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How to research and choose a school district

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We are thinking ahead. Right now DS12 is getting good IEP services at a private school, but it only goes through 8th grade. He is in sixth. What will we do for high school? It's really a mystery right now.


We may not be able to find a private school that will accept him and be willing to service his IEP, and I'm a little nervous about the idea of sending him to our public school, because it is HUGE.


We live in a suburb of a large city, and there are many school districts that are near enough for us to consider moving to, if we decided that a different school would be better for him. I hate the idea of moving, but we would do it if it were best for him.


So how do we find out about the intervention services at various public schools? I feel like it is not too early to be working to figure this out, but it's also tricky to ask about what high school might be like for him, when he is still a couple of years away from that point.


Any advice? Can I just call up the special education departments, say that we are considering a move there, and ask for a tour and visit? I don't have many real life connections with other parents of kids with special needs who would be in the know. How do I find out the parents' perspectives about school districts we don't currently live in?



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I think the Coffee Klatch radio network has discussed how while you are not entitled to see what kinds of IEPs and things other kids have that would be placed similarly, you are allowed to see the class in action and get anonymous data about the needs of the kids your child would likely be placed with.


One thing I would ask is if they have a tiered placement system. Some of the districts do around here, and the students are placed in that tier one class at a time, so if they are good at one subject, struggle in another, and maybe can't do anything grade level in a third subject, they might be in three entirely different tiers for those classes.


If vocational education is on the table, I would ask about IEP support at the career center or wherever that vocational training is likely to take place.


I have heard aides say that some kids won't take advantage of help that is offered in the regular classroom. They aide is present, but the student has to take initiative--in some cases, the aide is there for particular students, but any student can talk to the aide and ask for help. I would want to know how my student would access help, and I would want to know if asking for help would be obvious or stigmatized.

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You could have a look at the Great Schools website?

Which is basically a site where parents and some students, write a brief review of their school.

So that you can type in a city, zip, suburb, school, and then you can read the reviews of each school.


The reviews don't provide that much information, though at least it will help to identify what schools not to bother looking at?


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Ask at your private school now. They should have some info as well as knowing where other kids went. When we looked for a high school for dd2, the number one criteria was a caring and proactive counseling department.  The great schools website was surprisingly helpful there. I read every review, especially the negative ones, and they were very useful. One hs in particular had great scores, APs etc, but nearly every bad review involved a special needs/LD kid and problems with staff and counseling.

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He started K at 6, so he will be 19 if he graduates on time. The one thing that could hold him back is math. Our state requires "algebra 2 or equivalent." Not sure what "equivalent" means, but I'm not sure he will be managing algebra 2 by 12th grade. That remains to be seen, though.


I've been thinking about vocational school for him. I think it would be a good choice as long as 1) he could still participate in band, and 2) we could find something for him to study that would be a good fit. Most trades will be out (visual spatial disability plus poor fine motor). I've been wondering if we can go to any vocational school or if we have to go to the one for our district. That should be easy to find out with some phone calls.


I'll definitely ask our current school for their recommendations, though I don't know how much help I'll get. I think our neighbor (at the same school, also with IEPs) has asked those kind of questions and not received answers. I brought up the idea of preparing for high school at our parent-teacher conference earlier this month, and the intervention teacher said that in eighth grade, the public high school will have representatives at his IEP meeting to help sort out a plan. Great! Except the spring of eighth grade is far too late for us to figure out whether we would be happy with our local school.


I'll also ask at my daughter's private dyslexia school. They will be more forthcoming with helpful information, and they have kids moving out of and into the public schools all the time, so they are more familiar with which schools are good.

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I'm also going to make a list of what characteristics we are looking for, so that we can find something that will be a good match for him.


I think he needs a smaller, nurturing environment where he will not fade into the crowd. Right now his class (his whole grade) only has 18 students, and he does not participate in class discussions and does not contribute much to group work (these are areas addressed in his IEP). He does not ask for help and in fact complains (to me) about having to receive intervention services, so if a school requires him to ASK an aide for help... that's not likely to happen :( . If he has to self advocate for services, he won't get them. Or he will refuse them. He already talks big and says he's going to tell his intervention and speech teachers that he won't work with them during his allotted time. He doesn't actually say this to them -- he just tells me at home that he wants to. At this point, he still cooperates with intervention, but he resents it.


I think he will need remedial or basic level classes, but I don't want him to be in a class where the teachers have minimum expectations and just pass the kids through, because they don't think they have the potential to learn much. So I'm worried about that.


We also need a wholesome environment in the student population, because he is a risk taking kid with poor impulse control. He's going to have trouble fitting in (poor social pragmatics) but is going to want to. I have a great desire to keep him from going astray, with alcohol, drugs, and rebellious behavior as much as possible. I know that I will only have so much control over that as a parent, and that the school environment and the kind of friends he has will be a big influence on him.


