Choosing a school district when your child has special needs

We have spent the last 8 months searching for our dream home and finally found it! I’m hoping our journey can help save time and frustration for others! We first picked out areas with low crime rates and listed off places that were near our work places and places that we could see ourselves living. Then the real work started! Please note that I am just a mom who recently agonized over this huge life changing decision and while I hope that what I learned can help others, the only area in which I will claim expertise is advocating for my child!

  1. Evaluate what your child really needs. If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan it doesn’t hurt to read through it. What services is your child currently getting? It’s important that the new school district offer these same services. Our son needed PT, OT, speech, a good sensory room and access to a special needs contained classroom AND the ability to spend as much time as tolerated in a typical classroom with an ultimate goal of being in the typical classroom all of the time eventually. Our son also has a paraprofessional who works with him to keep him safe. Some districts we talked to had no kids with paraprofessionals leading me to feel like he would really stick out! Others did not even employ a physical therapist or didn’t have the option for inclusion in a typical class.
  2. Funding. A public school system ended up being the best fit for our children. That’s not true for everybody. What types of funding are available to you if you chose a private school? Scholarships? Discounts for multiple children? If you can’t afford it then it’s not a good fit!
  3. Make sure the staff has heard of your child’s diagnoses. This one is laughable right? Wrong! There is one district we interviewed whose speech therapist had never heard of apraxia of speech. Just no! It’s not going to be a good fit if the staff members who are supposed to be facilitating therapy don’t understand how to do their job!
  4. Ask lots of questions and pay close attention to the way your questions are answered and how they treat you. In our case, there was one district in particular whose Special Education Director couldn’t answer hard questions like what happens if our son is not capable of attending a typical class all day since they had no special ed classes at all! We were able to cross that district off our list. There were a few districts in general who bent over backwards and were going to make a safety plan for our son and transition him to their school by coming to his current school and spending time with him. The district that is willing to take that extra step is going to be the district that will go that extra mile to help your child be successful when problems do arise!
  5. Tour the school. Once you have narrowed down districts that seem like a good fit go and tour the school. You will see how they treat students, how things are set up and get a good sense of whether or not it’s a good fit! One of the paraprofessionals was helping a student in the restroom when we toured the school district we finally chose. It was a small classroom and we could hear them talk through the door. She was absolutely kind and gentle with him in her tone.
  6. Meet the principal and ask more questions. Principals are busy people! At the district we chose the principal made time to meet us and we explained all our concerns and she was very kind. We were worried that there was no fence around the playground but it is flanked by corn fields and she explained that they would work with us continuing to teach him not to wander away and make a safety plan for him!
  7. Pay close attention to the school itself. Is the building clean and in good condition? We are moving from a district with old outdated buildings with a failing boiler and no air conditioning to newer buildings with central air and new technology filling the computer lab. Both buildings are clean and organized though and most importantly both offer our child the same resources!
  8. Take your child after school hours to play on the playground. That’s a fun way to introduce the new school with mom and dad present!
  9. Take a deep breath! Life is all about taking chances. You can’t grow if you don’t leave your comfort zone and it’s particularly hard when you have a child that struggles to make huge life changes. There will be a transition period, but children are resilient! In our case this big change now is going to afford our children with more opportunities in the future than we ever dreamed of!
Posted in Parenting.