Special Education Services in Private Schools

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Special education in private schools leads to the question of whether those schools are subject to the same rules as public schools. This lesson discusses the educational laws that apply to private schools and illustrates them through a practical case.

Understanding Special Education

Special education is the set of programs that teachers prepare to assist children who have mental, physical, social, or emotional delays. Programs can include accommodations and modifications for children with disabilities, such as auditory devices, braille texts, wheelchair access, or extra time and special settings in which to take tests.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The federal law - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - requires public schools to provide special education to children with disabilities. However, this obligation includes a key aspect, which is funding. Without money to fund a special education program, a school could not comply with the law.

When it comes to private schools, students' eligibility for special education is based upon whether they are diagnosed with a disability before or after they enroll in a private school. Those who enroll in a private school but are already eligible for special education services can continue to receive them through public funds and facilities. Those who enroll in a private school and then are evaluated and found eligible for special education services by their local public school districts have several options, which we'll discuss based on funding. In some cases, the need for special education is critical, and a move to a public school may be the most appropriate decision for parents.

Private schools receive limited funding OR they do not accept federal funding. This determines limitations in the special education services they can provide. Let's take a look at each case.

Limited Funding

Consider the hypothetical 'Blue Horizons', a private school. As such, this school receives some public funding for Instructional School Plans (ISPs), which include special education. As funding for private schools is limited, Blue Horizons can provide some services to children who need special education. However, such services are certainly broader in public schools because of the higher level of funding they receive.

For instance, Miles is a student at Blue Horizons. He needs special education, and it is clear that he would benefit from moving to a public school.

His parents have these options:

  1. Keep Miles at Blue Horizons, and pay for a specialist who can provide services outside of the school. A private specialist would complement the services the school can provide.
  2. Transfer Miles to a public school, where broad special education services are already in place.
  3. Keep Miles at Blue Horizons, but request special education services from the public school district.

After evaluating Miles, the public school district may decide to provide him with special education services that are funded with public money. Miles would receive these services from public school personnel and in a public facility.

Broad services in public schools include scheduled special education hours during school, at least one specialized teacher, and in some cases, even an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). By comparison, a private school may give a child one hour a week to address her/his needs.

No Funding

Some private schools make the decision to not receive any federal funding for Instructional School Plans (ISPs). The reasons vary, but given that they are private schools, they do not have to express a specific reason why they choose not to do so.

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