For Maryland parents considering moving a child to a different school next year, right now is the time to start seriously preparing for it. Making a well-informed decision about a school selection is important to the health and welfare of a child.
At PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families, we serve hundreds of youth who struggle with academic, emotional or behavioral issues every year through our Special Education Day Schools—one of which is located in Laurel—and community programs, so we understand the process of searching for a new school program.
With a variety of area schools serving the needs of youth with special needs, parents should be informed consumers. This starts with knowing how to negotiate with the public school system if a parent is expecting to receive a referral to another public school program, charter or a nonpublic placement for their child. Other tips for navigating the process include:
Be Educated. There are free resources such as the Parent Training and Information Center-- www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center-- where you can find assistance in navigating the process. Understand the law through resources such as www.wrightslaw.com. Also, familiarize yourself with the area organizations that many nonpublic special education schools belong to, including Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities (www.mansef.org) here in Maryland or nationally National Association of Private Special Education Centers (www.napsec.org).
Network. Talk with other families, ask the school for references, read blogs, and visit parent groups. Remember, a school may be great for one child but not another. Don’t base decisions just on another parent’s opinion.
Be Timely. Begin the search early. Many schools have open houses and private tours. Keep track of your thoughts by maintaining a journal; visiting several schools may blur your recollection.
Know Your Child’s Needs. Is your child’s testing up to date? Do you feel the diagnosis and recommendations are appropriate? If your child is approaching transition age (as early as 14), begin to familiarize yourself with adult services and the process for obtaining services.
Ask the Right Questions. Does the school address your child’s specific needs? Do they have a specific curriculum or specific interventions? Is the staff trained in the approaches? Does the physical facility meet your expectations? Is the school convenient or is there transportation? What are the credentials of staff? How does the school communicate with parents?
Set Reasonable Expectations. Don’t choose a school because of one or two extra -curricular activities that appeal to you or because another parent loves it. Choose a school that is best suited to your child.
Helping a child find the right school fit can make a significant difference in their future. Do your research and give yourself enough time to make a wise decision that works for your family and child.