from her answers.

31 thoughts on “Distributed Learning”

  1. Thanks Vicki for your post… My son with autism has been enrolled with Self Design for over 5 years now since I pulled him from public school. With a full team and Behavior Consultant he is doing great and we have never looked back.
    I wish that every parent knew that there are other options available such as this for their child.

    Jen

  2. Nice to find out about other alternative’s to the regular public school situation! Thankyou for sharing! Currently my daughter is academically doing well@@[ B+ -A+ ] with the exception of (C+ in gym) as with a lot of A.S.D. children she has (low body upper strength) ,_but making and keeping friend’s is still a struggle, as she struggles with iniciating to play with other’s, especially someone not yet approached whether it be a classroom peer or a posibble new child on the playground.Luckily she has a sister who is a real social bug & who does help in these situations even if it’s just by including her.

  3. @Jen I’m glad to hear about another DL success story. It’s not for everyone, and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel pressured to homeschool if it’s not a good fit for them, but I agree that it’s important to get the info out to as many families as possible so that parents are fully aware of all their educational options.
    @Belinda My kids w/ASD have struggled to make friends both inside and outside the school system, so I hear you – it’s hard. How great for your daughter that she has a sister in the school to help her navigate the (often confusing) social world. 🙂

  4. I have my 7 year old autistic son in Regent Christian Online. It’s $12,500. There’s $2500 in regular funding for books, etc. $10,000 of it is special needs funding. They require you to use some of it on SLP, OT, etc., so they can justify their funding request to the government the next year. You can hire an SEA with it, but they are contracted by Regent and MUST be Christian (a requirement I find patently unfair). They also set the wage, and refuse to pay more than a max of $17/hr. Our newest SEA is being paid $15.50 and I cannot get them to raise it. I am NOT impressed. Especially since they don’t pay into EI or CPP, as they class them as “contractors”. It’s an ugly loophole for a supposedly Christian company.

    So why am I still with them? Well, I really like the Special Ed teacher who comes out twice a year. I like their mostly hands off approach. And it’s a pain the butt to change.

    1. Several friends and I have had SUCH a horrible experience with regents special ed program! So bad! The experience was not there, they were cheap, etc etc. I was tempted to stick around cuz it was easier, but switched to self design and the amount if support in every way is soooooo much better! Their education philosophies match kids on the spectrum way more too. I hope this year is going better for you!

    2. Sorry to hear about your experience. My son and I have had a very different experience Regent has been great for us. Supportive, inclusive with there community classes and numerous field trips and found us a great SEA. The only thing I can agree on is yes our SEA is a Christian as this is a Christian homeschooling program.

  5. Hello Milburn and other parents
    I echo the comments here. We have tried our district public school, and though the district special ed directors and superintendent and principal are very fine people and very accommodating, the school system itself was a bit too rigid. Once the child is assigned to a class, he/she seemed to enter an assembly line methodology, get assigned an ‘expectation’ mostly based on dated expertise from resource teachers. I was shocked how little awareness was there about ASD, and some of the notions dated back to the days when autism meant severe and debilitating mental retardation. Its a pity, but for some one on the spectrum, but very very bright, public school education could actually mean a life long constriction and limit on what they can achieve. Sad, but I guess that this is the reality of our current state of public education. We decided we only have time to care for our child, but not on fighting the system and increasing awareness of countless hierarchies involved in a child’s public school experience.

    So DL was the next option. Since then, we have enrolled with a DL mentioned here and find their approach very accommodating and understanding. We have been navigating the myriad of setting up services and invoicing and payments, planning how AFU, special Ed funding need to be spent and hope to have it running smoothly.

    On the Academics side, completely agree that DL is freedom from some of the painful (to an ASD kid) school routines and relentless requirement to comply. However, we are finding that we need to be on top of his learning progress and time mgmt. On the up side, he is able to progress on his strengths beyond what would be available in a common denominator class room, and have time to work on social and peer relations that are weak. Also recommend families set up a structured plan for peer interaction through DL, activities or other classes. Again, this is different from what happens naturally at a public/private school where no parent effort is actually needed. However, with DL, we are able to provide some more richness to the interactions with planning.

    If other parents want to discuss our experiences, please let us know on this page with your email and we will be happy contact confidentially.

    Thanks
    BKP.

