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BY Jennifer

Where should my child with special needs attend school?

I have been a general education, public school teacher for twenty-two years.  My own daughter with disabilities is thirteen years old.  Parents of children with special needs wonder, “Where should my child attend school?”

This question does not reflect what we really worry about.  What we really worry about is, “What supports and structures does my child need to be successful in school?” I did not realize until I had my own daughter that children with disabilities are often sent to separate schools away from their siblings, friends, and neighbors. Special education is a service offered free of charge to children that are eligible–it is not a place.

Incorporating the needs of a child with disabilities in a typical classroom requires that all the best teaching practices are implemented.  When inclusion is done well, “The research and evaluation data on inclusion indicate a strong trend toward improved student outcomes (academically, behaviorally, and socially) for both special education students and general education students” (Libsky, Gartner, 1995).

General education teachers address the needs of a variety of learners daily.  When I taught fourth grade, I had a range of reading abilities–some students read at the college level.  Some students could not read at all.  Some students came from supportive families.  Some students’ only sense of stability came from school.  When I arrived at the doorstep of our neighborhood school with my daughter with disabilities, I felt like they were saying, “We cannot meet her needs here.”

In first grade my daughter would not leave her shoes on in school.  It finally occurred to me to say, “Whatever they are going to do in a special needs classroom–do it here.  Do whatever it takes to educate her in the school where she eats lunch with her brother in the cafeteria and walks to school with her neighbors.”  And we did. Being educated in our neighborhood school does not mean that she has less services (speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy) than in a school only for children with disabilities.  It means that my daughter receives these services in our neighborhood school along with all the typical childhood lessons and memories with her siblings, friends, and neighbors.  It means she has the experts in disabilities and typical abilities working together to support all children.


Written on April 11, 2011 by:

Jennifer Greening, Ed.S. is the author of Opening Doors, Opening Lives: Creating awareness of advocacy, inclusion, and education for our children with special needs. Her book is used in university classes across the country. It received positive reviews from the Autism Society of Michigan and was awarded 2010 Best Books Award Finalist by USA Book News. Visit her website at
  • Great post! My daughter is doing very well at her home school she is in senior kindergarten and is making gains left right and centre despite starting junior kindergarten unable to eat, walk or talk. I been blogging about here as I was very surprised to learn that my daughters school board pushes these special classrooms regardless of the fact my daughter is doing so well… it was an eye opener to me.
    Thanks for the great post. I fully intend for my daughter to stay at her home school and I’m prepared to be a very strong advocate to ensure it’s successful.  I loved your post thanks for sharing.

  • I suggest it’s need to set up a special needs attend school

  • Rebecca

    I think what you said is really important!  It is so nice when children have the experience of attending school with their siblings and friends from where they live.  Inclusion is a wonderful part of the educational system when done right, however, it isn’t for every child with disablities.  It’s important that we understand that sometimes the best education for a child is in a seperate school or specialized classroom.  It’s not a punishment to be sent to a different school or seperate class.  It’s all about finding out what that individual child needs and doing what is best to help meet their needs.

  • I believe that all children should have the opportunity to attend their neighborhood schools.  It is important to continually keep the child’s IEP goals at the center of every conversation. Within every classroom, the child’s IEP goals determine supports and services for the child. My own daughter began school in a separate school.  There was equipment, mats, teachers, and paraprofessionals.  However, since the children were all non-verbal, there wasn’t anyone for her to communicate with.  She did not see her neighborhood friends or her siblings–which are important to all children.  What we are really talking about is the level of support that is necessary to make school a fun place where the child’s IEP goals can be achieved.  It has been my experience that when a child is struggling in school,  a child does not have enough support or sometimes the child’s IEP goals have not been written adequately.  This does not mean that the child should be sent “somewhere else.”  It means that the educational team needs to work together to create solutions.  My daughter was the child they said inclusion “wasn’t right” for.  Once she was back in the general education setting (with her supports and services) there were times people said “it wasn’t right” for her to be there–send her somewhere else.  Each time I asked what was missing to make it “right.”  It was only when we took “the other school” and “the other classroom” out of the conversation that we got to the essential elements of what she needed.  Anything that is done in a “separate” school can be done in a typical neighborhood school.

  • Jennifer that’s great information for me. I’m going to see a separate school and classroom tomorrow that my daughters school board would like me to send my daughter too next september. I have no intention of sending her their but would like to see what they offer  so I know what to ask for at her local school.  I’ll be asking what is missing to make her home school classroom right at our upcoming team meeting.  Thanks for writing about this it’s so helpful to me and I’m sure many other parents looking for inclusion.

  • Sherry, throughout our journey of educating our daughter, we have often been asked to “go see” a self-contained classroom and school.  Even though we did not want this for our daughter, we felt like we would appear unreasonable if we did not do what they asked us to do.  So every time I went, I took notes while I was there.  There were things going on in the classrooms that I did not want for my daughter.  Children were not talking together, there no sounds of laughter, and there were children working in isolation.  My daughter needed to develop language–this meant that she needed a classroom rich with language.  My daughter needed to develop mobility–She learned to walk by following other children to the sand table in a typical kindergarden classroom.  If you see ideas for materials that you like, then you can ask for these in your neighborhood school.  I wanted my daughter’s school experience to be based upon the most current educational research–this applies to all children.

  • lisa

    After making the school nurse & teacher aware that a medication change was taking place with my child…he had a bad reaction and began to hit the teacher & principle and thrash himself on the floor. Instead of taking him to the nurse they restrained him in the principles office (around file cabinets, desks, chairs,etc) where he could get hurt – then called me to come get him and suspended him for 5-days. This is the 1st time it has ever happened and this is his 4th year in school. What rights does he have? Wasn’t this handled wrong?

  • Clicking on my name under “Bloggers” will give you access to all the blogs I have written.  I think they may help you with this.  My first action would be to call my educational advocate.  Suspension for children with disabilities is carefully monitored.  In addition, you will need to have a meeting with school staff with your advocate to create a clear plan for handling medication changes in the future.  It is important to remain professional and polite because your end goal is the future success of your child–which is difficult to do in situations like this.  Administrators above the principal may be surpised to learn about this incident and they may be able to offer insights and suggestions to prevent this from happening again.  Discussions and a plan must happen soon. 


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