Special Education: Resources & Schools
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Special Education: Resources & Schools
Editor note: this resource is frequently recommended:
The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF),
Information center funded by the US Department of
Education, serving families of children and young adults from birth
to age 22 with all disabilities: physical, cognitive, emotional, and
learning. Provides parent training and Education Advocates to help with special education issues for parents in Alameda, Contra Costa or Yolo Counties.
we are in oakland right now, want to move out , trying to
find a place in bay area where the special ed is good and
the school district understands my kid with asd and his
needs. We want to use our energy to work with my kid instead
off losing it all just dealing with the school district.
New to group!
Does anyone know of a good school district for preschool to kindergarten
(major plus if good elementary school, too) that has worked for you or others
you know for INCLUSION of your child into typical classrooms. Our daughter
(has Down Syndrome) will be heading to preschool next year Fall and we are
figuring out where to relocated back in the city (currently we live outside the
We know about Hope Tech and Milestones in PA.
We will be renting and need to find an area that is some what affordable too.
Our goal is to really try to give her chance to experience the typical
classrooms. I keep hearing even with an IEP, parents are still having to
fight/struggle to get more than 30 mins in any inclusion class for their child.
That's not what we want to deal with.
Thanks all for your suggestions/replies!
Others may disagree with me, but I've been happy
Berkeley. You're going to have a lot of work to
do no matter
what district you're in, but my experience so far
has been good.
I hear Davis has a very good special ed. program.
just outside the main Bay Area, but folks do
commute in from
After 4 years in the San Juan School District (Sacramento) my 12-year-old son
has completed two years in the Moraga School District. Moraga has been
fantastic. The district is small, and Sharon Pinkus, the SE director, is very
hands-on, responsive, creative and empathic. We've had amazing services,
teachers and aides. To say we've been pleased is an understatement.
I don't know much about special ed in Berkeley, but Mira
Vista Elementary on the El Cerrito border with Richmond
(West Contra Costa Unified School District) has special ed
classes for preschool through 6th grade. The preschool is
also open to a few typically developing children in addition
to the special needs kids, I think possibly on a parent
co-op basis, so there is informal mainstreaming/integration
of special and typical needs kids. The elementary special
day classes are divided up k-1, 2-3, and 4-6, and depending
on the kid's IEP/readiness for a regular class, etc., some
kids were mainstreamed from an hour a day to the whole day.
The school has some wonderful teachers in both the special
ed and general ed classes, and a great school community in
My 5 year old son has been seen by 2 mental health professionals
who feel he meets the threshold for Asperger's, and will have
another evaluation by the ASD Center to confirm. I put in
writing my request for an evaluation of my son by the school
district and was told by the principal that I would get a letter
from the district saying they would not evaluate him until he
was in second grade. Is this a violation of IDEA regulation? How
do I go about getting him evaluated while creating the minimal
amount of animosity at his school? My son will be there a long
time! I am already feeling patronized by the principal, as she
has said to me 3 times now that kindergarten is all new for me
and my son but they have seen it all, and Asperger's is
a ''popular'' diagnosis, much the same as ADD/ADHD was a few years
ago. I am just trying to find the right tools to help my child.
YES! This is a violation of IDEA. They're hoping to take
advantage of your ''newness'' and not provide your child with the
services that he's entitled to by Federal law, and if you don't
know enough to make a stink about it, they'll be safe from a
lawsuit. Good for you for being an advocate for your child, you
are all he has and the system is designed to let our kids slip
through the cracks unless they have somebody to fight for them.
Special Ed services for an ASD diagnosis will need to start with
your district's Special Ed department, but it also won't hurt to
continually bug your principal about it. It's not okay for her to
patronize you. Does your school have any inclusion support
Contact DREDF at http://www.dredf.org/ call and ask to speak with
an advocate. They will inform you of the details of what your
son's rights are and help you navigate your way through. Feel
free to contact me directly if you have any questions.
The short answer is that refusing to evaluate is most likely a
violation of the district's obligation under ''child find'', but it
would help to have the letter to decide how to respond. In any
case, you have recourse. I am a special education advocate and
would be happy to talk with you. Please feel free to email,
firstname.lastname@example.org, or find my phone number at my
web site, http://negotiatingthemaze.org/.
