There comes a time when parents are so discouraged and frustrated with the school system that private placement or home schooling may be the only viable option. It may takes months and sometimes years before the parents feel this way. Nonetheless, at some point in time parents realize that the public school cannot and will not perform its obligation to provide a free appropriate public education for their child. What is the next step for the parents to consider?
Under the IDEA, a parent may unilaterally withdraw her child from the public school district and enroll the child in a private school or residential facility at their own expense. Over the years, I have known a number of parents to choose this option. They became so frustrated with the lack of quality of special education programming for their child that they withdrew their child and enrolled him in a private school at their expense. As we know, private school can be expensive especially when you are thinking about a private school that specializes in educating children with learning disabilities, autism, or other types of disabilities. Parents have other choices, however. They can continue to let their child attend the public school and then file for due process. At the due process hearing, the parent must prove that the public school system has not and cannot provide a free appropriate public education for their child and that a private placement is appropriate. In this case, the parents must have in mind a private school or placement that they believe is appropriate for their child. The parents have the burden of proof at the due process hearing to show that the school system’s IEP and placement is inappropriate and that the proposed private placement will provide the child with appropriate special education instuction, services and programming. The parents also have the option of withdrawing their child from public school and enrolling him in a private school. The parents must first, however, meet procedural requirements under the IDEA to do this. The parents must either attend an IEP meeting and state that their child is not receiving a free appropriate education and ask for the school system to pay or reimburse them for private school placement at public expense. The parents can also choose to send a letter to the school system within 10 days after they withdraw their child from public school and ask for reimbursement for private school placement. The failure of parents to comply with these procedural requirements may reduce any amount received from the school system if they are the prevailing party or even prevent the parents from recovering any reimbursement from the school system.
In Georgia, parents that seek recovery for private placement and reimbursement of expenses must consider that this an expensive and tedious process. It is rare that administrative law judges award reimbursement of private school expenses unless the parents have a compelling case. This is not to say that parents do not prevail in private school reimbursement or placement cases. But parents should be mindful that unless they retain a highly skilled and experienced special education attorney for the due process hearing, they are very unlikely to prevail at the hearing. Before you decide to pursue a due process hearing for private school placement or reimbursement of expenses for private school, you should definitely contact a special education attorney.