What Parents Should Know About Pursuing Private School Tuition Reimbursement
by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq.
McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
You toured, you applied, and your child was accepted to a private school which you feel will meet your child’s unique special education needs! . . . Now what? The good news is that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and the United States Supreme Court paved the way for parents to receive tuition reimbursement when they must unilaterally place their child in private school to meet the child’s needs. Below, you will find the basics for requesting tuition reimbursement and some practical tips to make the request.
According to the IDEA (20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)) and its regulations (34 C.F.R. § 300.148(c)), parents may receive tuition reimbursement if they unilaterally enroll their child in private school because the school district or charter school that was responsible for special education failed to offer a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”). Essentially, if your child’s former school district or charter school did not provide an appropriate education, and you choose to enroll your child in private school on your own, you may be entitled to reimbursement for some or all of your tuition. However, it is important to note that parents who unilaterally change their child’s placement without consent from the school do so at their own financial risk. It is also important to note that the IDEA only applies to children with certain disabilities.
To prove a tuition reimbursement case, parents have to establish that:
(1) The responsible school district or charter school failed to offer a FAPE;
(2) That the private school they chose is appropriate for their child; and
(3) That the parents took appropriate steps/acted reasonably.
The final prong refers to whether the parents provided proper notice to the school district or charter school and whether they acted reasonably in their dealings with the school. Notice that you are rejecting your child’s proposed placement and intend to place your child in private school must be provided either 1) at the most recent IEP team meeting prior to removal, or 2) in writing at least 10 business days prior to the removal of the child. Courts may deny tuition reimbursement when parents fail to meet the notice requirements, if parents do not act reasonably, or if they fail to cooperate with a request for an evaluation prior to the removal.
Parents should provide written notice at least 10 business days before the removal even if they have already stated their disagreement at the last IEP meeting. The written notice provides a clear record of the date you informed the school. Because the date matters, either hand-deliver a letter (and ask for a time stamped copy) or send an e-mail (which has a time stamp built in). The letter or e-mail does not have to be anything fancy, but it should have a few key things. You should state that you believe your child was not offered a FAPE, that you believe the private school is an appropriate placement for your child, and that you are requesting that the school district or charter school support tuition at the private school.