Written by Melanie Dunn: I am answering this question here because it is a question asked by the large majority of parents who call us. The answer is short and simple, yet complicated, and no one is happy to hear it:
“You start by getting an expert to evaluate your child and recommend the placement you want.”
No one is happy to hear this, because they are hoping we will say instead that all we need to do is say the magic words at the next IEP team meeting, and that the school district will grant the placement request. So, ok, you need to get a neuropsychological evaluation, or maybe a speech-language evaluation, by a trusted and experienced outside professional. And if you do things right, you may be able to get the school district to cover the costs of the outside evaluation, if you request the evaluation as an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) under IDEA. Great! Once we have our expert report that explains what’s wrong with the current IEP, the district will surely reason that the out-of-district placement is warranted – right? Well, possibly. But if you’ve already called our office looking for help with this problem, then probably not. Oh, they’ll review your expert report. At the very least, IDEA requires them to convene a formal IEP team meeting (we call them PPT meetings here in Connecticut) to review the report. But they’re not required to agree with it or follow any of the evaluator’s recommendations. Oh, and by the way, have you read through those recommendations carefully? Do they actually say that your child needs a private special education school, and explain why? Does the evaluator at least describe a program that only the private school of your choice can provide? Or are her recommendations the sort of instruction and related services(think speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills instruction, etc.) that your local school’s program can provide? I say all of this not to dishearten you, but to inform and empower you. If you really believe that your child’s public school team is just not getting what his needs are, then definitely challenge that. If they don’t believe you, find a psychologist or speech language pathologist or other educational professional who will evaluate your child and then throw the data back at the school to show them what they’re doing wrong.
But it is important for you to know this: even the most sound evaluation report, using up-to-date test protocols, detailed data analysis, and eloquently written, logical recommendations, may fail to convince your school district to grant your wishes right then and there at the meeting. Why on earth would your child’s teachers and service providers refuse to follow the recommendations of a credentialed evaluator? And what do you do when the team sits there with their arms folded and refuses to make your placement request after hearing out your concerns? I’ll start answering those questions in the follow-up post on this subject. What started as a simple blog post on the more general question of what we do in our special education practice has grown into a budding series of posts on a more narrow, yet more detailed, topic.
Spoiler alert: there can be a lot of work involved for parents seeking a private school placement at public expense. And while your attorney can give you a gameplan, you may never be completely prepared for all the curveballs you encounter. All you can do is learn how to get better at hitting them.