Families consider private schools for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re seeking a community organized around a certain belief system, a school known for providing a particular academic focus, such as language immersion, or perhaps a family member attended the school themselves. A complicating—and often stressful—factor for some families during this selection process is determining what services will be available for their child with hearing loss. What are they entitled to? Which accommodations are absolutely necessary? What questions should they ask? Use this Q&A to inform the decision-making process.
Does My Child Have a Right to Accommodations in a Private School?
Private schools are bound by Section 504 – the civil rights law. Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education and is not discriminated against for reasons related to their disability. Private schools are responsible for providing modifications, accommodations and access to educational opportunities (such as a ramp for a child in a wheelchair).
Under IDEA, every state is required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to children with disabilities in that state. IDEA also stipulates that each qualifying public school student receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to meet that child’s unique needs and support their academic and social-emotional growth.
However, these IDEA benefits differ for children with disabilities who are enrolled in private schools by their families—often referred to as “parentally placed” students. Parentally placed private school students are not entitled to the same services they would be in public schools. Instead, IDEA federal funds are allocated by the LEA (local education agency, i.e., the school district) where the private school is located to provide equitable services to these parentally placed students. In these cases, the private school may offer the student a “service plan,” similar to an IEP, but they are not obligated to do so.
How Are Funds Allocated for My Child’s Needs?
The local educational agency (LEA), or school district, is responsible for calculating and providing the federal funds needed to provide equitable services to students with disabilities in a private school. Public school districts meet with the administrators of private schools in their LEA to discuss the services they can and will provide annually, however, funds vary from year to year The LEA has flexibility in how these funds are spent. For example, they might fund teacher training in a private school, while foregoing any direct service expenses for those students with disabilities.
What Is Absolutely Essential for a Child with Hearing Loss in an Educational Setting?
This of course depends on each child’s unique needs, but the Clarke team considers some basic accommodations non-negotiable:
Teacher of the deaf
Personal HAT (hearing assistive technology)/soundfield system
Acoustic modifications to reduce background noise (e.g., “hush-ups” on bottoms of chairs, area rugs, windows and doors closed)
Preferential seating (away from doors, windows and other noise sources)
Visual access to teachers and peers for speechreading and body language cues
Closed captioning should be provided for all videos shown
Class notes should be made available to older students
Corynne Recco, a Clarke teacher of the deaf who works with students in mainstream private schools in Massachusetts, weighs in.
“A key component of these essential accommodations,” says Corynne, “is a teacher of the deaf.”
A teacher of the deaf will provide a student with “pre-teachings” (background information and context setting) and “post-teachings” (review of material to ensure comprehension of the language and vocabulary of the curriculum). Without this pre- and post-work, a significant amount of learning may be missed. Services provided by teachers of the deaf include a combination of these “push-in” and “pull-out” services, as well as in-services with school staff, one-on-one consultations with mainstream classroom teachers and much more.
“In a push-in session, I can see how the student is functioning in the classroom and provide real-time support with self-advocacy,” says Corynne. “This is a great time to see if they’re applying the skills we’re working on during the pull-out sessions, such as audition, auditory skills, strengthening comprehension of spoken language and conversation skills . And during these one-on-one pull-out sessions, we also practice strategies for self-advocacy.”
In addition to these accommodations, Clarke recommends the following best practices for mainstream educators with a child who is deaf or hard of hearing in their class:
Gain student’s attention before giving a direction.
Repeat or rephrase directions and peers’ questions/comments.
Ask student to repeat back directions.
Check in regularly with student to ensure understanding. These check-ins should include specific questions instead of yes/no, thumbs up/down to see what student actually understood.
Schedule listening breaks.
Provide small-group instruction when possible.
Reinforce verbal instruction with visual supports.
Break down lessons/directions into small, manageable steps.
“The long-term goal is to empower the student to be as independent as possible,” says Corynne. “I want to support each child in becoming the expert in their hearing loss.”
How Can Families Evaluate a Private School?
While most private schools are not legally obligated to accommodate a student who is deaf or hard of hearing, it’s possible that they’ll be eager to do so. And families can improve their chances of finding an inclusive space by asking the right questions.
“What makes a difference for my students is how willing the school is to meet their needs,” says Corynne, “as well as the family’s advocacy. Family education is so important—so they know what to ask for.”
Corynne advises that families meet with the school to talk about the child’s disability, what they’ll need to succeed and determine what the school is able to provide.
Steph McRoskey, mother of sixth-grader Caroline, who has been receiving Clarke services since she was six weeks old, knows the importance of being an involved parent. She offers best practices from her eight years of experience with mainstream private schools.
Schedule a Comprehensive In-Service. “Every year, before the school year starts,” explains Steph, “we have an in-service meeting with all the teachers that will work with Caroline for the upcoming school year. Our school principal and vice principal also usually attend, along with the academic resource specialist who coordinates communication between Caroline’s academic team, her Clarke TOD [teacher of the deaf] and us as her parents. The in-service is mainly focused on explaining Caroline’s equipment and accommodations, and while her Clarke TOD usually handles the majority of the presentation, Caroline has always given a little intro about herself and her summer, and in recent years, has answered questions from the teachers herself.”
Evaluate acoustics in school spaces early on. “Along with the in-service,” says Steph, “we also build extra hours into the first month of school for Elise [Elise Colman, MED, Clarke teacher of the deaf] to see Caroline in each of her different learning settings [e.g., cafeteria, gym, music]… as well as different times of the day.”
Arrange regular check-ins between a teacher of the deaf and the student’s mainstream teachers. “Elise has a monthly consult with Caroline’s main academic teachers,” says Steph. “I usually attend the first one of those to touch base as well and offer what support I can.”
Consider the commitment involved. Steph adds: “We have found that having Caroline attend a private school has enabled us to be more involved and communicate more closely with her team – which is both a benefit and a responsibility. Families considering private schools should consider how involved they want to be in their child’s education, and if the school is the right fit for their whole family – child and parents.”
Choosing a school is a major decision for all families but will always involve extra considerations and thoughtfulness for those supporting a child who is deaf or hard of hearing. Approaching the situation with knowledge, inquisitiveness and an open mind will go a long way in finding the right fit for a child and their family.
Clarke’s Mainstream Services team offers a host of consultative and transitional services for families and mainstream schools. Learn more at clarkeschools.org/mainstream.
*If direct services are not provided by the LEA or the private school, families of children with disabilities have the option to seek out and cover the costs of any services they choose.