Steps Parents Can Take
What can parents do if they think their child might benefit from an out-of-district placement? Or if they want to explore their child’s options? Here are some steps parents can take:
- Call a Team Meeting – parents have the right to call the IEP team to meet at any time and for purposes other than the annual IEP Meeting to discuss the child’s progress and raise this question. Parents should convey with honesty the degree to which they:
- 1) are struggling at home
- 2) feel unable to help the child generalize skills learned at school to the community and home settings
- 3) are unable to manage the child’s disability and are worried that an out-of-home placement may be necessary.
The Team may be able to provide additional resources (e.g., in-home supports, parent training) so that every available option is tried before considering residential placement.
- Raise the question with professionals working with the child and invite their input (e.g., psychiatrist, pediatrician, psychologist, social worker, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist). They may have assisted other families with this question and can offer their experience with how it has worked out. Note that teachers and other public school professionals may be less free to discuss this option even informally. The IEP team is ultimately responsible for making this decision, and it is then the school district’s responsibility to pay for it. This means that public school professionals may be more cautious about saying what they think, as these decisions must be made collectively by the team.
- Request a Functional Behavior Analysis, which is an assessment conducted by the school to understand why a problem behavior is happening and to offer solutions. This is available at no cost to the parents.
- Consult with your Child’s Treaters – ask private treaters (those the child sees outside of school) for their opinion about the current placement and their knowledge of alternatives
- Obtain an Independent Evaluation (e.g., neuropsychologist, developmental specialist) with this question in mind. If parents don’t already have such a professional involved in the child’s care, this evaluator should conduct observations at home and school as part of the assessment, attend IEP meetings, and become part of your treatment team.
- Consult with an Educational Advocate – the Federation has produced a brochure on selecting a special education advocate (PDF). It is also available in Spanish (PDF)
When the Team does not agree or has reached a standstill, parents can request:
- Mediation – provided free through DESE; some families learn of options they didn’t know were available to them through mediation
- Consult with a Special Education Attorney
- Due Process Hearing (through the Bureau of Special Education Appeals) to resolve differences with the public school
- Consider Unilateral Placement (or other option discussed at Mediation, such as cost-sharing). Some families decide to send their child to a private day school and pay the tuition, without being referred by the public school. The burden of proof is then on parents to show that the out-of-district placement can provide the child with FAPE. The child’s educational functioning at the private school can be compared to that of the public school. This may involve a lengthy legal process in order to get the public school district to be responsible for all or some of the funding.
Note that pursuing any of the above options when trying to change a child’s placement can be a long process that takes months or even years of negotiation.