Special Education in Public Schools

Editor note: Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), website: www.dredf.org is frequently recommended on BPN. DREDF is an information center funded by the US Department of Education, serving families of children and young adults from birth to age 22 with all disabilities: physical, cognitive, emotional, and learning. Provides parent training and Education Advocates to help with special education issues for parents in Alameda, Contra Costa or Yolo Counties.

Advice about Special Ed in Specific Schools & Districts Related Pages Reviews of Professionals

Parent Q&A

  • Special Education 18-22 year old

    (0 replies)

    I have a son with Autism.  He will finish up 12th grade June '17.  We currently live in MA and are planning a move to the East bay.  Looking for a school district with a good program for kids 18-22 the program needs to have a combination of academics, daily living skills plus work skills.  My son's is working at about a 4th grade level, his IQ is in the low normal range.  

    Can anyone recommend where to start looking?

    New replies are no longer being accepted.
  • Special Ed options for Middle School other than OUSD

    (6 replies)

    Our child needs therapeutic and pull out support for behavioral and learning challenges. We're looking at middle schools outside of Oakland. We think we might be priced out of the schools that might work best, but are checking here in case folks have some advice/options we haven't thought about. Maybe Concord? San Leandro? Castro Valley?

    5th grade experience was at a great school community - strong principal, excellent therapist team, thoughtful assessments.  But OUSD repeatedly did not evaluate and update our child's progress, did not follow up with IEPs, missed important areas we needed addressed. There were major and chronic deficits in the resourcing and training of "mainstream" faculty on effective practices communicating with special ed staff and supporting our child's needs. There was a constant battle to get assignments recorded and shared clearly and bringing our child along clearly and adequately only happened 50% of the time.  Most students who had challenges were physically separated from the school population even for many all-school events. 

    6th grade, middle school, was better with more experienced (though even less resourced) special ed staff and therapy. Excellent site leadership in so many ways.  But the school is likely best for folks who are primarily Spanish speakers and the parent and student culture relies on this (so awesome for some, but not a great fit for us as it played out). Our child is most interested in choir, band, theater, etc. and those programs are only sporadically offered. After school program was poorly supervised with constant turnover and could really only work for the kids who are most socially capable. We were the only QTBLG family which was not ideal, but relatively minor in most ways.

    Leaving this school and still staying in OUSD isn't really an option. Middle schools options for the therapeutic support we need are extremely limited. 

    For 7th grade, we are open to the idea of selling our house, moving, renting, really getting into a place with more opportunities and resources. This will mean more commuting, possibly considerably smaller housing, etc.  We've been considering other states with stronger special ed resources (there are many) and middle schools where there are arts programs, therapy, and less turnover at the top (OUSD is in a total churn there). But we increasingly think we may need to stay. 

    Have others been in this position?  Are you happy with the special ed services in your non-OUSD district? 

    It looks like we'd be priced out of Alameda, Berkeley, Albany, (the usual suspects).
    We haven't found private schools that have the support we need.
    We expect to be fully mainstreamed in the next year so special ed - only schools aren't the best fit either.

    Here's what we are hoping for:

    Daily on-site therapy for students with behavioral challenges. (Rare in Oakland middle schools but we see this district-wide in other states.)
    Strong experienced team that is used to communicating about IEPs, assignments, between special ed team and mainstream faculty.
    A parent-involved school culture that includes regular communications about ways to be involved and connect families.
    QTLBG, racial, income diversity. 
    Trauma-responsive counseling.

    Thanks for any thoughts or resources. 

    Wish I knew more specfics about which schools you are talking about.

    Our son, on the autism spectrum, is a Thornhill  elementary and Hillcrest Middle School alumnus.  he is now an adult, college graduate, with a good job.

    Teachers are not perfect.  If you can work in a partnership with yourself, the resource teacher, and and classroom teacher, that is the foundation for success.

    My knowleged of OUSD is outdated.  Get in touch with the Community Advisory Committee for special ed (CAC).  Ask the resource teacher. Good luck!

