If your child has a learning difference, a charter school, like a traditional public school, is required to offer special-education services. However, each charter school also has its own learning methods and specialties, which might make it an ideal choice.
“Charter schools have the exact same rules as any public school district and are not allowed to ask for information around special-education status prior to admission,” says Harry Lee, interim president at the NJ Charter School Association. In New Jersey, students apply through a lottery system and only after a student is enrolled does the family share the child’s special-education status.
The same is true in 21 of Delaware’s 23 charter schools. The Gateway Lab School and Positive Outcomes schools are geared toward and give preference to children with learning differences. Some of Pennsylvania’s 87 charter schools use a lottery; others are first come, first served.
(Use our Education Guide to find Charter Schools near you.)
After admission, staff reviews the student’s Special Education Evaluation Report and Individualized Education Program (IEP), says Rae Oglesby, deputy chief of communications of the 24 Mastery charter schools in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, which serve about 14,000 K-12 students. “We partner with parents to review the child’s academic and social, emotional functioning, IEP goals and special education services in order to ensure a smooth transition into our schools.”
Pick the best educational model
Every charter school has its own learning model, from Montessori — which includes multi-aged classrooms — to language-immersion programs, and schools that specialize in art or science.
Beyond the individual school’s focus, it’s also important to recognize how your child learns best. For example, some students with learning differences find success when they are blended with the overall population, while others are more comfortable in specialized one-on-one or small-group education.
Mastery schools, for example, include students with disabilities in the overall population to the greatest extent possible, says Oglesby.
“Parents should ask questions about the method because not every school is right for every child,” says Kendall Massett, executive director of Delaware Charter Schools Network.
Choose ‘to’ not ‘from’
Be careful not to choose a new school because you were unhappy with something your child’s old school did.
“Choice should be running to something,” Massett says. “When you’re running away from something you’re looking for ‘anything but.’
“You should say, ‘This is good for my child because of ‘X’ and that’s with every child, learning differences or not.”
Follow the (IEP) plan
Once parents find the best school for their child, the school will review the student’s IEP to create the most successful path.
“Each student’s plan is designed to meet his individual needs, so if a student’s needs become increasingly complex, we may use supports outside of the general classroom. IEP implementation looks different for each student,” Oglesby says.
Your child’s IEP specifies the services she is entitled to, “but if you want a whole bunch more that the IEP doesn’t think is necessary, you aren’t going to get it for free,” says Massett. “You can pay for that on your own, but the services listed in your IEP would be free as part of your public education.”
Terri Akman is a contributing writer for MetroKids.