Purchasing Special Education is Just as Important as Purchasing a Home and should be approached it the same methodical fashion.

 

If you were purchasing a home, you would not simply accept the nearest home available.  Nor would you take the sellers word about the condition of the home and that it is free of liens or deed restrictions.  Instead, you would progress through a carefully considered process, considering all your options and exercising your legal rights and protections with due diligence, and accessing the expertise of bank assessors to value the home, title companies to insure that it does indeed hold the legal status the seller purports that it does  and and engineer to insure that it is in the condition the seller alleges.  I imagine a child’s education is just as important as the house they reside in.  Yet, many parents just naively send their child off to the closest school.  My recommendation is that parents follow the same process in selecting a school for their special needs child that they do when purchasing a home. They need to be conscientious about thoroughly investigating the school and confirming all their legal rights and restrictions.   Parents often forget that we pay educators to educate our children. If a person works for a public school system, they are in your employ and should be treated as such; which means you have a right to place expectations on them and to hold them accountable.  The outcome statistics for special education across the United States are abysmal. This is definitely an arena where the gloves are off and the buyer must beware.  With that in mind, here are some important steps in the process of selecting a school and a program to provide your child’s education.

 

Get Your Finances in Order You would not purchase a home with a large amount of debt hanging over you or without considering what your budget can handle.  Likewise, you should not consider any school without first examining your financial situation and priorities.

 Before you child enters pre-school sit down and seriously consider your finances. 

 

·        Can you afford to provide supplemental services such as tutoring, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy counseling, tutoring  two or three times a week each over the next eighteen years if your child needs it? 

 

·        Can you count on being with the same company and maintaining the same health insurance plan and benefits?   

 

·        Can you afford tuition for a private school, if so how much per year and for how many years?

 

·        Can you afford for one parent to quit work and be a full-time educator or actively involved in ongoing special education advocacy?

 

Educate yourself:  You wouldn’t by a home without checking out the town, its demographics, its primary ordinances, where the fire department and health care providers are, or how far away the mall is.  Nor would you purchase a home without knowing something about the specifics of the loan you will take out and the repayment conditions, or your legal rights regarding such issues as whether or not your deed is restricted.  You need to approach your child’s special education with the same investigative mind.  Make certain you know the ground rules before you begin. If you are already mid-process, stop everything and backtrack to take care of this crucial step.

 

·        Get a copy of IDEA, read it thorough and highlight relevant parts.

 ·        Get a copy of ADA and do the same.

 ·        Follow through with NCLB

 ·        Contact your State Department of Education for a copy of their regulations, read and highlight

 ·        Get a copy of your State’s procedural safeguards and memorize them.

 ·        Take a course in basic tests and measurements.

 ·        Take a basic course in child development and one in special education

 ·        Obtain a copy of the school’s civility policy

 ·        Obtain a copy of the school’s dress code

·        Obtain a copy of the school’s disciplinary policy

 

 

Explore the Options:  If you were purchasing a home, you’d be looking at comparable homes in the region, not accepting the first one your saw, or the closest one to your current home or job.  You would be critically evaluating what the home had to offer and how it would meet the needs of your entire family Since you are purchasing special education for your child, you need to look at all the schools in the area to consider what they can offer your special needs child, how  realistic they are in your budget, how practical they are in terms of transportation,  how likely they are to engender or relieve stress on you and other family members, how well they will support not only your child’s academic development, but also their spiritual development, socialization and mental health, and how flexible the staff is, and how dedicated they are to producing measurable and documentable results.

 

·        Visit the local public schools

 

Ask for a tour of the complete facility.  Check out all the rooms, look for how crowded children are, how clean the building is, the noise level, how organized the rooms are, how calm the rooms are, how old do the books look, are their computers in each room. Consider how focused the children seem to be.  Speak to some children and make judgments about their vocabulary and fund of information. Do these appear to you to be children who know the importance of education, who have been inspired by teachers, and who are committed to learning?  What about the teacher’s, do the present a professional appearance?  Do they seem to be passionate about what they are doing?  Do you see a love of learning and a respect for children in their eyes and hear it in their tone of voice?

 

·        Visit the magnet schools

 

A Magnet school is part of the public school system. With Magnet schools, the public school system creates schools that exist outside of zoned school boundaries. The concept is that they will offer something special over a regular school which makes attending them an attractive, thereby theoretically increasing the diversity of their student population.

