How Are Children Referred?
The child’s IEP team, which includes parents, is responsible for making decisions about a child’s school placement. A referral to a special education private school may be made when the team agrees that:
- the public school is unable to provide a “free and appropriate public education”
- the child is not making effective progress in their current setting.
However, team members sometimes disagree as to the definition of an ‘appropriate’ education and ‘effective’ progress. This means the process of obtaining a private school placement is often not simple or easy.
When a student requires a placement or service that is not available in-district, the district is responsible for identifying and funding that placement or service. The school is required to look to an in-district placement before considering out-of-district placement. It may be helpful to show that other services have already been tried and were not sufficient to provide the child with FAPE.
Some families have learned that more options were available to them through mediation. If team members do not agree on a placement, the process of mediation offers a neutral setting to explore educational placement and payment options. For example, some public schools will agree to fund placement at a non-DESE approved school because it is the best fit for a child, or agree to cost-sharing (which may mean that parents provide transportation to a day school and/or pay a portion of the tuition).
Parents occasionally choose a unilateral placement, which means that they remove their child from their current school program and enroll the child in a private school. This can be expensive and risky, as parents must pay the tuition if they are unable to prove that the previous placement did not provide FAPE and the out of district placement does.