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What Private School Teachers Should Know about Special Education

I have a friend who is also a former coworker and this summer we have been working together in her summer class and I have learned so much about how private school teachers can help students with special needs. Here is my list of what Private school teachers need to know about special education. Just a few things we get told and not told.... How do we help our students?

1. Evaluations for Special Education Services

Federal law requires all public school districts to look for and evaluate students who are suspected of having disabilities. This law is called Child Find. It also applies to students who attend private school as well as those who attend public school and or who are home-schooled.

This means that if you think a students might have a learning disability, hopefully you have observe the student and had documentation that supports your belief and have had conferences with the parents. You can suggest to the parents option to request an evaluation that is paid for by the public school system. Each school system is different so check with your school but the decisions about evaluating a private school student is made by the public school district where your private school is located. It’s a good idea to talk with your administration team and reading specialist or title I teacher before your parent send a letter of request so everyone is on the same page about the request of evaluation.

The district will consult with your school before deciding whether the child needs an evaluation so be ready to show your documentation. If the public school district agrees to an evaluation, it’s responsible for arranging and paying for these tests.

***Documentation – This is important! Keep track of work that shows your belief of the disability, observation that you have made, conference meetings and accommodations for the students that you have made on behalf of the student.

2. Equitable Services

If the student qualifies for special education, the parent has a choice to make. The parents can move the student to the local public school so he/she can receive the full range of special education services. Or the student can stay at the private school and get what’s called “equitable services.”

Equitable services are paid for by public funding. This funding is set aside specifically for students with disabilities whose parents place them in private school. But because this funding is limited, the student might receive fewer free services if he/she attends private school than if he/she switches to public school. As the teacher now that you and the parents are award of the student disability you will have to show that you are doing what you can to meet the needs of the student.

3. Service Plan

If the parents choose to keep their student in private school, the school and the district may create what’s called a “service plan” or a "504" (also called an “Individual Services Plan”). This written plan is similar to an Individualized Education Program (IEP). But a service plan tends to be less comprehensive than an IEP.

Public schools have strict guidelines for special education teachers. Teacher qualifications are spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and in each state’s education laws.

Private schools may use different hiring standards. To work with the student the teacher should be a certified teacher and meet the needs of the student's "service and or 504 plan", the student should also work with the school's reading specialist, special education staff or Title I teacher. This is at the discretion of the private school.

4. Accommodations

Private schools also have a choice once an evaluation is done. Private school are usually willing to provide accommodations like extra time on tests. A private school may also allow students to be tutored at the school, during the class day, by a private tutor that the school offers or the parents pay for. The private school can state that the student's needs may be so great that the school will recommend that the student be sent to a public school that has more resources.

5. Placement

When a school district determines that a student is eligible for special education, the district will also decide which learning environment and special services are appropriate for the student. Parents are part of the team that makes this decision, which is referred to as placement. For many students with learning and attention issues, the most appropriate placement is in a general education classroom in their local public school.

In some cases the district will agree to what’s called an "out-of-district placement". That’s when the district the student reside in agrees to pay for the cost of sending the student to a school that is approved by the state to educate students with a certain range of disabilities. This happens when the district agrees that the student's local public school (the school they are zoned for) can’t meet their needs.

If the parent and the district disagree about which placement the student needs, the parent may want to consider a strategy called "unilateral placement". This process involves notifying the district before enrolling the student in a new school that they are currently in a private school.

Most likely if the parent chose to keep the student in private school the district can refuse to pay for the tuition and extra help for the student.

***It is important to check with your school, district, office of education to see what your private school to see their policy on recondition for evaluation.***

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