Children with disabilities, whether physical or learning, have the right to receive a quality education and all necessary accommodations from the schools they attend. This is a right under federal law that applies to all schools. However, some children with disabilities may choose to attend a private school specializing in the education of children with disabilities.
Berry Thompson, Principal of New Story Schools in Independence, and Jodi Johnston, Director of Studies and Teacher Development at Julie Billiart Schools in Akron, Lyndhurst and Westlake, discussed ways schools can better serve children disabled.
“Our approach is to implement, obviously, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990),” Thompson said.
The school has a team that formulates learning plans tailored to each student’s learning and behavioral needs, he said.
“They create pretty much all the behavior plans for all of our kids as they come in,” he explained.
He gave the example of a non-verbal student using various types of technology, such as a picture board, to absorb and express information.
“This population of students, often they are not able to demonstrate their knowledge in schools, so our job is to find different ways,” Thompson said.
He explained that the school uses the Morningside Model, a teaching method originally researched for children with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
“But, we started using it with that population outside of Columbus,” he said, referring to New Story Schools’ location in Columbus.
“They were the first site to really follow the Morningside model and since then they’ve had a year of growth with a kid with them and it’s phenomenal because our kids often the growth isn’t the even like that of the traditional student, but it can be,” Thompson explained.
For students who have physical disabilities, he said they should have access to ramps. He further mentioned that New Story School is on one floor which helps children who use wheelchairs or other mobility assistive devices.
“So we don’t have to worry about anybody going up or down,” he said.
Johnston said Julie Billiart schools serve children who have moderate learning, social and physical differences. She said the school is able to accommodate some physical disabilities, but not all.
“Our schools, programs, programs and staff are designed for children with learning and social differences,” Johnston said.
She recommended providing students with strategically designed classrooms, small student-teacher ratios, on-site therapy, advanced technology and accessible activities.
Students should be supported by onsite therapists, board-certified behavior analysts and certified intervention specialists who can help them succeed in the classroom, with their peers and at home, she said.
Children have different histories and varying disabilities. For this reason, students are encouraged to treat each other with dignity and respect, Johnston said of the social expectations of students.
“All of our kids come from diverse backgrounds and have a unique understanding that they’re all different and embrace that about each other,” she said. “They don’t see themselves as having a disability, they see themselves as equals.”
Johnston noted that advocating for a child isn’t always easy, but there are many community organizations, schools, therapy centers and programs that can offer them support.
“There are specialized schools and programs for children who learn differently,” she said. “Families have options.”