Navigating Special Education in Private School

Laws & Policies are Different:

When a family chooses a private school for a student with a disability, the laws and policies for special education are a bit different than they are in a full-time public-school placement.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates individualized programming for eligible students with disabilities that provide meaningful access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The law also mandates that public schools seek out and serve children with disabilities through a process called Child Find. In some cases, a public school chooses to place a child in a private special education school as part of the individualized programming. In this case, the entitlements of IDEA are upheld by the public school that manages the IEP.

However, when parents choose a private school placement, the school is not bound by IDEA to provide special education services. Private schools are, however, required to provide accommodations to children who qualify for them under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Private schools are usually willing to provide certain modifications and accommodations, such as a ramp for a child in a wheelchair.

If your child qualifies for special education, the local public-school district is required to provide a full range of special education services. In the private school placement, your child may be eligible for “equitable services,” public funds that are set aside specifically for students with disabilities whose parents place them in private school. This funding is limited and its use is largely up to the discretion of the local public-school district.

The public-school writes what is called a “service plan,” (sometimes called an Individual Services Plan—ISP). This written plan resembles an IEP but is generally less comprehensive and not bound by IDEA.

Here are highlighted points to remember when choosing a private school placement:

Private schools must uphold the anti-discrimination accommodations provided through Section 504 the ADA.

Private schools are not bound by IDEA and therefore do not have to provide a full range of special education services.

Children in private schools are not guaranteed access to the same services they would receive in public school.

The public-school district, where the student’s private school is located, is responsible for providing evaluations and re-evaluations.

A child enrolled in a private school may have a non-binding Service Plan rather than an IEP.

Here are some resource links to more information:

US Department of Education booklet for parents choosing private school: describes the difference between IEPs and Service Plans: on the evaluation process: about private school choice:


Wrightslaw article on IDEA and private schools:

Ramps: ADA specifications for wheelchair ramps 



Q & A Transportation and Private Schools

I have enrolled my child in a private school in our town.

Q: She is also receiving special education services at our local district. We have been discussing if the District is responsible for providing transportation from my home to the private school. What are your thoughts?

A: We have Washington Administrative Codes (WAC 392-172A-04045: that address that particular issue.

If it is necessary for the student to benefit from or participate in the services provided by a parentally placed private school, students eligible for special education services must be provided transportation.

This includes:

From the student’s private school or the student’s home to a site OTHER than the private school.

From the district school to the private school or the students’ home, depending on the time of the service.  For instance, if the student received the special education service at the end of the school day then transportation would be provided home.

Districts are not required to provide transportation from the student’s home to the private school.

Hope this helps!


Can I Get Accommodations for College Entrance Exams?

The transition from high school to college can be a daunting experience for any teenager.

Part of the transition process is preparing for and taking the entrance exams for college. If the student is receiving accommodations in school, they may qualify to receive special accommodations when taking a college entrance exam.

Being aware of the process and requirements to receive accommodations can help ease the anxiety and pressure of taking the test.

Beginning in January 2017, the College Board has streamlined the process for requesting testing accommodations, which means they are allowing more automatic approvals. However, plan ahead because it can take up to seven (7) weeks for accommodations to be approved by the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). If they request additional documentation, or if a request is resubmitted, approval can take an additional seven weeks.

Who is eligible?

The student must have a “documented” disability. Documentation can be a current psycho-educational evaluation or a report from a doctor. The type of documentation depends on the student’s circumstances. The disability must impact the student’s ability to participate in the college entrance exams. If there is a specific accommodation requested, documentation should be provided showing the difficulty the student has performing that task. This can be provided through a school 504 plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP).

While students typically only receive accommodations if they have a documented disability, some (very few) students who have a temporary disability or special healthcare need can also be eligible. The request is different in these circumstances and students are often urged to reregister for a date after they have healed.

How does the process works?

The easiest way to begin the process is to go through your student’s school. If you choose to go through the school, the school’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) Coordinator (Special Education Coordinator, Guidance/School Counselors, etc.) can go online to submit the application. Having the coordinator submit the application will help streamlined the process and is convenient for submitting requested documentation.

What happens after approval?

Once the student is approved, they will receive a Service for Students with Disability (SSD) number that must be included when registering for the test. The school’s SSD Coordinator should ensure all the correct accommodations are in place when it is time to take the college exam. Approved accommodations will remain in effect for one year after graduation from high school.

At times, the College Board will request specific documentation for review. Be sure to have records available to provide detailed documentation that supports the specific accommodation requested. The College Board provides a disability documentation guideline and accommodation documentation guideline. Doctors notes and Individualized Education Program (IEPs) or 504 plans may not be enough to validate a request for accommodations; you must provide supporting information, such as test scores. Most Colleges have accepted IEP and 504 plans as documentation when they are specific to when the accommodations are provided (i.e. when used during assessments in math, reading, etc.)

The College Board considers all types of accommodations. Here are examples of some typical accommodations:

Extended time: this can include 50 percent additional time, 100 percent additional time (the exam will be administered over two days in the student’s school instead of a test center), and in special circumstances 150 percent additional time. Extended time must be requested in each of the competencies; Reading, Mathematical calculation, Written expression, Listening, and Speaking.

Extra and extended breaks: breaks between test sections and breaks as needed.

Reading and seeing accommodations: this request is for students who have disabilities that impair their ability to read or see.

Computer use for essays: this may include students with physical disabilities that impair the ability to write, dysgraphia, and severe language based learning disorders.

Four-function Calculator: a student with a specific learning disability in mathematics, or dyscalculia may request this accommodation.

Please remember: College Board SSD does not approve accommodations for all college entrance exams. Contact your school, college, or testing center for the PSAT 8/9, CLEP and ACCUPLACER tests. For accommodations during ACT testing, visit the ACT website and follow the steps listed for requesting accommodations

Here are some important website links to check out for more information:

College Board – Services for Students with Disabilities:

College Board – Temporary Medical Conditions:

College Board – Providing Documentation:

ACT Accommodations:


ACT. (2016). Retrieved from ACT, Inc: 

College Board. (2017). Retrieved from The College Board | PSAT/NMSQT: