Public vs. Private School for Learning Differences

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi,

    I’m a divorced, single mother and I’m struggling with overt discrimination within Alameda County family court. My son is a 9th grader with an IEP and the court recently ruled that my ex can place him in one of two private Catholic schools. The problem is that my ex lied to the court about enrollment/acceptance status. Plus the court ignored the details of my son’s IEP which provided for an aide and other support when they ruled in favor of my ex. Now today is the first day of school for BHS and my son is being withheld from starting school since he is with his dad this week. Meanwhile my ex has not confirmed any enrollment in either private schools and one of the private schools started on Monday, 8/14. It is not in my son’s best interest to miss the first days of school because my ex is “hoping” to get my son into one of the private schools that he lied about in court. 

    I’ve sent many emails to the minor’s counsel on the case and she has ignored them. My understanding is that she should be representing my son’s best interest which is for him to start high school on time. 

    I’m hoping someone on this forum could offer some advice on this unbelievable situation.



    Hi Natasha, I'm not seeing the issue related to discrimination in your letter. I'm sorry you're going thru this stress, but the 2 private catholic HS your ex is probably hoping for are St Mary's and Bishop O'Dowd, both of which are great schools at least on a par with BHS, if not better and way less chaotic than BHS (and they're not hugely religious btw). I well understand the IEP concern, but I am letting you know that I have close friends with kids in both of these schools with IEPs, who are thriving. St Mary's in particular is excellent for kids with learning challenges. That school had orientations but has not actually started. I don't understand the situation re enrollment, but rather than hoping for an outcome that sounds like it's not going to happen - enrolling at BHS, which the judge ruled against - why not call St Mary's and BOD and see what you can do to help your child be admitted and enrolled and start school soon? I'm sure the enrollment is in the works. The person to focus on is your youngster. Let him get excited about his cool new HS, whichever one it is, and just support him in this new and slightly scary adventure. If the minor's counsel is ignoring you - then she is probably well aware of the situation and believes that it is fully in your child's best interest not to start at one school and then switch to another. 

    This sounds frustrating, but keep in mind that a week or two delay in starting HS is probably not the end of the world. It sounds like you need your own legal support. I recommend reaching out to the Bar Association's lawyers referral service: -- if that isn't the right fit for you right now,

    KALW's your legal rights takes calls and might be able to point you in the right direction, or Berkeley Public Library's "Lawyers in the Library" program also takes questions: -- both of those programs ought to be able to help you understand your rights and options.

    How frustrating and heart breaking- I know how hard it is to get an IEP.  Private schools do not have the resources to administer recommendations in an IEP.  It would depend on what services your child was getting and what the private school says they can offer.  Most private schools do not offer services- the public school is bound by law to administer these services.  Make sure these private schools have a copy of the IEP- not sure if your ex has been transparent about your sons needs to them.  Often private schools will say they can manage a high functioning kid but will miss something big because they have a marketing person as assistant principle not knowing about special needs or anything about education- only suited for enrollment really… anyways… if your kid only needs extra attention maybe private would work?  But even then- there are social ramifications with other families- a status thing if your kid is different.  Or if your kid lashes out when challenged- not sure what his needs are.  Public schools are forgiving of differences and bound by law to deliver.  If by chance you do try private fur a semester or two and it doesn’t work out- you should be able to pick up IEP when you return to public.  

    Btw- Im wondering what your local district has to say about this?  Your son is truant and your husband being a person on the IEP team should have sense to know this is a legal matter he is not following the recommendations by the IEP team and making executive decisions without the other oatebt.  You have shared custody I’m assuming so he has to get your consent to switch things around.  

    I would approach the new school’s special ed about what is going on- so you go on record for trying.  And of course contact your sons district- report your ex husband in a non accusatory way but say you are stuck- that you feel a bit lost without the IEP teams advice about high school.    

    By the way, in Novato there is a place called Matrix Network- a non- profit place with info for parents about IEP’s special Ed law.  They have volunteers to talk to that are experienced and workshops etc… 

  • 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.

    Charters must abide by IEPs but private schools are not legally bound to do so.  You can enroll your child in a private school and bring them to your public school for services if you really have your heart set on a private school.

    Private schools are different as they don't have to follow the IEP and don't have to provide a speech therapist. I have a friend that has a daughter with Dylexia and her or $$$ private school could not provide the help she needed nor were they obligated to. Saying that different schools offer different things so this would be a conversation for an initial meeting.

    Just to clarify on what others have said, you CANNOT get services through your local public school if your child is enrolled in a private school (unless your child is still in preschool). If they’re in K or higher and you choose private you forfeit your right to public services (although you could potentially get some from regional center depending on your child’s issues). We have been through this with our daughter so I’m speaking from experience. Charter schools do have to adhere to your IEP but not all charters have the resources to provide every service so you would really need to find out the details from the individual charters. 

  • 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!

