Overview of Private School Placement
When thinking about private schools and special education, it is important to understand the different kinds of private school placement. In special education, there are two common scenarios addressing the needs of a student with disabilities in a private school.
The two types of private school situations are:
1. Children who are placed in private schools (such a religious school) by their parents; or
2. Children who are placed in private schools by public school districts.
The first, and most common, situation involves students whose parents voluntarily enroll the students in private program, such as a religious school. Very often, such schools do not focus on students with disabilities and may only have limited support for students with disabilities. Still, parents of students with disabilities may have some options available to them to obtain additional support from the public school district.
The Serving District
If a parent wishes to enroll a child in the public schools, the parent would look to the school district where the parent lives to determine which district is responsible for educating the child. In the case of a private school student, though, the parent must instead look to the district in which the private school is located to determine the district that will be responsible for providing special education services to children with disabilities in the private school.
One important point must be kept in mind in the case of a student placed in a private school by the parents: the services the student will receive in the private school will often be less than the services the student would receive if the student was attending a public school with an IEP. This is due to the fact that, under Federal law, districts are only required to spend a portion of their Federal special education funds on students with disabilities in private school. Called “proportionate share,” this sum is usually much smaller than the overall funding a district can spend on students with disabilities within the public schools. Also, when proportionate share funds run out during the school year, a district can choose to end services for the rest of the school year.
ISP vs. IEP
Unlike students in public schools, students with disabilities in private schools are not entitled to an IEP. Instead, districts will often provide an Individual Services Plan or “ISP” to students with disabilities who will be receiving services from the school district during the school year. An ISP is a much less detailed document that often will only describe the types of service being provided, the frequency of the services, and the location where those services will be provided. If appropriate, the district might also add a goal or short-term objective, but this is not required in all cases.
Child Find and Evaluations
Unlike the issue of services, districts are obligated to conduct Child Find in the same manner for families of private school students as it would do with families of public school students. The district cannot refuse to undertake Child Find simply because the student attends a private school.
In addition, if a district determines that a student in a private school requires an evaluation to determine the student’s eligibility for special education, the district cannot refuse to perform the evaluation, or any required re-evaluations later. The district will also be expected to conduct the eligibility conference to review the evaluation and to determine if the student should be made eligible for special education.
Finding Out the Services Offered by the District
To find out what kinds of service a school district will be providing to private school students, a parent should contact the administrative offices of the district where the private school is located. District administration will be able to provide parents with an outline of the services, as well as information on how to contact the district about the Child Find and Evaluation process.
As you may have read, a school district may be required in certain cases to place a student with a disability in a private school. In these situations, the private schools in question are schools with a specific expertise in working with students with disabilities. Such placements usually occur only when the district cannot develop a satisfactory placement within a public school facility.
Child Find is an ongoing process through which all children, from birth through 21 (i.e., through the day before the student’s 22nd birthday), or who may be eligible for early intervention, or who may be in need of special education services are identified, located and evaluated. Each school district is responsible for actively locating, identifying and evaluating all children who live within the district boundaries who may qualify to receive special education and/or related services. All school districts must have written procedures for child find activities for all school children, including those attending private, charter, and/or religiously affiliated schools. These procedures must describe activities for:
- Annual screening of children under the age of five to identify those who may need early intervention or special education services
- Ongoing review of all children in general education classes
- Ongoing coordination with early intervention programs like Child and Family Connections, Head Start, local preschools and daycare facilities
- Coordination and consultation with nonpublic schools located within the district
- Referrals of children who might require evaluation for special education from parents, school staff, and representatives from community agencies.
Screening is the process of reviewing all children in a given group with a set of criteria for the purpose of identifying certain individuals for evaluations who may be in need of special education. One purpose of screening is to locate children, birth through age 21, (i.e., through the day before the student’s 22nd birthday) who may benefit from special education services to maintain satisfactory educational performance. No child can be determined eligible to receive early intervention/special education and related services based only on the results of a screening procedure.
Screening is different from evaluation. Screening generally means reviewing all children in a given group (all kindergartners, all students who are new to the school district, all 3-year-old children in the community, etc.). It is not specific to an individual child except where it is used by a school district to determine whether a child that has been referred for evaluation is in need of evaluation. All children in the group must be screened with the same assessment process. Screening does not involve administration of assessment instruments which would be used in an evaluation. The district must inform the public of the process for conducting group screenings through school handbooks, newsletters, child find activities, letters, or similar methods. Written parent/guardian permission is not required for this type of screening. Screening results should be shared with the parents/guardians. Screenings are done to determine which students are in need of evaluation. Screening may also occur when a particular child is referred for evaluation for special education in order for the school district to determine if evaluation is necessary.
Special education instruction and related services are available for children with special needs from birth to age 21 (i.e., through the day before the student’s 22nd birthday).
Special needs may be in the areas of:
Or involve skills in:
- Fine or gross motor
- Cognitive or Learning
- Social and Emotional
- Adaptive or self-help
It is important to locate children with disabilities at a young age so that early help and support can be provided. Studies show that students learn and grow more successfully when they receive help early in their lives. Referrals for evaluation may be made by a parent, community agency, physician, day care provider, teacher or private school employee.