Private schools for special needs kids?

We are planning a move to the area in time for the start of the fall academic year, and are in the thick of applying for schools for our 5-year-old (entering K). He is a sweet, smart child recently diagnosed with ADHD who also has some sensory processing issues. Unfortunately, he also struggles mightily with impulse control, and that struggle can manifest as aggressive behavior (mostly hitting and yelling). His preschool is wonderful and tolerant to a fault, and he also has been working with a 1:1 aide. We feel that finding a school that's a good fit for him is the top priority for our family (we also have a 10-year-old). 

We are coming from the Northeast, and private schools here are typically not welcoming to kids with particular needs; as a result, there are multiple special private schools here that cater to learning differences and the like. But I am not seeing anything like that in Berkeley/Oakland/Piedmont, at least not for elementary school. Am I missing something? Where do kids like this go in the East Bay? I would be incredibly grateful for any advice or personal anecdotes, including about public schools (we are very open to public, just concerned that larger class sizes will be a deal-breaker for him). Feel free to PM me. Thanks!

[Moderator note: see previous advice Which Elementary School for ADHD?]

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Berkeley public schools have a strong special education program.  Most elementary schools are full-inclusion, meaning kids with special needs are part of a mainstream classroom, but many also have 1:1 aides, and can also have push-in services or be pulled out into a resource room for services (OT, speech, adaptive PE, reading, PT, etc.) and breaks. 

Hi there,

Welcome to the Bay Area! I have a child who sounds very similar to yours and we also thought that a private school with smaller class sizes and less stimulation would benefit our child. But our kid got kicked out of the private school we chose for the exact behaviors you've mentioned, even though we were very candid with the teachers and administration going into the school. There might be other private schools that are more accommodating but that was our experience.

There are several (very expensive) schools for different learners in the Bay Area but all the ones I've seen start at 2nd or 3rd grade (Star Academy in San Rafael, Raskob in Oakland, and another in Belmont that I can't recall the name of offhand).

You might want to consider a public school with a solid IEP. I at least would recommend contacting your local school district the instant you have proof of residency and start the ball rolling as the assessment process can take a few months. And even if you decide to do private initially you'd have the IEP in place if for any reason you had to switch to public.

Good luck! These are tough decisions for any parent.

I think your best bet is one of the public school districts in the East Bay. You'll need to know which city you're going to be living in first, but Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, Kensington, Piedmont, and others should all be fine for your kindergartener.

I have experience with a special needs kid in Berkeley public schools and in various private schools in the area. There is only one private elementary school that I know of in the East Bay that specifically serves LD kids: Raskob in Oakland. But I believe Raskob does not admit kids that have behavior issues, and the same is true of other private schools that serve LD kids in higher grades. There are also a number of small K-5 and K-6 private schools that pride themselves on serving kids with diverse needs, and can be great for kids with learning differences. My child went to one for 4-6 grade and it was fantastic.  But the aggressive behavior is going to be an obstacle for you. In a classroom of 8 kids, the spotlight will be on your kid all the time. Probably not the kind of attention you're hoping for in seeking a small school.

Public schools serve a lot of smart kids with ADHD and also kids with behavior problems, so your son will not be a standout. But you should seek a 504 Plan for the ADHD, or if the learning and behavior issues are severe enough, an IEP, which can give you access to a classroom aide and outside help. You should get started on that as soon as you know which school district you'll be living in, by contacting the district's special education coordinator. You may need to pay out of pocket for a neuropsych evaluation if you don't have one already, so that your son can start kindergarten with a plan in place. Your son can have a good experience in public school, and learn and thrive. But a caveat: be prepared to continuously advocate for him and negotiate with each individual teacher to get the support he needs. At least that was my experience in BUSD, and it can be exhausting, which is why we eventually went the private school route.

Good luck, and welcome to Bay Area!