For that reason, we would love for him to go to the Christian school that my oldest attends. But I'm not sure they can accommodated his academics there. They do take kids with IEPs, but they don't want to overwhelm their small intervention staff, so they do not accept everyone. This year, they accepted no new IEP students, for example, because their staff is busy with the students already enrolled. This school does plan a vocational path for students if needed and will work with the vocational school, so that is good, but I don't know if they really do as much preparation for work and life as the public school would.


I could probably homeschool him for academics, using our scholarship money to pay for some tutoring, and then have him do electives at the Christian school. I think it would be better for him to have the structure of a full school day, though, so we need to consider public school, too.



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My friend who is the same boat has mentioned hearing that one particular school district does a good job implementing IEPs. But that district, like ours, is also HUGE. I found some information online that says their intervention department has a staff of 126 special education teachers, 100 aides, and 13 clerical staff. Humongous!! The benefits are that they are more likely to have a wider variety of placement options. The drawback is that he is just going to be one of many.

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I think he could probably go to any career center you can transport him to. We have friends who drive their daughter an hour away for a specific program. She is on an IEP, has more than one disability, and she will be graduating (for real) just before her 20th birthday. She's on her third "senior" year right now. 


There are options, but a lot of it splits along IQ lines and/or diagnostic lines. You really want to document all difficulties.

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Is that number for pre-k through age 21? It is not an overwhelming number to me if so.


What would his day look like? Would he be known by a resource teacher?


My kids go to a pre-k through 6th grade school, with about 700 kids, and they are very known by their teachers and resource teachers.


I would wonder for middle school and up depending on the level of support and program he would be in.


Also, my 6th grader has a situation where an aide travels with his room (they are in elementary and travel as a group for 2 classes) and then he can go into resource room.


Earlier in the year he didn't want to have the help.


I talked to the resource teacher about it. This is for 6th grade in a elementary school....


She said sometimes it could be appropriate for him to seek or not seek, or accept or decline help.


Other times it would not be up to him, it would be up to the resource teacher.


She said it is common for 6th graders to not want help, and she has a balance between what she requires and what she leaves up to them. Also between what she thinks is appropriate -- she has not let my son "get away with" help she doesn't think he requires.


This seems to depend very much on the individual resource teacher that he has, and the individual aide that he has. His aide (for his whole class focusing on 4 kids) is a retired teacher from the Catholic school, and she seems very good. She is not one of the aides who randomly applied for a job, or who is 20 and getting experience.


On his IEP my son is recommended to have a resource period plus OT consult, for middle school. He is honestly doing pretty well right now.


But I think there is some context -- I would be okay with this son choosing to not seek out some aide help if he had a resource period and was doing well.


If aide help was all that he had and he was doing bad, then I think I would be complaining about this policy.


But I can see this being appropriate for some kids even if sometimes they made a poor choice.


Just bc some kids have that as what is in their IEP and their parents have agreed to it, doesn't mean it would be recommended for your son, or that you would agree to it as parents.


I have found people really don't know what supports other kids have or what is in others kids' IEPs even if they work in the school and work worth kids who have IEPs.


Often people are hired for a certain job, and they aren't in the loop on what is available or what is occurring in the school a school a whole.


So locally I could see that being true, but not the whole story for all students, and then possibly in context of additional services.

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Adding to that -- I have found informally that when parents get told about programs, they don't get told about all programs that exist.


They get told only about what is likely for their child.


So if you talk to parents, they may have never heard a word about a program that exists, at the school, but is not one their own child would ever be placed in.


Like -- there is a self-contained classroom in a neighboring school, I know a bit about it.


There is a family whose son is in resource room at our school, who used to be at this school.


They had a possibility of a self-contained ED classroom or more regular resource room (which they have got and it is going really well).


I talked to them and they had no idea that this self-contained classroom was available at the old school, bc it would never have been their son's placement, so it was never brought up to them.


I find this really common.


My younger son's program is small, with less than 20 kids (more like 10-12 kids) in K-6th, and they have their own resource teacher.


Nobody else knows the details of what is available to gets in this program, or what kids may have one their IEPs.


I have heard statements about "nobody gets that" for things that are available in this program.


It is just not widely known even among teachers at the school, or aides who aren't part of his program.

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I think that's what makes it hard to compare one school to another. Especially because he has a couple of years before high school, and his IEP will be updated a few times before then. I can see that if we go to visit schools now, they might say, "We can't tell you what services he would get in high school, until he is ready for high school."


Yet, if we would consider moving, we would need to plan ahead.

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I could see it being a good plan for him to be in traditional school until age 18 and then do two years of vocational school. It would allow him to mature more before he would be out in the working world. But maybe he wouldn't feel like he was doing extra high school work and lingering after his peers had graduated. He could "graduate" to vocational school instead of college.


Although our school said they would start high school planning in eighth grade, I think we may be able to ask that it start in seventh grade. The law says that transition planning starts at 14, and he will turn 14 in April of seventh grade.


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