Lack of Special Ed in Catholic Schools


I am very frustrated and doubt that I am the only one. I have a daughter who is deaf. My wife went to discuss the possibility of enrolling her and her 4 siblings in our parish school. We were basically told that the school does not have the resources to facilitate our daughter. There were no questions about what her specific needs or how they might be met. We were simply told, “we’re sorry, but we cannot teach her.”

The fact of the matter is that the only accomodation she currently has in her public school is a pull out for some assistance with ther reading comprehension skills a few hours a week. That really is not the issue though. The issue is that we as Catholics are told that we have an obligation provide our children with a Catholic education, and yet the Church, or at least the schools do not see fit to make Catholic schools accessible to children with special needs.

I recognize that educating a special needs child requires more time, personel, and money, but then again, so does raising one. The Church should be inclusive of people with special needs. If that means that the school needs to charge a little more in tuition, or the parish has to support the school more from Sunday collections, or even if the Diocese needs to support the schools from the Diocesan Service Fund, or perhaps a combination of the three.

It is not very Christ like for a Catholic school to say, “You have special needs. We can’t help you.”

If anyone has had a better experience than mine, or has suggestions on how to approach the schools, parishes, or diocese, please let me know.


Not sure what your parish school situation is like, but most of us are hanging onto existence by fingernails.

There is absolutely no question about expanding programs and seervices to students not traditionally served. The question is whether we are going to be able to keep the roof waterproofed and the boiler going one more year or if we will have to close if they both go at once.

Nobody likes it, but that’s where we are.


I can’t speak to your particular parish or diocese because I don’t really know anything about them.

I do know that many Catholic schools are unable to enroll all the hearing children who would attend if more spaces were available, or if the tuition was lower, or if [add your own ‘or if’]. I also suspect that there are Catholic schools that could/would offer the assistance your daughter needs. But they might not be in your diocese or your state.

I’m very sorry you are unable to put your daughter into your local Catholic school. (Are you able to enroll your other children?) I hope you are able to get some genuinely helpful suggestions from others here.


we just had a lengthy discussion of the very valid concern raised by OP, and a search for this thread would be invaluable as it included many helpful links and references.

it is a simple fact of financial reality that public schools are bound by federal and state laws to educated every child, but private schools are not bound by these laws. It is also a sad fact that the financial burden of providing special education and ancillary care that are required by law to accommodate student needs is simply beyond the ability of most private schools to provide. for instance in this public school district, all deaf children are bussed to a magnet school in the next town, and this district provides other care–tutoring, after school, support, testing, remedia,parent and family education, etc. So any child in the parochial school would be under the ICSD program in any case. the parish can provide a signer to accompany the child in all classes and to tutoring, who is a volunteer, but this is a service the district should provide, by law, and it is unfair to burden the school with it.

some of the services are obtainable that would permit the child to be placed in the private school but it often takes a lot of lobbying and education of teachers, parents and administrators to obtain the child’s rights. often the district simply refuses to pay for interpreters, tutors and remedial help for parochial school children, even when the law mandates it, unless the parents fight for it.

the Catholic school should provide the education it promises, but unless tuition is raised for everyone to an unrealistic level will not be able to provide what is required by law to accommodate every special needs students. For instance here some wheelchair bound children must have full time paid aides no matter what their disability, and our salary budget would be doubled if we accepted even the siblings of current students who have special needs, without even accounting for hiring special ed teachers.

anyone intersted should consult the Archdiocese of Chicago who has model programs for incorporating all special needs children in parish schools and programs.

since OP is in Texas, and I assume laws are similar to here, strongly urge you to contact office for deaf children in your local public school district, find out what schools must provide by law, because it sounds like your public school is also failing to provide for her. also find out if parents in your district have an advisory or advocacy group, a PAC type of thing, which can be enormously helpful in fighting for your child. such an organization in Cleveland helped us get speech therapy and other needs provided for our son in his parochial school, and changed policy in the district overall. but it is a continual battle that is never fully won.


In Illinois, most Catholic schools would accept her, but a few would not. Most of the Catholic schools will take all sorts of children, as long as the child is not disruptive to the point of hogging all the attention. “Hogging all the attention” consisted of pitching a hissy fit to the point where class could not conitnue, every day for a week. But, at least they gave the child a shot.

Have you thought about checking at another Catholic school or parish? Houston is BIG, and there are suburbs, too.


Thank you puzzleannie, You have given me a lot of information that might be helpful. The public school my daughter attends has actually been pretty good, inspite of a fair amount of resistance from the district. I will have to look into Texas law to see if the school district is required to provide these services for children attending private schools.

