Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
Apt Pupil Suddenly Absent
Denise was off to a good start. The quiet 9th grader was like most students; she hadn’t been in a classroom for more than a year and a half. However, she appeared to be adjusting well. She turned her work in on time and attended every class. In fact, in the first month and a half of school, her attendance was impeccable.
Then, one day, she didn’t show up. No big deal, considering that students are most likely to miss a day or two. But, then this apt pupil seemingly vanished. Days turned into a week and there was no sign of Denise.
Finally, on what had been her 5th day of her absence, her guidance counselor sent an email to her teacher, stating that Denise’s parents were requesting home hospital for her.
“Denise is struggling to attend school,” she wrote. “Her IEP indicates she has an anxiety disorder that prevents her from showing up to school on a regular basis. Pending a meeting with district officials, she will be placed in a home hospital setting as soon as possible.”
This wasn’t her first time in a home hospital. However, as the growing pandemic and the uncertainty it brought created stress and “worries” for her, this educational alternative to attending school became palpable for Denise and her parents.
Denise wasn’t the only one. As more students (especially those with emotional disorders) trudge through a school year filled with uncertainties for their health, many of them and their parents are looking for something safe.
What is Home Hospital
Home hospital (also known as home hospital instruction or HH) is not exactly a course offered in a hospital. It is not meant to be a permanent program, either. Offered at nearly all public school districts in the nation, home hospital is meant to provide instructions to students with temporary disabilities. It can be given at home, a hospital (hence the name) or other residential health facilities (state hospitals or facilities that are outside a school district’s jurisdiction are excluded).
Temporary disabilities indicate that the student for some reason cannot attend school for a certain period of time.. These disabilities can fall under the following:
- A physical disability (broken limbs)
- An chronic or contagious illness
- Short term impairment due to medical or surgical treatments.
- Mental disorders
Many districts indicate that the temporary disability “incurred” while a student is enrolled in a regular day class or an alternative program. The state of Washington's education home hospital regulations stipulates that the student will be out within a four-week period.
Usually, in most cases, the district that offer students this alternative will assign a teacher.
While the program may differ on certain issues in different states, many of them have the goal to give students in these conditions a chance to do the same curriculum that’s offered at their school. Also, many of these programs are designed with the intent that the students will eventually “reasonably return" to their regular day classes or alternative education without special interventions added to it (i.e. no need for modification unless it’s specified in an individual education plan (IEP) for students enrolled in special education programs).
Home hospital is offered to students enrolled in general or special education programs. Often, IEPs and Section 504 are honored.
Usually, in most cases, the district that offer students this alternative will assign a teacher. In the past, teachers visited the student at the home or hospital. Now, in the aftermath of the school lock-down of the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school year, the teachers and students may interact through distance learning systems that involve the Internet, an educational platform, and video sharing devices.
Anxiety Disorder and COVID
As Denise’s plight indicates, many students going into home hospital are those that have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. This particular condition has become more prevalent among students returning to school. In addition, it is increasingly becoming the reason many are seeking this program.
There has been an increase in social-emotional and mental disorders among school age children, lately. The pandemic has increased those numbers.
So what exactly is an anxiety disorder? This disorder is characterized as a “mental disorder” in which a person has heightened feelings of worry and anxiety. One site stated there are six types of anxiety disorders. They are:
- General anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety
- Panic disorders
- Obsessive compulsive disorders, and
- Post traumatic stress disorders.
The final entry, PTSD, is telling. It’s an indication that many students have experienced extremely stressful and anxious times during the lock-down and continuing pandemic. The trigger may have come from being diagnosed with COVID or having loved ones diagnosed and possibly die from it. This is not uncommon among Denise’s peers.
The return to school has proven to be a difficult and stressful time. Students and teachers are still getting infected by one of the variants (Omicron at the moment of this writing). This alone can affect a student’s well-being.
Mission of Home Hospitals
Before COVID, home hospitals were a way to offer temporary alternative to students. If students had a debilitating disease or injury, they may use this system to keep up with their peers. The goal was always to make it available until they were ready to return to in-person classes. In most cases home hospitals lasted weeks, months or an entire semester.
Still, it’s not unusual to have students stay out an entire school year or longer. Based on district and state policies, the home hospital system can be renewed based on the student’s needs or inability to return to in-person teaching.
In Denise’s case, she spent at least a year in the program. That was before school lock-downs. During that time, she was doing distance learning in similar fashion as her peers. As mentioned, her return to in-person learning was short lived. Her disorder kicked in the form of panic attacks.
How to Request Home Hospital
Parents requesting home hospital for their children need to inform the school district of their intent. According to educational law in California, for instance, it is
- “The primary responsibility of the parents of the parents or guardian of a student…to notify the school district in which the student is deemed to reside of the student’s presence in a qualifying hospital…”
The rest of the education code (EC Section 48208), states that districts “must determine whether the student will be able to receive individual instruction” within five working days after parent/guardian notification. From there , the school district must “determine whether the student will be able to receive individualized instruction, and if the determination is a positive placement” before starting. Upon approval, no later than another five working days, individualized instruction can start.
Still, these notifications can go unhindered or ignored at the beginning of the school year.
The school district has another responsibility: Again, California Education law indicates:
- “School districts shall notify parents at the beginning of a school term of the availability of individualized instruction for pupils with temporary disability (EC sections 48206.3[d] and 48980).”
Still, these notifications can go unhindered or ignored at the beginning of the school year.
Many Parents Not Taking Advantage of It
Denise’s parents knew what to do. They’ve gone through the system, before. That cannot be said about several students in the same situation. In Denise’s class, alone there are at least four students who haven’t shown up for school. In each case, they fell under the criteria for anxiety disorder and for inclusion in the home hospital instruction.
One particular student, Chris, arrived one day at school with the school’s social worker. He mentioned he would try to attend class and believed he could handle his disability. That was in September. It’s now January at the time of this writing. That was the first and last time he showed up for school, despite being officially enrolled (to this day, his name is still on the attendance roster and he keeps being marked absent).
The COVID pandemic has placed a lot of pressure on students. For many, the diagnosis of anxiety disorder is a result. Parents and students with this condition can apply for home hospital. They just need to contact an administrator or their guidance counselor to get more information.
As for Denise? She reapplied for home hospital, again. However, she kept in touch through email and through the school’s Internet education platform, which is where she turns her assignments in. She earned an A last semester.
- Protecting Students With Disabilities
Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 requirements for the education by school districts of students with disabilities
- Types of anxiety - Beyond Blue
The 6 most common anxiety disorders are: generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobias, OCD, PTSD and panic disorder
- Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
An anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition. Anxiety disorders interfere with your ability to function. Treatments include medications and psychotherapy.
- Home & Hospital Instruction Program Summary - Home & Hospital Instruction (CA Dept of Educat
Provides information on program purpose, services, outcomes, students served, and results for Home and Hospital Instruction.
Home/Hospital instruction is provided to students who are temporarily unable to attend school for an estimated period of four weeks or more because of a physical and/or mental disability or illness. The program does not provide tutoring to students c
El Segundo Unified School District is located at El Segundo, California.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Dean Traylor