About the Author: Sapna Rampersaud is a first-year law student at the American University Washington College of Law. Sapna graduated from Harvard University and got her Master’s in Education from Boston University. She hopes to pursue a public interest career in special education law and policy after graduating from law school.


In the State of New York, homebound instruction can be one way to educate students with disabilities, but it is worsening the problem for those with emotional and behavioral disorders. Homebound instruction is a service in which a student receives all of their learning from a one-to-one educator in the home setting. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (“IDEA”) mandates the provision of specially-designed instruction that may include instruction in the home, among other settings, depending on a student’s individualized needs. The State of New York (“NYS”) is a prime example of a state that often encourages this restrictive modality, even though it can attenuate social, emotional, and educational progress.

The IDEA was originally enacted in 1975 as an amendment to the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1974, and has been revised several times since. Its purpose is to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”[1] According to the National Center for Education Statistics, five percent of students aged three to twenty-one served under IDEA in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years had an emotional disturbance disability classification.[2] However, estimates show that almost half of all children with emotional disabilities do not receive medication or psychological services,[3] and less than eight percent of adolescents report visiting with a mental health professional over the course of a year.[4]

When students are not able to receive an appropriate education in the general education classroom, schools must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements and related services is available to meet individual student needs.[5] From least to most restrictive, these services include an inclusive classroom with a qualified teacher, a special classroom in a public school, a special school, or home or hospital instruction. According to the NYS Department of Education, “[t]he continuum of placement options in NYS includes: public schools, boards of cooperative educational services, private approved day and residential schools and home and hospital instruction.”[6] Homebound instruction is provided when a student is “unable to attend school because of physical, mental, or emotional illness or injury . . . for a prolonged absence of at least two weeks.”[7]

Students with EBD, however, are often placed on homebound instruction. While in school, these students face challenges to their social, emotional, and mental health that may impact their ability to concentrate, retain information, apply skills, and communicate effectively, among other things. Postsecondary outcomes of students with EBD reflect a lack of support from schools, despite schools being the institutions best equipped to provide needed services.[8] Of all students with disabilities, children with EBD have the worst graduation rates (i.e., forty percent compared to the national average of seventy-six percent of all students) and some of the lowest rates for enrollment in postsecondary education (i.e. ten to twenty-five percent compared to the national average of fifty-three percent).[9] Additionally, compared to their nondisabled peers, students with EBD are more likely to be arrested, become teenage mothers, and end up in correctional or juvenile detention facilities after leaving school.[10]

Districts in New York, for example, still choose too often to place students with EBD under homebound instruction rather than providing and trying different in-class and/or in-school supports or placing students in alternative schools better suited to meet their individualized needs. However, homebound instruction is not a viable solution. According to the IDEA, children with disabilities must be educated with children who are nondisabled and any removal from the general education classroom should only occur where absolutely necessary.[11] Due to the growing population of students with EBD and the need for special education, in general, it is time to reconsider the encouragement of homebound instruction and move toward measures of legislative interpretation and enforcement that consider the drawbacks of certain services and hold districts accountable for the services they encourage. The overuse of homebound instruction is violative of the IDEA and segregative insofar as it diverts students with EBD to a more restrictive environment. It is not only separate, but unequal.


[1] Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400.

[2] Batshaw, Roizen, & Pellegrino, Children and youth with disabilities, Brookes Publ’g (2019), https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/Indicator_CGG/coe_cgg_2019_05.pdf.

[3] Kevin Mahnken, The Hidden Mental Health Crisis in America’s Schools: Millions of Kids Not Receiving Services They Need, The 74 (Nov. 7, 2017), https://www.the74million.org/the-hidden-mental-health-crisis-in-americas-schools-millions-of-kids-not-receiving-services-they-need/.

[4] Elizabeth V. Freeman & Kimberly T. Kendziora, Mental Health Needs of Children and Youth, Am. Insts. for Rsch. (Sept. 2017), https://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/Mental-Health-Needs-Assessment-Brief-September-2017.pdf.

[5] See generally 20 U.S.C. § 1400.

[6] Continuum of Special Education Services for School-Age Students with Disabilities, N.Y. State Dep’t of Educ. (Updated Nov. 2013), http://www.p12.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/policy/documents/continuum-schoolage-revNov13.pdf.

[7] Handbooks and Manuals – Homebound Instruction,  http://www.p12.nysed.gov/nonpub/handbookonservices/homeboundinstruction.html (Updated Nov. 2013) (Note: the definition of homebound instruction on this site refers to the service as it is provided to “nonpublic school pupil[s],” and the site does not contain specific information on homebound instruction for public school students).

[8] Deborah Carran, Marie Kerins, & Susan Murray, Three-Year Outcomes for Positively and Negatively Discharged EBD Students from Nonpublic Special Education Facilities, Behav. Disorders (Feb. 1, 2005), https://doi.org/10.1177/019874290503000201.

[9] Who Cares About Kelsey – Mental Health Statistics, https://whocaresaboutkelsey.com/the-issues/statistics#:~:text=Youth%20with%20EBD%3A&text=Youth%20with%20emotional%20disturbances%20are,53%20percent%20of%20typical%20population) (last visited Oct. 23, 2021).

[10] Id.

[11] See Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400.