Regarding the cost of educating special needs kids, I understand this is an issue. I also know of several protestant churches (one each Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist) who do make special accomodations for special needs students. One of my wife’s friends is employed part time to assist one special needs student at a Lutheran school. I don’t know what they pay her, but I would guess that it is more than the annual tuition for the school.

I also know about the cost of Catholic Education for families. I have five children and the last year that I had my children (except for my deaf daughter) in a Catholic School (2 years ago) I spent enough to buy a new car and unfortunately was not happy with the service provided. We are in a different parish now with a school that has a better reputation, so we decided to look into the possiblity of sending our children there. The fact of the matter is the cost is somewhat prohibitive, but we are looking into ways that we might be able to afford it, but I am hesitant to send four of my children and thousands of my dollars to a school that has essentially told me that one of my children is not welcome.

I know that is blunt and harsh, but that is the feeling that we got from the school admissions office. We will probably speak with the pastor who I think may feel diffently. He has always gone out of his way to make all children feel welcome and included in the parish. I pray that God’s will be done regarding the education of these precious gifts he has given me.


My mother was a special ed teacher in the Catholic system here in our city in Canada. It was a public Catholic school mind you, but the special ed system was MUCH better in the Catholic school board than in the regular public school board. Why? Here is the story.

Back in the early 80’s… a nice lawyer and his wife had a child who needed to start kindergarten. He was special needs ( autism ). They applied to the local Catholic school. Of course they were told he needed to go to a private institution. The father read out the school board’s mission statement which was something to the effect of " Providing Catholic education to all children blah blah" Anyways, he sued them ( I know, it’s not always nice ) for discrimination. His child was to be considered “all children” and he won his case and my mom got her job. The children were nicely integrated into other classes and like I said, the system is much better than the alternatives and the school board prides itself on it now.

I wish you the best!


My sister and her husband recently fought this battle and won. In their case it wasn’t the Catholic school but the Public School District that was resistant. My nephew has a range of issues, genetic in nature, that affected his sight and some other abilities.

The school district insisted that he needed to start kindergarten although he was barely 5 and had significant delays his first year of life. They also said that he should be placed in a very low-functioning special education room. My sister disagreed.

Through hassling a lot of people, my sister was able to secure assistance from the school district in which the private school is located. He is in Pre-K at the Catholic school now, and in addition to being far ahead in his class, he also has 3 “girl-friends.” :slight_smile:

I hope you will be able to get this resolved in your daughter’s favor. If there isn’t additional funding required to accomodate her needs, I cannot understand why the Catholic school couldn’t work with her.


first off it depends on the Catholic school, they are all different in this respect

second, as a teacher that had students who needed special services but was not given the personnel to help them, i understand why private schools do this…my class finished significantly behind that year bec i had to spend so much time with two students that needed more than i could give

third, it sounds like your child is able to keep up with a standard classroom. maybe you could make this known to the principal for she may not have understood that


I have a daughter with Down Syndrome and have talked to many parents. The Catholic schools could make a tape recording that says “we would love to help you but we don’t have the funding…” It seems to be what all parents like us have had the heartbreaking experience to hear. I feel bad for spacecadet because part of including our children with special needs has to be providing teachers with the support they need, not just dump and run!

Our children are entitled to participate in the faith community by virtue of their Baptism…but I beleive this is a journey that should be guided by love…not by demands.

Please check the internet for these groups “FIRE” (Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education) in Kansas City, MO.
“REACH” (Religious Education for All Children) in Sioux Falls SD “NICE” (Network of Inclusive Catholic Educators) at the University of Dayton.

I have had much contact with these organizations. I am attempting to copy them and start a program like that here in our Archdiocese. FIRE in Kansas City MO was started by a group of parents and has been hugely successful for over 10 years. **It can **be done. Take your time, read this information and pray a lot. Perhaps you will find your anger turned into energy (as I did) and be able to start something like this where you live?

I felt the “calling” a while ago, but it turned out not to be a calling to help my own child exactly. I literally felt like I was being called by the souls of the typical children. Typical Catholic children NEED to be around children with special needs. Children with special needs were given to the entire parish community, not just the families. Where inclusive programs are implemented correctly…actually the grade point averages of the typical children increase…in addition they have an opportunity to grow in virtue.

If we do not want to have a society that aborts 95% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome…or a society that regularly euthanizes the disabled…then we have to raise a new generation of Catholic schoolchildren. This will require a new way of thinking but it needs to begin.

