Should You Move to a More IEP-Friendly School District?

It’s not a very popular trend, but this does happen occasionally – families moving from one school district to another due to their frustration with their current district and the IEP process. But before you say “Hey, that’s a great idea!” and call the realtor, there are lots of things to consider.

Other reasons to move, besides the child

There are many other reasons to move. You might want to be closer to work or family, or you got a new job, or have a bigger house, a smaller house, a newer house or an older fixer-upper that you’re passionate about. Absolutely if it was in your family’s life plans to move at some point, do so. You just now have new factors to consider when you are choosing a home.

School personnel changes

This is one reason I dislike seeing families move solely because they hear that a certain district is more disability-friendly and easier to negotiate with at IEP time. School personnel change all the time. Principals set the tone for their building, and that can change in an instant. Women administrators leave to have babies, or they move on to different jobs and everything can change in a year or two. Special Ed directors come and go all the time. So do the related services staff such as PTs, OTs and Speech. Most of them are contract employees and move from building to building and district to district quite frequently. And here in PA, the special ed funding structure has just changed. I don’t know if much is going to change day to day, but it is supposed to add some relief to underfunded districts.

Anecdotal information

When you are deciding what is a “good” district for IEPs, who are you talking to? Where did they get their information? I can tell you great stories about every district in this county, and I know I can find one horror story for every district in this county. Everyone’s opinion is largely based on their personal experience – and that changes from family to family. A district may be more equipped and more experienced in handling one type of disability, so that family’s experience was great. Others, maybe not. I’m currently working with a mom who is really struggling – two of her kids have IEPs, and it’s been a struggle to get them appropriate services. The family has just moved here from a different part of the country within the past few years. On more than one occasion she has shaken her head and said, “I don’t get it, so many people told me this was a good school district.” I guess it was, for them. Her experience has been quite different. I live near what is supposedly one of the best districts in our state and entire country to live . . . and I could tell you some stories about how they’ve treated kids with special needs that would curl your hair. Just awful. In my mind, they are far from the “best” despite what the media and the test scores tell us.

Impact on siblings, friends

Any move will uproot an entire family. What will the impact be on the siblings? Being a sibling of a child with special needs is very hard. Making an all-new circle of friends is really hard. And, of course, the perception, depending on age, will be that the child with disabilities' needs came before the sibling’s needs. How will you handle that?

"The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members." ~Gandhi

Actual financial and lifestyle costs

Moving actually costs money, and lots of it. Your house may have appreciated in value and you may get a great price on the new place. Yes, you can roll closing costs into payments. It’s still there – you’re still paying for it, just differently. Then there are moving costs, any repairs that need to be done, disconnect and reconnect fees for utilities, any hotel or dog kennel stays and incidentals like takeout food a LOT during the moving process because your kitchen isn’t set up yet . . . it adds up! Do a cost analysis on what it will cost you to move vs. the cost of the services or program that you are seeking for your child, if that’s appropriate. Don’t forget the lifestyle costs and stress. Buying a home, selling a home and moving are stressful. Having to have your house tidy and “ready to show” every single day for months is exhausting. Being asked to leave your home during the middle of a Sunday so that they can show the house is exhausting. It can take its toll on you and your family.

No guarantees and maybe false hope?

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m overall not a fan of moving solely for the reason of finding a more “IEP-friendly” school district. There are great and terrible experiences in every district. There are no guarantees that you will have smooth sailing just by moving. If it doesn’t work out, you are still struggling, the child is still struggling and not making progress . . . then what will you do? If you put all your eggs in this basket and you’re still in the same place in a few years, what is next? Of course, as I first pointed out, if I had to or was going to move anyway, then this would absolutely be a consideration (and a strong one!) for me in deciding where the new home would be.

In the end, you have to do what is best for your family. I know a few families that have done this and are doing well in their new spot. Still, the security and routine of your current home adds lots of value to the scenario. I know I live in one of the tougher districts for IEP stuff, when it comes to taking public opinion polls on this. My situation is going well – everyone’s experience is different.

Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post is adapted from her blog A Day in Our Shoes, which focuses on support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.

Categories: MomSpeak