10 Common Q&A about Private Schools and IEPs | Special Education

Private Schools and IEPs

This topic makes me sad. Because it’s so super deflating for parents. Many times, attending a private school is a tradition for families. Then, they have a child who requires an IEP.

That brings on their private school reality check, as far as private schools and IEPs and special education.

IEP private school

So let’s dig into this and answer it once and for all. Do private schools have to honor an IEP, provide one, follow it or provide special education.

Do Private Schools Provide Special Education?

The main governing statute of special education is IDEA. That defines an IEP, outlines the evaluation process and so on.

Private schools do not have to follow IDEA. Full stop. (because I can hear some of you going but, but…please, read on)

The elephant in the room is that our kids are more expensive to educate. We know this. The fact that we have to try and hide this secret is so unacceptable, but that’s a rant for another day. But they are–supports, services, it adds up.

So why would a school do something expensive that they are not required to do? They don’t.

But I know someone who has an IEP in private school!

Right, that may be true. My own son, with an IEP, is in a private school. Private schools can provide special education, but they are not required to. That’s the difference.

What private schools provide special education?

Some private schools provide actual special education. Others provide the related services. Special ed can kinda get chopped up when it comes to private schools.

If your child is entitled to FAPE , that would mean specially designed instruction and related services. In a private school, many may choose to only provide the related service, as a way of attracting more students to the private school.

This varies by states. In Pennsylvania, for example, we call them Approved Private Schools or an APS. The child’s home district remains the LEA, however the LEA contracts out to the APS to provide FAPE. This is often a more restrictive environment than the neighborhood school.

Other states call them different things.

So only approved schools provide IEPs?

If you are talking about the legal term IEP, then yes. But, a private school may provide special education but that still does not mean that your child is entitled to FAPE.

Some private schools call them Service Plans, Learning Plans…all kinds of different names.

They may even call it an IEP which may be confusing. It’s always best to learn IDEA and the state regs yourself, and to not rely on someone else’s interpretation of them.

My private school is providing special education, so who cares about FAPE?

That’s fine if you’re happy, the child is happy and making progress. However, if things go south with the school, you have zero recourse.

Your child was receiving special education or services, but you are not entitled to your procedural safeguards.

There is no obligation for them to change what they are doing. And things are always going well…until they’re not.

Do Private Schools have to follow ADA/504?

Mostly, sort of. If a child’s needs can be reasonably accommodated, and it’s only accommodations, the private school must follow ADA and 504. There’s one of those words again–reasonable.

What a parent thinks is reasonable and what a school thinks is reasonable often varies.

How do I know what I signed up for, with a private school?

A good question to ask yourself is this: Who is the LEA in your child’s situation? If the public school district in which you reside is not considered an LEA for your child, then you have no expectation of FAPE.

Are Private Schools bound to Child Find?

I have previously done a blog post explaining what is Child Find. But, it’s important to note that identifying a child and providing specially designed instruction are two different things.

I have had clients whose children were attending a private school, and then were referred to their home district for evaluations.

Per Child Find, the home district provides the evaluations.

The outcome of the evaluations will determine your options and next steps. Yes, I have had clients in private schools who were evaluated by the home district. The home district (LEA) found the child eligible for special education.

The private school sat in the evaluation meeting, and told us point blank: We do not provide that here. You’re going to have to go some place else.

Cruel, exclusionary….but perfectly legal.

Is this the same as Scholarships and Vouchers for Private Schools?

Ok, as Pee Wee Herman said, “Let’s talk about your big but.”

I know some of you are thinking, ‘But my private school does do IEPs!’

Yes, some do. Some private schools have a specific mission to teach only kids with autism or dyslexia or whatever. However, they choose to do this. Which is very different from have to.

The people who run that particular private school can wake up tomorrow and change the mission.

Public schools never, ever have this choice. They are bound to IDEA and must provide special education.

Some states have scholarship and voucher programs that allow you to take money and enroll your child in a special needs school. In most cases, you have to sign away FAPE to participate in these programs.

In other words, you’re putting all your faith and trust in the private school to provide what your child needs. And, you have no recourse if your child does not receive FAPE.

Huge difference between choosing to provide a service and have to provide a service.

So we can receive Itinerant and Related Services at Private Schools?

Some states have other little nuances and exceptions. However, in most cases, what the child will receive from these programs and exceptions is far less than what they’d get via an IEP in their home school district.

IDEA is what guarantees our kids receive FAPE. None of these state specific provisions guarantee FAPE.

For example, a school district or the state may provide:

  • Related Services such as speech therapy or counseling to homeschool and private school students
  • Are often health related rather than education related, as pertains to being disabled.
  • Usually, the district can require you to report to the local school building to receive said service or support.

Make no mistake, it is not at all the same as having an IEP and a right to FAPE.

A child can receive related services at a private school. But again, the private school can change their mind and rescind this, as they are under no obligation to provide FAPE.

What is PA Education Act 89?

Another but, that I hear often. And because I live in PA, I have a lot of readers in PA. So I hear, “but…Act 89!” Act 89 does not state that you can receive special education at a private school.

And I am sorry that anyone led you to believe that. Here is what Act 89 says, you can read more here.

  1. Act 89 programs, which are often described as providing services that are health-related, are legally distinct from special education programs. This BEC does not address the appropriate design of Act 89 programs. Act 89 services are funded through the intermediate unit (IU) and questions concerning Act 89 services should be directed to the IU. The school district is not responsible for Act 89 services. (And IUs are another weird PA thing)
  2. In special education programs, there is a difference between what a local education agency (LEA) such as a school district can do and what it must do. This memo pertains to the legal entitlements of the children involved and the obligations of the public educational system.
  3. Under relevant special education law, the rights of children whose parents have placed them in a private school notwithstanding the availability of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) from or through a school district are significantly less than the rights of a child for whom FAPE is not available in a public (or publicly funded) setting. The guidance that follows focuses primarily on the group of students whose parents have chosen to place them in a private school although FAPE was available in the school district.

Summary of Act 89

If I read PA Act 89 and the state’s explanation of it, I think it is best summed up in this one paragraph.

Federal provisions do not confer specific entitlements on particular children who remain in private schools; rather, these provisions require local education agencies to provide some services to private school children in the aggregate.

This phrase, “a genuine opportunity for equitable participation” has never been interpreted to entitle a particular private school child to the full range of items that constitute FAPE, or any particular service, at the private site of the parent’s choice, when FAPE is available through simple enrollment in a public school.

Again, Act 89 is a PA thing, but many other states have similar acts and programs.

FAPE and Private Schools-Final Thoughts

The phrase in Act 89 sums it up nicely:

If FAPE is available through “simple enrollment in a public school,” then that’s where you have to go to get it.

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