I will pray for you, please pray for me. Hope this helps.


Yes, Catholic schools tend to be elitist. I have known them to have entrance exams so that the slower learners and students with disabilities are weeded out. It’s shameful and unchristian, but they will all fall back on the financial load excuse. Not a lot we can do. In Ontario, where Catholic schools are supported by taxes, all Catholic children could receive a good education regardless of intelligence or disability.



In all my years of teaching and helping with keeping our Catholic school going, I’d say no matter who your child is, what special need they have, or where the child is attending school, the parent has to fight for what the child receives. It could be something as little as speech class that “the specialist” doesn’t think your child needs, right on up to the deaf child whose needs are obviously greater, but still need to be fought for. It probably would do more good for you in the long run to focus on trying to get her what she needs rather than to spend one more minute on how things “should” be. I would try to first see if the school is open to you looking for and applying for grants to support deaf children. I’ve done this on a smaller scale - you’d actually be helping the school all the way around. Now they have one more thing to offer… I’d also look into “dual enrollment” if your public school is close. Maybe she can receive services through the public school for part of a day and be at the Catholic school for the other part. Finally, if you can fight for an “aid” at the public school, maybe then the “aid” can just be with her at the Catholic school. You just have to keep on 'em. Find out your daughter’s rights and then keep on going until her needs are fulfilled.

I know some are elitist as some say but there are truly Catholic schools out there that have your child’s best interest at heart, but don’t have the time or resources to do anything about it. You’re just going to have to be the one who makes these things possible at a Catholic school.


To be fair to Catholic schools, I think it’s private schools on a whole (at least in my experience) who lean against inclusion of the disabled.

It does not always have to do with cost. The OP’s child sounds able to keep up in a regular classroom and the extra help needed could even come from the parents or a volunteer. It seems like just the word “disability” closes doors and people don’t seem to want to hear anything further. I have a disabled child and were it not for the public schools, I’d have to educate him myself because private schools mysteriously seem to fill up once they hear of his disability. Most parents of the disabled I know would gladly pitch in extra (in cash or kind) to get their children in a school where wholesome values are imparted, so why the ‘closed door policy’?

It always seems strange to me that Catholics lobby so passionately for so many causes, but we seem content to leave the important task of educating the most needy children to a secular system. :confused:


we had one child who attended a CAtholic school designed specifically for special needs children (Julia Billiart in Cleveland, run by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon Ohio). It was expensive, more than the parochial school our other children attended, but through scholarships, help from the diocese and from our families he was able to get the help he needed in the critical early years and be mainstreamed to the regular school. During those years we also got active in advocacy with other parents demanding rights under federal law for our children, and after many years and lawsuits Cleveland public complied, gave money for back years services, provided access to remedial, diagnostic, and therapy services for parochial students. It is an ongoing fight and you can never let it up.

my daughters are each fighting the same battles on behalf of some of our grandchildren.

no, the parochial school by itself cannot afford to provide many of the services prescribed by law, and even if they can afford the teacher and classroom for the child, may not be able to afford other support service state law mandates. our school paid as much money to retrofit our 60 year old building for new handicap access regulations as they did to add 4 classrooms-- for two students out of 300.’

but the diocese is in a much better position to help, if parishes can learn to pool resources and work together. we have one parish on either end who provides for deaf children, and so forth. what is scary is a blanket “NO” without assessing the child’s individual needs. in our grandchild’s former parochial school the principal was a parent with few qualifications who got drafted for the job and was frankly not qualified to even assess a special needs child (not qualified for any aspect of her job, but that is another story. the school has since closed).


I have a vision to start a Catholic Special Needs School for children Preschool through Highschool of all types of special needs. This will be a private school. We are in the very beginning of the whole process. Our vision came out of our own needs. We have 5 children, all adopted, with 4 of them being special needs. We homeschool because neither the public school nor the local Catholic or even private Christian schools were adequate to address their needs or simply would not follow the IEP or not provide an IEP for various reasons. Very often I have had the thought over the years “There really needs to be a private Catholic school for special needs children.” This school will be specifically for children with various special needs where every child will have an individual program regardless of the disability. The vision is to have all the services a child will need on-site. I have not been able a single Catholic school of this type at all. Some private schools for special needs kids in the area but none of them Catholic. Does one even exist?

We live in Southern California. My question is how much of a need is their for a school of this type?

I would love to hear feedback on this. To start a school of this type will require a tremendous amount of planning.

