Q&A: Online Schools: Accomodating Learning Disabilities

A: Your son with learning disabilities can succeed at the high school level in distance learning courses--but you'll need to do your homework before he enrolls. You'll want him to earn a high school diploma from a school that's accredited, and to be in online courses and services that fit his needs.

Start by contacting the Learning Disabilities Association of America, 4156 Library Rd.,Pittsburgh PA 15234, or call 412-341-1515 to get a packet of basic information.

Next, check with your local high school. Learn the accommodations that may be available for your child if he's attending classes there. Then call your state board of education. Here's why:

Some states don't actually award the high school diplomas. Instead, local high schools award them through the local school board. "In Illinois, even if a student is enrolled in a distance learning course, he or she will take their primary classes at their home high school," says Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education. "It's possible the home high school may not accept the online course towards graduation, even though the online high school is accredited. "

And a number of them are.

AdvancED, the largest educational accrediting agency in the U.S., is parent organization for the K-12 divisions of the North Central Association and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, two of the original accrediting bodies in the U.S. You can check http://www.advanc-ed.org for a list of high schools they've accredited that offer online courses.

On that site, look for high schools first; then for those offering distance learning. Some of the more-than-100 such schools listed here are public; others are private. Click a school name to find a contact person and a postal address.

Next, call several of the listed schools to speak personally with counselors who help students with learning disabilities. Discuss your son's situation and any special needs he has. Ask about accommodations for learning disabled students. What instructional methods are used? Will your son do the online course on his own? Will he be allowed to do assignments with the parent's help?

"Parents should look for a good match between the learning style of their student and the services the school offers," recommends Dr. Claudia Carter, AdvancED's vice president for accreditation, corporation and distance education services. "Our accredited schools are required to meet state and federal requirements for students with special needs, but individual schools may offer different accommodations."

At accredited Broward Virtual School, Fort Lauderdale, FL, (part of the 6th-largest public school system in the U.S.), Principal Christopher McGuire says the high-school-level online classes use a mastery system, rather than one constrained by the traditional school day. Online classes mean students can access their courses 24/7, allowing them more time to learn--and they have additional time to complete assignments, if needed.

Online students here get three attempts to submit assignments--with specific, personal teacher feedback between each try. At any time they need help--not just during traditional school hours--they can phone or e-mail their teacher. Course content is organized in modules with checkpoints built in. Each module requires a student to talk with the teacher for a discussion-based assessment.


Jan BoneJan teaches online courses for Harper College and traditional courses for Roosevelt University, and has been teaching in higher education for 20 years. She's also written seven books in a career series for young adults, and numerous articles about banking, workplace safety, and manufacturing processes. Jan has the MBA in marketing and the Master of Arts in Training and Development (MATD) degree with a concentration in e-learning. Her bachelor's degree is from Cornell University.