Yes it is a violation. If you request an assessment the District MUST assess. However,
you should put it in writing. Once you submit your request the District has 15 days to
develop an assessment plan. However, as a parent you should be specific about what
you want the District to assess. For example, Speech, Occupational Therapy, reading,
math, etc. The child's disability has to impact his/her education.
Nolo Press in Berkeley publishes a book called ''A Parents Guide to an IEP'' and
Community Alliance for Special Education (CASE) publishes a handbook titled ''Parents
Special Education Rights and Responsibilities.'' Both of these resources are great for
parents. Both have websites. CASE also provides educational advocacy for families.
Good luck - and remember keep copies of all your documents and keep track of the
What your principal said is not true. School districts must
evaluate if asked (called ''self-referring'') starting at age 3
(before that, the Regional Center does the evals). Instead of
giving the letter to your principal, mail it straight to the head
of special education of your district. For Oakland, that's Lisa
Cole, 2850 West St., Oakland 94608.
I need advice on how to deal with a mentally disabled student
in my daughter's classes in Orinda. The school district's
policy is to have mentally disabled students in classes with
above average and gifted students. (This is the fourth
consecutive year for my daughter.) For the first few years we
didn't think much of it, but last year she didn't do so well.
I passed this off as normal development for my daughter - I was
Today after school she tearfully confessed to me the problem
she is having with school is not the material, but the mentally
disabled child. The child can not sit still, has minimal
control of extremities and spontaneously cries and make noises
similar to a roaring elephant. She gets startled, can't
concentrate on the lesson and the teacher has to repeat the
lesson over and over for the disabled student.
This is a public school in Orinda. They try to main stream
disabled students even if it is to the detrement of gifted and
above average students. The counslors tell me "No child is
left behind". I'm finding no child gets ahead even if they
Help - I'm wondering if anyone else has had a similar
experience, and what did you do?
Where your efforts successful?
As a public-school teacher, my first advice to you is to schedule
a visit to your daughter's class. I don't doubt that your
daughter is having a difficult time with this other student, but
I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that there are other
factors at play as well. In your visit, watch your daughter--not
the other student. When does she focus? When does she get
distracted? Does she have clear assignments that she can work on
at times when the teacher is working with other students?
(Remember, of course, that your presence is also affecting your
After visiting, you may be able to arrange a joint meeting with
your daughter and her teacher to plan some strategies that will
help your daughter learn at her own pace in a heterogeneous
classroom. These might include sitting elsewhere in the room,
having an enrichment project to work on when she finishes an
assignment before her classmates, or reading aloud with a partner
when it's difficult to focus on silent reading.
Like it or not, your daughter will be in mixed-ability groupings
all her life. She'll benefit much more from learning to thrive in
this environment than she would from having a ''problem student''
removed from her class.
I don't know if this will be at all helpful, but one of the students in my son's class last
year had a great deal of difficulty with self-control and other similar issues (the child
was of at least average intelligence, however). The district provided this child with a
full-time aide. This aide could not only assist the child with assignments (there was
some difficulty writing and such) but could also assist with control (I know the child
was removed from the room if behavior deteriorated, for example, until the child
Unfortunately, I believe this comes from an agreement with the parent and the teacher,
so it's not something you can ask for directly. However, if you know the parent,
perhaps a suggestion would be in order, or perhaps you could speak with the teacher.
Your post saddened me especially as a parent of a special needs
child. I wonder out loud what type of special education department
in Orinda would allow such behavior to be displayed in the class setting
you're describing, as special needs children have specific legal criteria
they must meet in their IEP's, and I really find hard to believe that the
special ed staff and your child's teacher would allow a distracting child,
as you described, to be placed in your class setting. FYI, special needs
children meet certain criteria to be in the least restrictive environment,
which means they can be placed in classes with the general school population
but with tutors and/or assistants. I noticed you did not mention an assistant,
and I know that child would not be there without an assistant. If the child was
that disruptive as you described, proper protocol would be to have the child
removed and placed back in the special needs class. So, I would suggest, if
what you say is true, I would specifically write a letter and/or discuss the child's
issues with the head of the school along with the head of the special ed department
so that they can find a win/win situation and inform the parents of the child of your
complaints, as your daughter also has the right to a proper education as much
as the special needs child.
