When evaluating schools for a child with special needs, parents should ask about the school’s accommodation and modification policies. By Federal law, most schools are required to accommodate for diagnosed learning differences (extended test timing, typing assignments versus writing, etc.), but they are not required to be happy about it.
The law does not require schools to modify curriculums (i.e. teach at a different pace versus an on-track curriculum). All private schools will accommodate minor to mild learning differences within their ability; however unlike public schools, they will generally not modify curriculums to better suit an individual student’s needs. The fact that they are not overly accommodating is usually the result of limited resources.
Students with learning differences will find extreme differences in the level of accommodations and/ or modifications that they will receive from school to school. When a student with a diagnosed learning difference enrolls at a public school, that school is legally obligated to provide a wide range of services that we discuss further in the “Additional Considerations for Public Schools” section of this book.
Conversely, main-stream private schools must only provide a basic level of accommodation that often times does not meet the needs of students with moderate to severe learning differences. For these types of students wishing to attend a private school, there are at least four private schools (Briarwood, Joy, Tenney, Alexander Smith) profiled in this book that specifically cater to students with special needs such as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and memory retention learning differences.
Additionally, some larger private schools like St. Pius X and Strake Jesuit are launching dedicated “Learning Resource Centers” staffed with counselors and armed with strategies and faculty support to better help students navigate their curriculums.
The other schools, even when not specifically cited, will accommodate students with diagnosed learning differences. Furthermore, a handful of private schools employ counselors to help students who may not have diagnosed learning disabilities but could still benefit from additional learning assistance beyond that offered in on-track curriculum classes.
Public Schools Legal Requirements
All public schools must accommodate students with special needs; however, this does not mean that magnet schools or programs have to accept students with special needs. Only if the student meets the admissions requirements of the magnet school/program, and only if the school accepts the student, does the magnet school/program have to accommodate the student.
Students may receive accommodations through the special education department or through 504. Special Education includes: learning disabilities, autism, Asperger’s, physical disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and mental disabilities. 504 includes students traditionally associated with special needs as well as broadens the definition to include students with emotional issues, such as a child with anger management issues.
If you believe or know that you have a child with special needs, contact the school’s special education department to find out what you need to do for your child to receive accommodations. While every public is school is obligated to accommodate students with special needs, some will only provide the minimum while others will go above and beyond what the law mandates. No child may be evaluated for accommodations without a parent’s consent.
Once the process has started, a committee will determine if the student needs accommodations. The committee will consist of: a district representative, an administrator (counselor, assistant principal, or dean), the special education teacher, the student’s teacher, the student’s parent, and the student. If the committee agrees the student qualifies for accommodations, the committee will then determine what accommodations the student receives. These accommodations will be specific to that child’s needs.
If the student meets the admissions requirements for the HISD school, then the student with special needs will be accommodated. If the parents already have documentation about the student’s special needs, the school will need a copy of that documentation. After receiving the documentation, the school will set up an annual “admission, review, dismiss” (ARD) meeting that the parents, the student, an administrator, a core subject teacher, a special education teacher or 504 representative, and an HISD advocate will attend to discuss the specific modifications necessary for the student and to create an individualized education plan (IEP) for the student. Every teacher will receive a copy of the modifications for the student after the ARD meeting has determined them.
If the parents want to request modifications for their child, then the special education teacher will give paperwork to the student’s teachers to document the student’s behavior and any modifications the teacher uses for the student. After 6 weeks of documentation, the teachers will turn in the paperwork, and the special education teacher or 504 representative will call a meeting similar to an ARD meeting. If the meeting determines that the student needs modifications, the school will document the student’s special needs and follow the same procedures as above.