 

Distinguishing them from other public schools, Magnet schools usually have alternative or otherwise compelling modes of instruction. Magnet schools also differ from other public schools in that they receive additional funding to enable them to spend more money on their students, supplies, teachers, programs, etc.

 

The primary current role of Magnet schools, at this point in time is to promote academic opportunity and excellence over their regular schools within your district. In fact, Magnet schools often attract “gifted” students who score well in tests and receive good grades (about 1/3 of all Magnet schools use selection criteria to decide who they’ll invite to enroll for that year).

Magnet schools have three distinguishing characteristics:
 

 ·        Distinctive curriculum or instructional approach

 ·        Attract students from outside an assigned neighborhood zone

 ·        Have diversity as an explicit purpose

 Magnet schools have specialized programs emphasizing a consistent theme or method of teaching, facilitating students’ and teachers’ commitment to the school. This helps students at Magnet schools surpass the achievement they would have made at their zoned schools.

Is a Magnet school right for your Family?

This all really depends on the following factors:

 ·         Are you interested in a different curriculum or instructional approach than what your children would have with their zoned public school?

 ·         Do you feel your children have needs that would be better met with a Magnet school then their zoned public school?

 ·         How do you feel about sending your children to a school outside of your normal school zone? On that note, how well do you think your child will adjust to a new school?

 ·         How do you feel about student diversity?

 ·         How do you feel about student achievement?

 

 

The decision to enroll your child into a Magnet school is not a fast and easy one. Probably the best way to make this decision is to prioritize your goals and focus on them that way. What are your goals? Are they to?

 ·         Place my child in a more racially or ethnically diverse student population?

 ·         Place my child in a school where academic progress should surpass what he or she would do at their assigned school?

 ·         Place my school in a school environment with a specific type of curriculum or teaching methodology?

 

 

Once you have decided why you want your child in a Magnet school program, it should be easier for you to look at individual Magnet schools and decide which one, if any, are right for your family.

Getting into a Magnet school

If you have decided that you want to your child in a Magnet school, then the first thing you should be concerned about is getting your child enrolled into that Magnet school. Getting enrolled into a Magnet school is not as easy as we’d all like for it to be.

Getting admitted into a Magnet school usually occurs one of the following ways:

 ·         admissions criteria

 ·         first-come, first-serve applications

 ·         lotteries

 ·         percentage set-asides for neighborhood residents

 

If you want to get your child into a Magnet school, find out what the admissions policy is. If they make room for students who live in their zones, you’ll want to move to that zone to ensure enrollment. If enrollment is based on admission criteria, you may get a chance of convincing them of your need to be enrolled with your application. Only about a third of the schools use selection criteria.

If their policy is first-come, first-served, make sure you turn your application in as soon as possible.  Alternately, if the school uses a lottery system only, there is nothing you can do other than repeatedly apply each year until your child get in. If this is the case, the only advice I can give you is to apply to as many feasible Magnet schools as you can to increase your chances of enrolling your child into one of them. Most Magnet schools will give siblings preferential enrollment status if one sibling is already enrolled.

 

·        Visit the charter schools

 

Charter Schools have a different organizational model (i.e. they have a charter that releases them from the regular school administration). Magnet schools operate under the same public school administration (they don’t operate on their own).

 

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract.  It delineates the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and how success will be measured. The length of time for which charters are granted varies, however, they are typically granted for 3-5 years. At the end of this time period, the entity granting the charter may or may not renew the school's contract. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor-- usually a state or local school board-- to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract.  The do not, however, have to follow the policies and procedures of the district. They exercise increased autonomy in return for accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.

For the legal definition of a charter school in your particular state, consult that state's charter school law through our
State Profiles area. We also provide a sampling of other charter school Definitions. To find research on charter schools, visit our Resources area.