-proud parent of a special needs child
Please have compassion for those who are less fortunate
than you and your daughter. My child has special needs and is
mainstreamed. It is the district's legal responsibility to both
make sure that everyone can learn in the classroom environment
and to include children with challenges in the classroom.
Why don't you speak the your daughter's teacher and talk about
the problem your daughter is having? Perhaps the child with
challenges needs some additional support to behave appropriately
in the classroom. Perhaps your daughter needs some additional
support and sensitivity education to function appropriately in a
diverse school environment. I would encourage you to voice your
concerns and to educate yourself and your daughter about the
reasons why children with special needs behave as they do. Maybe
if your daughter understands why the child with special needs is
making noises and can develop compassion for this child, then
perhaps she will not be so upset by the behavior. Perhaps there
needs to be more communication/education about acceptance and
tolerance in the classroom as a whole in order for your daughter
to feel comfortable. How are the other kids in class handling the
behavior of the child with special needs?
As the mother of a child with special needs (as well as one without
special needs) I strongly feel that, like racial diversity, cognitive
diversity is really healthy and important for all children to be exposed to.
Our world is diverse and your daughter can learn so much about tolerance,
diversity and her own strengths by being exposed to children whose brains
function differently than the norm.
-we all have special needs sometimes
My advice is to be extremely grateful that your child isn't the mentally disabled child
you described. Think of the parents of this child. We are all in this together. I'm sorry
if it is hard for your daughter, but we need to accept all people. Gratitude for what you
have is in store. Also, a big heart for others that are less fortunate than you are.
Our children are gifted and advanced, and have had special needs children in
their classes for many years. Our children attended a wonderful school in El Cerrito,
Castro Elementary. This school was a ''full inclusion'' school, with special needs kids
in almost every class. In my son's first grade, there were four special needs kids out
of 20; in my daughter's fourth grade, there were three special needs kids in a class
of 32 kids.
The result? My children are caring, accepting, inclusive, sensitive, responsible
people. They chose to partner with the special needs children on projects and for
games as often as they did the mainstream children. When I think of what they
learned about being human, I am so grateful that they had this experience.
It sounds to me like the child in your daughter's class deserves an aide. You do not
mention one in your e-mail. If a child is disabled, they are given an aide by the
school district to facilitate the learning. I would ask the teacher why this child does
not have an aide, if she is indeed special needs. The teacher cannot be teaching to
one child only, be it a gifted child or a special needs child.
If it is done right, having a special needs child in a classroom is an enormous asset.
I am sorry that your school has not made this the case.
-Been there, but at a different school
Sounds like your daughter is having a really tough time with
auditory processing and loud sounds. It's possible that the
real problem isn't with the other special needs kid but that
your daughter has some sensory or auditory processing issues,
especially if she's the only who finds it difficult. Check with
other parents, talk to the teacher and try to work it out since
-mainstreaming is here to stay.
This is a hot-button issue, and you will no doubt get many
responses. Federal law requires public schools to provide
appropriate education to all children, disabled or not. There
frequently is tension among the needs of differently situated
children, especially when money is tight. Disabled kids can
demand more resources, and it can be at the expense of the
non-disabled. That is a policy decision Congress made. Good
people can disagree about its merits. But if you don't like it,
your remedy is with your senator/congressperson -- or private
school, which can exclude anyone. Have a little empathy here.
What are you proposing the school do? Exclude the disabled child
to better serve your child? How would you feel if yours was not
the ''gifted'' child, but the disabled child? Wouldn't you want
your child included as much as possible, treated like all the
other kids? Would you want parents to demand their child be kept
away from yours?
