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Are IDEA Provisions Available for Private School Students?

written by: Dr. Anne Zachry • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/2/2012

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is obligated to make provisions for special needs students enrolled in public schools. Some parents prefer to place their children in private schools, but are unclear as to whether special education services are covered under IDEA guidelines.

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    Summary of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was written into law in 1975, and has undergone several revisions since it originated. Today, IDEA ensures that all children who are classified as having a special need or disability receive a free public school education with all of the necessary accommodations. However, not all students with special needs are enrolled in public schools, as some parents opt for a private educational setting.

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    There are IDEA provisions for special needs children in private schools. The issue of IDEA and parentally placed students in private schools is addressed in the act itself, which contains a section outlining the guidelines that parents should follow in order to receive provisions for their children in this circumstance. The law requires state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) to guarantee the equal participation of private school students with disabilities in programs assisted by or carried out under the equitable participation requirements that apply to these students.

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    The local school’s obligations to private school students with disabilities are different from its obligations to those students enrolled in public schools or to students with disabilities placed in a private school setting by a public agency (rather than by parents) by way of providing Free Appropriate Public Education. Students with disabilities whose parents enroll them in a private school are not individually entitled to services they would have if they were enrolled in a traditional public school. The LEA must spend a proportionate amount of IDEA federal funds and provide equal services parentally placed private school children with disabilities. So, it could happen that some private school students with disabilities do not receive any services and others do. The level and type of services may differ for those students who do receive services from the services the child would receive if enrolled in a public school by the parents or in a private school by a public agency. Local Education Agencies must consult with private school representatives and the parents of private school students with disabilities as the special education program and related serves are being planned for these students.

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    Special Needs Children and Private Schools

    Parents of a child with a disability may have several reasons for choosing a private school. Those who live in a district with a heavily populated public school may worry that their child will be overstimulated by noise or will not receive enough individual attention in a crowded classroom. In many cases, private schools offer smaller classes, which are often appealing for special needs children who thrive on personal interaction with teachers and staff. Some parents prefer private schools because of a specific curriculum that is offered, and others have religious reasons that motivate their decision. Private schools do not receive the same amount of educational funding that the government grants to public schools; therefore, as stated earlier, IDEA is not under an equal obligation to provide extensive services to children with disabilities. Parents must take this into consideration when deciding on the appropriate learning institution for children who need extra help and educational support.

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    IDEA and Private Schools

    Special needs students who are enrolled in private schools do have opportunities to receive services under IDEA, provided that they have completed the required identification and evaluation processes required by local educational agencies (LEA). After this has occurred, meetings between the LEA, parents and representatives of the private school can take place. The purpose of these meetings is to create a service plan for the disabled student. A portion of government funds is allocated to private schools for extra accommodations, on the condition that the funds be distributed among all special needs children who are parentally placed. If it is determined that a parentally placed child qualifies for services provided under a service plan, the student must be provided with transportation from the school/home to a location other than the private school; and from the service location to the private school, or to the child’s home, depending on when the services are provided during the school day. LEAs are not required to provide transportation from the student’s home to the private school or vice versa.

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    Parents who place their special needs children in private schools must also be aware that the school has the right to voice objections regarding the decisions of the LEA, and that teachers employed by private schools are not expected to meet the same requirements as special education teachers in the public school system. For more information on IDEA and parentally placed students in private schools, parents can contact their local education agency.