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Special Education/modifications in a private christian high school


QUESTION: Hi Michelle. My son was born with a birth defect that affects both hands/arms but primarily his right hand. (radial club hand) As a result, his arm turns in and his thumbs are slightly smaller and are weak. This also affects his upper arm and chest muscles. He has been under the care of an orthopedic surgeon since birth. He has had an IEP in place since kindergarten. The IEP gave him extended time for long writing assignments, extra time for tests, and as he entered middle school, teacher supplied notes for note taking. I am a public school teacher and watched as many of his teachers were unaware of his modifications. It became a battle trying to keep his IEP because the child study team said he was way to smart for an IEP and needed to be downgraded to a 504. We decided to take him out of public school and he will be attending a private Christian high school in the fall. I called his guidance counselor to explain Ryan's condition and needs and his response was "I double teachers here will give extra time". I was told to speak with the nurse, which I did. She explained that I would need get get a doctors letter explaining his condition and that it would be forwarded to the school board for review.She then went on to say that regardless of how well my son does, the school's name speaks for itself. I am appalled. My son is a solid A student because he gives 110% all the time--he doesn't need the name of a school to help him, just the understanding and right to have extra time because of his disability. It is imperative that he has these modifications. Do you have any other suggestions?  Thanks SO much for any advise. Very Sad, Lynne

ANSWER: Hi Lynne,  Thank you so much for writing to me and using this service.  It sounds like you have an exceptional young man there.  

The key is whether the Christian high school receives federal or public funding.  If so, it will need to provide accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504.

If the school accepted him knowing his disability, then it should accommodate him.  But legally, you can hold them accountable if they are publicly funded.  

I am so disturbed by your comment that the public school said he is way too smart to qualify for the IEP.  That is just wrong.  I have highly gifted students who have an IEP and I taught in the twice exceptional program in public schools.  

Why did you select this private school? If you gave them all the information on admission about his special needs, practically they should accommodate him.  But legally, you may need to talk with an attorney if there is a recourse. There must be a reason you selected the school, so maybe you should just see how he does and make a change if things are not going well.  

I know we have to advocate for the IEP or 504 to be implemented.  That's just the way it is now but the counselor at the current school seems like she needs training and education.  Maybe he could write a letter or do a video to show what he needs.  Try to find a way to engage the teachers to be his advocates.  

Even if they are legally bound, but they are resisting, this may not be the match you hoped for.  

Please keep me updated and great job being an advocate for your exceptional youngster!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Michelle and thank you SO much for your answer. There are several reasons why we wanted Ryan out of  public school. Beside the battle with the IEP, our older son had a 504 for adhd in high school, it was never followed ... His story is very sad  and I blame his problems today on the district and the lack of support.
Our local high school was not an option. So we thought having Ryan go to a smaller school would be better.Ryan applied to two school. Unfortunately, his first choice was highly selective and he didn't get in. . . At the same time Ryan applied to this christian school and was accepted. We had gone to an open house and attended several meetings. Although we aren't catholic, we felt a good sense of "family" there. It has a great reputation, family orientated, affiliated with the church, a few of his friends were going, how could we go wrong? I didn't even think to speak with them about Ryan's disability throughout the entire entrance process. (Ryan's middle school had forwarded all of his records, I thought maybe they would have looked through them) At the end of June, I called the guidance office but was told that guidance counselors weren't assigned yet and that I could make an appointment in August. So here we are. I didn't even get an appointment, just a very poor response from his guidance counselor, who calls himself "Brother". Since I wrote last, I did get a note from Ryan's hand surgeon in which he stated Ryan's condition and what he needs for success in school. I also wrote a note, trying to explain what the condition meant in laymen's terms and then quoted a sentence in the school's mission statement "Effective education develops the human and Christian person-spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically". I went on to say "This statement was the primary reason that we were drawn to this school. We believe that these modifications will further provide Ryan the opportunity to do just that."          So now we wait. I am usually a very positive person but this has really gotten the best of me. I am appalled and hope that we get a favorable response because if we don't, I don't know what we will do.          To answer your question about state funding, the only information I read is that they receive "state-loaned textbooks". Would that qualify under some type of funding? The tuition is very high....  Crazy, crazy we thought at first (and still think) but we are willing to make a sacrifice for Ryan. Thank you again for listening and for your advise. Would you mind if I keep you updated?     Thanks again, Lynne

Dear Lynne,

I am very sorry for my delay in responding to your follow up question.  Of course I would enjoy hearing updates from you.  I am not sure if state 'loaned' textbooks would qualify as public funding and therefore require the school to develop a 504 Plan.  Either way, it is important to interface with all of Ryan's teachers and meet early and often with the staff.  Also, consider the assistive technology devices that will allow him to demonstrate his understanding of the curriculum and be efficient in the workload.  The workload can also be adjusted.  He may need note taking supports, and it's ideal to have a respectful way of allowing peers and teachers to forward notes to Ryan.  I would not assume the staff reviews his records.  I would be very explicit what he needs, and send people in to observe, if possible.  He will also likely need to be his own advocate, so if he and you can identify an ally at school who can help him interface with the teachers, that may help.  The archdiocese are committed usually to educating those students who need accommodation but there is a wide variation from area to area.  

I wish Ryan all the best and a great start to school!

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.


I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.


10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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