Benefits of Charter Schools

 

The intention of most charter school legislation is to:

 

·         Increase opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students

 ·         Create choice for parents and students within the public school system

 ·         Provide a system of accountability for results in public education

 ·         Encourage innovative teaching practices

 ·         Create new professional opportunities for teachers

 ·         Encourage community and parent involvement in public education

 ·         Leverage improved public education broadly

 

People establish charter schools for a many different reasons. The founders usually fall into three groups: grassroots organizations of parents, teachers and community members; entrepreneurs; or existing schools converting to charter status. According to the first-year report of the National Study of Charter Schools, the three reasons most often cited to create a charter school are to:

 

·         Realize an educational vision

 ·         Gain autonomy

 ·         Serve a special population

 ·        Parents and teachers choose charter schools primarily for educational reasons--high academic standards, small class size, innovative approaches, or educational philosophies in line with their own. Some also have chosen charter schools for their small size and associated safety (charter schools serve an average of 250 students).

 

·        Visit faith based schools

 

 

The primary reasons that parents give for sending their children to faith based school are:

 

1) Academic excellence

 2) An emphasis on faith based values

 3) Healthy social relationships

 4) A supportive environment

 

A faith based education usually means

 

College-bound peers – The vast majority of all elementary and secondary faith based school students go to college. Using Catholic schools as an example, 99% of  secondary school students graduate and 97% go on to college. At Catholic Schools, preparation for college is a clear goal and Catholic School graduates are often pursued by prestigious colleges.

 

A rigorous curriculum – Most students take four years of mathematics, history, English, science, foreign language, and religious studies.

 

Self-discipline – The emphasis on external discipline in most faith based schools is intended to teach internal, self-discipline. Students are expected to accept responsibility for their actions, to respect others and to make good decisions in the context of their faith experience.

 

A safe, supportive environment – Reverence for the human dignity of every person comes from recognizing God in self and others. More than “Drug-free zones” or “Gun-free zones”, faith based schools strive to be “God-centered zones”.

 

High expectations – Most faith based school teachers expect every student to achieve. Over time, students come to internalize this value, enhancing their self-esteem.

 

Committed parents – Parents are a child’s first teacher. At faith based schools, parents take an active role in their children’s education. These schools generally support families and works with them for the benefit of children. When problems come up, parents are typically contacted and asked, “How can we work together to solve this problem?”

 

Committed teachers– who are working in faith based schools because they view this as a ministry to children.

 

·        Visit the Waldorf schools

 

The Waldorf education is based on a unique philosophy of education developed by Rudolph Steiner.  Waldorf School aim to educate “the heart, the hands and the head,” allowing children to develop as whole people.   Waldorf education is the largest independent education movement in the United States and Europe with over 900 schools currently teaching the Waldorf methods.

 

Waldorf philosophy is based upon the belief that children learn different things best at certain stages of development when their spirituality, intellect and physical capabilities are in tune with the information presented to them. For example, unlike traditional kindergartens across the United States, Waldorf kindergarteners are not taught to read. Instead they are exposed to poetry, stories and folk legends as are the foundation for developing reading skills. Children are not exposed to the written language until the age of six or seven. Children that are emerging into adolescence are presented with Ancient Greek and Roman history because of the belief that adolescences face intense inner turmoil and conflict. The Greek and Roman theme is in harmony with this change.

 

The Waldorf education is highly attuned to the developmental needs of children at specific stages. However, the curriculum for children involves basically equal instruction in the arts, music, foreign language and academics as opposed to a focus on academics with the brief “specials” that we witness in traditional educational systems

 

 A key aspect of the Waldorf philosophy of education is its emphasis non competition, respect for nature and other human beings. Children are strongly encouraged to develop their creativity and critical thinking skills. The Waldorf philosophy also maintains that children need plenty of time to move around and play.  Therefore, each morning the children spend time doing eurhythmy; the art of movement which is done along with the recitation of verse.

 

Graduates of Waldorf schools generally tend to outperform their traditionally schooled peers on standardized tests. This is because students are taught subjects in depth, focusing on one lesson for three to five weeks. In these block lessons, the subject is examined traditionally but also from other critical perspectives such as its social consequences or philosophical value or historical value.

 

The philosophy of Rudolf Steiner that is the basis for the Waldorf method of education was highly esteemed by notable psychologists and sociologists such as Jean Piaget who incorporated these methods into his model of child development.

