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What are Non-Public Schools?

Updated on September 11, 2019
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.

This middle school in Palos Verdes was the former site of a non-public school.
This middle school in Palos Verdes was the former site of a non-public school. | Source

Case Study: Steve's Dilemma

Getting an education at a local high school was not easy for Steve. Diagnosed with an emotional disorder, plagued by family issues and personal childhood traumas, and being indoctrinated by a local street gang, the sixteen-year-old was on a path to personal destruction.

In fact, after numerous infractions and suspensions, Steve was on the verge of being expelled from the public school district he resided in. His educational future was bleak.

There were several options: expulsion, placement in another school within the district, continuation school, a county program, or a youth correction camp. However, one option – suggested by a school psychologist, DIS counselor, and the director of the school district’s special education program – became a most likely choice. They agreed to send him to a non-public school.

the National Department of Education – as well as those on the state level – has a department for nonpublic schools at his national headquarters

Non-Public Schools as an Option

Although prevalent in every state of the union, nonpublic schools are the least understood educational institutions in the country. They are privately run and publicly funded and are used by school districts as an alternative placement for students who “can’t fit” into a typical educational setting.

The schools are considered critical to the educational process. Many state education departments have rules and regulations for them. Also, the National Department of Education – as well as those on the state level – has a department for nonpublic schools at his national headquarters.


Who Do They Serve?

The need and demand for these schools have increased over the years. Some have even opened up as charter schools.

Most often, the schools cater to a particular group of students. Those attending these small campuses have been diagnosed with severe emotional disorders (SED). However, other disabilities are served, too, based on the school. They include the intellectually disabled, developmental disabled (such as Autism spectrum disorders), or those with traumatic brain injury, among others.

Their enrollment is based on a school district’s determination that a more restrictive environment is needed.

Ultimately, school districts are reluctant to send students to a non-public school because they can be expensive.

An Unpopular Move

The decision to send students to these schools is not an easy one. Many nonpublic schools don’t have the same the curriculum or efficiency that the nearby public schools or SELPA call for. It’s not surprising to hear that a district has pulled its funding – and students – from a nonpublic school when certain criterion are not met.

Ultimately, school districts are reluctant to send students to a non-public school because they can be expensive. Although a student may have been enrolled in school well outside a district’s boundary, it must fund that student’s enrollment, busing – and – in some cases, particular forms of therapy offered or designated for the student.

Another aspect that doesn’t sit well with most districts is the lengthy protocol needed to enroll a student in these schools. It may involve special meetings to determine eligibility, assessments, parental consent, and school board approval.

The reason for a lengthy process has to do with following due process. The law (especially those proposed by IDEA – Individual with Disabilities Education Act) must be followed. Special education can be very litigious; the act of separating a student from his peers and send him/her somewhere doesn’t always sit well with parents, advocates, and community leaders. School board members, administrators and teachers can find themselves in trouble if the process is not done correctly.

A major factor for determining this action is that the school district officials must prove the student will benefit from a program that restricts his/her access to the same educational materials and opportunities as his/her non-disabled peers get.

An example of expenditures from a public school district when factoring in the cost of sending  for public and private schools from students with disabilities.
An example of expenditures from a public school district when factoring in the cost of sending for public and private schools from students with disabilities. | Source

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to Consider

A major concept in special education is that students with disability will be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. Much of IDEA addresses this concern. LRE (as they are known) are determined by IEP (Individual Education Plan) teams and specialists associated with special education. IEP teams and other special educators must answer the following questions to determine if a non-public school is not violating LRE. The questions are as follows:

  • Does the student need a smaller school and classroom setting?
  • Does he or she need support for emotional disorders?
  • Is it safer to have the student placed in an alternate setting?
  • Do the programs benefit his or her educational needs?

In the process of student restriction, nonpublic schools are more restrictive than a comprehensive school and less restrictive than county programs, youth camps or state mental institutions.

In many cases, the students don’t stay in dormitories. They are there for the day, and then go home in the afternoon. Some are transported by bus (often, the public school district that the student comes from will either provide the bus or contract this service to an outside source) or are dropped off by parents.

The courses offered are usually reflective of the general education courses the students’ non-disabled peers are receiving. Accommodations and modifications are offered. Also, they tend to be in smaller classes with very low teacher/student ratio.

The LRE Pyramid
The LRE Pyramid | Source

While nonpublic schools are geared toward students with SED, others have expanded to include other students with disabilities. And very rare instances, offers services to students who don’t meet special education status. One example can be found there are some schools which have included religious backgrounds.

Also, in terms of quality, not all nonpublic schools are the same. Neighboring public school district officials will seek schools that best fit the students’ needs or to best prepare them to eventually return to the school district.

Although it was determined Steve will attend a nonpublic school, it has not be decided which one he’ll go. The hope is that he will get the best help available and eventually be able to return, one day. Still, like any school, getting through a nonpublic school will be determined by the student’s desire to succeed

Oak Grove Center, a non public school in California
Oak Grove Center, a non public school in California | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Dean Traylor


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    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 

      6 years ago

      Hi Dean nice hub, useful info about an imp aspect of education, the disables are hardly get due attention, if properly nourished they can be of many use to the self & society, the LRE concept aptly fit and caters the need of the individuals of severe emotional disorder. What needed is the ensuring an effective role of teacher coupled with effective educational prog, this will suffice the question in point with regard to school and class room setting and also help educational needs fulfill. Thanks for sharing.


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