When Is Private School Placement Appropriate?
Sometimes, parents get so upset at the poor education their child is receiving at the public school that they decide to place their child at a private school. When parents do this unilaterally and they want to get the school district to fund the placement, they need to provide written notice 10 business days in advance or at a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting.
In most cases, the school district does not agree. If you find yourself in this situation, you should bring your concerns to Feinstein Education Law Group to discuss your options. We have been assisting parents and their children for over 25 years.
School Initiated Vs. Parent Initiated
There are, of course, cases in which the school district outplaces a child to a special school. When that is done under an individualized education program (IEP), the district is responsible for all the costs associated with the placement. Districts outplacing a child must first consider the schools run by Regional Educational Service Centers (RESCs) and then schools on the state-approved list. All of the schools at which districts place are self-contained special education schools.
When parents place unilaterally, however, they are not bound to the state-approved list. To be successful in securing reimbursement, parents need to be able to demonstrate three things: first, that the educational program (the IEP) offered by the district failed to provide the student with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE); second, that the private school is appropriate to meet the child’s needs; and third, that the parents dealt with the district fairly, openly and in good faith.
To prove that the IEP was not appropriate, the parents need an expert. There are no exceptions to this rule. A parent cannot win without a mental health or educational expert who is willing to testify that the program offered by the district fails to offer the student a chance to make meaningful educational progress.
How Does Cost Reimbursement Work?
Most unilateral placement cases end with a negotiated cost-sharing arrangement, whereby the school district contributes to the cost of the placement. If the parents insist on full payment, they need to be prepared to go through a full (usually eight to 12 full days) hearing. If the parents win, they will get full reimbursement plus the payment of their attorney’s fees. If the parents lose, they get nothing.
Still, even in negotiating a settlement, how much the district will pay is largely a product of how likely the district calculates its chances of losing at a hearing. In other words, going into a negotiation without a strong expert who will testify to the inappropriateness of the district’s program is a prescription for a terrible settlement.
It is often the case that parents find the district’s IEP inappropriate because it does not provide a needed service. If the parents are seeking reimbursement for a unilateral placement, the private school needs to provide the service which the parents complained about being absent from the IEP.
Securing reimbursement for a private school placement can be an extended and complicated process. If parents are considering going this route, they would do well to confer with an attorney very early in the process.