 

·        Visit the Montesorri Schools

 

Primary (3 - 6 years)

 

Children in the primary levels possess what Dr. Montessori called the absorbent mind, the ability to absorb all aspects of one's culture and environment without effort or fatigue. As an aid to this period of the child's self-construction, individual work is encouraged. In accord with this philosophy, the following areas of activity cultivate the children's adaptation and ability to express and think with clarity:

 

Practical Lifeexercises instill care for self, for others, and for the environment. Activities include tasks children see as part of the daily routine in their home, such as preparing food and washing dishes, along with exercises of grace and courtesy. These tasks are utilized to help; children develop muscular coordination, enabling movement and the exploration of their surroundings. They learn are taught to work at a task from beginning to end, in order to develop their powers of control and concentration.   Sensorial materials serve as tools for development. Children build cognitive skills, and learn to order and classify their impressions of the world by touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, listening, and exploring the physical properties of their environment.

 

Language developmentThe Montessori environment is rich in oral language opportunities, allowing the child to participation in conversations, stories and poetry. Sandpaper letters are employed help children link sound and symbol effortlessly, encouraging the development of written expression and reading skills. To foster reading development, children are exposed to the study of grammar.

 

Geography, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Art and Musicis presented as extensions of the sensorial and language activities. Children learn to respect people and cultures in other countries by learning about their lives.   It is believed that through familiarity, children come to feel connected to the global human family. Lessons and experiences with nature inspire a reverence for all life. Comprehensive art and music programs provide students opportunities to enjoy a variety of creative activities, as well as to gain knowledge of the great masters.

 

Mathematicsactivities involving manipulation of concrete materials, children learn and understand the concepts of. This work gives children a solid understanding of basic mathematical principles, prepares them for later abstract reasoning, and helps to develop problem-solving capabilities.

 

 

Elementary (6 - 14 years)

 

In an exciting research style of learning, elementary children work in small groups on a variety of projects that are designed to spark the imagination and engage the intellect. Lessons given by trained Montessori teachers direct the children toward activities to assist them in the development of reasoning abilities and life skills.   Elementary studies include geography, biology, history, language, mathematics, science, music and art. Exploration of each area is hands on and involves trips outside the classroom to community resources, such as a library, planetarium, botanical garden, science center, factory or hospital. This inclusive approach to education fosters a feeling of connectedness to the community as well as a sense of competence within the community.

 

The Montessori Teacher

 

The role of a Montessori teacher is one of guide and observer, rather than one of lecturer. In the Montessori System, the teacher’s ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops in order to foster more and more independent learning.   The teacher strives to build an atmosphere of calm, order and joy in the classroom that encourages the children in all their efforts, and promotes both self-confidence and self-discipline.

 

·                Visit the private schools for special needs

 

Private special education schools may offer the benefit of staff that is especially trained to assist children with the particular types of special needs your child presents with; and the school may have specially designed programs to provide school wide support. Unfortunately, they may not be near your home and may be cost prohibitive for most families.

 

Even if you find the “perfect” private school remember that unless you have provided the public school the opportunity to give your child an appropriate IEP that ensures meaningful progress; the school district is not obligated to cover the cost of your child’s attendance at a private school.  Keep these sections of law in mind: 

 

(i) In general.--Subject to subparagraph (A), this part does not require a local educational agency to pay for the cost of education, including special education and related services, of a child with a disability at a private school or facility if that agency made a free appropriate public education available to the child and the parents elected to place the child in such private school or facility.

 

(ii) Reimbursement for private school placement.--If the parents of a child with a disability, who previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency, enroll the child in a private elementary or secondary school without the consent of or referral by the public agency, a court or a hearing officer may require the agency to reimburse the parents for the cost of that enrollment if the court or hearing officer finds that the agency had not made a free appropriate public education available to the child in a timely manner prior to that enrollment.

 

 

If you believe you have given the public school every opportunity to provide your child a Free and Appropriate Public Education that provided meaningful progress and you can document that the district has failed to do so, then, you might petition the IEP team to place your child in a State approved private school at public expense. Should the district decline, you can delineate your reasons for feeling FAPE has been denied and your intention to place your child in a private school at public expense, and request a due process to hold the district accountable for the fees involved.

 

 ·        Check into the virtual schools available

 

Virtual schools and online learning are an increasingly common method of teaching and learning and providing accessibility options for learners and their families. Think carefully about this, however, because it means either than one parent must be home full-time; or that the student will be left home unsupervised. It also means that parents will need to engineer means for children to obtain regular social interaction with age cohorts, as well as opportunities for sensory learning and exploration that cannot be obtained through on-line experiences.