    I'll be interested to read the responses of those with LD kids in public school. As you asked about private, our DD was diagnosed as dyslexic in 2nd grade while attending a parochial school. Though we could have gone through our local public school district for evaluation we opted for testing through UC Berkeley's Psychology Department. Unless they are LD private schools specifically for LD students, most private and parochial schools are not really equipped to fully 'remediate' their LD students. In our case, we opted out of the school LD services (due to an employee we found wholly incompetent) and paid out of pocket for LD support through a certified Educational Therapist. Fast forward to today, our student is on the Honor Roll in high school and only receives occasional support and has minimal accommodations. 

    If you are confident in your child's diagnosis through the school district then great, If not, I highly recommend UC's program for testing. Then I would keep up the fight with the district and invest your money not in private school but in your child as you are able with private therapy, the younger you start the better. I encourage you to find a CERTIFIED Ed Therapist - not just a 'tutor' as the training is much more rigorous. As the parent of an LD kid, I don't think you can really rely on any school to be on top of this, Good luck!

    Feel free to contact me privately. In short, private schools don't have the same legal mandates to provide services so it really depends on the school, their bandwidth, and your ability to trust that whatever services are offered going in, will consistently be offered, and revised as needed. I know some families with kids with different needs end up moving from private to public schools.

    My daughter is now 24, so my opinions aren't based on recent experiences.  But if I could do it all over again, I would keep my severely ADD daughter in public school.  We live in Oakland.  She went to public school for elementary, a private middle school and a charter high school.  The private school was small, which was good, but it didn't have the resources -- nor was it legally required -- to provide special ed services.  It made accommodations such as putting my daughter in the front row of classes, but that's about it.  The charter high school was required to provide services, but despite being in Oakland,  its regulation or management was handled by a school district in Grass Valley, which covered many, many charter schools.  (There's a word for that, but I forget what it is.)  At the time my daughter needed services, the special ed person was really rigid, and her abiding goal was not to have the district spend any money.  The upshot is that my daughter floundered through high school (she nearly dropped out) and her sense of herself as "dumb" never changed.  Obviously, private schools vary, and you didn't mention charter schools, but as public schools are legally required to provide services, I think you're on safer ground there. 

    My son (now in 7th grade) has ADHD, dyslexia & dysgraphia. He was at a public elementary school in Berkeley where the staff seemed to be absolutely mystified by his LD issues--which are completely common! The school psych even did testing and missed both the dyslexia & dysgraphia, which were both pretty obvious to us as parents. I was pretty flabbergasted. We ended up gettin the school district to pay for an outside assessment and then have both pushed for accommodations at school and paid for an outside specialist (who we then filed against the school district to pay for - you can do that, ask DREDF). 

    We thought public middle school would be a big load because of size and chaos, so we applied to private middle schools. We felt that after the help he got in elementary, his disabilities weren't severe enough to merit a place like Raskob, that specializes in dyslexia. We applied only to private schools that indicated that they were open to kids who were not neurotypical. We dragged our kid to open houses and testings and shadow days. And no one accepted him. I deeply regret putting him through that.

    Now, he's in public middle school and, while it's not perfect and we still pay for an outside expert, he's doing pretty well and we're planning on him attending public high school, too. 

    A mom I know who is also a school psychologist says that she is often called to do neuropsychs on kids at private schools and that the other parents (of the neurotypical kids) are often behind an effort to push out kids who need extra attention. I guess when you pay $30k for school, you feel like you are owed a lot!

    I echo other posters that either public school or a school that is geared to your kids type of LD are the best options. And do call DREDF!

    Thank you all so much for your replies. This has been illuminating, as I have always been sold the idea that CVUSD was one of the best districts in the East Bay, and I assumed that included the special education facet, as well. This is difficult to read but also very informative. 

    Is anyone familiar with how Alameda Unified School District compares in terms of special education services and general quality of schools (both private and public)? That would be another option I could explore. 

    I suggest checking out San Leandro Unified. It's a smaller district and their reputation isn't great compared to Castro Valley or Alameda, but some of the schools there are gems -- diverse and very caring (to me the Great Schools ratings are more a reflection of this diversity, rather than instructional quality). I know a couple of parents whose kids have IEPs, and the district tries their best to get kids the services they need. 

  • 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!

    Welcome to the Bay Area!  My advice is not to wait until you get here to start the IEP process for your child. You have several months before moving, so start it now.  Children can get qualified for Special Ed services as young as 3. And my advice is don’t bother with an SST or 504. Go for an IEP under “Other Health Impaired.”   ADHD commonly qualifies a child for OHI. Then his IEP will move with him to the Bay and can even include services to start K if you get them listed in the IEP now. (Such as an aide, small supportive classroom, occupational therapy, etc.). When you register/enroll here, you have to check off that he has an IEP and give the new school district a copy of the IEP so they can place him appropriately. 

  • 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!

    As others have mentioned, every child is different and LDs are so varied that what works for one student may not work for another.  IMy comment is just directed at private school cost.  We would never have considered private school for our daughter with LD until public school absolutely wasn't working despite lots of advocacy on our part.  We are middle-income parents ($160,000 for family of 4) and were able to get significant financial aid (2/3 of cost of tuition) for middle and high school.  It depends on a lot of different factors and you need to advocate for yourself/your kid, but if you have 2 kids with LD, I am sure you know all about advocating! Coming up with the remaining 1/3 was still a stretch, but it was definitely the right thing (for us).

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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!