My son had an autistic boy in his class for several years in the
Orinda schools. Many of us parents wanted our children in class
with him. The school placed him with the best teachers. He had
an aide, who was able to provide extra support for the entire
class. And he gave our children exposure to the real world --
real people, with real challenges. My son had play dates with
him, and enjoyed them. This boy was a challenge, to say the
least. And there was a point where he got violent and his needs
exceeded what an inclusive classroom could provide. But until
that time, the kids got a fine education, and a healthy dose of
tolerance to boot.
Take a good look at the message you are giving your child. She
will take her cues from you. This can be a lesson about
accepting differences, being patient and kind, and learning how
to focus despite distractions. Or it can be a lesson that her
needs come first, before the needs of other kids who are
different, and maybe not so ''gifted.'' But remember, she is just
a tumor or accident away from being that special needs child.
Fan of Tolerance
Mainstreaming was a new trend when I attended Berkeley High
School. As a student I hated it. The teachers who did it well
essentially taught two lessons, or more properly a main lesson
then a mini-lesson. I don't think anyone benefited.
That said, parents of the mentally disabled student may view
inclusion as a civil rights issue, and they are backed by Federal
Law (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, Public
Law 94-142; now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
This all predates the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Your student may hate the situation also. But perhaps she can be
challenged to apply her ''gifted'' advantage into staying focused.
Future classes, dorms, and jobs will come with their own often
annoying people, visual, and audible distractions. The ones who
come out on top get past all that, and don't pin their own
performance issues on the actions of others.
The ugly reality of NCLB is that the pace of education will
follow the formulated mandates no matter how fast or slow the
class picks it up. In other words: the slow kid is not altering
the progression of the curriculum.
I am looking for a Pre-K CH class (Communication Handicap) for
my daughter who will be 5 y.o. May 2009. Does anyone know of a
city that has one? I heard Oakland has one but I heard they were
closing Tilden. I was wondering if anyone's child has attended
one in either Oakland, Berkeley, Alabany, Alameda, or the
There are CH classes throughout the Oakland schools, from
Marshall to Bella Vista to Tilden (which I hadn't heard is
closing) and beyond. The OUSD team that meets with you will make
recommendations for placing your child. If you'd like to talk
with parents who have been through the same thing, you might come
to a support group organized by two OUSD moms; the next meeting
is Thursday, January 29, from 7:00-8:30 PM at Communication
Works, 4400 Keller Ave., Suite 200, Oakland. If you want to
connect online, try the social networking site 8 Second Rule,
also created by an OUSD mom, http://8secondrule.ning.com/ .
We have an almost three year old who has been diagnosed with
Apraxia (a type of speech delay). He has been in private speech
therapy since turning two. He has made some great headway, but
still remains 'behind' his age group.
We are considering relocating to the East Bay. As I understand,
speech therapy services fall under the domain of the school
district once the child turns three.
I've seen a lot of posts about children under three, but am
specifically looking for any wisdom out there regarding how to
find out more about the school district programs in different
areas (we're looking at lamorinda, albany, or pockets of oakland
as possible places to live), as well as if anyone has any
recommendations of particularly good programs.
I think you may not want to look at programs per se, but at the
specific IEP goals addressing your child's speech issues and
then making sure that they are met, especially via progress
reports in between IEP meetings. My son's apraxia was not
diagnosed (we're in Oakland) til he was 7 and a specialist with
rehab experience was called in. In my experience SLP's are
young, enthusiastic and have experience with pragmatic language
issues but not necessarily with apraxia or dysnomia.
My son recently completed 4 months of speech therapy with a
therapist associated with the hospital (for an articulatory
issue). I spoke at length to his speech therapist about her
work; she told me that based on her own experience working in
schools vs. private practice speech, therapy in schools is - in
her words - practically futile. The schools are always
understaffed, so the therapists must meet the children in groups,
so meeting 6 children once a week for 45 minutes goes nowhere.
The children can't focus, the context is too distracting, no one
gets individual attention, there's little individual assessment
and drill time. In short, if you are planning on relying on the
schools, you should rethink this plan. Private or hospital
practice really is the only effective means for children,
especially those with more serious issues, to succeed. My son
had to work hard for 4 months to eliminate his lisp. I can't
imagine him trying to get that work done with a distracting group
of children and a harried therapist.