 

On a global basis, K-12 and higher education institutions are establishing online schools and programs that aim to provide students with effective traditional educational experiences.  It appears that blended and total online learning experiences will expand throughout the 21st century.  While learning through a virtual school may equip children to be good self-educators and permit them to progress at their own rate free of distractions; it fails to cultivate any of the social skills that many children with special needs lack. Therefore, careful considerations should be given to the development of the whole child before selecting this alternative.

 

·        Check into Home school possibilities

 

Another placement option for your child is home school.  Home school is exploding across the United States as parents become aware of abysmal graduation rates and concerned over the values being taught or not taught by schools.  It is also becoming a viable option for the parents of many disabled children who find that it takes too much time and effort to constantly battle the school in order to obtain the accommodations and modifications which their child needs.

 

Home schooling can be a real boon to your child.  It permits your child to learn in a familiar environment with minimal distractions, and a consistent teacher from day to day and year to year.  It enables your child to progress at a pace appropriate to his/her needs, and can be easily adapted to a year round program.   Since you are in control of this environment you can build in as much predictability and structure as your child needs.

 

You don’t need formal training to teach your child at home.  You do need time, energy and patience. You need to be a person who is consistent and who will not be perturbed when laundry, housework, cooking, shopping and banking all has to be done after your child’s school hours even though you are home all day.

 

There are a range of programs and materials available for parents who wish to home school. It is important for you to examine as many as possible to find the best match for your child. For my son, I used the well designed program by the Mennonite community marketed by Christian Light Education. It is a program that builds one skill upon another in small units with constant review and reinforcement of previous skills, and relies strongly on written material in all subject areas.  As my son was a strong reader and a very self-motivated student, he enjoyed this program as he often finished a full day’s work in a few hours and then had the rest of the day to read or work on his computer.  In contrast, my daughter struggled with this program because she had weak reading skills and reading was the basis of all learning in this program.  She beamed with joy when I switched her to Time4Learning which provides bright colorful lessons on line. The combination of the animation and the availability of a virtual playground where she could take a break after each subject boosted my daughter to a higher level of enthusiasm for learning than she had ever evidenced before.  When, I decided that this program, while superb, was not teaching my daughter some of the work habits she will need to enter the employment force in later years and switched her to Abeka’s program on DVD, my daughter was less enthusiastic, but, along with her academics she now learned the value of correct posture, dressing the role, following a structured schedule, getting up and down in response to teacher questions, integrating reading, writing, videos and computer usage in learning.  We ultimately ended up with a combination of Abeka and Time4Learning as the former teaches the work habits I consider important and the latter is highly motivational.  Later, she asked to transfer to a private school because she missed being with age peers.  You will need to review the various programs available and select the one that is the best match for your child and your teaching abilities and philosophy.

 

Whether homeschooling is a good option for you and your child depends on a number of different factors. The first may be your child’s level of comfort in the public or private school they are currently attending.  You will also need to consider whether homeschooling will function to isolate your child from peers and exacerbate feelings of loneliness.  If you choose to home school, you will need to be consistent about involving your school in activities such as Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, Church Youth Groups, Karate, Gymnastics, and etcetera.  Even when homeschooling may be an ideal situation for your child, it may not be feasible for your family.  You need to consider how homeschooling will impact upon your ability to maintain employment, as well as upon family finances.  You need to think about the amount of time you will need not only to teach lessons, but, also to research and prepare material, and to correct assignments.  You need to recognize that your child may not be as cooperative with you as they would with a teacher simply because they feel it is safe to express their frustration with you.  Finally, your own educational level may be a significant factor.  You can’t effectively teach material that you don’t know. Therefore, you will find yourself doing constant research and review in order to master or update skills that you need to teach your child.

 

You may be wondering whether you are allowed to home school your child.  The answer is:  yes.  Every state allows homeschooling as a means of meeting compulsory education requirements. But, each state regulates homeschooling differently, so you need to examine your State’s laws, speak to your Board of Education about their requirements and consult with other homeschooling parents within your district before proceeding.

