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Public or Private? Choosing a School System for Your Child with Special Needs

One question that I am frequently asked is if children with special needs can attend private schools. The short answer is, yes. The longer answer is, it depends on your child's needs and the willingness of the school to work with you and your child. The information below can help to guide you with choosing, Public Vs. Private.


Private Schools are under no obligation to accept students with special needs. If they do, it is typically on an at-will basis and enrollment can be revoked at any time. However, there are many schools in our area that are open to trying our students on a trial basis.

Pros and Cons of Private Schools & Children with Special Needs


+ faith based education

+ typically smaller class sizes

+ private schools are not bound by the same restrictive procedures that public schools are limited by

+ private schools will typically let outside services providers use space for


+ flexible curriculum

+ some private schools are open to an IEP-like document

+ engagement in the school community


- additional services, such as an aid, may be at the cost of the family.

- most contracts are at the will of the school. The school can revoke enrollment at any time.

- most private school teachers are not trained to teach students with

special needs (but may be open to learning)

- if outside testing is required, it is at family expense

- no obligation to provide transportation


Public schools are under obligation of federal law to provide FAPE (free and appropriate public education) to all children regardless of ability level. Public schools must write and abide by an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Pros and Cons of Public Schools & Children with Special Needs


+ specialized programming guaranteed through the IEP

+ staff trained in special needs areas

+ special bus services available

+ services provided at no cost to the family

+ on location related services (therapies, APE)

+ school systems must provide education in the least restrictive environment (LRE)

+ Educational testing is provided at public expense


- typically larger class sizes

- navigating the public school system can be challenging. Budget constraints, excessive acronyms, and procedures can leave parents feeling overwhelmed

- public schools are legally bound to teach to the state standards in most cases

- no faith based education

- “appropriate” education does not guarantee “best” education


This information is by no means exhaustive, but it is what I have come across as a special education teacher and consultant. Every situation is unique. I encourage open dialogue between parents and the school system. PLEASE, never lie or omit information about your child. This can lead to "false positive" acceptance and can cause major problems down the road. Be proactive in letting the school know all of your child's support needs. Be a part of the team and problem solve any issues that come up. And, as always, give me a shout if you need help!

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