    Hi. I just want to warn you not to come to Danville or San Ramon. The San Ramon valley USD is very difficult to deal with for special ed. Castro valley used to be very good but idk if it still is. Good luck!

    We moved from Oakland to Berkeley for the schools. My son is partially deaf and qualifies for an IEP but has no learning issues associated with it. The IEP process at our Oakland elementary school was kinda non-existent the first year, but when a new principal came in, it was just ok.

    I have to say that the quality of the IEP process and follow-up at Berkeley is incredible, but again, my kid does not have learning disabilities so I can't speak to that. But the organization and teamwork has been amazing. That said, the school is huge!!!!! 1,300 kids!!! Lots of room to get into trouble, but lots of great kids, too. Also, parent involvement really steps down in middle school, there is so much more responsibility given to the teen and it was a rough transition for my son. 

    Berkeley is crazy expensive to buy a home in. We were lucky to get in before it got really bad. But you don't have to buy- our friends from OUSD are renting out their Oakland home (to cover their mortgage) and then are renting an apartment in Albany to send their girls to school there. They plan on renting in Albany until their youngest graduates high school, and then moving back to their Oakland home for the rest of their days- they love their home and could not afford to buy it again.

    But the Oakland schools...well, out of 63 5th graders in our elementary class only 3 of them enrolled in the local public middle school. Oakland still has a terrible problem with the schools, and I admire the amazing teachers who stay despite the lack of pay and resources. None of us should have to make this agonizing choice about educating our kids- shouldn't our local schools be able to support all kids in a safe and nurturing environment??? Yeah, we can dream. But in the meantime, good luck to you guys. Just please don't move to a crappy, homophobic place where you are gonna be unhappy for 6 years or more. You didn't mention jobs... but if there is any way that you could live an hour from SF, have you checked out Petaluma? It is so great!!! I have heard that their schools are awesome. Our in-laws moved there and we have been spending time there and I really like it. Best to you guys!

    A parent had similar problems with BUSD. Since you mention moving as an option-- when she moved to Santa Cruz, she found that the schools provided more of what her child needed. I will introduce you via e-mail. I am sure she would be happy to share info. You can contact me via my BPN username.

    Check out The Phillips Academy in Alameda--a nonpublic school--paid for by your school district. All students have IEPs, highly therapeutic environment with full time therapists on staff. I worked there for 20 years--recently retired. You may have to fight with your school district to get your child placed but we have many Oakland students. Very LGBT friendly and supportive. Call director Dr. Esther Cohen 510-864-3503. Tell her Helen sent you. Good luck!!

    My son goes to Core Academy Jr High in WC. It is a school that specializes in identifying your child's learning style and teaching them how they need to learn. It is not a traditional school but my son has done very well in this small learning environment. Www.coreacademy.net

    New replies are no longer being accepted.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Best public schools for special needs kids

Sept 2013

Hello bay area community and thank you for welcoming us into your Berkeley parents network. We're planning a move to the Bay Area in summer 2014 from NYC. Our 8 year old has been diagnosed by his neuropsychologist as having dyslexia paired with ADHD. He's currently enrolled in a wonderful public school in TriBeCa and has had an IEP since kindergarten. He's in what they call an ICTclass where part of the class is general ed mixed with special needs with two teachers and an assistant in the classroom. It would be helpful if anyone has had experiences that they could share in regards to which areas have the best resources for public schools. Any information is appreciated and welcomed. We are flying blind and are overwhelmed with the abundance of schools. It's difficult to feel the pulse or narrow our options from the east coast.

Congratulations on your upcoming move to the Bay Area! I am a mom living in the East Bay with a son who has very mild ASD. We have found, and have been told by several professionals, that our school district, San Ramon Valley USD, is well regarded for its special education department. The school district supports students living in Alamo, Danville, Diablo and San Ramon. I do not have personal experience with the schools in the Peninsula, but there seems to be a large special needs community in that area, and I believe the schools are very supportive. Best of luck to you and your family! You are welcome to contact me if you have any questions about the SRVUSD. Stephanie


Good school district in bay area for special ed?