 

At minimum, you will be required to notify the state or local school district of your intent to home school your child.  Some states require you to submit your curriculum. Some states test parents to verify that they are competent to teach their children.  Michigan requires that certified teachers be involved in the homeschooling process unless parents have religious objections. 

 

The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled explicitly on homeschooling.  It did rule against compulsory school requirements in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972).  In this decision, the Supreme Court has also upheld the right, subject to reasonable state requirements, of parents to direct the education of their children.

 

Not unexpectedly, those who have a vested interest in teaching as a profession, The National Parent Teacher Association, the National Education Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals oppose homeschooling.  One factor in this opposition may be the fact that when a child withdraws from the district, schools loose funding for that child.  In contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union maintains that parents have a constitutional right to school their children at home.   Moreover, State legislatures agree, and over the past 20 years they have responded favorably to homeschoolers seeking more flexible compulsory education laws.

 

 

Determine your Wants and Needs:  Different homes work well for different families because they have different priorities and different needs. To select an appropriate school for your special needs child, you need to give appropriate consideration to your families’ wants and needs.  For instance, if all of the burden of dealing with the school will fall on mom; who also works outside the home, a resistant public school entrenched in its current selection of programs may create more stress, tension and hassle for everyone than is reasonable, in which case you may do as I did (after winning a settlement agreement and a due process, I opted to place my child in a faith based school where the staff’s motivation more than made up for the lack of  “special education”.  Conversely, if your finances are extremely limited, you may find that you cannot consider a private school and really need to look at magnet schools, charter schools and home school if the regular public school your child is zoned for appears unlikely to meet your child’s needs.  Remember to involve the whole family in this priority setting process.  Your non-special needs child may have some strong feelings about where your special needs child attends school that need to be heard and considered.  For instance, being older and already having experienced a few years in a school, an older sibling may know that the children with autism are segregated and harassed by other students.  He or she may feel strongly that their younger sibling would be happier in a school where they wouldn’t experience this isolation and teasing.  Here are some of the questions to consider when examining your family’s wants and needs. 

 

·        Do you want your child in a public school?

 ·        What do you need to see in terms of an anti-bullying policy?

 ·        What type of school wide community based instruction would you want to see?

 ·        What type of school wide disability sensitivity training would you like the school to provide?

 ·        Are art and music of particular value to you and your child?

 ·        Do you want a school that emphasizes traditional lecture format or one where learning occurs primarily through    experience and movement?

 ·        Is it important for you to have teachers reinforcing the faith based values you teach your child at home?

 ·        If busing will be required, how do you feel your special needs child will adapt to being bused?

 ·        Do you prefer inclusion or a self-contained special education placement?

 ·        Do you want your child in the closest school to your home?

 ·        Is small class size a priority?

 ·        It is a priority for all your children to attend the same school?

 ·        Do you feel rehabilitative services such as ABA, feedback based attention training, or cognitive retraining are essential for your child?

 ·        Do you want to be able to volunteer at your child’s school?  In your child’s class.

 ·        Do you need a school that provides care before and after school?

 ·        Do you need a school that provides homework assistance?

 ·        Do you need a school that provides an at home component?

 ·        Do you require parent training and counseling?

 ·        Do you need a school that has school wide positive behavioral supports?

 ·        Do you need a school that offers the Lunch Buddies Program?

 ·        Do you need a school that has counselors or a nurse on sight all the time?

 ·        Is it important that the school has a strong community based instructional program?

 ·        Is it important that the school offer a comprehensive life skills program?

 ·        Is it important that the school provides technical and vocational options?

 ·        Do you need a school that has competent sign language interpreters?

 

Find a special needs coach: f you were purchasing a home, at this point in the process you’d hire a real estate attorney.  The process of special education is equally complex, and most people find it's easiest to get through with a coach by their side. While special education attorneys are a wonderful asset, they are also scarce and very expensive.  For this reason, you may wish to hire a special needs coach or advocate instead.  Paperwork will be flying around like a small tornado, and it can be helpful to have someone familiar with the process to deal with it. Other parts of the transaction will be happening quickly too – researching appropriate methodologies, meeting with related service providers,  negotiating over the IEP, and more -- all of which is second nature to an experienced special needs coach. What’s more, experienced special education coaches usually have contacts with good neuropsychologists, private speech therapists, and occupational therapist trained in sensory integration others who can make your buying process easier.

