The 311 On Special Education and Private School

 The 311 On Special Education and Private School

By Kami-Leigh Agard

I recently heard someone say, “The education law requires that we provide your child with a Chevy, not a Cadillac.” What an insult! I don’t want my daughter, or any child for that matter, to lose out on a promising future because the DOE determined that our children deserve a “good enough,” not best, academic setting. There are no guarantees that a private school is going to do magic and all of a sudden, my 14-year-old nonverbal autistic daughter, Soanirina (“Soa”), is going to be a whiz at long division and reading Shakespeare. However, as parents, we have to exhaust every avenue to help our children be the best they can be. In this four-part column series, I breakdown the private school special education process.

Soa first attended a half-day preschool in Brooklyn, where I was allowed to have her nanny ride the bus with her. When she matriculated into a full-day preschool school in Woodmere, Long Island, and had to ride the bus unaccompanied, my comfort zone narrowed, but at least the school was reasonably close by, and I could get to her in a jiffy. Once Soa entered a NYC public school in Bellerose, Queens—oh, how the comfort zone became the size of a pea. When one day, it took her three hours to get home from school, enraged, I immediately transferred her to a school in Rockaway. Then life made an about turn. I left my career as a fashion technical designer to focus more on my daughter; return to my first love, writing, and spark a forever flame with Rockaway’s beautiful autism community. However, though I was comfortable that Soa was a mere five-minute drive from the house, her dad and I were alarmed at the stagnancy in her academic learning, whilst her problematic behaviors spiked. So, we decided to explore a private school setting.

Your child’s school Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team can recommend placement in an approved, non-public, special education school if they determine that no appropriate public program exists. Note, this was not the case with my daughter, as we had to hire a lawyer and sue the NYCDOE to pay for what we deemed as a more appropriate private school setting.

Under special education law, children with disabilities are entitled to a “free and appropriate education and related services.” Courts have interpreted that to mean an education and related services that are reasonably calculated to enable the child to learn. That means that your child will not necessarily be entitled to attend a private school at public expense just because a private education would be better for your child. However, if you can demonstrate that the DOE cannot offer your child a public-school program that is at least appropriate to his or her needs, you may be entitled to have your child attend a private school at public expense.

Sometimes the Committee on Special Education (CSE) will agree that it cannot offer an appropriate program for your child and will recommend a non-public school placement on your child’s IEP. In those cases, the CSE will write, “Defer to CBST,” which stands for Central-Based Support Team, a central DOE office that helps place children in private special education schools.

In other cases, the CSE will not agree with you, and it will be necessary to have an impartial hearing. At the hearing, you must prove that the school the IEP team proposed is inappropriate. However, even if you can prove that the proposed school or program is inappropriate, the hearing officer will not necessarily order the DOE to pay for private school, instead the officer may simply order the CSE to recommend another public-school placement. Therefore, if you want the hearing officer to order private school for your child, you have to demonstrate at the hearing that your child needs private school, or a particular private school, to make educational progress.

Stay tuned for my next column, in which I explore what’s needed to win your case with the DOE and Carter versus Connors private school funding.

Share your thoughts by emailing: Plus, save the date! On Thursday, July 27, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.—Rockaway Beach Autism Families is back with our “Dance Out Under The Stars” event at Caracas, Beach 106th Concession. For more info, visit: Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram.

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