By Christine Clark

Many parents these days have opted for a private school experience for their child for a variety of reasons. These parents want to know what they can expect in terms of special education supports for their child in a private school setting.

The fact of the matter is that students enrolled in private schools by their parents do not have the same right to special education under the law as students enrolled in public schools. Students with disabilities attending public schools have the educational right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The operative words here being public education.

FAPE refers specifically to special education and related services that are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge to the parent, and that meet the standards of the state education department. Special education and related services must be provided in conformity with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as required by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (1)

Having said that, the public school district where the child resides and the private school are expected to collaborate to provide a private school child with special education services, and IDEA 2004 includes new provisions to ensure that students in private elementary and secondary schools have access to special education services.

However, there is a great deal of room for interpretation because as mentioned before students in private schools are not protected under FAPE.

What typically happens is that private schools provide students with supports according to their resources. Private schools are not regulated by state government and can set their own standards with regard to curriculum and special education service delivery. Some private schools require teachers to be certified and some do not. (2)

This means that special education teachers at private schools may or may not be trained in evidence-based practices, and students may or may not receive services in a separate area within the school. It is best to contact individual private schools to learn whether they require teacher certification and their particular approach to educating students with special needs.

Referring back to IDEA 2004: it does include strict requirements when moving a student with an IEP from a public to a private school, however; the level of support and responsibility that parents can expect depends on how their child was placed in the private school. This falls into 1 of 3 categories:

  1. Students with disabilities placed in private school by their parents prior to being found eligible for special education under IDEA.
  2. Students with disabilities placed in private school by their parents after being found eligible to receive special education services under IDEA.
  3. Students with disabilities placed in private school by the public school district. (3)

Category 1:

If a child is struggling at the private school and is deemed to need an evaluation to determine if he/she has a disability, the evaluation will be conducted by a special education team from the public school where the private school is located.

Once a child has been identified within the private school to need an evaluation, the process begins as stated by law and is subject to a timeline. The parent needs to sign a consent form and testing must be completed no later than 30 days from the date the form is returned. A meeting must be held within 45 days of the date of consent. Parents are responsible for transporting their child to and from testing sessions at the local public school subject to the availability of the evaluators. The public school psychologist will commonly visit the private school to observe the child in his/her class.

Once eligibility is determined, a special educator at the public school will write an IEP within 5 school days of the meeting with specific service recommendations, however; the private school can integrate those services depending on its resources. In many cases, the student will leave the private school for a portion of the day to receive services at the local public school. In this case, it is the parent’s responsibility to provide transportation.

Category 2:

IDEA 2004 is more specific concerning children entering private school with an IEP, but it goes back to the aforementioned idea that these children are not protected under FAPE. In this case, the private school can contact the public school where it is located, and have services delivered at the public school during the school day with parental transportation. The private school can also offer to deliver the IEP services according to their resources/supports as long as this is a team decision with parental agreement.

Category 3:

There are times when a child needs a more intensified level of services at a private school that specializes in educating children with special needs. If the state deems that a child’s needs cannot be met at the public school then the public school would be responsible to finance tuition and transportation. This is something that rarely happens, and is followed by a long process with an advocate and/or lawyer acting on the parents’ behalf.

There isn’t one answer that applies to each child. I’ve worked with many parents in private schools over the years who have approached the issue from a variety of perspectives. Some parents choose to transport their child to the public school each week to receive services. Other parents rely on the private school to provide the services. Sometimes, parents decide to hire the services of a specialized practitioner. Health insurance can be used to help with costs depending on the specific service needed.

The important piece to keep in mind is that each case is unique. Parents will need to work with their private school, the public school, and their specialized practitioners to find the best option for their child.  

