Applying for US Schools: Will My Child Be Accepted?

Updated: Jan 9, 2020

A common question I hear from parents of a child with a learning need is: Will they accept my child?

If you have had your children in private and/or international schools for the duration of their educational career, this can be a common fear. All too often, parents of children with special needs are turned away from private/international schools because the school does not have the services necessary. That can be a very traumatic experience and one that will be in the forefront of a parent’s mind when moving to the United States.

In the United States public school system, all students are entitled to be given a free and appropriate education. The school will request all information you have on your child’s disability, but they are not allowed, by law, to turn your child away without offering an alternative placement. This is ensured by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In this document, it states that this law “makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.”

The most recent version of IDEA was put out in 2015 and it includes an quote that for me, sums up the public school system when approaching students with disabilities:

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

The first step in preparing for an upcoming move to The United States is to have current documentation of a student’s disability. Current means a medically or educationally diagnosed disability has been documented within the last three years. For example, if a student started on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) (or something equivalent) seven years ago, he/she needs to have the required testing repeated. This will ensure that there is a current diagnosis of a disability. This holds most true if the special education services being provided are for a learning disability or based on an IQ score. If the disability in question is something like Autism, ADD/ADHD or Down’s Syndrome, the best testing to have current is academic achievement testing.

If this information is out of date, it can lead to a school district not immediately giving the services a student needs, but waiting for a period of time to observe the student. This period of time can cause great stress on a student and make the transition to a new school quite difficult.

However, this is not always the case and it is very important to speak directly with the school district and asking what disability documentation they require. Sometimes, clear documentation of special education services provided in the past is enough for a school district to understand the needs of the student and make an appropriate placement. Having a student tested in a private setting can be costly. By asking the receiving school district about their disability documentation requirements, thousands of dollars can be saved.

The bottom line is that if you are moving to the United States and have a child with special needs there will be a place for them in the local public school. Preparing the information regarding your child’s current services and disability are the best way to ensure the school move goes smoothly.

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