IEP Placement: Private and Out-of-District

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.

IEP placement rejected student

Wait, what?

Private Placement Rejection

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. For example, ABA does not only take place in ABA schools.

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.