 

Keep control over the process:  Once you have decided precisely what you want, write it down and ask your special needs coach, the best way to approach the school to obtain what you are requesting. Throughout the process, remember that this is a legal process and you need to be just as meticulous and thorough in documenting all your requests, offers and objections in writing and documenting your delivery of these communications as you would if you were purchasing a home.  This is one time when you need to dot all your “I’s” and cross all your “t’s”.

 

Handle Pre-Offer Tasks: Once you think you have settled on a school placement, handle all the pre-offer tasks.  Notice, I say pre-offer, because school districts and their employees are in our employ and we need to make certain they NEVER forget that. It is not automatic that your child will attend their school and if they want to have your child and the funding that comes along with your child from public coffers, they will need to convince you that they offer what your child needs.

 

Structure and features- Inquire about the structure, policies and features of any program you are considering placing your child in. Ask that all information be put in writing, including the training and experience of each provider who will be in contact with your child, the daily schedule, the policy on substitutes, the policy on parent visits, the policy on parents videotaping the classes, the frequency of parent training and counseling, the outcome data for the program, the NCLB scores for children from this program for the last five years,   In short, know exactly what you are in for.

 

Speak to other parents– Don’t take the school district’s words for anything no matter how nice staff members appear.  They have a vested interest in coloring your perception of them and what they do.  Instead, ask to have a list of the names of parents with children in the special education program that you may call and speak to. If the district balks at this claiming confidentiality, then ask that they will forward a letter from you, at your cost, to each of the special education parents.  Or, attend the special education PTA and ask lots of questions. If there is no special education PTA, that’s your first warning sign to be leery of the district’s programs.

 

 

Get the facts– Contact the state and find out how many settlement agreements this district has had, how many due processes and how many State Complaints.  Ask for a roster of staff at the school your child will attend and spend a day on the internet checking out the license/certification records of all the staff to determine whether they have had complaints filed against them.  Find out how your school rates compared to other schools within the State and how your State rates compared to other States in terms of percentage of students who continue on to college, percentage of drop outs prior to high school.

 

Graduation Rates– When examining graduation rates separate out the rates for non disabled and disabled students.  Then, separate them out for minority groups, and for types of disabilities. This can provide you crucial information. 

 

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)– Make certain your potential school has made AYP for the last three years, and that your school does not have special arrangements to count students who failed to pass State Exam’s counted as being on track when school district personnel state they feel the child is on track to meet these standards within the next four years.  Look at the district as a whole, what percentage of the schools has consistently made AYP?

 

Inspections/Tests: If you were purchasing a home, you’d have an inspector come in to thoroughly examine the house.  Since you are purchasing an education for your child, have a special needs coach come into the school and thoroughly examine the school. They need to sit in on classes, look at the texts that are employed, speak to staff, talk to other special needs parents.  They need to be your second set of eyes and ears to help you determine if anything is being hidden from you.  Your special needs coach needs to examine the district’s outcome data for the program the district is considering for your child. They need to test out the school’s willingness to work with any experts or representatives you may need to bring in during the course of your child’s career.  They need to meet some of the children your child will be educated with a make a clinical assessment of how well those children are prospering in this school/program.    It may seem expensive to pay a coach to do this before you encounter problems, but, this inspection of the school you are considering purchasing services from serves the same function as the engineer’s inspection of a home you are considering purchasing. It lets you know what problems exist before you invest your funds and your emotions so you can negotiate prior to making a commitment to resolve the issues; and if they are not resolvable to your satisfaction to walk away from the deal before you are stuck with an expensive lemon.

 

Avoiding and correcting last minute  problems:  If you were purchasing a home, you would also purchase homeowners insurance to protect you in the event of a major catastrophe. Unfortunately, there is no insurer who will provide education insurance, so you need to write your own.  In this case, your best insurance is comprised of consistent documentation, documentation of the delivery of your documentation, and respectable reliable witnesses who oversee each set in the process by your side.  Begin by putting everything in writing and always obtaining a signed, time and date stamped receipt for what you deliver. Then build a team who will assist you at all parent-teacher conferences, progress review meetings and IEP meetings. If possible, members of this team should be willing to visit your child’s classroom at least once a month, or when feasible volunteer their weekly. They should be willing to attend assemblies, lunches, and special productions that your child participates in. This not only increases your child’s sense of security, but, it gives team members the opportunity to critical observe your child and teaching staff in a variety of situations and to speak from a point of strength regarding your child’s special needs and how well they are or are not being addressed by the school system.  They also serve as a deterrent to your child being mistreated or neglected because staff will know that on any day at any time a member of your team might show up to observe, volunteer or participate in the educational process.