  6. Hi,

    Thank you very much for your article. We have been fighting to fit our 10yr old son in the public school system for the past 4yrs with no success and in reality has not had much progress in his academics at school due to him not being able to handle being in class (sensory and self regulation issues). Today after we had to pick him up from school for the ? time in his academic career and he had self inficted injuries (black eyes & broken skin on his hand), we realized that after 4yrs and having made no progress in this time that we are withdrawing him from the public school system. When we made this decision, we had no clue what we were going to do and how we were going to get there but we did know we were done and knew in our hearts this is the right decision. My son loves to learn so we are very excited for his academic future for the first time since his first day of kindergarten and bonus for the opportunity for extra funding! Our son was a late diagnoses due to living in a small northern town when we first suspected he wasnt developing typically (before 2), a dr that refused to give us an assesment referal, & then when we finally moved and did get one the over year long wait list for assesment so by time he was diagnosed he had just over a yr of full funding left. TY again for this article. My day started in dispair but ended with faith and excitement for the future 🙂

    1. cdh21, how heartbreaking to read of your son being in so much distress that he would injure himself at school 😦 It sounds like it’s been a very bumpy road for you. If you want to talk on the phone or by email at more length I would be very pleased to offer you a sounding board or answer any questions you might have as you get started on your homeschooling journey. My email address is at the end of the article. Best wishes to you.

  7. My 4year old was diagnosed with ASD a couple of weeks ago. While I have been fortunate enough to get him a spot in an early intervention program starting in December, that only gives us 10 months to get him ready for public school, and sadly it might not be enough time. I’m so grateful for another option! Thanks for sharing the great information 🙂 I’m definitely going to research this further in our area 🙂

  8. Thank you for this article. It’s so important for parents of kids with special needs to know ALL their options. I find many teachers aren’t even aware that DL programs exist, and/or their idea of homeschooling is a long-outdated, stereotypical notion full of myth and ignorance.

    We made the decision to homeschool long before we realized that both our kids were on the spectrum; they’ve never been to school. Looking back, I can see that school would have been a very hard experience for them. With homeschooling, we can adjust the amount of socialization and outings, etc. they get to exactly suit their needs and tolerances. They can progress or take the time they need with regard to academics. And, with a wonderful homeschooling community in our area, there is no shortage of opportunities and support.

    We are with Self Design and they held my hand every step of the way, from first suspecting my kids were on the spectrum, to getting a diagnosis, and getting them into the Special Ed program. I was shocked when I learned the limited options and money available to public school parents; we’ve enjoyed our $14,000 per year, per child with ASD, and being able to choose our therapists and target those interventions that WE knew to be most important for our children. Our kids are both thriving and I’m so glad that you are letting other parents know of this option.

  9. Hi. I just heard at a transition meeting that home school funding does not support the “age out” or overage year. Can anyone confirm this? Thanks

    1. Dione, that has not been our experience – my daughter is currently doing a “Transition year” (2nd year of grade 12) through Ebus. Jen may be onto something with the information about the date the student turns 19; my daughter doesn’t turn 19 until August. It would be worthwhile to contact whatever DL you are considering for the transition year, and get a firm answer as to whether they would cover this.

  10. Hi Dione,

    I have not heard that info but if you have some documentation of the change I would be very interested in reading it. The Ministry has been nosing around and making some changes to DL/Independants funding recently and we are keeping a close eye on it all, but I don’t believe the age out has changed.
    I was advised by Selfdesign last fall that if your child turns 19 years old before July 1st then that will be the end of his funding, but if he turns 19 after July 1st he will be funded for another year.

    Here is a link –

    http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/legislation/schoollaw/independent_school_act_contents.pdf

    Independent School Act

    Section 1 –

    (2) A person is deemed

    (a) to be of school age at the beginning of a school year if the person will have

    reached age 5 on or before December 31 of that school year, and

    (b) to continue to be of school age until the end of the school year in which the

    person reaches age 19.

  11. What if it is past the Sept 30th deadline to register for DL?
    Also, the extra money you receive from Government can you spend that on supplements or Alternative Therapy too?? Do you get the money or does the school get the money ??
    Thanks !

  12. Hi Claudette; you would need to contact the DL program you’re considering enrolling with to ask about their funding deadlines and how much room is left in their special ed program. Sorry that I don’t have more information, but it varies from one DL to another, particularly this year because some DLs that are in the public system started several weeks later than the ones considered to be “independent schools” and therefore not affected by the BCTF strike.

