Can parents insist on a change in placement to a private school if they feel the current school’s placement is inappropriate?

Published: June 24th, 2016

The federal regulations that implement the IDEA require schools to afford the parents of a child with a disability an opportunity to participate in meetings that concern the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to their child. [34 C.F.R. § 300.501(b)] Further, the regulations specify that schools are required to ensure that a parent is a member of any group that makes decisions regarding a child’s educational placement. [Id. at subsection (c)] In its Letter to Burton, the United States Department of Education/Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) explains that the “[Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)] does not permit a placement decision to be based solely on parent preference; however, it is one factor that a public agency may consider in making a placement decision.” [17 IDELR 1182; 17 LRP 1339 (OSEP 1991)] The spirit behind the regulations is one of collaboration, and IEP teams are encouraged to make decisions by consensus. However, when consensus cannot be reached, the school is charged with making a decision, providing the parents written notice of the decision and the reason or reasons for the decision, and informing the parents of their right to challenge the decision by requesting mediation or a due process hearing. The regulations are clear that disagreements between parents and schools about the availability of an appropriate program for the child, and questions about financial reimbursement for a parent’s unilateral private school placement, are subject to the due process procedures. [34 C.F.R. § 300.148(c)].