For a family grappling with a recent diagnosis of their child’s learning disability, the sheer depth and breadth of expenses related to pursuing services can feel prohibitive and overwhelming. As Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Special Education Legal Fund (SELF) Christine Lai notes in her blog post series, “Special Education Schools: Getting Past the Sticker Shock,” the costs associated with evaluations, tutoring, therapy, and legal matters— to name only a few—can mount quickly, and none of these are as initially jarring as the price of tuition for an independent special education school. Looking beyond the price tag to understand what makes these schools special is the focus of the series, and in her article featuring The Windward School, Ms. Lai broke down exactly what goes into the School's “sticker price.” In a word, it’s teachers.
While she noted that “smaller class sizes, more support, differentiated instruction, and highly individualized learning plans are all hallmarks of independent special education schools,” Ms. Lai added that Windward stands out for its intensive, comprehensive teacher training program. Of particular interest is the fact that all new faculty members, regardless of professional experience, begin in an assistant teaching role for 1-2 years, under the mentorship of a lead teacher and curriculum coordinator. Additionally, after this introductory period, Windward teachers commit to long-term, weekly professional development through The Windward Institute. Following the current science—and then translating it into evidence-based classroom practices—ensures that Windward faculty provide students with instruction tailored specifically to their needs.
To many families, the issue of costs related to special education is often compounded by the challenges presented by navigating the system itself.
To many families, the issue of costs related to special education is often compounded by the challenges presented by navigating the system itself. For Ms. Lai, tackling these hurdles as a parent of a child with a learning disability inspired her to help others in the same situation. Ms. Lai and Co-Founder Ulrika Drinkall launched SELF in 2018, a nonprofit organization with a mission to level the playing field for families who need assistance with the special education process. SELF offers two unique programs: The Advocacy Support Program, which provides up to $1,000 in advocacy support grant assistance with a qualified special education advocate, and The Legal Assistance Program, which provides up to $5,000 in legal support grant assistance with a qualified special education attorney. To date, SELF has dispersed $430,000 in grant monies to more than 100 Connecticut and Westchester County families, averaging approximately 30 grants awarded per year.
Families in Connecticut and Westchester County who are in need of advocacy or legal support may apply directly through SELF’s website. The application process operates on a rolling, monthly basis from October through June, with applications due by the 15th of each month and decisions rendered and applicants notified by the end of the month in which they apply. SELF’s website also includes additional resources, such as webinars, curriculum in seven languages for ELL parents of children in special education, and blog articles.