Should public school districts be responsible for special education services of students in private and parochial schools? How do they manage this when they have financial problems serving the students who need special education services in public schools?
I am not referring to special education vouchers which some states provide students when the special education services in their public schools are supposedly lacking. Vouchers are controversial and seen as a tactic to privatize public schools. They have not always been used as intended.
What I’m discussing here has to do with a variety of amenities that have been funded by public schools to support students with disabilities in their private or parochial schools.
Recently, controversy arose about this in Omaha. Omaha Public Schools (OPS) funded special education services for a student with auditory disabilities attending a Catholic school. The school district paid for a speech therapist and the hearing aid and microphone system that amplified the teacher’s voice in the child’s classroom.
This year OPS declined to pay for the services, citing problematic budget cuts. This has upset parents in the Catholic school and other private and parochial schools. Administrators from Christian and Jewish schools also expressed concerns.
Most school districts provide some services to private schools under IDEA. How much funding is usually a decision negotiated within the school district and the private and parochial school administrators.
This year OPS had to cut $30 million from its budget, and a spokesperson for the district claims they have gone above and beyond what is required to serve students with disabilities in private and parochial schools. They will now only offer occupational and physical therapy to nonresident students. When those funds run out, estimated in February 2019, the services will end.
Parents who want to place their child in a private or parochial school might want to determine what services will be provided by both the private school and the school district. If the school district is struggling it might affect what kind of services their child will receive.
Megan Neiles-Brasch an attorney for OPS said families should contact the special education director in the resident school district of the private or parochial school to learn what services the school district will be responsible for and their obligations to the student.
But parents should also know that the only way they will get the full range of services for students with disabilities is if their child attends public school. IDEA covers all students with disabilities in public school, but parents forfeit most of those services if they remove their child from public school.
That is not to say that students might not be better served for other reasons in a private or parochial school the parents choose. And certainly, many school districts are doing some strange things when it comes to fully implementing IDEA.
But this post is meant to make parents with students who have disabilities, who choose a private or parochial school, aware of the services that will or will not be available to them from their local school district.
And it is a reminder that a well-funded school system will likely be more gracious and capable to provide those extra services.