We have had some feedback, and some people asking if we would open a school that was Christian and not specifically Catholic. I also don’t know what to think about this. I am Christian, but I am primarily Catholic.

We still have to choose a name. We at least have a website set up to accept donations.

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Richardson Studios


There is a great need for this type of school. My son is age fourteen and has a diagnosis of autism. I checked into our local Catholic school and brought him over to have the principal meet him along with a couple of the teachers. They looked at him and the principal said “We’re not that desperate for enrollment.” He was about ten years old at the time. I kept my chin up for my son’s sake.

I think your idea is great and that our Lord is calling you to start this. I’m sure that if you took a poll of the Catholic special needs parents, you would get a tidal wave of positive responses. Our children need this and if there are any special education teachers out there, I would love to hear your opinions on this too.

I do some teaching on the Catholic faith for my son at home, but it would be such a gift to him to attend a Catholic school. He’s going into eighth grade this year.

I have read about a parochial school on the East Coast that accepts special needs children, but that’s it.

God bless you and your family.


I wish I’d caught this thread when it originally posted!

Brookmac, were you able to work anything out with the parish school? We also have a child who is deaf from birth. She uses a cochlear implant & is primarily oral. She started in the parish preschool at age two & we were able to get her into school for kindergarten. She will start 2nd grade this fall.

We’re lucky that our parish has a Title 1 teacher for extra help with reading comprehension and she also gets speech therapy & 90 minutes a week with a Deaf Ed. teacher at a public school a few blocks away. The set-up has worked well for everyone. She is excelling in Spelling & Reading and also in Religion! (Math is a little harder. :wink: ) We’ve been very lucky to have the best of both worlds - the Deaf Ed. support and the nurturing environment of a Catholic school.

If your child is primarily oral, there’s no reason why a typical parish school can’t work with you, although I know there are schools in our area that wouldnt have worked with us. Call around, talk to the D/HH coordinator in your public district - it is possible to make it happen!



There really needs to be a private Catholic school for special needs children. This school will be specifically for children with various special needs where every child will have an individual program regardless of the disability.

Yes, there is a huge need. Where we live we do have a couple of private schools (not Christian) that offer such services. Unfortunately, they are very expensive. Much more expensive that Catholic Schools.

Our catholic school does try to have an open door policy, however, they too, are very limited in resources. Our school has two learning aids who assist children who are not only behind in studies but for those who are advanced. We had to work with the public school district for evaluation, setting up an IEP, getting the services that one of our children needed. She attends catholic day school and receives her special needs services through the public school. Our daughter gets what she needs. It works well for us

The hard truth to accept is that school operations are expensive. It was very humbling for me when I saw the financial statements of the parish and discovered that 60% of our tuition cost is paid for by our church. Parent contribution is 40%.

It made me realize just how much the church already does on behalf of Catholic Education.

In our area, catholic schools are closing/merging. Our archdiocese is on the brink of bankruptcy. When our catholic school says they have not the means to financially support a child with special needs, it is not an excuse, but the hard reality.

If I were to insist and fight or sue the school to make it possible to meet the needs of one of my children, I know in the long run, the school would end up in financial distress. Tuition cost would rise, enrollment would drop because families just can’t afford it, and eventually the school would close.

In the long run, we would be back to square one.

This is my analysis, related to our school, related to our trends in catholic enrollment, and related to the financial distress of our archdiocese. I am GRATEFUL to even have a catholic school that I can send my kids to, and GRATEFUL for the 60% that my parish contributes. I cannot demand more from them. They can’t give what they don’t have.

We recently took a trip to Minnesota. I was amazed at the wealth of two different parishes we visited there. I mean really amazed!
Again, I was very humbled and grateful for all that our parish financially puts out for our school.


Wow. But, if they would enroll children like yours, they could afford to send their administrators to compassion/empathy training.

Sorry. Had to say it.:rolleyes:


I am not 100% sure of this, but I seem to remember being told that getting special ed services via the school district while attending private school is one of the options available to disabled kids.

If so, it would mean that the “cost” factor should not be an insurmountable barrier to the disabled attending private school…Maybe someone who knows more about this could enlighten me.

As far as compassion goes, public schools take disabled kids because the law says they have to (a fact that sometimes shows in the attitudes of administrators and teachers). It is in the private schools which are not bound in a similar manner that we can see the true attitudes of some educators toward the disabled and it’s not always a pleasing revelation. You’d just think that if a school calls itself Christian it would at least manage to sound regretful when it turns disabled children away…:frowning:

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