June 2010

we are in oakland right now, want to move out , trying to find a place in bay area where the special ed is good and the school district understands my kid with asd and his needs. We want to use our energy to work with my kid instead off losing it all just dealing with the school district. a mom

Hi, New to group! Does anyone know of a good school district for preschool to kindergarten (major plus if good elementary school, too) that has worked for you or others you know for INCLUSION of your child into typical classrooms. Our daughter (has Down Syndrome) will be heading to preschool next year Fall and we are figuring out where to relocated back in the city (currently we live outside the State). We know about Hope Tech and Milestones in PA. We will be renting and need to find an area that is some what affordable too. Our goal is to really try to give her chance to experience the typical classrooms. I keep hearing even with an IEP, parents are still having to fight/struggle to get more than 30 mins in any inclusion class for their child. That's not what we want to deal with. Thanks all for your suggestions/replies! lils

Others may disagree with me, but I've been happy in Berkeley. You're going to have a lot of work to do no matter what district you're in, but my experience so far has been good. Jill

I hear Davis has a very good special ed. program. It is just outside the main Bay Area, but folks do commute in from there. anon mom

After 4 years in the San Juan School District (Sacramento) my 12-year-old son has completed two years in the Moraga School District. Moraga has been fantastic. The district is small, and Sharon Pinkus, the SE director, is very hands-on, responsive, creative and empathic. We've had amazing services, teachers and aides. To say we've been pleased is an understatement. Diane

I don't know much about special ed in Berkeley, but Mira Vista Elementary on the El Cerrito border with Richmond (West Contra Costa Unified School District) has special ed classes for preschool through 6th grade. The preschool is also open to a few typically developing children in addition to the special needs kids, I think possibly on a parent co-op basis, so there is informal mainstreaming/integration of special and typical needs kids. The elementary special day classes are divided up k-1, 2-3, and 4-6, and depending on the kid's IEP/readiness for a regular class, etc., some kids were mainstreamed from an hour a day to the whole day. The school has some wonderful teachers in both the special ed and general ed classes, and a great school community in general. teachergran


Special education IDEA violation?

Oct 2009

My 5 year old son has been seen by 2 mental health professionals who feel he meets the threshold for Asperger's, and will have another evaluation by the ASD Center to confirm. I put in writing my request for an evaluation of my son by the school district and was told by the principal that I would get a letter from the district saying they would not evaluate him until he was in second grade. Is this a violation of IDEA regulation? How do I go about getting him evaluated while creating the minimal amount of animosity at his school? My son will be there a long time! I am already feeling patronized by the principal, as she has said to me 3 times now that kindergarten is all new for me and my son but they have seen it all, and Asperger's is a ''popular'' diagnosis, much the same as ADD/ADHD was a few years ago. I am just trying to find the right tools to help my child. advocate

YES! This is a violation of IDEA. They're hoping to take advantage of your ''newness'' and not provide your child with the services that he's entitled to by Federal law, and if you don't know enough to make a stink about it, they'll be safe from a lawsuit. Good for you for being an advocate for your child, you are all he has and the system is designed to let our kids slip through the cracks unless they have somebody to fight for them. Special Ed services for an ASD diagnosis will need to start with your district's Special Ed department, but it also won't hurt to continually bug your principal about it. It's not okay for her to patronize you. Does your school have any inclusion support services staff?

Contact DREDF at http://www.dredf.org/ call and ask to speak with an advocate. They will inform you of the details of what your son's rights are and help you navigate your way through. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions. Jill

The short answer is that refusing to evaluate is most likely a violation of the district's obligation under ''child find'', but it would help to have the letter to decide how to respond. In any case, you have recourse. I am a special education advocate and would be happy to talk with you. Please feel free to email, danalear [at] negotiatingthemaze.org, or find my phone number at my web site, http://negotiatingthemaze.org/. Dana Lear

Yes it is a violation. If you request an assessment the District MUST assess. However, you should put it in writing. Once you submit your request the District has 15 days to develop an assessment plan. However, as a parent you should be specific about what you want the District to assess. For example, Speech, Occupational Therapy, reading, math, etc. The child's disability has to impact his/her education.

