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Expert Q&A

Our school district has decided to discontinue services for our 18-year-old daughter. What steps can I take in challenging this decision?

I have an 18-year-old daughter who has been placed by our district in a private school for children with learning disabilities for the last six years. She has complex learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and other health impairments. She will not be receiving a diploma at the graduation ceremonies, and so we are looking to the district to continue support at a post secondary school. The district feels does not want to do that. However, the rest of the IEP team, including her private counselor and psychiatrist, do not agree.

We have put in a written letter that we do not agree with the district decision. What can I do if the district does not want to pay for a post secondary residential school placement, but the rest of the team feels it is necessary and appropriate?

First, while all participants in the IEP team meetings are theoretically part of the IEP team, the school staff controls the decision of the district. If the parents and their outside consultants disagree, this should be documented. While your letter serves as documentation, in most states it does not have any legal impact in forcing the school to do what you want. However, the parents’ recourse is to request a due process hearing to challenge the school’s decision. If the post- secondary school is a special education program approved to provide ongoing services to students in need of continuing special education services, there will be a greater chance of getting funding from the school or a hearing officer. If the school is a regular post- secondary school, it is very difficult to get public school funding for such placements.

You should also be aware that if your student accepts the regular education diploma for high school, the school district’s responsibilities are terminated in most states. The only ways to maintain school district responsibility under these circumstances, assuming they are not willing to delay graduation, are 1) to request a due process hearing prior to graduation. This generally has the effect of blocking the graduation until the administrative hearing process is concluded; or 2) pursue compensatory services after graduation. However, this will generally require a due process hearing as well. You should seek help from a knowledgeable special education attorney to assess your position.

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