    Also, the money goes directly to the school, and the service providers are paid directly by the school. The special education funding does not get sent to the families. I’m not able to say for sure what expenses would and wouldn’t be covered by this funding, because I’m by no means an expert on this topic. My guess would be that unless you could present a very clear academic reason why your child needs funding to pay for supplements, that they probably wouldn’t be covered.

    –Vicki

    1. Hi Mickey – as far as I’m aware (and I am by no means an expert on Ministry of Education policies!) there is no access to special needs funding from the MofE for families who choose the registration options. I believe it’s only available to students who are enrolled in schools.

  13. Hello: Thank you for this information. I am interested in understanding, at these Distributed Learning examples, how much involvement does each school ask for in the intervention program directly? I am concerned that “direct and unfettered access” is too much to a third party provider for a child. Does anyone have experience on the interactions between the school and intervention programmers or the documentation required to be signed to allow that interaction? I am always conscious of the sheer amount of documentation about a child with a “disability” over that of any other child in the system.

    Thank you!

    1. Mickey, again this is something that will vary tremendously from one DL to another and even may depend on which teacher or special ed resource person is assigned to work with a family. There’s also the ongoing reality of provincial audits which can sometimes mean that schools have to ask for more from families to ensure that they continue to receive Ministry of Education funding.

      My own experience is that the DLs are not very intrusive or demanding in their involvement with the service providers or the family. One DL I’m aware of requires the service providers to submit written progress reports 2 or 3 times per year; another asks the service providers to send monthly, brief updates on their work with the child. A third will send out an IEP goal update form to the service providers and parents several times a year and ask for brief comments on the child’s progress for the specific goals that that service provider is being paid to work on.

      There is certainly a fair amount of paperwork and documentation involved in having your child in a DL program, no question. But I have never found it to be excessive or intrusive.

      I can recommend you join the “BC Homeschoolers of Special Needs Kids” group on facebook and ask your question there as you will receive more of a variety of answers.

      Hope this helps.

  14. Can you sign up for DL and still keep your kids in public school?
    My daughter has a good group of friends but I find the funding
    Gets dissolved through the school and she doesn’t see much academic support.
    Could I pull the funding from public into DL and just take her out of school 3-4 times a week
    For supports and tutoring.im finding I’m doing all the tutoring snd supports after school anyways
    and it’s exhausting.
    I understand she would not get any support at the school but I don’t feel she’s getting much as it is.
    She’s high functioning autism and Adhd.

    1. Jamie, from what I understand (and please know I’m not an expert, just a parent who has done a bit of research) the Ministry of Education directs funding only to the “school of record” or the district that school is in. So you can’t have her enrolled in both a DL program like I’ve described here (ie, Ebus, Self-Design, Heritage, TLA, and so on) *and* the local school at the same time.

      You may be able to enroll your child in your local district’s DL program if you want the option of pulling her out of the building and having her participate in activities at the local school a few times a week but I’m not aware of any district that gives parents the option of accessing special education funds in this type of circumstance. It’s frustrating to have to fill in the support gaps that are missing for our kids, I really feel for your situation.

  15. Hello everyone! My son was diagnosed with ASD 2 months ago and we have just, like yesterday, made the decision to homeschool him. We initally enrolled him in public school but decided to go a different route as preschool was challenging enough! We are instead planning to see a BI 30 hrs a week, he will be 5 in Dec, and start kindergarden this year at home. We are not 100% sure where to start but I’m going to look into some of the schools mentioned in this article. My son is very high functioning and I would like to enroll him into a private school for next year, if he’s ready. Any input would be amazing as I’m starting from scratch!

    1. Thanks for sharing Danielle. Many of us can certainly relate to a difficult time with preschool!
      My personal experience with private schools is close to zero, but it might help some of the other parents reading this to know what area of the province you live in.

    2. Danielle, you may also want to look into Hands on Home Learning (Oak and Orca) as they have a special ed program which is new since I wrote this article. Best wishes with your son’s education. 🙂

  16. Thankyou so much for sharing your experience. I have 2 questions regarding EBUS as I am going for it.

    Do they have a team of Behavior consultant too like Selfdesign, that help making IEP?

    Why is there funding less than other DL ?

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