Nolo Press in Berkeley publishes a book called ''A Parents Guide to an IEP'' and Community Alliance for Special Education (CASE) publishes a handbook titled ''Parents Special Education Rights and Responsibilities.'' Both of these resources are great for parents. Both have websites. CASE also provides educational advocacy for families.

Good luck - and remember keep copies of all your documents and keep track of the timelines. Anonymous

What your principal said is not true. School districts must evaluate if asked (called ''self-referring'') starting at age 3 (before that, the Regional Center does the evals). Instead of giving the letter to your principal, mail it straight to the head of special education of your district. For Oakland, that's Lisa Cole, 2850 West St., Oakland 94608. OUSD Mom

Mentally disabled child in the classroom

August 2009

I need advice on how to deal with a mentally disabled student in my daughter's classes in Orinda. The school district's policy is to have mentally disabled students in classes with above average and gifted students. (This is the fourth consecutive year for my daughter.) For the first few years we didn't think much of it, but last year she didn't do so well. I passed this off as normal development for my daughter - I was dead wrong.

Today after school she tearfully confessed to me the problem she is having with school is not the material, but the mentally disabled child. The child can not sit still, has minimal control of extremities and spontaneously cries and make noises similar to a roaring elephant. She gets startled, can't concentrate on the lesson and the teacher has to repeat the lesson over and over for the disabled student.

This is a public school in Orinda. They try to main stream disabled students even if it is to the detrement of gifted and above average students. The counslors tell me No child is left behind. I'm finding no child gets ahead even if they want to.

Help - I'm wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience, and what did you do? Where your efforts successful? Thank you Anon

As a public-school teacher, my first advice to you is to schedule a visit to your daughter's class. I don't doubt that your daughter is having a difficult time with this other student, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that there are other factors at play as well. In your visit, watch your daughter--not the other student. When does she focus? When does she get distracted? Does she have clear assignments that she can work on at times when the teacher is working with other students? (Remember, of course, that your presence is also affecting your daughter's behavior!)

After visiting, you may be able to arrange a joint meeting with your daughter and her teacher to plan some strategies that will help your daughter learn at her own pace in a heterogeneous classroom. These might include sitting elsewhere in the room, having an enrichment project to work on when she finishes an assignment before her classmates, or reading aloud with a partner when it's difficult to focus on silent reading.

Like it or not, your daughter will be in mixed-ability groupings all her life. She'll benefit much more from learning to thrive in this environment than she would from having a ''problem student'' removed from her class. Lara

I don't know if this will be at all helpful, but one of the students in my son's class last year had a great deal of difficulty with self-control and other similar issues (the child was of at least average intelligence, however). The district provided this child with a full-time aide. This aide could not only assist the child with assignments (there was some difficulty writing and such) but could also assist with control (I know the child was removed from the room if behavior deteriorated, for example, until the child calmed down). Unfortunately, I believe this comes from an agreement with the parent and the teacher, so it's not something you can ask for directly. However, if you know the parent, perhaps a suggestion would be in order, or perhaps you could speak with the teacher. anonymous

Your post saddened me especially as a parent of a special needs child. I wonder out loud what type of special education department in Orinda would allow such behavior to be displayed in the class setting you're describing, as special needs children have specific legal criteria they must meet in their IEP's, and I really find hard to believe that the special ed staff and your child's teacher would allow a distracting child, as you described, to be placed in your class setting. FYI, special needs children meet certain criteria to be in the least restrictive environment, which means they can be placed in classes with the general school population but with tutors and/or assistants. I noticed you did not mention an assistant, and I know that child would not be there without an assistant. If the child was that disruptive as you described, proper protocol would be to have the child removed and placed back in the special needs class. So, I would suggest, if what you say is true, I would specifically write a letter and/or discuss the child's issues with the head of the school along with the head of the special ed department so that they can find a win/win situation and inform the parents of the child of your complaints, as your daughter also has the right to a proper education as much as the special needs child. -proud parent of a special needs child

Please have compassion for those who are less fortunate than you and your daughter. My child has special needs and is mainstreamed. It is the district's legal responsibility to both make sure that everyone can learn in the classroom environment and to include children with challenges in the classroom.

