Getting an education at a local high school was not easy for Steve. Diagnosed with an emotional disorder, plagued by family issues and personal childhood traumas, and being indoctrinated by a local street gang, the sixteen-year-old was on a path to personal destruction.
In fact, after numerous infractions and suspensions, Steve was on the verge of being expelled from the public school district he resided in. His educational future was bleak.
There were several options: expulsion, placement in another school within the district, continuation school, a county program, or a youth correction camp. However, one option – suggested by a school psychologist, DIS counselor, and the director of the school district’s special education program – became a most likely choice. They agreed to send him to a nonpublic school.
Although prevalent in every state of the union, nonpublic schools are the least understood educational institutions in the country. They are privately run and publically funded and are used by school districts as an alternative placement for students who can’t fit into a typical educational setting.
The schools are considered critical to the educational process. Many state education departments have rules and regulations for them. Also, the National Department of Education – as well as those on the state level – has a section or department for nonpublic schools.
Also, the need and demand for these schools have increased over the years. Some have even opened up as charter schools.
Most often, the schools cater to a particular group of students. Those attending these small campuses have been diagnosed with severe emotional disorders (SED). Also, their enrollment there is based on a school district’s determination that a more restrictive environment is needed.
The decision to send students to these schools is not an easy one. Many nonpublic schools don’t have the same the curriculum or efficiency of programs. They can be expensive for the school district who usually foots the bill for the student’s enrollment.
Also, special meetings, assessments, and parental consent are needed before the school board votes to approve the students’ placements.
A major factor for determining this action is that the school district officials must prove the student will benefit from a program that essentially restricts their placement in a general education setting and their exposure to the same curriculum used by their non-disabled peers.
A major concept in special education is that students with disability will be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. However, these restrictions have to be determined by IEP teams and specialists associated with the special education. Some criteria that need to be answered are:
1. Does the student need a smaller school and classroom setting?
2. Does he or she need support for emotional disorders?
3. Is it safer to have the student placed in an alternate setting?
4. Do the programs benefit his or her educational needs?
In the process of student restriction, nonpublic schools are more restrictive than a comprehensive school and less restrictive than county programs, youth camps or state mental institutions.
In many cases, the students don’t stay in dormitories. They are there for the day, and then go home in the afternoon. They are transported by bus (often, the public school district the student was from will either provide the bus or pay for it) or are dropped off by parents.
The courses offered are usually reflective of the general education the students’ non-disabled peers are receiving. Accommodations and modifications are offered. Also, they tend to be in smaller classes.
While nonpublic schools are geared toward students with SED, others have expanded its operation to include other students with disabilities. Also, there are some schools (in particular, in New York) which have included religious backgrounds.
Also, in terms of quality, not all nonpublic schools are the same. Neighboring public school district officials will seek schools that best fit the students’ needs or to best prepare them to eventually return to the school district.
Although it was determined Steve will attend a nonpublic school, it has not be decided which one he’ll go. The hope is that he will get the best help available and eventually be able to return, one day. Still, like any school, getting through a nonpublic school will be determined by the student’s desire to succeed.