Part ten and the final in the Series: Unfortunately, prevailing in a legal dispute against your school district is very difficult, so if you can avoid some common traps, why not just avoid them? If you’ve already done one of these things, don’t give up hope, but do try to rectify the situation. If you haven’t done any of these things, DON’T, it could lose your case one day.
MISTAKE #10: Sending Your Child to a Private School or Program Without Notifying Your School District First
This is a big, big no no. Huge. Major.
If you are even contemplating sending your child to a private school or placement, you need to be alerting your school district to your concerns about the special education services for your child, and your belief that your he or she requires an out of district placement before you “pull” him or her from the school district.
Reimbursement of outside services under the IDEA can be denied or reduced if the Parents did not comply with the proper “notice” requirements PRIOR TO removing the child from the public school.
If you intend to receive any funding towards a private placement, there are very specific ways in which you are required to give your school district notice of your intention to make a placement and your expectation that the placement be at public expense. It is trickier than you think, and failing to comply exposes you to denial of reimbursement, even if a Hearing Officer agrees that the school did not provide or offer an appropriate program.
Unless you have an absolute emergency, do not remove your child from the public schools before notifying the school district.
And by “emergency,” the latest version of the statute refers to risk of physical harm as an exception to the notice provisions. The fact that you think it’s an emergency does not necessarily mean that the circumstances of your case will meet this exception as a matter of law. I highly recommend a consultation with a good special education attorney in your state before removing your child from his or her public school program.
This applies even if the decision to privately place is reached over the summer.
Some parents don’t notify the district because they don’t think they are entitled to public funding of the placement, and they may not be. However, I can not tell you how many times parents were misinformed as to whether or not the private placement might be the school’s obligation, or they didn’t even know that they had a right to ask for it.
Therefore, give the proper notice of the private placement and your request that it be funded even if you’re not sure if you have a right to reimbursement.
At least you will leave the possibility of funding by your school district open.
In addition, remember that kids change. Sometimes parents remove a child with a disability from the public school and choose to place him or her at a non-special education or parochial school. Then, a couple of months, or a year or two later, the disability can no longer be appropriately addressed in the private school, and it becomes clear that the student requires a much more specialized program. Suddenly, you are in the position of needing to go back to your school district to ask them to consider services for your child. This can be tricky, so you want to make sure you left things properly.
If the circumstances of your individual case prevented you from notifying the school district first, you may still have a right to reimbursement, but since this “common mistake” is so easy to prevent, now that you’re aware of it, avoid it!