If you are able to get into the Lafayette School District - that would be a good
choice. They have a wonderful program and have very dedicated speech therapists.
I don't have experience in any of the school districts you
mention, but I just want to clarify/correct one of the
statements you made.
School districts are responsible not only for providing speech
therapy for children 3 and over, but also for children aged 0-
3. These 0-3 services are under the umbrella of ''early
intervention'', which is a federally-mandated program. You must
contact the school district to get started, but parents with
children in this age range can also qualify for FREE services
for younger children.
I have two children with IEPs who are now 6 1/2, but they both
started services through early intervention at age 2.
My son has global developmental delays, hypotonia (low muscle tone), and PDD-
NOS (basically ''autistic like''). He is currently receiving 21 hours of ABA therapy
week, plus one hour each of speech, OT, and PT. He will be 3 in July, and I'm trying
to figure out which school district we should be in at that point.
We are currently in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I am interested in
hearing from parents who have experience with special education in this district, as
well as surrounding districts (Albany, Berkeley, Alameda, etc.). It would be
especially helpful to hear from parents whose children are on the autism spectrum,
but I would love to hear from parents of children with a range of disabilities as
What are the strengths of each district? Weaknesses? Are some better for preschool
but less desirable for grade school, or vice versa? Are certain districts easier to
work with than others? Do any offer augmentative communication classrooms? Etc,
etc. Please share any and all experiences. I really appreciate your insight! This
complicated maze to navigate, and it seems to be never-ending.
Thanks in advance!
The answer to your question is, hands down, Castro Elementary School, in El Cerrito!
The special needs children are fully integrated into the mainstream classes, and
both teachers and aids alike know how to create a beautifully run full-inclusion
program that benefits ALL of the children at the school, special needs and
This unique program has been 20 years in the making, and is a model of what full
inclusion can really be. Other schools say that they have full inclusion, but from
what I have seen, only Castro understands what this really means, and has been
able to enact it in wonderful and powerful ways. The mainstream children really
learn how to treat all people with respect and honor--something that they carry
with them throughout their whole lives.
This wonderful school is a true jewel in an otherwise problematic district. I urge you
to visit this school, and inquire about this program. It's not a fancy school, and
unlike some other schools in El Cerrito, it has not been rebuilt. But, hidden behind
those walls is an example of what every school should strive to be like.
A proud parent at Castro
After trying several schools, we landed at Castro Elementary School, in El Cerrito.
Many people had told us that this was the school to be at, but it took us a while to
actually try it out. We thought that the ''nicer'' schools might be better. Boy, were
we wrong! Our child also has autism, and this school has been a life saver for us
(and our daughter). The teachers are excellent, and really know how to work with
all kinds of children. I cannot believe that this school does not get more press;
people seem to find it by word of mouth. Frankly, it's the best kept secret in West
Good luck! We hope to see you there next year!
Third time is the charm!
We are moving to the Bay Area in Aug. 2006. Our 2 1/2 year old son
was just found eligible for services through our current (East Coast)
school district. His issues are in the areas of speech, fine motor
and sensory integration. He also has a very short attention span.
very happy and social kid with great gross motor skills.
We have quite a bit of flexibility in where to live after our move.
prefer being near a BART station, but our son's education is a very
Any suggestions as to which public school districts might best meet our
son's needs would be much appreciated. We would also consider
I do not have a child with special needs but want to point you
toward the Lafayette school district and, specifically, Burton
Valley Elementary. My two children attend BVE and have had
special needs kids in their classes every year. The challenges
that these kids face vary, of course. Some just require
individualized education plans, some need an all-day aide with
them. In every case, the administrators, teachers, students and
BVE families enfold him/her into the sc hool in the most natural,
genuine way. Our sons have developed lots of empathy and have
learned that every one of us has different learning strengths
and weaknesses. They've also gotten very good at meeting their
peers ''where they are'' and celebrating their shared humor and
On a more technical note, the parents of special needs kids have
been thrilled with the education their kids have received. They
come from far and wide for the care and attention they receive.
