Should you move to a more IEP friendly school district?
It’s not a very popular trend, but this does happen occasionally. Families who move from one school district to another due to their frustration with their current district and the IEP process. But before you say “hey, that’s a great idea!” and call the realtor, there are lots of things to consider. I’ve been asked it often from my clients, “Should I move to a more IEP friendly school district?”
Other reasons to move, besides the child
There are many other reasons to move. You might want to be closer to work, or you got a new job, be closer to family, a bigger house, a smaller house, a newer house or an older fixer-upper that you’re passionate about. Absolutely if it was in your family’s life plans to move at some point, do so. You just now have new factors to consider when you are choosing a home.
Revolving door of school personnel
This is one reason I dislike seeing families move solely because they hear that a certain district is more disability friendly and easier to negotiate with at IEP time. School personnel change all the time. Principals set the tone for their building, and that can change in an instant. Parents use FMLA to have babies and to take care of parents. People move on to different jobs and everything can change in a year or two.
Special Ed directors come and go all the time. My son is entering 6th grade and I believe this is the 4th Special Ed Director we’ve had. The related services staff such as PTs, OTs and Speech move around, especially if they are contract positions. Most of them are contract employees and move from building to building and district to district quite frequently. Funding changes frequently.
Anecdotal information on moving for an IEP
When you are deciding what is a “good” district for IEPs, who are you talking to? Where did they get their information? I can tell you great stories about every district in this county, and I know I can find one horror story for every district in this county. Everyone’s opinion is largely based on their personal experience, and that changes from family to family.
A district may be more equipped and more experienced in handling one type of disability, so that family’s experience was great. Others, maybe not. I’m currently working with a mom who is really struggling. Two of her kids have IEPs and it’s been a struggle to get them appropriate services. The family has just moved here from a different part of the country within the past few years. On more than one occasion she has shaken her head and said “I don’t get it, so many people told me this was a good school district.” I guess it was, for them. Her experience has been quite different.
I live near what is supposedly one of the best districts in our state and entire country to live. And I could tell you some stories about how they’ve treated kids with special needs that would curl your hair. Just awful. In my mind, they are far from the “best” despite what the media and the test scores tell us.
Impact on siblings, friends
Any move will uproot an entire family. What will the impact be on the siblings? Being a sibling of a child with special needs is very hard. Making an all new circle of friends is really hard. And of course the perception, depending on age, could be that the child with disabilities needs came before the sibling’s needs. How will you handle that?
Actual financial and lifestyle costs of moving
Moving costs money, and lots of it. Your house may have appreciated in value. And you may get a great price on the new place. Yes, you can roll closing costs into payments. It’s still there. You’re still paying for it, just differently. Then there are moving costs, any repairs that need to be done, disconnect and reconnect fees for utilities, any hotel or dog kennel stays and incidentals like takeout food a LOT during the moving process because your kitchen isn’t set up yet. It adds up! Do a cost analysis on what it will cost you to move vs. the cost of the services or program that you are seeking for you child.
Don’t forget the lifestyle costs and stress. Buying a home, selling a home and moving are stressful. Having to have your house tidy and “ready to show” every single day for months is exhausting. Being asked to leave your home during the middle of a Sunday so that they can show the house is exhausting. It can take it’s toll on you and your family.
No guarantees and maybe false hope?
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m overall not a fan of moving solely for the reason of finding a more “IEP friendly” school district. There are great and terrible experiences in every district. There are no guarantees that you will have smooth sailing just by moving. What if it doesn’t work out? What if your child is still struggling and not making progress? Then what will you do? If you put all your eggs in this basket and you’re still in the same place in a few years, what is next? Of course, as I first pointed out, if I had to or was going to move anyway, then this would absolutely be a consideration (and a strong one!) for me in deciding where the new home would be.
In the end, you have to do what is best for your family. I know a few families that have done this and are doing well in their new spot. Still, the security and routine of your current home adds lots of value to the scenario. I know I live in one of the tougher districts for IEP stuff, when it comes to taking public opinion polls on this. My situation is going well. Everyone’s experience is different.
A reader and Twitter follower gave me something to think about. She had been living in a pretty rural area where PT and OT services were pretty limited. So yes, I would have to agree with her on that. In some rural areas, things like Vision Teachers, Orientation and Mobility, and ABA may not be available. In those instances families may have to move. I take for granted that I live in such an urban area that we have just about everything.