The law requires public schools to provide a Free
Appropriate Public Education to all children. This means that if your child's needs cannot be met in the public school, the school district must pay for your child to attend a private school that meets your child's needs (a "private placement").
If parents and schools disagree about what placement meets the child's needs, the dispute can be resolved in a number of ways
. One way is for a hearing officer
to decide what placement is appropriate. This is an all or nothing approach. Either the school is right or the parent is right. If the parent is right, the school must fund the private placement in full.
But hearings can be expensive, stressful, and most importantly risky - even if you have a strong case, there is no guarantee that the hearing officer will agree. This is why many special education disputes are resolved in settlement agreements
. Sometimes, these settlement agreements provide for cost-sharing, meaning that parents and the school both pay for a portion of the private placement.
Cost-sharing is a particularly good idea if the parents' case for a private placement is not a "slam-dunk." Cost-sharing is also a good option if the parents and school agree that the child needs a private placement, but will disagree over the particular school. Usually the school's choice is less expensive than the parents'. In this scenario, parents can offer to make up the difference between the school's offer and their preferred placement.
Of course, cost-sharing is only a viable option for parents who can afford it. That said, cost-sharing can provide a cost-savings for parents. Cost-sharing can expedite the settlement process, leading to lower attorney's fees and settlement-related costs.
Even parents who cannot afford a traditional cost-sharing option should not ignore the cost-sharing . Instead, those parents should consider applying for grants, scholarships, and financial aid to help fund the private placement. Remember - any way you can lessen the financial burden on the school, the better your chances to obtaining an appropriate placement for your child.If you want to request a private school (out-of-district) placement at public expense, contact a Massachusetts special education lawyer for help navigating this complex progress.