Factors to consider and questions to ask

Selecting an appropriate private special education facility or program can be a complicated and involved. The National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC) compiled these suggestions for anyone considering a private special education facility for children and adults with mild to severe disabilities who need individualized programs that address their unique needs.


When visiting a facility, assess the learning environment inside and outside the classroom. Take note of what the students or clients are doing.

  • Does everyone appear to be participating in age-appropriate activities?
  • Ask yourself if your individual’s functioning level is similar to others you see there.
  • Find out how much of the day will be spent in the classroom.
  • What courses are available?
  • What is the child or client to staff member ratio?
  • For high school age students, are degrees available upon completion of the program, and if so, what type?
  • Will your adolescent have opportunities for vocational training?
  • Does the school arrange for work placement of its students with local businesses?
  • The facility should hold periodic conferences with you to keep you informed of the individual’s progress. How often are these conferences held?
  • If a child’s IEP requires counseling, speech or physical therapy or other services, find out when and where these sessions will be held. Do qualified service providers conduct them?
  • If this is a residential facility, is it open year round? If not, what provisions are made for families who need assistance during vacations and summer months?
  • If you are looking into a day program, check to see if summer sessions are available. Many parents and guardians find this extra instructional time beneficial for the person needing special education.


Qualified and caring staff members should be a top priority.

  • Talk to as many of the employees as possible until you are comfortable with the type of people working there.
  • Find out the central philosophy behind the methods the facility uses and whether the staff members can explain and support it.
  • Do you feel the staff promotes a positive and open atmosphere?
  • Are they working appropriately with the individuals in their care?
  • Are both staff and clients or students enthused and actively involved in the learning process?
  • If this is a residential facility, are there staff members awake throughout the night to monitor activity and handle any problems that may occur?


  • Before enrolling an individual, try to arrange a meeting with the executive director. Ask to see their degree qualifications as well as the degree qualifications of the staff, both educational and residential (where applicable).
  • Ask the executive director if the facility is licensed, accredited, or approved by the state. Are they  affiliated with a professional organization, and if so, what are the criteria for memberships? Does the organization have an accreditation or certification process?
  • Find out the qualifications and purpose behind the Board of Directors. Make sure they are appropriately trained and experience professionals.
  • Obtain the name of the person you should contact with any further questions and concern.

Building Safety and Living Arrangements

  • Pay close attention to the physical appearance of the structure. Is it neat, clean, safe, and in good condition?
  • If it is a residential facility, what are the living arrangements?
  • Are the rooms large enough to comfortably accommodate the residents?
  • Does it adhere to the local fire code, including fire escape routes?
  • Is it equipped with appropriate alarms for clients who may be visually or hearing impaired?
  • Find out what an individual can bring to their room, such as TV, VCR, and radio. Ask if there are provisions or guidelines for storing personal belongings.
  • What responsibility do individuals have in terms of cooking, cleaning, and other household chores?  Will they be expected to participate in any of these activities, and if so, who will be supervising?

Health Care

  • Make sure the facility provides proper health care for its clients. Is a health care professional on staff 24 hours a day? What are their qualifications?
  • If an individual takes medication, will an affiliated physician monitor the dosages?
  • How close is the nearest hospital?
  • Make sure the school has a policy on contagious disease that includes AIDS and Hepatitis B.
  • How often does counseling occur? What are the therapist’s qualifications?


  • The facility should provide nutritious and well-balanced meals for its clients.  Ask to see a menu, and if possible, eat a meal for yourself.
  • What are the policies on junk food and care packages? Will there be specialized menus for individuals with special dietary need?
  • Do they prepare meals at the facility or contract out its plan? If it does cook its own meals, ask if students have a chance to help with the food preparation. Are meals served to the students cafeteria-style or family-style?

Discipline and Supervision

  • Find out about the discipline policy. Is it in writing? Ask to have a copy.
  • If they use behavior modification, what type of punishments and rewards are used?
  • How flexible are they?
  • What type of supervision will there be while on the premises? Will it be around-the-clock supervision?


Starting a new program, especially at a residential facility, can be an intimidating experience.

  • How long do they suggest a child or client wait before making or receiving phone calls? Ask about privacy and phone availability.
  • Check out the policy on visitors. Can anyone come to visit or only immediate family members? Can a family restrict visitors?
  • What are the policies regarding departure from the facility’s property, both with and without supervision?


  • Get a copy of the calendar. Note the number of holidays and scheduled breaks.
  • Is transportation provided for these breaks and weekends? If the child or client will be someplace far from home, you need to check availability of public transportation for home visits.

Field Trips

  • What kinds of field trips does the facility take?
  • How often do they occur?
  • What form of transportation is used?

Community Involvement

  • Will the client have the chance to become involved in the community through team sports, holiday celebrations, or associations?


Include the child or client in as much of the placement decision-making process as you can. This will help them feel more comfortable with the chosen facility. Talk to an educational advocate about the facility and the individual’s rights. Ask to be made familiar with records, IEPs, and other important documents. Consult your State Departments of Education, Children and Family Services, and other agencies that may be able to provide input on appropriate placement. One of the most important factors in finding the right program is the trust and comfort level between the parents and the staff. The more the parents and facility believe in each other and work toward the same goals, the better the client’s chance of success.