Out-of-District Placement: How It Works

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • An out-of-district placement is a specialized school or program outside your local school district.

  • Out-of-district placement is for kids whose educational needs can’t be met by their local schools.

  • Students may be placed in public or private schools, or at a residential school where they live full time.

If your child’s special education services aren’t meeting her needs, what can you do? One option might be an out-of-district placement.

With this option, your district would pay for your child to attend an outside school that offers the type of help and setting she needs. It could be a public school, a private day school or a residential school where she lives full time.

This isn’t something you can just choose for your child, unless you’re prepared to pay the tuition yourself. In order for your district to pay, your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must decide it’s the most appropriate program for her. That may happen if:

  • There isn’t a program in your district to meet your child’s specialized education needs.

  • Your child isn’t making adequate progress in the in-district program.

  • Your child’s medical or behavioral needs can only be met in a specialized program.

Considering Out-of-District Placement

Often, schools and parents will agree that an out-of-district placement is appropriate. But sometimes there’s a dispute. You may find that you have to raise the issue at an IEP meeting yourself, and advocate for your child to get an out-of-district placement.

“Schools and parents will often agree that an out-of-district placement is appropriate. But sometimes there’s a dispute.”

There are certain things the IEP team should take into account when deciding if your child should be placed out-of-district. These include:

  • What is the least restrictive environment your child can learn in? That’s a legal term that means your child should be taught in classes with kids who don’t have disabilities for as much of the school day as possible—unless her special needs make that impossible.

  • What’s the best environment for your child? Is it a mainstream school, a special school or a residential school?

  • Can the school give your child special education services required by the IEP? Does the school have the teaching staff or the kind of classroom setting needed? For instance, your child might need a self-contained classroom but your public school might not offer that.

  • What’s the closest and best school for your child? The goal is to find a place as close as possible to your child’s home.

If the school agrees to an out-of-district placement, there are things for you to consider, too. Any school your child is placed in must be able to provide the services and address the goals of her IEP. It’s a good idea to ask your district how it monitors this.

You may also need to think more about your child’s social life. Going out-of-district can leave her with fewer chances to hang out with siblings and local friends. It can also limit her interactions with kids who don’t have learning and thinking differences.

It’s important to help your child maintain social connections at home. Participating in neighborhood sports leagues and clubs can be a great way to help her make and keep friends, even if they’re not in school together.

Key Takeaways

  • Sometimes parents and their district will disagree about a placement, and a battle can result.

  • Going to a special school can limit a child’s friendships with kids who don’t have a disability.

  • Joining local clubs and sports leagues can help your child stay socially connected at home.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Kristen L. Hodnett, MSEd 

is a clinical professor in the department of special education at Hunter College in New York City.

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