Private Schools and IDEA

By Candace Cortiella

At a Glance

Although students enrolled in private schools do not have the same right to special education as students in public school, IDEA does outline a pathway for dealing with private-school students with LD • The public school district where the private school is located is responsible for determining eligibility and developing the plan for special education services

2.8.10 Private SchoolIf you have a child in private school—including religious school—and you suspect he may have learning disabilities, it is critically important that you understand how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) applies to your child’s situation.

The IDEA draws a distinction between students placed in private schools prior to being found eligible for special education services (referred to as “parentally-placed private school children with disabilities”) and those placed in private schools after being found eligible (referred to as a “unilateral private placement”). The guidelines below refer to the former situation.


According to IDEA, when the parents of a private school student (or the school itself) request an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education, the school district where the private school is located is responsible for conducting the evaluation.

The process begins with request for a formal evaluation, which should be done in writing. IDEA requires school districts to consider any information that is supplied in that request. It should therefore contain all the information that leads you to believe that your child has LD. Make sure to include results from any private evaluations you commissioned, as that will not only strengthen your position, but also avoid duplication of those particular assessments.

Upon receipt of your request, the school district will provide you with an Evaluation Notice that describes the tests the district proposes to conduct during the evaluation. Since IDEA contains a number of legal requirements for conducting evaluations, be sure that the process outlined and types of tests described in the Evaluation Notice reflect those requirements, are broad enough to provide a complete picture of your child, and take into consideration the concerns you have raised with the school.

Check with your state’s Parent Training and Information Center for state-specific information about evaluations and eligibility requirements. Find a complete listing of these centers at


Should your child be found eligible for special education, the public school district where the private school is located may provide special education and related services. However, students enrolled in private schools by their parents do not have the same right to special education and related services as students enrolled in public schools.

The school district determines the number of private school students that will be served each year and makes the final decisions about all aspects of the services being offered.

School districts have flexibility in how they spend funds allocated for serving private school students with disabilities. For example, a school district can decide to spend all of their funds on training private school teachers, and not offer any services directly to students.

The district, through a “consultation process,” must meet with representatives from the private schools located within the district as well as representatives of parents who placed their children in these private schools to decide what services to provide.


Once it has been determined that your child is eligible to receive special education and/or related services, a “services plan” must be developed. This plan describes specific special education and/or related services that the school district is offering your child.

The school district must ensure that a representative of the private school attends each meeting to develop the services plan. This will help ensure communication about the child’s needs among all parties concerned with his education.

A services plan should reflect only the services the school district will provide. It must, to the extent appropriate, meet the individualized education program (IEP) content requirements contained in IDEA. The services plan also must, to the extent appropriate, be developed, reviewed, and revised consistent with the IDEA requirements related to the IEP team, parent participation, and when IEPs must be in effect.

Special education and related services may be provided to private school students on the premises of private schools, including religious schools, or at a public school. Services can be provided by school district personnel or through contracts by the school district with other individuals or agencies.

 While the provision of the special education and related services offered to your child through a services plan does not require your written consent, you may refuse the services being offered by the district.


If your child’s private or religious school accepts any federal financial assistance, the school is subject to requirements of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and may not exclude a child with a disability if the child can, with minor adjustments, be provided an appropriate education by the school.

If the private or religious school does not accept any federal funding, then the school is not required to provide accommodations for your child.

Candace Cortiella, Director of the Advocacy Institute, is a leading policy consultant and advocate for students with disabilities. She is the author of the IDEA Parent Guide, a comprehensive guide to parental rights and responsibilities under the IDEA.

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