Public vs. Private School for Learning Differences

Parent Q&A

Are IEPs used at more than Public Schools? Mar 17, 2020 (6 responses below)
Is private school best for a child with learning disabilities? Jan 22, 2020 (9 responses below)
Private schools for special needs kids? Jan 6, 2020 (4 responses below)
  • Are IEPs used at more than Public Schools?

    (6 replies)

    My child is preschool age and currently has an IEP for speech services. When it comes time to enroll into Kindergarten, I’m wondering if public schools will be our only option in order to get the extra continued support from his IEP. Do charters utilize and follow IEPs? Private schools? What do I need to know when it’s time to enroll? Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated. 

    I believe that if in private school, the public school district still needs to private the services, same if in Charter school. Maybe the Nolo self help book about IEP can help explain more?

    Hi from our experience public and public charters will abide by your IEP. Private schools are not required to but might work with you if they have the resources like a speech therapist on staff. I would definitely ask though and work under the assumption that you would have to go to a private SLP if you go to a private school. 

    IEPs will follow your kid to a charter school but not private schools.  A private school might have a look at it but is not required to provide services.  They may not accept your child if they think your child's needs are more than they can handle.

  • My child has just been diagnosed with learning disabilities, and it was recommended to us that she be put into a special day class at a different school from where she is currently attending. We are in Castro Valley. Despite the lauded reputation of CVUSD, I have been displeased with the way this district has handled things from the very beginning when we first enrolled our child for special services as a preschooler.

    Long story, but basically, we are planning on transitioning her (actually, there is no "transition".. she will just have to change schools again) to the special day program so that she can obtain the recommended special services. In the future, though, we are strongly considering private school for her as we feel that the school district just throws its recommendations around with complete disregard for parents (first, they were trying to force her to start kindergarten before we felt she was ready, now they are "strongly" recommending she be put into this special day class asap and even brought up the possibility of disenrolling her completely from the school district if we didn't move her to the special day class ASAP. I won't even get into what a headache it was to get her even enrolled in special services before all this or how they lost my online account multiple times. I've had it with this school district.)

    I guess my question is specifically for those parents who have kids with special learning needs, delays, or need for special services and who have experience getting the services and quality education for their kids in the public school setting vs. private school setting. Was there any improvement in the private school setting? If you have a child with learning needs who attended private school, please share your experiences and if you would recommend this route or continue dealing with the public school system. 

    There is also the issue of trying to find childcare in the public school setting. Going to public school is actually not "free" as one still needs to find childcare, and the school system absolutely has no resources whereas in the private school setting, it seems to be included.

    In my experience, public school has more services that they can offer than private schools do. But that's typical private schools, there are also more therapeutic schools called non-public schools (NPS). You have to demonstrate that the district can't meet your child's needs in order for them to pay for an NPS placement - sometimes you can pay out of pocket but it's prohibitively expensive for most people ($50k/year). I've heard through the grapevine that Castro Valley is particularly bad for special ed, I think the state education department might even be investigating them right now due to complaints. I'd recommend connecting with other CVUSD sped parents, they will be your best resource - there are facebook groups and it's worth it to be on facebook just for those connections. You should also contact DREDF to better understand your rights. They cannot disenroll you for not accepting a placement. Good luck, this sounds really hard.

    Hi, I'm also in CVUSD.  We have terrible rep for SPED.  There is a private FaceBook group called "CVUSD SPED Awareness, IEP Support & Advocacy"  that offers lots of advice and resources.  You can also contact Dredf to get an advocate's advice.  The law gives you options for least restrictive environment in the public not knowing your circumstances, sounds like you're at the beginning of the process.  You can always call for IEP meeting and bring an advocate with you.  Good luck!  I still go back and forth looking for a good fit private but haven't found that either.

    I'm sorry that you've been thrown around so much by the public schools. I'd caution against assuming that just because a school is private, it will provide more in terms of instructional and extra curricular resources.

    I am a private school teacher with utmost respect for my colleagues and am most familiar with schools in SF and the peninsula. In my experience, a private school is only better *if* it specializes in the learning profile of your child. Most private schools do a great job of supporting middle range students (including middle-low and middle-high), but do not have the resources to differentiate at extreme ends of the spectrum.

    I'm sure there are some private schools that provide child care for free--I'm more familiar with a sliding scale model and expect that it's more common in the bay area. I'd also look closely at the vacation calendars. You may find that there are fewer school days than in the public schools.

    Good luck!

  • Private schools for special needs kids?

    (4 replies)

    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!

    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!

  • Hello there,

    We are considering transferring from our private Oakland elementary school to go to our local elementary school (Montclair Elementary) to get more support for our 8-year old son with dyslexia. Is there anyone out there that has done this? What worked and what didn't? It's a tough position to be in and we are just beginning to familiarize ourselves with our options. Thank you!

    Public school districts are required to provide resource support to students in private schools.  Have you pursued this?  You might want to consider how much resource time your child would receive in the public school compared with what the district would provide to your private school.  Have you already had your child tested and an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) set up through the Oakland District?

  • Does anyone know of a good public MS and/or HS that has a good program for LD children? I have two children with LD and they are both struggling in the public school system. I can't afford to send them to a private school. 

    This is what Ive learned.