Why don't you speak the your daughter's teacher and talk about the problem your daughter is having? Perhaps the child with challenges needs some additional support to behave appropriately in the classroom. Perhaps your daughter needs some additional support and sensitivity education to function appropriately in a diverse school environment. I would encourage you to voice your concerns and to educate yourself and your daughter about the reasons why children with special needs behave as they do. Maybe if your daughter understands why the child with special needs is making noises and can develop compassion for this child, then perhaps she will not be so upset by the behavior. Perhaps there needs to be more communication/education about acceptance and tolerance in the classroom as a whole in order for your daughter to feel comfortable. How are the other kids in class handling the behavior of the child with special needs?

As the mother of a child with special needs (as well as one without special needs) I strongly feel that, like racial diversity, cognitive diversity is really healthy and important for all children to be exposed to. Our world is diverse and your daughter can learn so much about tolerance, diversity and her own strengths by being exposed to children whose brains function differently than the norm. -we all have special needs sometimes

My advice is to be extremely grateful that your child isn't the mentally disabled child you described. Think of the parents of this child. We are all in this together. I'm sorry if it is hard for your daughter, but we need to accept all people. Gratitude for what you have is in store. Also, a big heart for others that are less fortunate than you are. -Be grateful

Our children are gifted and advanced, and have had special needs children in their classes for many years. Our children attended a wonderful school in El Cerrito, Castro Elementary. This school was a ''full inclusion'' school, with special needs kids in almost every class. In my son's first grade, there were four special needs kids out of 20; in my daughter's fourth grade, there were three special needs kids in a class of 32 kids.

The result? My children are caring, accepting, inclusive, sensitive, responsible people. They chose to partner with the special needs children on projects and for games as often as they did the mainstream children. When I think of what they learned about being human, I am so grateful that they had this experience.

It sounds to me like the child in your daughter's class deserves an aide. You do not mention one in your e-mail. If a child is disabled, they are given an aide by the school district to facilitate the learning. I would ask the teacher why this child does not have an aide, if she is indeed special needs. The teacher cannot be teaching to one child only, be it a gifted child or a special needs child.

If it is done right, having a special needs child in a classroom is an enormous asset. I am sorry that your school has not made this the case. -Been there, but at a different school

Sounds like your daughter is having a really tough time with auditory processing and loud sounds. It's possible that the real problem isn't with the other special needs kid but that your daughter has some sensory or auditory processing issues, especially if she's the only who finds it difficult. Check with other parents, talk to the teacher and try to work it out since -mainstreaming is here to stay.

This is a hot-button issue, and you will no doubt get many responses. Federal law requires public schools to provide appropriate education to all children, disabled or not. There frequently is tension among the needs of differently situated children, especially when money is tight. Disabled kids can demand more resources, and it can be at the expense of the non-disabled. That is a policy decision Congress made. Good people can disagree about its merits. But if you don't like it, your remedy is with your senator/congressperson -- or private school, which can exclude anyone. Have a little empathy here. What are you proposing the school do? Exclude the disabled child to better serve your child? How would you feel if yours was not the ''gifted'' child, but the disabled child? Wouldn't you want your child included as much as possible, treated like all the other kids? Would you want parents to demand their child be kept away from yours?

My son had an autistic boy in his class for several years in the Orinda schools. Many of us parents wanted our children in class with him. The school placed him with the best teachers. He had an aide, who was able to provide extra support for the entire class. And he gave our children exposure to the real world -- real people, with real challenges. My son had play dates with him, and enjoyed them. This boy was a challenge, to say the least. And there was a point where he got violent and his needs exceeded what an inclusive classroom could provide. But until that time, the kids got a fine education, and a healthy dose of tolerance to boot.

