Inside: You feel that your child’s needs cannot be met in your local school. You want an out of district placement, so how do you get one?

In my online advocacy training, I do live Q&A sessions on zoom. During a recent session, one of the parents asked, “Well, isn’t that what everyone wants–they want to get that coveted out of district placement?”

First, that mom lives in the metro Philadelphia area, where I do. And yes, that is a common thought here. While parents in other areas may frown upon this idea, and push for inclusion classrooms, around here we really don’t.

to get an out of district placement, your IEP should point toward that placement

We love our private and out of district placements.

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1. IEP Placement: Private and Out-of-District

As an advocate, working in this region, that’s one of the main reasons that a parent will hire me: Tell me how to win an out of district placement.

I don’t necessarily like the word “win” but I get it. It certainly feels like a game or a contest at times.

2. How IEP Placement Works

Remember, IEP Placement is the last decision in the process. Here are the steps:

  1. Thorough evaluations in all areas of suspected disability. From these, an accurate Present Levels Section is developed.
  2. Meaningful, measurable and appropriate goals are written, based upon the needs defined in present levels.
  3. The team decides on support, services and accommodations to help the child achieve those goals.
  4. Now, what placement is best suited to implement this IEP? Choose a placement on the LRE continuum.

So, it’s not hard to still follow this process if you have your eye on a particular placement. You just have to define it.

What are they doing there, that your child needs, that cannot be done in his/her current placement?

What program or service do they offer that cannot be gotten any place else…and what needs would be met by that program or service?

You need to begin to build an IEP that points to the specific placement that you want, and nothing else.

Make sense?

3. Out of-District Placement Special Education

Here’s what I mean by that. Let me give you an example of how to get that out of district placement.

And, it often requires an IEE. So I would begin reading and learning about IEEs and getting set up to request one.

There are many, many private learning disability schools and out of district placements near Philadelphia.

Here are a few snippets of what various placements offer, taken from their websites.

  • Wilson reading program
  • Executive functioning support and instruction
  • Singapore math
  • metacognition classes
  • Orton Gillingham based methods and materials
  • multi sensory math instruction
  • Extensive Emotional Supports

If that is what your child needs, and the out of district placement does this, then you need to get that in the IEP.

So, you look at the placement (that you think you desire). You see that they teach via Singapore math. You research Singapore math.

You’d learn that Singapore math is not rote memorization, as many other math facts are. Instead it’s sequential learning, and “intentional sequencing of concepts.”

Looking at your child’s IEP. Your child should have an identified lack of memorization skills. And, an assessment that shows that he/she would learn math best by building and sequencing of concepts.

This is not an easy task, I get that!

But, many private and out of district placements are 50k a year, 100k a year or even more once you add on transportation. Schools do not just agree to them readily, nor should they. They need to be a good steward of district resources.

It’s all about documentation, documentation, documentation.

5. IEP Placement and FAPE

It’s not enough to show that an out of district placement is appropriate or FAPE for your child.

You have to be able to show that what the district is offering is not FAPE for your child.

That’s not always easy to do. And, that’s why a lot of people call a special education advocate for this.

Parents can do this themselves. But you’re going to have to commit to learning the IEP process and the IEP process takes time.

(so I’ll give another shameless plug for my online training, which will help you tremendously!)

6. Private Placement Rejection

Ahhh…you’re finally there. After months (maybe years!) of IEP meetings, you and your school district have agreed that your child needs a private placement. Success! Finally, no more stagnating, no more regression. Your child will finally be in a more appropriate placement.

And then, you get the sucker punch. It knocks the wind out of you. I know this, because it happened to us.

You’re going about your daily business, and one day, a letter arrives from one of the schools that you wanted for private placement:

Dear Mrs. Lightner,

We are are in receipt of your son’s educational records and blah blah blah, blah blah blah……..REJECTED.

Wait, what?

Not only was my son REJECTED from several private placements, none of them was my first choice.

He was rejected by his safety schools! I had sites that I was positive would take him, that I was keeping just in case our first choice rejected him. His safety schools….REJECTED!

It’s actually pretty common. Having a private school or APS or non-public school (they are called different things in different states) reject your child. So what can you do?

What to do when IEP private placement rejects your child

First thing is, take a deep breath. Remember, it took months to get to this spot, so this little crisis is not going to be fixed today.

As I said, this has happened to us, so I totally get it. I understand the anxiety and worry that goes along with this, but stay calm and stay focused.

To add, my son was rejected for placements in July. Quite literally, we had no placement for him just about 6 weeks before school started and he was aging out of preschool. So I understand the urgency. I understand wanting to fix it NOW. Anyway, back to what you can do. It will take time, focus and energy to get this done.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

First, were you proactive in this? Did you pre-approve the referral packets that were being sent out? Are you positive of what information was sent out? Do you need to do damage control?

My former agency once had a client, and the child’s district included several incident reports with the packet-incident reports that showed the child in full crisis mode, at his worst. If the private placement you want received a few snapshots of your child at their worst, you may need to explain that to them.

This is what you need to determine, so you can decide how to proceed.

Move forward.

Re-read or read for the first time, what was sent out. Is it an accurate picture of your child? If not, you might need to request more evaluations. You might need the IEP Present Levels section revised. The kid in front of you needs to match the kid on paper, because paper might be all that the private school saw.

Did you visit the school? Did you see your child fitting in there? Sit down and define it. What did you see on your tour, and how did you think it addresses what your child needs? Re-read their website. Is there something you missed? Are there certain diagnoses that they require for admission that your child doesn’t have?

After re-evaluating, is this still the IEP placement you want?

OK, if it is, look at the notice you received. Look at who sent it to you, and call them. Be polite, professional and ask. “I really thought that your school was a good fit for my child because….” and ask if there is any kind of appeals process. Offer to bring the child in for a visit if that has not already happened.

Offer to have their personnel visit and observe your child at their current placement. Ask, make offers. Do what you need to do. I have seen students do a 3-day trial at a private school. Plead your case for why your child is a good fit, but also ask them questions on what you can do.

It might be just because they are full. If that’s the reason, ask how long the wait list is. Ask what school/programming they feel is comparable to theirs.

Write letters.

Next, draft an email to your special education director at your district. Remind them first that the team agreed that private placement was appropriate. And then something like, “And you probably received the same notice that I received, that XYZ placement rejected him.

I have since learned that this is because….” and tell them what the private school told you. Tell them what they need to know (such as if you told the private placement they could visit your child in school).

Or, that letter might be something like, “Unfortunately, they are full and do not see any openings for 3 school years.” Then, ask them for their recommendations.

While I would expect parents to research and visit private placements, the team should be assisting you to the best of their knowledge.

I find that teachers often don’t know too much about the private schools, but trust me, your Special Education Director knows all the area private placements and where other students from your district are placed.

You may just have to accept that your first choice of placements is not going to happen. If so, seek a comparable placement, and also take a closer look of what programming they offer (which is likely why you wanted your child there) that could possibly be implemented elsewhere.

Be open minded and ignore rumors.

You have to remain open minded. Are you ignoring a particular placement because of what you have “heard” about it from other parents? Give it a chance, visit. You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Network with parents in your area. Google your little heart out and visit the placements.

In the end, I got K’s current placement to give him a second chance. We visited the school and brought him in, and they visited him at preschool. And it all worked out. By the time school started in September, I might add.

Stay focused and it will work out.

**Adding: If you feel that your child is being discriminated against, please contact a civil rights attorney.

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