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Expert Q&A

How can I get the school district to put my son in a more appropriate out-of-district placement?

My 9-year-old son has autism and is in an out-of-district placement. We live in a bad district for students with autism, so I fight to keep him out-of-district.

He’s now the highest-functioning student in his class. My district keeps ignoring my request to have his paperwork sent to a school that is teaching more appropriate reading and math.

There was very little improvement from when he was reevaluated last October — almost no gain. How can I make them send his paperwork to other schools that may be willing to accept him? I don’t want to wait until next October for reevaluation, but want him possibly setup for a new school if they have availability in September.


Dear Audra:

The primary legal issue in any dispute over the adequacy of a special education placement, whether in the school district, in an adjacent public school district, or in a public school funded placement in a private special education school, is whether the placement is providing the student with a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

You have raised a variety of concerns indicating that your child is not receiving an appropriate education and that there is an appropriate education available in other schools. The school district is obligated to show that the program offered provides FAPE, including that the program is based on scientific peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable.

Unfortunately, because the legal standard for FAPE requires that the program be reasonably calculated to allow the student to make meaningful progress, but not the most progress, schools can often argue that they are providing FAPE, even if the program is much less effective than other options.

At the outset, you may want to ask the school for information that supports that the program they are providing is a research-based program. Beyond that, you may need to gather information that documents that your child is making little or no progress, particularly in comparison to what he may be able to accomplish, taking into account his disability.

It may also be helpful to obtain outside clinical evaluations of your student, particularly psycho-educational evaluations, to determine if your child is making appropriate progress and to evaluate whether the school’s program is adequate to address your child’s needs.

As part of this evaluation, it would be important for the clinician to review school testing, IEPs, and progress reports and, if possible, to actually observe the student in the class.

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