Special Education: Placement

Where will my child be placed if he or she requires special education services?

After the PPT develops your child’s IEP, the next step is to determine the specific placement of your child to receive his or her special education. A major component of your child’s placement is that he or she be placed to the maximum extent appropriate with his or her non-disabled peers. The IDEA requires that states receiving federal funds for special education in public or private institutions educate your child with children who are not disabled and that special classes, separate schooling, or other methods of removal from the regular educational environment pertaining to children with disabilities occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. This is referred to as the “LRE” or the least restrictive environment.[1]

In placing your child, the local educational agency must ensure that the decision is made in conjunction with a parent and any other individuals who have knowledge about your child and in conformity with the LRE provision. A child’s placement is to be determined annually in accordance with their IEP and be as close as possible to their home.[2] Unless your child’s IEP requires otherwise, he or she should attend the same school as if he or she was not disabled. When selecting the LRE, significant consideration must be given to any potentially harmful effects that this placement may have on your child or on the quality of required special education services.[3] The PPT must consider the assistance of an aide, modified instruction, or other supplementary aids and services that will allow for your child to be educated in a regular classroom setting.

First, the PPT should consider the benefits that each potential setting will provide your child. The PPT should not only weigh the academic benefits for each placement scenario but other factors as well, such as communication with teachers and students. Second, the PPT should look at whether placing your child in a regular education setting would lead to disruption. Factors in determining the potential for disruption include the child’s social skills or whether your child’s presence will divert the attention of the teacher away from the other students in the class. Lastly, the PPT may consider the cost of supplementary aids and services required to support your child in the regular classroom setting. The school district, however, cannot use the cost of providing supplemental aids or services as justification for not providing your child with an education in the least restrictive environment.

Where will my child get this special education?

Your child’s special education program may be given in:

  • regular classes with supportive aids and services;
  • special classes;
  • special schools, including public and private schools that are out of your school district;
  • your home;
  • hospitals; and
  • residential programs.
Remember, the school district is responsible for paying the full cost of the special education program and related services that the PPT recommends.

The law says that a child must be placed in the “least restrictive environment.” This means your child should stay in the regular classroom unless the team decides that even with special additional aids and services, your child cannot be successful there. Support services might include (but are not limited to) an aide in the classroom, use of computers or other assistive technology, or changes to the regular education curriculum. [4]

What if my child is placed in a private school or referred to a private school? Am I eligible for reimbursement if my child attends a private school?

Due to the cost of enrolling a child in a private school, major issues surrounding reimbursement for such placement may arise between parents and the school district. The school district is obligated to provide your child with a FAPE, which embraces the possibility that enrollment in a private school may be necessary to meet your child’s needs.

If your school district determines that your child’s special education requirements would best be met in a private school, they may make the appropriate referral. Prior to referring your child for private school placement, the local educational agency must develop an IEP for your child. The public school must ensure that a representative of the private school attends this meeting, and if they are unable to attend, your child’s public school must use other methods to ensure their participation, such as individual or conference telephone calls.[5] The school board must concur with the initial finding that placement in a private institution is necessary and proper and that no state institution is available to meet your child’s needs.[6] The school district must pay the reasonable cost of your child’s enrollment. The local educational agency is not required to pay for the cost of your child’s education, including special education and related services, if a FAPE otherwise has been made available to your child, and as a parent, you have elected to place your child in private school.[7]

Most issues pertaining to elective private school placement arise between parents and the school district regarding the availability of appropriate education and the question of financial reimbursement. Disagreements on these matters are subject to the due process procedures, discussed in greater detail below. As a parent of a child with a disability, you have the right to enroll your child in private school as you see fit. However, if your public school district concludes that they are able to provide an appropriate education for your child, a dispute over reimbursement is likely to arise.

Enrollment of your child in a private school without the local educational agency’s consent or referral may lead to a dispute as to the need for this enrollment in order to provide an appropriate education for your child. If a hearing officer finds that the agency has not made FAPE available to your child and private school placement was appropriate, you will be entitled to full reimbursement for the cost of enrolling your child in a private school.[8] Although a hearing officer, after a hearing, may find that you are entitled to full reimbursement by your school district for the cost of private school placement, reimbursement may nevertheless be reduced or denied.

The following are grounds for when your public school district can reduce or deny reimbursement for enrollment in private school following a hearing officer’s decision that private school placement was nonetheless appropriate. First, if, as a parent, you failed to inform your child’s public school at the last PPT meeting you attended (prior to removing your child) that you were rejecting the placement proposed by the public school agency to provide FAPE to your child. You must have stated your concerns and intent to enroll your child in a private school at public expense. This information must be provided in writing by a parent at least ten (10) business days prior to the removal of your child from his or her public school. Second, if, prior to the removal of your child from the public school, the local educational agency had informed you of its intent to evaluate your child, and you failed to make your child available for an evaluation. Lastly, if there is a judicial finding of parental unreasonableness in enrolling your child in private school without the public school’s acquiescence.[9]  Adhering to the aforementioned requirements will allow the public school district the opportunity to address your concerns and make any necessary changes to your child’s program prior to you removing your child.

Under certain circumstances, the school district will not be entitled to a reduction or full abatement in reimbursing you for the cost of enrolling your child in a private school. If you can show that, (a) the school prevented you from providing them with notice of your decision to remove your child, (b) compliance with the notice requirement would likely have resulted in physical or emotional harm to your child, or (c) you are unable to read and write in English, reimbursement will not be reduced or declined for failure to adhere to the notice requirements.

Contact an Experienced Education Law Attorney

Our attorneys have years of experience representing education law clients in the states of New York and Connecticut. With offices located in New York City and Westport, we strive to provide large firm service while maintaining the small firm attention and accountability you deserve.  us today for assistance with your placement questions. Call 212-682-5700 for our New York offices or 203-221-3100 for our Connecticut office.



[1] 20 U.S.C. §1412(5)(A).
[2] 34 C.F.R. §300.116(b)(1)-(3).
[3] 34 C.F.R. §300.116(d).
[4] Special Education in Connecticut, IEP: who makes it, what you can do, and what should be in it, www.ctlawhelp.org (Sept. 2014).
[5] 34 C.F.R. §300.325(a).
[6] Conn .Gen. Stat. Ann. §10-76(d)(d).
[7] 34 C.F.R. §300.148.
[8] 34 C.F.R. §300.148(c).
[9] 34 C.F.R. §300.148(d)(1)-(3).