Seeking District Reimbursement for Private Services
Many of our kids who struggle with distance learning also experience regressions and make insufficient progress on their IEP goals. In our recent Distance Learning 2.0 Panel, special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka and special education attorney Grace Clark agreed that before you consider turning to private services to help bridge the gap, it’s best to try to reach an agreement with your IEP team first by requesting additional services and sessions. If they aren’t granted or they aren’t working, you can then seek help outside your district. Here, Grace Clark shares her tips for asking your district to reimburse you for private services such as therapists and 1:1 aides. Details below!
Key takeaway: To be reimbursed, you must be able to show that the district is not providing your child with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).
The school district has a responsibility to offer every child a free, appropriate public education. Many schools prefer to use the services and programs they already have to provide FAPE to students, but sometimes a child’s unique needs surpass what the district can provide. In these instances, the district is obligated to find and provide the services the child needs.
What Does the District Have to Offer?
Grace explains that districts do not need to provide an exceptional education, nor do they need to make sure a child is achieving their full potential. They only need to provide an appropriate education for free. But in order to be appropriate, the student must continue to make meaningful progress every year.
Contracting with NPAs
If a district can’t provide a student with the services or accommodations they need to receive FAPE, they will first look to organizations they already contract with. In California, these organizations are called non-public agencies (NPAs) and can include speech, physical, and occupational therapy services (and sometimes entire schools). If the district contracts with the NPA where a child is sent for services, they pay the organization directly.
Justification for Private Services
Grace tells us that it is more difficult to get the district to pay for a private service or school. The parent has to pay for the service themselves and then ask the district for reimbursement. Most districts are reluctant to reimburse, and in Grace’s experience, it usually requires litigation or at least preparing for litigation.
You may be in the position to get the district to fund private services if:
- Your child has not been progressing, or their progress has been minimal, for an extended amount of time.
- The district does not offer a solution (such as increased services) that could remedy the stall in progress.
Steps for Asking for Reimbursement
- Reach out to your district and find out whether the school has a service or accommodation they have not tried that might be successful in providing FAPE. The district will only be obligated to fund an outside source if there is nothing more they can offer, or if the student requires a specific type of service or methodology that the district can’t provide. During our Distance Learning 2.0 Panel, Dr. Diana Fannon, Culver City Unified School District’s Director of Special Education, said that it’s always best to start by reaching out to the district: “If parents are paying for services themselves or if there’s a conflict they want to work on, most districts will work with you to resolve that. I came from LAUSD and work with a really small district now, and both districts tried really hard to resolve disagreements before they became bigger or parents had to file for due process.”
- Show that the district has not been providing FAPE to your child. Grace says this can be established by a consistent record of the child failing to progress in an area of need despite the school’s intervention. Documentation that a child is consistently not meeting their IEP goals shows that FAPE is not being provided. Another example is comparing psychoeducational testing that shows a lack of progress or exceptionally slow progress. (Check out these handy templates that will help you keep track of your child’s progress.)
- File for due process and allege that the district has not been providing FAPE to your child. (See Grace’s helpful report on due process and LAUSD.) The district may agree to fund a private service in a settlement agreement at mediation or prior to the due process hearing. If the family prevails at the hearing, the judge could order the district to reimburse the parent for a private service. Again, you might be able to negotiate with the district prior to starting litigation, so always start there first.