    As our kids mature, it is important to have current comprehensive testing, whose responsibility belongs to your school district. So you need to advocate strongly that your district perform testing on your children to understand the degree of disability and the best practice to intervene. You may need an educational advocate to help you with this process, and you can find a list of advocates through DREDF. We used Toby Adams, toby.adams [at] with great results.  

    There are great NPS and Public Charters schools in the Bay Area like Orion Academy, Phillips Academy, and Realm Charter School, who are stakeholders committed to equity education. Our experience at BUSD was less than satisfactory.

    Hi there! I'm sorry for your struggle. As the parent of a LD child in a private school my experience is while some have (limited) resource departments, they are not really equipped (or meant) to fully remediate your child, especially if their LD's are moderate to severe. So 'private school' per se is not necessarily an answer (unless you mean schools ONLY for LD students). I would suggest the route of hiring an Ed Therapist to work with your children as often as you can afford in conjunction with their regular school. I can't speak to the IEP process but assume you have gone that route as well. Wishing you and your kids all the best!

    I totally feel your pain... my daughter is in 10th grade and has ADHD.  I haven't been able to find any good public schools that handle LD's well, and I also think that private schools aren't necessarily the answer either.  I actually just took my daughter out of her high school and she's going to do K12 public school online with a tutor.

    I highly recommend Educational Therapist Amy Cheifetz who has been extremely empowering for my daughter and me.  She's amazing and would be a good resource for you.   Amy's contact info is (510) 207-2995.  She completely changed our lives for the better and I can't say enough how awesome she is.  Good luck!

Parent Reviews

Our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of first grade.  We put her on Adderal, which helped tremendously, and go her weekly tutoring.  She continued to have problems, so in sixth grade we had a neuropsych exam at UC that showed elements of LD as well as slow processing.  She was in private school from pre-K through 8th grade, and is now at Berkeley High.

            Private schools are under no requirement to accommodate, and have limited resources to do so.  Even if your child is accepted, he may not get much help.  While I think we did OK at our kid's private school, other parents whose kids have ADHD were deeply dissatisfied.  If you go with public schooling, you can use some of the money saved for tutoring, which has helped us a lot.  On the flip side, private-school small class size and personal attention can be helpful.  It may boil down to which private versus which public school you're looking at.  My kid's public-school teachers are every bit as dedicated and individually supportive as the private-school ones were.  There are private schools focused on kids with learning issues, locally including Raskob (

            Re IEPs: we thought our daughter qualified for an IEP, but we ended up with a 504.  I had also read what various websites said was the law, but Berkeley schools at this point operate under a newer, perfectly legal achievement-based standard, and our kid simply wasn't that far behind even though she was achieving well below her IQ-based capacity.  In an ideal world, smart kids with learning issues would get instruction that addresses both the smarts and the disabilities, but public schools really don't have the resources.  Public schools are required to educate kids with a huge range of profound disabilities, and that sets the level for special ed.  So far we have been fine with a 504, though now that we aren't paying tuition we plan to increase the tutoring.  We haven't gotten any financial support for outside tutoring, and frankly, if your son is not profoundly disabled, he isn't likely to be deemed eligible.

            Applying for an IEP entails doing a new set of tests much like the neuropsych evaluation you have already gotten, though they will use different tests, and will base their decision on the tests they administer.  Our kid looked less disabled based on their tests compared to the neuropsych evaluation.  The IEP meeting will be stacked against you, in that there will be five or six of them and maybe two of you attending the meeting, and they are a lot more experienced at this than you are.  If you go this route, pay attention to the various time-lines and all the other bureaucratic details.

            A good resource regarding legal issues is the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (  Another good resource is WrightsLaw,  I strongly recommend subscribing to Attention Research Update,, which summarizes current ADHD research in clear terms -- free, and no ads.

hi there, my son just began public middle school in Berkeley and also has dyslexia. We thought he would be going to a private middle school and applied to several (that were not focused on learning disabilities) and they did not accept him. I think it was an eye-opener for me. It may be hard to find a place in a mainstream school. However, so far our son loves his public middle school and sees his educational therapist twice a week after school (not in school). There are schools in the Bay Area that specialize in dyslexia, including Raskob in Oakland, the Sterne School in SF, and the Charles Armstrong School on the Peninsula. Good luck!

I want to chime in about private middle school vs. public middle school for a kid with learning differences. My son with severe ADD (no hyperactivity but serious attention deficit including executive function) was not accepted at any of the private middle schools we applied to, including some of those recommended to you. So he instead attended a Berkeley public middle school, Willard, armed with a 504 plan as recommended by his developmental pediatrician. He had an absolutely wonderful experience.  Even though he was transitioning from a tiny K-6 private school, and he knew almost no one at the new middle school, he adjusted quickly and had a surge in learning and academic skills during his two years there. Almost all of his teachers were very receptive to the idea of learning differences and supportive of him as well as all the kids, de-emphasizing busy work and instead focusing on whether they were learning the material. Because of the much larger student body, my child was able to find like-minded souls who he has remained friends with into high school. And by the way, in 6th grade most public middle schools do not have multiple teachers with multiple classrooms.  At least in Berkeley and Oakland (and probably others) 6th graders have only 2 teachers and are fairly isolated from the 7th and 8th graders, with the intention of transitioning them from elementary school to middle school.

Good luck! Middle school can be fun!