Parents of children with disabilities often wonder about their rights in private schools. The answer varies, depending on the type of school the child attends, as well as other factors.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that governs special education, primarily applies to students who attend public schools. However, in certain circumstances, the IDEA may require a public school division to place a student in a non-public school, at public expense. This type of situation is not common. The public school division retains overall responsibility for the student’s IEP, and has an agreement with a non-public school to administer the student’s IEP on a day-to-day basis. A public school division may also be required to reimburse parents for their child’s private school tuition if the public school division did not meet its legal obligation to educate the student appropriately. (Typically, this type of reimbursement would only happen as a result of legal action by the parents, and it is not common.)
In other situations, parents sometimes choose to withdraw their disabled child from public school and enroll them in private school at the parents’ expense. These students may be entitled to limited services from their public school division under the IDEA. However, they are not entitled to the same level of services as children who are enrolled in public school.
Additionally, students with disabilities who attend private schools may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Unlike the IDEA, the ADA and Section 504 do not carry affirmative education requirements, but they do protect students from discrimination and ensure they receive equal access to their education. State law protections may apply as well.