 

This team should include your special needs coach, both of the child’s parents (dad, divorced or not your role is critical because moms are so often discounted as hysterical or over reacting; causing children’s deficits to be ignored until it is too late to effectively address them)  significant others in the child’s life including grandparents, older siblings, your faith leader, your child’s sport coach or music teacher, your child’s scout or youth group leader, and your child’s pediatrician (it is definitely worth paying your pediatrician and child’s psychologist to attend at least one IEP meeting a year). 

 

Provide all of your team members with literature about your child’s disabilities, copies of psychological, speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy and medical evaluations and ask them to read them.  Provide each with a list of accommodations you are requesting, as well as peer reviewed articles on scientific research based methodologies you are requesting.    Let each know they are an equal member of the team and you value their input; and want them to be active participants in any meetings with the school.    Ask each to be prepared at any meetings to discuss how they see your child impacting in the environment that they interact with your child, and what specific skills they feel the school needs to teach your child to equip your child to function not only in school, but also in the broader community.  Also let them know that you need each to write their own minutes of the meeting, to type them and to sign and date them for future reference.  Before the meeting review key components of the IDEA and the procedural safeguards with your support team so they all know when the district is selling snake oil.

 

From this group assign someone with good note taking skills to type minutes of all meetings into a laptop computer.  When you receive the district’s minutes it will be easy for you to check them for accuracy and completeness by comparing them with your team members.  This will permit you to write the district to correct any errors in the district’s minutes.  In fact, I like to have the parent’s “secretary” read their minutes to the IEP team at the conclusion of the meeting, and record that this was done and that no one objected to their minutes.

 

Make an Offer:  Ideally, all of the above should be completed before you decide on a placement for your child.  If you haven’t done gone through this process, get started now so that you can insure that next year’s placement and IEP are appropriate.

 

Once you feel confident that a school is appropriate for your child.  Make an offer for your child to attend there.  This offer should be in the form of a draft IEP that you and your special needs coach write, and then share with the IEP team.  If you agree on terms, sign the IEP and you are ready to begin preparing your child and your family to moving into the school.  If you disagree, proceed immediately to mediation so this district knows you mean business (if it is a public school), if it is a private school, look elsewhere.

 

Remember, you are purchasing special education services for your child whether it is through your taxes, or through private pay.  In either case, the school is accountable to provide your child meaningful experiences customized to address his or her unique special needs and to provide an individualized educational plan that is reasonably calculated to ensure meaningful progress towards the development of a human being capable of self-sufficiency and independence within the world community.  Approach the selection of a school with the same thoroughness and caution you would approach signing a lifetime legal contract of equal substance.  Remember always that recourse after the fact is much more difficult to secure than clearly stipulated terms at the beginning of the relationship; this is akin to a prenuptial agreement versus battling it out in divorce court amid hostile feelings.  Be proactive, be particular, and don’t be gullible!

 

It should be obvious at this point, that this is a lengthy and arduous process that can’t be rushed through. Therefore, I recommend you begin a year before your child is to enter the special needs system. Since this system covers your child from age three to age twenty-one, you should begin when your child turns two!  If you are past that point and already into a bad situation, you may need to begin this process to find an alternative setting that will better meet your child’s needs. In that case, begin right now. If you are pleased with your child’s current placement and your child is prospering there, consider yourself amazingly blessed because the statistics show that so very few special needs children ever receive the education they need to prepare them for functional independence.

 

If you are currently struggling with your district, and need help in obtaining what your child needs and is entitled to, feel free to go to my website: www.specialeducationsupport.org to use its resources or to schedule an appointment for a coaching session.

 

Presented as a community service by,

 Susan L. Crum, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.,

 Special Needs Coach

 Voice and Fax:  863-471-0281

 Email:  Able2learn@live.com

 Website:  www.specialeducationsupport.org