My child goes to a private school, but she’s been struggling academically and I’m concerned she may have a learning or thinking difference. Do private schools have to evaluate children for special education?
If your child is enrolled in a private school and you suspect she has a learning or thinking difference, she may be eligible for an evaluation at no cost to you. But the private school she attends isn’t responsible for conducting the evaluation. This responsibility belongs to the public school district your child’s private school is located in.
Public school districts are required to evaluate all children suspected of needing special education services. This includes children who attend private school. This requirement is called Child Find, and it’s part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (In this law, the school district is referred to as the Local Education Agency or LEA.)
If you suspect that your child has a disability that’s covered by IDEA (this includes learning and thinking differences like specific learning disabilities), it’s a good idea to speak with the teachers and administrators at your child’s private school. If you decide you want your child to be evaluated, make a formal request in writing and submit it to the school. The school will then consult the school district, which will decide whether to evaluate your child.
It’s important to note that school districts can refuse to evaluate your child if there isn’t enough evidence of a suspected disability. (Districts have to explain to you in writing the reasons they are refusing to do the evaluation.) That’s why it can help to talk with your child’s school before you submit your request. It’s also important to include certain details about your child when you request an evaluation.
If the school district agrees to evaluate your child, it may choose to conduct the evaluation itself. Or it may contract a third party to do it. Once you’ve given your consent to do the evaluation, it should be conducted in a timely manner. In most states, that means within 60 days.
The evaluation may determine that your child needs special education services. If so, the school district where your child’s private school is located has to provide what’s called equitable services. These services are provided through public funding allocated for students with disabilities in private schools.
A services plan will be created for your child. This plan will detail the services she’ll receive in private school. A services plan is similar to but generally less comprehensive than an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Remember that children in private school aren’t guaranteed access to the same services they would receive in public school. If you want your child to receive full special education services and an IEP, you need to enroll her in the public school where you reside.
If you’re debating whether to keep your child in private school or switch to public school, there are some important things to think through. Changing schools is a big decision. But it’s good to have options. As always, the decision is yours.
About the author
About the author
Whitney Hollins is a special education teacher and adjunct instructor at Hunter College.