My husband and I knew even before we had kids we wanted them to receive a Catholic school education. With an autism diagnosis came the question as to what our options for school would be. Is Catholic school even a possibility now? Does private school special education even exist? Typically, private school and special education do not mix. The schools are generally not equipped to take in students with disabilities. Times are changing, my friends!
St. Ann School in West Nashville started a new program in 2017 called the Hand in Hand Options Program which will offer an inclusive education to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program starts for Pre-K students. For more information about the Hand In Hand Options Program, please contact Dr. Adelaide Nicholson, Principal, at 615-269-0568 or [email protected] or Maggie Mussachio, HIHOP Director, at 615-269-0568.
I also uncovered something called an IEA (Individualized Education Account) program that just started in January of 2017 in Tennessee. Take the quick survey to see if your child is eligible. There are four key factors that play into it- one of which is that your child has autism. If they are, your family will receive up to $6,600 per school year to use for your child’s education in either a private or home school setting. There is a list of private schools that participate every year. If you send your child to one of these schools you can use the money to help pay for tuition. If the school is not on the participating list you can use the money in other areas such as putting money into a savings account for college, therapy, tutors, test fees, etc.
Familiarize yourself with the current handbook by going to their website. There are no limits to the number of students that can receive the benefits. If your child is eligible and you apply, you will receive these benefits. Email them at [email protected] and ask to have a copy of the handbook sent to you. I also recommend reading this quick note to see if private school and an IEA vs public school and an IEP is best for your child. You suspend your child’s IEP if you go with an IEA.
What Does the Law Say?
Public school districts are given a small amount of money each year by the federal government to fund Instructional Education Plans (ISP) for special education students who attend private schools. Public school districts are required to meet with the administrators of private institutions in their area and discuss what services they will provide. The amount varies from year to year but it is usually insufficient to provide any substantial services.
IDEA states that local public school districts must provide the following for students educated in non-public schools:
- Evaluate a private school student for special education if a referral has been made.
- Determine if the student is eligible for special education.
- Develop an appropriate Instructional School Plan (ISP) for the child’s school.
Once a special education evaluation has been completed and the ISP has been written, it is up to the school administrators of the public school to decide what services they will provide. If the district decides to provide a student enrolled in a private educational setting with special education services, the district cannot use the private school’s personnel to provide the services and the public school personnel must provide the services at a public facility.
School districts must assure that the process used to develop an Instructional School Plan (ISP) is consistent with the process used to develop and review an IEP for a public school special education student.
However, only those goals and objectives that are related to the services the district has agreed to offer to a non-public student will be written into the ISP. The district can provide transportation from the school to the service site where the child is receiving district services. It is important to note that by choosing a private facility, you are giving up your child’s IEP. Students enrolled in private schools do not have the same right to special education under the law as students enrolled in public schools.
I was relieved to know that we still had options for school. My son’s autism diagnosis will not entirely restrict his education options. My husband and I plan to weigh the pros and cons and take into deep consideration what school will best help our son thrive.
Choosing the right school will be a monumental decision that should not be taken lightly.