Take a good look at the message you are giving your child. She will take her cues from you. This can be a lesson about accepting differences, being patient and kind, and learning how to focus despite distractions. Or it can be a lesson that her needs come first, before the needs of other kids who are different, and maybe not so ''gifted.'' But remember, she is just a tumor or accident away from being that special needs child. Fan of Tolerance

Mainstreaming was a new trend when I attended Berkeley High School. As a student I hated it. The teachers who did it well essentially taught two lessons, or more properly a main lesson then a mini-lesson. I don't think anyone benefited.

That said, parents of the mentally disabled student may view inclusion as a civil rights issue, and they are backed by Federal Law (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, Public Law 94-142; now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). This all predates the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Your student may hate the situation also. But perhaps she can be challenged to apply her ''gifted'' advantage into staying focused. Future classes, dorms, and jobs will come with their own often annoying people, visual, and audible distractions. The ones who come out on top get past all that, and don't pin their own performance issues on the actions of others.

The ugly reality of NCLB is that the pace of education will follow the formulated mandates no matter how fast or slow the class picks it up. In other words: the slow kid is not altering the progression of the curriculum. -Bryce


CH (Communication Handicap Class) for 5 y.o

Jan 2009

I am looking for a Pre-K CH class (Communication Handicap) for my daughter who will be 5 y.o. May 2009. Does anyone know of a city that has one? I heard Oakland has one but I heard they were closing Tilden. I was wondering if anyone's child has attended one in either Oakland, Berkeley, Alabany, Alameda, or the LaMorinda area. Judy

There are CH classes throughout the Oakland schools, from Marshall to Bella Vista to Tilden (which I hadn't heard is closing) and beyond. The OUSD team that meets with you will make recommendations for placing your child. If you'd like to talk with parents who have been through the same thing, you might come to a support group organized by two OUSD moms; the next meeting is Thursday, January 29, from 7:00-8:30 PM at Communication Works, 4400 Keller Ave., Suite 200, Oakland. If you want to connect online, try the social networking site 8 Second Rule, also created by an OUSD mom, http://8secondrule.ning.com/ . --Sarah H.


Evaluating School District Speech Therapy Programs

May 2008


We have an almost three year old who has been diagnosed with Apraxia (a type of speech delay). He has been in private speech therapy since turning two. He has made some great headway, but still remains 'behind' his age group. We are considering relocating to the East Bay. As I understand, speech therapy services fall under the domain of the school district once the child turns three. I've seen a lot of posts about children under three, but am specifically looking for any wisdom out there regarding how to find out more about the school district programs in different areas (we're looking at lamorinda, albany, or pockets of oakland as possible places to live), as well as if anyone has any recommendations of particularly good programs. Speechless

I think you may not want to look at programs per se, but at the specific IEP goals addressing your child's speech issues and then making sure that they are met, especially via progress reports in between IEP meetings. My son's apraxia was not diagnosed (we're in Oakland) til he was 7 and a specialist with rehab experience was called in. In my experience SLP's are young, enthusiastic and have experience with pragmatic language issues but not necessarily with apraxia or dysnomia. anon

My son recently completed 4 months of speech therapy with a therapist associated with the hospital (for an articulatory issue). I spoke at length to his speech therapist about her work; she told me that based on her own experience working in schools vs. private practice speech, therapy in schools is - in her words - practically futile. The schools are always understaffed, so the therapists must meet the children in groups, so meeting 6 children once a week for 45 minutes goes nowhere. The children can't focus, the context is too distracting, no one gets individual attention, there's little individual assessment and drill time. In short, if you are planning on relying on the schools, you should rethink this plan. Private or hospital practice really is the only effective means for children, especially those with more serious issues, to succeed. My son had to work hard for 4 months to eliminate his lisp. I can't imagine him trying to get that work done with a distracting group of children and a harried therapist. Been there

If you are able to get into the Lafayette School District - that would be a good first choice. They have a wonderful program and have very dedicated speech therapists. Anonymous

I don't have experience in any of the school districts you mention, but I just want to clarify/correct one of the statements you made.

