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Private and Parochial Schools
Private and parochial schools are an alternative to the public school system. They are available at all grade levels (including preschool) and may follow a particular educational philosophy. Students must apply and be accepted to private and religious schools. Admission is not guaranteed, and many schools have academic and other expectations for students who are enrolled. Most private and parochial schools are day schools; however some are residential or "boarding" schools.
Private and religious schools charge tuition. This means that usually parents must pay for students to attend. There may be scholarships available to help cover all or part of tuition expenses. Private and parochial schools may also charge for things other than tuition, such as books, busing, field trips, and participation in extracurricular activities.
Sometimes a private school may be specified as an appropriate educational placement for a student receiving special education services. When this occurs, the public school must pay the private school tuition and other school-related costs. This is because the public school is responsible for ensuring that the student receives a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Private and parochial schools may be licensed and/or accredited. Being licensed means that the school has received a license to operate from the state in which it is located and that it is regulated by the state. Many schools, particularly religious schools are not licensed; instead they are registered with the state in which they are located and are sponsored by religious institutions. Schools which are accredited meet quality standards of certain state-approved accrediting associations.
The degree to which private and parochial schools must comply with federal education law depends on the particular circumstances of the school. For example, if the school receives federal financial assistance, it may be required to follow Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not apply to private and religious schools.
If your child has qualified for special education services, your district is responsible for offering your child a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). However, you may refuse the placement offered by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team and unilaterally enroll your child in a private or parochial school. The private or religious school does not have to offer your child an IEP and is not responsible for providing FAPE. (If you do not agree that the placement decided by the IEP team is appropriate, you should follow dispute resolution procedures. In some instances parents have been able to get tuition reimbursement for private school tuition when the IEP was determined not to provide FAPE, but there is no guarantee that reimbursement will be provided.)
If you unilaterally enroll your child in a private school, your school district can decide that it is willing to pay for special education services to your child, even though the private placement was not recommended by the IEP team. To determine which special education services are needed, an evaluation and Evaluation Report must be completed and/or reviewed. Once areas of need are identified, the district can choose which services, if any, it is willing to provide. Districts may make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, meaning it is within their discretion to provide these services to some students in private school and not others.
If the district agrees to provide some special education services, IDEA requires that the district create a service plan which describes the specific special education and related services which will be provided. The service plan is similar to an IEP in that it specifies the amount of services and where and by whom services will be delivered. It is different from an IEP in that it does not provide families the same rights and it only includes services provided by the district, not those provided by the private school.
Special education services provided by a public district to a student unilaterally placed in a private school can be provided at the private school, at the public school, or at another service location. Whether or not special education services can be provided at a parochial school is still up for debate; Pennsylvania discourages districts from providing services at a religious school in order to avoid excessive government entanglement with religion. Transportation to the service location must be included if necessary for the student to benefit from the service, however transportation from the student's home to the private school is not required.
Parents who unilaterally place their child in a private school may file a due process complaint for problems which occur during the evaluation process. However, they do not have due process rights for the provision of services. This is because there is no requirement that public schools provide any special education services to students placed in private school by their parents.