I'm proud of how our community embraces differences of all kinds
and encourage you to check us out. (I always chuckle at the
pride with which Berkeley private school parents talk
about ''diversity'' in their schools. Their diversity may include
color or family income but not political opinion or abilities!)
- Hearing Good Things
We reside in Albany California which is nestled inbetween Berkel ey and
El Cerrito in the
Bay Area. Our son also has language delays and SI issues. He is in
2nd grade now and
we have been very pleased with the services and support he receives.
There are three
elementary schools in our District. The speech therapists are great
and the OT's are
dynamic. They have all really helped our son. I don't know what
services are like at
the middle school or high school level. I can only speak about the
Good luck to you.
I guess I didn't read your question clearly. Your son is 2 1/2. Our
son also went
through the preschool special ed. program in Albany and we were very
the program. The teacher is fantastic and her staff is great. Same
OT's as some of the
elementary schools but I'm not sure about the Speech Therapist . You
our Special Ed. Dept.
Catherine, I can't speak for the district as a whole, but
Harding Elementary in El Cerrito (East Bay) has 5 special day
classes, 2 of which are for hearing impaired. It is my
understanding that there are intervention or pull-out services
for kids who need help but are not in special day classes, but
I'm not completely knowledgeable about what exactly is
available for special ed kids and those who are mainstreamed. I
suggest that you contact our school principal, Mrs. Taylor.
Please check our Web site, hardingpta.org, for more
information. Harding fosters a sense of compassion for the
special ed kids (the goal is to mainstream them in the regular
classrooms), which I believe is an asset and something I want
my son to develop. In addition, it is near the El Cerrito Plaza
BART station, and the housing is relatively affordable compared
to other Bay Area cities.
Good luck with your move.
Wondering if anyone has experience with Redwood day school or
Park day school or Archway. I am looking for a school that
will pay enough attention to my child so that any problems are
caught early. Right now everything seems fine, but my child is
adopted and there is a high rate of attention deficit disorder
in adopted children. All three of these schools are nearby and
seem progressive etc. Or are there other schoools
in Oakland you think would be particularly good. Also anyone
know where I can get my child tested to see where she is with
regard to learning skills etc,i.e. average, gifted, behind.
Beacon Day School
Park Day School
Redwood Day School
St. Paul's Episcopal School
My son has communication delays, not completely assessed yet.
He is receiving some services through the Oakland School
District. I'm curious about special education services in
other local districts. Are there any school districts where
special education services are more plentiful, easier to
obtain, more individualized than in Oakland? I've heard good
things about Piedmont...any feedback on special education
there? How easy/hard is it to obtain a paraprofessional to
work with your child in a mainstream classroom?
Berkeley, is by far the best district. If you are looking for
a district that will make decisions that are fair and in the
best interest of the child, Elaine Eger is amazing!
I founded A Brighter Today, which is a center based program,
and non public school (Special Education) for children that are
both medically fragile and developmentally delayed. Remember
that if a school district cannot meet the needs of your child.
You are entitled according to the (IDEA) Individual
Disabilities Education Act a free and appropriate education at
the publics expense. Please contact Laura Quesada at A
Brighter Today: 510-704-0266. We have a great parent support
My husband and I are committed to sending our little boy to public
school, and--like most parents--we want ''the best'' school district for him.
The only twist is, our son receives special-ed services from OUSD. Are
there any special needs parents out there who moved away from
Oakland because they wanted a SELPA with a fatter budget? Or more
experienced therapists? Sweeter facilities? Mainstreaming with extreme
sensitivity and support? If so, how is it working out for you? We'd
consider any area, from the Peninsula to Marin to east Contra Costa
Mom of Soon-to-be Kindergartner
I would suggest that you contact a support group for the type
of disability your child has. Family Resource Network, an
offshoot of Bananas, has an office and newsletter that can
connect you with other parents dealing with the same
issues. Their phone number is (510) 547-7322. I have a
13-year old son with Asperger's syndrome and I gave up on
public education 4 years ago. However, every disability is
different just as every child is different and you have to do
what you feel is right for your child. Good luck.
this page was last updated: Oct 20, 2012
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