By Kami-Leigh Agard
Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I remember
Involve me and I learn.
Folks—get involved with Rockaway Beach Autism Families. There’s so much we can learn, so we can make change together.
In this four-part column series, I give the 311 on how to go about the trying process of securing a special needs private school education paid in full by the NYC Department of Education. Again, parents—know your rights! The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that all children must be given a “free appropriate public education… and related services designed to meet their unique needs.” If a public school district, (including special education District 75), cannot provide an appropriate program, your child may be entitled to funding for private school. If the DOE Committee on Special Education (CSE) recommends non-public school for your child or gives them a “Nickerson letter,” you will be restricted to only NYS pre-approved private schools. However, when you deem the state-approved options are not appropriate or those schools are full, there are two ways to make the DOE pay for private school—Carter funding and Connors funding. In the previous column, I broke down Carter funding, which is when you pay the tuition upfront and seek the DOE’s reimbursement at an impartial hearing. In this last column, I hone in on Connors.
To be transparent, Connors is the more difficult option as you have to persuade a non-approved school to accept your child even though you cannot pay up front. In that case, you ask the school to accept your child based upon your promise that you will seek an order requiring the DOE to pay the tuition up front at an impartial hearing, also referred to as a “Connors” or “pre-imbursement” hearing. At the hearing, you will have to show that (1) the DOE has failed to offer your child an appropriate school program, (2) the non-approved private school you selected is appropriate for your child, (3) you are obligated, or committed, to pay tuition to the private school, and (4) you cannot afford to pay the tuition up front and seek reimbursement later.
Note: there are some private schools, (unless you’re willing to mortgage your house or cash out your 401K, or win a big lotto), that will not accept your child because they do not accept Connors or Carter funding. For example, there is a school that l’m forever in love with for my Soa, but it’s just not a possibility. The school’s program, population size, home economics classes, sports, opportunities to work in the community—are all perfect for my daughter. However, the principal frankly explained that they simply cannot afford the risk of waiting for the DOE’s reimbursement and then suddenly being unable to pay their rent or one of their teachers, for examples. Note that this school’s tuition is actually less costly than the one my daughter currently attends, which is a whopping $130K a year!
Parents! One important item to keep in mind when considering private school—you must notify the CSE before you decide to remove your child from their public school. You must inform them that you are rejecting the IEP team’s recommended program and intend to enroll your child in private school at public expense. If parents do not give the CSE this prior notice of their intentions, they may lose the right to seek reimbursement or pre-imbursement for the private school tuition at a later date. It is recommended that parents provide this notice in writing to the chairperson of the CSE.
Also, keep in mind that just because you win private school placement (Carter or Connors) for one year, means it’s automatically transferrable to future years. Nope. Due to the federal law’s requirement that IEPs be reviewed annually, families typically must file due-process complaints for tuition reimbursement every school year. Again—even if your child is in the same private school—you have to a file a due process complaint with the DOE every year, which is extremely taxing, stressful and not to mention, costly!
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