Learners visit our tutoring centers from a wide range of locations. Following are some of the most common:

Beverly, Boxford, Brookline, Danvers, Dedham, Dover, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Middleton, Milton, Natick, Needham, Newton, North Reading, Norwood, Peabody, Reading, Salem, Topsfield, Wakefield, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Wenham, West Roxbury, Weston, Westwood, Wilmington

(1) US Department of Education, “Free Appropriate Public Education under Section 504,”  August, 2010. www2.ed.gov

(2) allEducationSchools, “Teacher Certification and Licensure Information.” www.alleducationschools.com

(3) National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Parent Guide to IDEA, Chapter 9: Students in Private School: Understanding Your Child’s Special Education Options.” www.ncld.org


  • Barbara Coutinho says:

    It is my understanding that if a child need an evaluation, the town in which that child resides is responsible for conducting the evaluation. If the child is from out of state, the town where the private school is located is responsible for conducting the evaluation.

    • Thanks for the comment, Barbara. Section 612(a)(10)(A) of the IDEA and 34 CFR §300.130 through 300.144 now require that the local educational agency (LEA) or school district conduct a thorough and complete child find process to determine the number of parentally placed children with disabilities attending private schools located within the school district regardless of where those students live. The child find process means that the school district or LEA where the private school is located is responsible for ensuring a child is identified, located, and evaluated. That being said, some schools still do things differently, which is why all of these regulations can be confusing. I would recommend that you speak with your private school as well as the public school where your private school is located to determine the best action for a particular child.

  • Corinne Costello says:

    My son is 6 and diagnosed autistic non verbal with possible add. He cannot tell me about his day or if he is sick. I don’t know which avenue is best. He is in school (public) with an IEP ABA services and 1-1 everyday to protect from bullying. is this saying that we shouldn’t be fighting for private and that private wouldn’t be as good as a public school I’m so confused!:) We just had our IEP and didn’t sign bc of placement. We want him in private where there’s less kids per class and more attention with less chance of bullying bc there will be no typical children. Am I wrong? I’m just concerned bc of his incapbility of telling me about what is going on. I would love some advice and do you think that your company could do my son some service? I will try anything to help him with pragmatic speech. He has a huge vocab and is very intelligent. He knows numbers up to 20 and has since 2. Alphabet and shapes as well as colors and so much more. He loves to read or be read to and memorizes and reads along with me:)
    Thank you for listening,
    Corinne Costello 978-760-4420 my cell


    • I’ve passed the details of your situation, and your contact information, to our Learning Center staff, Corinne. Someone should be in touch with you shortly!

  • Banu Ganapathi says:

    Hi, My daughter is 4 years old, turning 5 in a couple of months. She fits the same description as provided above by Corinne Costello about her son – she has been diagnosed with Autism and is speech delayed. I am looking to get advice on whether a private school setting is better for my daughter. She currently has an IEP and goes to the Public school, but we would like for her to be mingling with typically developing kids and not just be in special ed setting. Can you please provide some recommendation of private schools in the Raleigh / Cary area

  • Dianne Kelsey says:

    My daughter is going to a private school on a special education scholarship this year. They asked to see her IEP and consequently are charging us 2$k beyond the scholarship to for the accommodations. Thoughts?

  • Laura K Woods says:

    Hello, I went online to research whether a child who is CURRENTLY enrolled in a private preschool + was very recently diagnosed with autism qualifies for services from the public preschool such as speech therapy + ABA. I ended up here on this site, but we are living in New Hampshire, so my guess is the answers here do not apply. ANY IDEA where I can find answers about our state?

  • Mich says:

    Can private schools charge special education students higher tuition fees than regular education students in order to offset the cost of a special needs teacher at a private school?

    • While private schools may have different tuition rates for different programs, the base amount for each program would be the same for all students. That said, if your child qualifies for special education and you enroll them in a private school they would get what’s called “equitable services.” Equitable services are paid for by public funding, and this funding is set aside specifically for students with disabilities whose parents put them in private school, but because this funding is limited, kids might get fewer free services if they go to a private school than if they switch to public school. For example, they might get fewer one-on-one sessions with a speech therapist.

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