On this page, you can learn about school choices for children with disabilities and special health care needs. We have talked to other parents and professionals to create this page. You should choose the type of school that will help your child learn best and thrive.
The three main types of school are:
- Public schools, including charter schools
- Private schools
See the other pages in our Education and Schools section to learn more about school support, special education and more.
Questions to Ask as You Explore School Options
As you and your child explore your school choices, here are some questions to ask yourself and the school:
- What type of learning environment and classroom is best for my child’s needs?
- Which learning environments, programs, resources and after-school activities does this school offer that meet my child’s needs?
- Does the school’s staff have experience and training in teaching students with disabilities?
- Does the school practice inclusion—time spent with children in general education during the day?
- Does the school promote building relationships with students and parents?
Tips for Choosing a School
- Connect with other parents, friends and neighbors. Ask if they have advice. Ask about their experiences with the school. Look for a local parent group or email list to join.
- Schedule a visit to the school. Take a tour and observe in the classrooms. Meet with the staff. Discuss your child’s unique needs. Ask the staff for ideas on how they can support your child. And ask to observe these tools and strategies in action in the classroom. If possible, bring your child to observe with you on a second visit.
- Read about the school online on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. You can see the school’s performance or accountability ratings. And you can find and look at a school or school district’s website. You can also look up other school ratings on GreatSchools.org.
Public schools are your local, neighborhood schools.
Benefits of Public Schools
- Public schools must give your child a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This means that they must help you find out if your child has a disability that allows them to get special education services. If your child needs these services, the school must also work with you to develop and implement an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child.
- Your public school can’t discriminate against your child because of their disability.
- The classroom teacher must hold a degree from a university or college, must have completed an educator preparation program and must have passed a teacher certification exam.
- A public school must follow federal and state education laws that protect your child's right to an education, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act.
- Your child can go to a public school in their neighborhood. This gives them the chance to have relationships with other children from your area.
Challenges of Public Schools
- Some parents feel that public schools are not flexible. Some believe that their children don’t learn best in that setting. However, Section 504 accommodations might give your child the flexibility they need in a public school.
- Some parents feel that public schools have more students per teacher than in other types of schools.
- Special education and other services can look different in different school districts. This can be a challenge if you move.
- Some parents feel that their public schools offer services too slowly or don’t give the services that they think their child needs. Keep in mind that you are an important and essential part of the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee, which decides what services your child needs and gets. Learn more about what to do when you’re having trouble getting the right services for your child.
If your child needs to be at home or in a hospital for four weeks or more because of a special health care need, they might be able to get “homebound” special education services. If you think that your child might need this, ask the school about how it might work.
A charter school is a type of public school. Charter schools are often run by nonprofit organizations, small companies, parent groups or teacher groups.
Here are things to understand about charter schools:
- Not as many state laws apply to charter schools as to other public schools. This gives them room for more innovation and flexibility.
- Just like other public schools, charter schools must still follow the same state and federal laws about special education. Learn more about those laws on our page your child's right to an education.
- They might have different qualifications for their teachers.
- Some have smaller numbers of students overall and in each class.
- The types of classes and services, and the number of students per teacher, will be different in every charter school. For example, charter schools do not have to offer transportation to all students. But if a student’s IEP includes a certain type of transportation to and from school, the charter school would have to offer it.
Visit the Texas Education Agency charter schools web page to learn more about charter schools in Texas. When visiting a charter school, it’s a good idea to ask questions about what they can offer for your child.
Private schools are run by companies as well as by nonprofit, faith-based and other community organizations. Private schools usually charge tuition. But some do offer scholarships. These schools often have a focus, such as religious traditions and education, academic achievement and college preparation, the performing arts or a specific teaching practice like Montessori.
Benefits of Private Schools
- They might have fewer students per teacher.
- They might have a specific focus that would benefit your child. For example, some private schools focus on children with a certain disability.
- Students might not need to take standardized tests like STAAR. But some private schools do offer these tests to help out students who will eventually move to public schools.
Challenges of Private Schools
- They are not required by law to have special education services or follow a student’s IEP. Many do not offer accommodations or modifications. In some cases, a child attending a private school can get some special education services from their public school district. If you believe a private school works best for your child, but they are not able to get a service they need there, talk to your public school district’s special education department about options. This is called dual enrollment.
- Many parents find them too expensive. You can ask about their financial aid program.
- Some parents find that they don’t have the transition planning services their child may need as a teenager or young adult.
We want our children to learn in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) possible. But what if our children need to learn in a more specialized environment? There are schools in Texas that work only with students with certain disabilities. K12 Academics has lists of specialized schools in Texas. Many are private schools, but some are public schools.
Homeschooling is when parents teach their children at home. Parents in Texas do not need any special permission to homeschool their children. You have a legal right to decide what and how to teach your child. You must meet basic educational goals in these subjects: reading, spelling, grammar, math and a study of good citizenship.
Visit the Texas Homeschool Coalition website to learn all about homeschooling in Texas, including for children with disabilities and special health care needs.
You can also read the Homeschool Life FAQ to learn about starting to homeschool in Texas. And Homeschool.com lists a few online curriculum programs to help you get started.
Homeschooling in Texas: What You Need to Know
When you decide to homeschool your child, you should send a letter of withdrawal to their school if they are already enrolled. Ask the school for a receipt once they receive your letter. If the school contacts you about your homeschooling program, you can send a “letter of assurance” to let them know that you are following the laws.
Benefits of Homeschooling
Some parents feel that:
- Their children benefit more from a one-on-one, non-competitive environment with a parent-driven curriculum.
- Homeschooling is the best choice for their children due to their family lifestyle, medical needs, beliefs or traditions.
- Homeschooling gives their children the support that they need.
- Choosing to homeschool might avoid problems like bullying at school.
Challenges of Homeschooling
- For some parents, work or other obligations make it hard or impossible to homeschool.
- For some families, drawing the line between schoolwork and family time at home is hard to do.
- If you homeschool, your child won’t get special education services through their school district.
No one type of school is best all the time. Know that your child’s needs and the leadership or programs in a school can change over time. That might mean that you need to make a new school choice in the future.
Suggested Links to Additional Resources