Out of District Placement Attorney in NJ
When parents think that their public school isn’t adequately providing for their child’s needs, an out-of-district placement may be necessary. An out-of-district placement means a specialized school or program outside of your local school district, such as a private school, a charter school, another public school, or a residential school where they live full-time.
Placing a child in an out-of-district school can be a particularly contentious topic. Parents may be concerned whether their child will be able to interact socially with students at another school or retain friendships at the current school.
By law, school districts are required to provide “appropriate education,” not the “best education.” Districts may object to paying for your child to attend an outside school.
The New Jersey special education lawyers at the Susan Clark Law Group LLC are well-versed in the out-of-district placement process and understand the planning that this involves. Please call us or contact us online today for a free consultation.
Understanding the Out-of-District Placement Process
When a student with a disability attends a regular public school, the district by law must report to the state whether they participate in general education classes 80 percent or more of the day, 40 to 79 percent of the day, or less than 40 percent of the day.
Students with disabilities in New Jersey, Hawaii, Montana, Arkansas, and Illinois tended to be more segregated in special schools or residential facilities, according to the National Council on Disability, which noted in a report that these states had the lowest rates of including students in general education classes 80 percent or more of the time.
If your child is not meeting the goals and objectives established in past Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), modifying the services that your district provides or pursuing an out-of-district placement may be necessary. Review your child’s progress on past IEPs, particularly the goals and objectives. Has your child progressed? Regressed? Stagnated?
If your child has regressed or plateaued, now the research begins. Does your child’s current public school have the means to make adjustments to help your child? What can be done to rectify the situation there? Are there other schools in your area that can provide the services or accommodations needed? If a private school is one of these, can you absorb the costs of this placement if the school successfully maintains that it does not have to pick up the tab?
- IEP – An IEP specifies the school or program where your child will be placed, as well as all of your concerns and goals, plus those of the school district. To successfully argue for an out-of-district placement, you must prove that your child’s current public school is not adequately meeting the child’s specialized needs. That’s not a simple task. Depending on your child’s disability, you may need to provide evaluations and recommendations from various specialists. You also should be prepared to discuss any appropriate accommodations or changes that the district can make to its program so that it becomes suitable for your child. The district, along with any mediator or administrative law judge, will need proof that an out-of-district placement is the only way to meet your child’s particular behavioral or medical needs.
Do not sign an IEP if it does not address your concerns sufficiently. Rather, talk with the IEP team about your concerns and the programs or services available to you. If the school district is unable to make the changes that you or your specialists recommend, inform them of your intention to appeal.
- Mediation – Mediation is a procedural right that the law guarantees for parents who disagree with a school district’s decision about their child’s education or well-being. Once a parent requests mediation, the school district cannot change your child’s placement, classification, or services until any issues are resolved.
More formal than a “resolution meeting” with a school official, such as the director of special education, mediation involves stating your position before two trained and impartial mediators from the New Jersey State Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. The school district also will state its position, and the mediators will attempt to help both sides work through the conflict. An out-of-district placement lawyer can assist you in presenting supporting evidence and help you negotiate with the district and mediators.
- Due Process Hearing – A due process hearing is another procedural right for parents who wish to advocate for their child’s education or well-being and are dissatisfied with the school district’s educational plan and accommodations. If a “resolution meeting” or mediation is unsuccessful, the law allows parents to request a due process hearing to appeal an IEP, a 504 Plan, or other services – including out-of-district placement. Requesting this hearing also puts your child’s classification, placement, and services on hold until a resolution is reached.
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) presides over a due process hearing. It is essential to have an out-of-district placement lawyer in your corner in such a formal setting to present your evidence and supporting legal arguments.
Much like a trial, the ALJ will hear from both sides and render a binding decision, which goes into effect immediately. However, either side can appeal the judge’s decision to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education.
Tips for Selecting a Proper Out-of-District Placement
When selecting an out-of-district placement for your child, you’ll want to take several factors into account. Whichever school you choose must be able to address the goals of your child’s IEP and provide the services outlined there. Consider these questions:
- What’s the least restrictive environment for your child’s learning? The IDEA specifies that children with disabilities should be taught in classes with children who do not have disabilities as much as possible, unless your child’s needs make this difficult. A private or charter school, or a different public school, may offer such an environment.
- What is the best school for your child that’s closest to home? Transportation and travel time will impact your child’s day and therefore should be weighed as to whether they suit your child’s best interests.
- What is the best learning environment for your child? This involves the type of school that suits your child’s needs: a mainstream school (whether public, private, or charter), a special school, or a residential school.
- How will an out-of-district placement affect your child socially? Attending an out-of-district school may limit your child’s time spent with friends at their current school. Depending on your child, this may be a difficult adjustment, particularly if your child does not have friends in the neighborhood or through other activities such as a sports league.
Can a Public School District Pay for Private School Placement?
According to the IDEA, a public school district can pay for a child’s private school placement when the district cannot provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) within its programs. A district also can pay for private school placement if the district has failed to offer the child a FAPE.
Obtaining payment involves either the district voluntarily placing the child in a private school under the IEP that the district’s team developed, or the parents placing the child in a private school and seeking tuition reimbursement from the district at a due process hearing.
Our New Jersey out-of-district placement attorneys can advise you in detail about either scenario.
How an Attorney Can Help with Out-of-District Placement
Pursuing an out-of-district placement takes a lot of research and planning. Our New Jersey out-of-district placement lawyers can help you investigate the schools that you’re considering for your child and outline their strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to your child’s needs.
We can help you organize evidence to support your advocating for this new placement, including medical records and medical experts. To win an out-of-district placement, you must be able to assure the district that the school you’ve selected will reasonably achieve progress where your child’s current school has not.
If you place your child in a private school, our lawyers also can pursue the district paying for your child’s tuition directly or reimbursing you for the tuition.
At the Susan Clark Law Group LLC, we’re passionate about empowering families with special needs with the information and resources they need to help their children thrive. If you think an out-of-district placement is right for your child, or if you have additional questions about what the placement process entails, please contact us now for a free consultation.