School districts are responsible not only for providing speech therapy for children 3 and over, but also for children aged 0- 3. These 0-3 services are under the umbrella of ''early intervention'', which is a federally-mandated program. You must contact the school district to get started, but parents with children in this age range can also qualify for FREE services for younger children.

I have two children with IEPs who are now 6 1/2, but they both started services through early intervention at age 2. Lisa


Better school district for special needs kids?

Nov 2007


My son has global developmental delays, hypotonia (low muscle tone), and PDD- NOS (basically ''autistic like''). He is currently receiving 21 hours of ABA therapy a week, plus one hour each of speech, OT, and PT. He will be 3 in July, and I'm trying to figure out which school district we should be in at that point.

We are currently in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I am interested in hearing from parents who have experience with special education in this district, as well as surrounding districts (Albany, Berkeley, Alameda, etc.). It would be especially helpful to hear from parents whose children are on the autism spectrum, but I would love to hear from parents of children with a range of disabilities as well.

What are the strengths of each district? Weaknesses? Are some better for preschool but less desirable for grade school, or vice versa? Are certain districts easier to work with than others? Do any offer augmentative communication classrooms? Etc, etc. Please share any and all experiences. I really appreciate your insight! This is a complicated maze to navigate, and it seems to be never-ending.

Thanks in advance! Amber

Hi- The answer to your question is, hands down, Castro Elementary School, in El Cerrito! The special needs children are fully integrated into the mainstream classes, and both teachers and aids alike know how to create a beautifully run full-inclusion program that benefits ALL of the children at the school, special needs and mainstream alike.

This unique program has been 20 years in the making, and is a model of what full inclusion can really be. Other schools say that they have full inclusion, but from what I have seen, only Castro understands what this really means, and has been able to enact it in wonderful and powerful ways. The mainstream children really learn how to treat all people with respect and honor--something that they carry with them throughout their whole lives.

This wonderful school is a true jewel in an otherwise problematic district. I urge you to visit this school, and inquire about this program. It's not a fancy school, and unlike some other schools in El Cerrito, it has not been rebuilt. But, hidden behind those walls is an example of what every school should strive to be like. A proud parent at Castro

After trying several schools, we landed at Castro Elementary School, in El Cerrito. Many people had told us that this was the school to be at, but it took us a while to actually try it out. We thought that the ''nicer'' schools might be better. Boy, were we wrong! Our child also has autism, and this school has been a life saver for us (and our daughter). The teachers are excellent, and really know how to work with all kinds of children. I cannot believe that this school does not get more press; people seem to find it by word of mouth. Frankly, it's the best kept secret in West Contra Costa!

Good luck! We hope to see you there next year! Third time is the charm!


Moving to the Bay Area - best special ed district?

Feb 2006


We are moving to the Bay Area in Aug. 2006. Our 2 1/2 year old son was just found eligible for services through our current (East Coast) school district. His issues are in the areas of speech, fine motor skills and sensory integration. He also has a very short attention span. He's a very happy and social kid with great gross motor skills. We have quite a bit of flexibility in where to live after our move. We'd prefer being near a BART station, but our son's education is a very high priority. Any suggestions as to which public school districts might best meet our son's needs would be much appreciated. We would also consider private preschools. Thank you, Catherine

I do not have a child with special needs but want to point you toward the Lafayette school district and, specifically, Burton Valley Elementary. My two children attend BVE and have had special needs kids in their classes every year. The challenges that these kids face vary, of course. Some just require individualized education plans, some need an all-day aide with them. In every case, the administrators, teachers, students and BVE families enfold him/her into the sc hool in the most natural, genuine way. Our sons have developed lots of empathy and have learned that every one of us has different learning strengths and weaknesses. They've also gotten very good at meeting their peers ''where they are'' and celebrating their shared humor and humanity.

