Private Schools IEP in California: A Brief Guide

Are there differences with a Private School IEP? Find out answers to this and more by contacting Brian R. Sciacca. He can advise you on this and more. Call now!

Special Education for Private School Kids


Special education for children with disabilities in the US is primarily regulated by federal law, particularly the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and supporting laws and regulations enacted by state entities such as the California Education Code.

The laws require states to provide free and appropriate public education for disabled children within their territory. However, does the term ‘public education” mean that students in private schools are excluded from benefiting from state-provided special education programs?

The answer to this question is no. While public agencies and school districts implement special education programs, private school students with disabilities can and do benefit from special education programs, although with some variations from the procedure applicable at public schools.

So, if you’re considering changing your child’s school from public to private or wondering whether your special needs child who attends a private school in California is entitled to an IEP and other special education benefits, it is important to know how the laws apply to your case before taking a decision.

Continue reading to gain more insight into special education in private California schools and how IEPs work there.

Finding and Evaluating Special Needs Children


 The IDEA specifically requires that all children with disabilities who need special education services are identified, found, and evaluated, whether they are homeless, wards of the state, or enrolled in private schools, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. This is known as the ‘child find’ requirement.

By this provision, local education agencies (LEAs) have to conduct evaluations for children with suspected disabilities regardless of where they attend school.

A child found to have a disability within the meaning of the Act after the evaluation is entitled to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) within the public school district executed via a personalized IEP.

IEP Eligibility for Private School Students


IEP is an acronym for ‘Individualized Education Program.’ It is arguably the most important document in a child’s special needs education as it contains all the details of the child’s education plan.

IEPs generally contain the following:

  • A summary of the child’s current levels of academic and functional performance

  • Measurable annual and functional goals

  • A description of the parameters for measuring the child’s progress periodically

  • A statement of the specific special education services to be provided for the child, including the provision of supplementary aids where necessary

  • Any activities that are restricted or prohibited for the child to perform with their non-disabled peers 

According to IDEA, every child that meets the disability criteria is entitled to have an IEP developed, reviewed, or revised on their behalf, as the case may be. Such children may also be eligible to receive compensatory education if the LEA defaults in any area of their IEP implementation. However, how the IEP is implemented for private school kids depends on whether the child’s private school attendance was based on parental placement or the LEA’s recommendations.

Local Education Agency Placement


An LEA may refer or place a child who previously attended public school to a private school that provides special education services and facilities in accordance with the child’s IEP. LEAs use this option in circumstances where the public school districts cannot provide sufficient special education services for the child or successfully implement their IEP. In such cases, the cost of implementing the IEP is borne by the state or LEA without any contribution from the child’s parents.


Parental Placement

Where a parent chooses to send their child with special needs to a private school without a referral from the LEA or school district, the range of special education services they could receive may be affected.

Under IDEA, most LEA special education programs are run via public schools to make them easily accessible for all who need them. As such, while children who attend private school do receive government-sponsored special needs support, the range of services and the obligations of the LEA to them differs from that of students who attend a local public school in several ways, including the following;


Service Plans

The LEA has to provide an initial evaluation for a private school child suspected to have a disability. However, the student needs an IEP after the evaluation but instead receives a service plan that is less detailed than an IEP.


Cost of the Special Needs Education and Services

In terms of IDEA, LEAs are required to provide some funding for special education and related services for children in private schools. However, this funding is limited and, in turn, may limit the range of services that the child can get to essential ‘equitable services.’ Anything extra would likely be funded by the child’s parents, especially when the LEA had made free appropriate public education available for that child.

However, if the child in question had been receiving special education in a public school before the parents unilaterally transferred them to a private school, the parents may be able to recover the enrollment cost from the LEA. To achieve this, the child’s parent(s) would need to approach the court, and if the judge finds that FAPE had not been provided for the child or the provision was not timely, then the court could order reimbursement in favor of the parents.

How a Special Needs Education Attorney Can Help


Choosing to send your child with a disability to a private school doesn’t mean that you have totally lost your entitlement to special needs services.

The LEA and school district have several obligations to fulfill for your child’s benefit. If at any point they fail to fulfill these obligations, IDEA allows you to seek redress by filing a complaint at the California Department of Education or in court.

special education lawyer can help you in such cases by filing the complaint on your behalf and representing you in court throughout the hearing. With their professional experience, your attorney can help you present your case convincingly, which would likely sway the judge in your favor. This could go a long way in helping you succeed in getting the right educational support for your child.

If you’re having any issues with your special needs child’s private school attendance, or if you’d like further clarification as to your rights and entitlements under the law, you can contact the law offices of Brian R. Sciacca, Attorney at Law.

We are a firm of skilled special education attorneys in California, and we can help you clarify your position under the law and represent you in any aspect of the special needs education process. Contact us to book a free consultation with us today. We’d love to hear from you.