On a more technical note, the parents of special needs kids have been thrilled with the education their kids have received. They come from far and wide for the care and attention they receive. I'm proud of how our community embraces differences of all kinds and encourage you to check us out. (I always chuckle at the pride with which Berkeley private school parents talk about ''diversity'' in their schools. Their diversity may include color or family income but not political opinion or abilities!) - Hearing Good Things

We reside in Albany California which is nestled inbetween Berkel ey and El Cerrito in the Bay Area. Our son also has language delays and SI issues. He is in 2nd grade now and we have been very pleased with the services and support he receives. There are three elementary schools in our District. The speech therapists are great and the OT's are dynamic. They have all really helped our son. I don't know what services are like at the middle school or high school level. I can only speak about the elementary schools. Good luck to you. anonymous

I guess I didn't read your question clearly. Your son is 2 1/2. Our son also went through the preschool special ed. program in Albany and we were very pleased with the program. The teacher is fantastic and her staff is great. Same OT's as some of the elementary schools but I'm not sure about the Speech Therapist . You should contact our Special Ed. Dept. anonymous

Catherine, I can't speak for the district as a whole, but Harding Elementary in El Cerrito (East Bay) has 5 special day classes, 2 of which are for hearing impaired. It is my understanding that there are intervention or pull-out services for kids who need help but are not in special day classes, but I'm not completely knowledgeable about what exactly is available for special ed kids and those who are mainstreamed. I suggest that you contact our school principal, Mrs. Taylor. Please check our Web site, hardingpta.org, for more information. Harding fosters a sense of compassion for the special ed kids (the goal is to mainstream them in the regular classrooms), which I believe is an asset and something I want my son to develop. In addition, it is near the El Cerrito Plaza BART station, and the housing is relatively affordable compared to other Bay Area cities. Good luck with your move.


Oakland Private school for possible learning delays

Oct 2005


Wondering if anyone has experience with Redwood day school or Park day school or Archway. I am looking for a school that will pay enough attention to my child so that any problems are caught early. Right now everything seems fine, but my child is adopted and there is a high rate of attention deficit disorder in adopted children. All three of these schools are nearby and seem progressive etc. Or are there other schoools in Oakland you think would be particularly good. Also anyone know where I can get my child tested to see where she is with regard to learning skills etc,i.e. average, gifted, behind. thanks, J.F.

Reviews received:

  • Archway School
  • Beacon Day School
  • Park Day School
  • Redwood Day School
  • St. Paul's Episcopal School

    Districts with better special education resources?

    June 2005

    My son has communication delays, not completely assessed yet. He is receiving some services through the Oakland School District. I'm curious about special education services in other local districts. Are there any school districts where special education services are more plentiful, easier to obtain, more individualized than in Oakland? I've heard good things about Piedmont...any feedback on special education there? How easy/hard is it to obtain a paraprofessional to work with your child in a mainstream classroom?

    Berkeley, is by far the best district. If you are looking for a district that will make decisions that are fair and in the best interest of the child, Elaine Eger is amazing! I founded A Brighter Today, which is a center based program, and non public school (Special Education) for children that are both medically fragile and developmentally delayed. Remember that if a school district cannot meet the needs of your child. You are entitled according to the (IDEA) Individual Disabilities Education Act a free and appropriate education at the publics expense. Please contact Laura Quesada at A Brighter Today: 510-704-0266. We have a great parent support group.

    Best school district for special ed?

    Feb. 2004

    My husband and I are committed to sending our little boy to public school, and--like most parents--we want ''the best'' school district for him. The only twist is, our son receives special-ed services from OUSD. Are there any special needs parents out there who moved away from Oakland because they wanted a SELPA with a fatter budget? Or more experienced therapists? Sweeter facilities? Mainstreaming with extreme sensitivity and support? If so, how is it working out for you? We'd consider any area, from the Peninsula to Marin to east Contra Costa county. Thanks, Mom of Soon-to-be Kindergartner

    I would suggest that you contact a support group for the type of disability your child has. Family Resource Network, an offshoot of Bananas, has an office and newsletter that can connect you with other parents dealing with the same issues. Their phone number is (510) 547-7322. I have a 13-year old son with Asperger's syndrome and I gave up on public education 4 years ago. However, every disability is different just as every child is different and you have to do what you feel is right for your child. Good luck. Nancy