Thursday, June 24, 2021

Back to Basics - Tuition Reimbursement

When we began this blog back in the summer of 2009, we wrote a number of posts about the basics of special education law and how families could navigate the laws that would provide services and support for their children. We addressed all sorts of topics -- How to get your district to pay for an evaluation, How federal disability laws differ from each other , What are Related Services? and many others. 

Parents sometimes have questions about these or other subjects related to special education and we often find that the best way to answer their query is to share our blog(s) on the subject. But, as you might imagine, our readership has grown and changed over the past 12 years and parents' questions have made us realize that it might be time to address some old and new topics that are fundamental to understanding students' rights in special education. 

One question that has cropped up recently is whether a Committee on Special Education (CSE), the team that creates the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a student with disabilities under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) can place a student in a non-approved school and order payment for the tuition at such school. Parents have heard about getting their tuition paid at a private school and some assumed that this was how the process worked. Nope, it's much more complex than that. Let's look at the process, understanding that it can differ a bit from state to state.

First, parents can always place their child in a private school, whether a specialized school or one that offers a general curriculum and no significant supports. This discussion is about whether payment for a private school will be made by the public district.

The first step in that process is for a school district to be unwilling or unable to offer a child who is classified under the IDEA an appropriate IEP -- school setting, services, accommodations. This can be in the child's regular school or a non-public school that is "approved" by the state (a subject for another discussion). But here we are assuming that the parents do not find the proposed setting appropriate. 

The CSE, even if it finds that the school that the parents want is an excellent setting, does not have the authority to pay tuition at such school. The parents have to give the district notice that they are unilaterally placing their child in the private school, and then file for a hearing before a state hearing officer, who will look at several criteria, including whether the IEP was really not appropriate and whether the placement the parents have selected is, indeed, an appropriate setting. At a minimum, the parent's choice must offer the special education services the child needs (so not just any private school will do).

The process takes months to complete and in almost all cases requires the parents to pay the tuition to the school and then get reimbursed if they are successful at a hearing. And the process must be repeated for each school year. 

Many parents are successful and have worked out a system so that their child can attend a specialized private school offering special educational services. But it is not a simple process and success is not guaranteed. We recommend working with a special education attorney to make sure all the 'i's' are dotted and the 't's' are crossed. 




Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Summer Tools to Prepare for School in the Fall

 As the age for vaccine eligibility falls and COVID rates decline, schools throughout the U.S. are moving away from remote instruction to in-person learning this fall. Here in New York City, all public schools will be fully in-person in September and there will be no remote learning options.

A year and more of online instruction has made it difficult for many students to make the kind of progress they would have made if they were attending school in-person every day. Some students were able to thrive during online instruction, but for those who struggled, we have some suggestions for tools that can be used during the summer to build skills in math and writing and get ready for the fall.


We often recommend two software programs to help children build math skills. 

Dreambox, for grades K-8  adapts to your child's skill level. Using your child's answers to different kinds of problems, DreamBox detects which skills a student has mastered and which need more work, then provides instruction and practice in the form of games. Parents can use the Dashboard feature to monitor their child's progress. Note that the lessons in Dreambox may not align exactly with what your child is doing in school, but can help prepare your child for math lessons when school begins in the fall.

IXL, for students from pre-K through high school helps students master individual math concepts and lets parents track student progress. Students learn at their own pace and can prepare for the math skills they will need once back in school.


The best way for students to improve their writing is to write more. By using creative formats, supported by artwork, younger students will be motivated to express themselves in writing and be better prepared for the writing assignments they will face in the fall. We recommend:

Storybird - grade 1 and up
This beautifully crafted, aesthetically pleasing website-based app provides support for writing and an avenue for self-publishing.

Comic Creator - grades 3 - 8
Students can design and save or print comic strips with this user-friendly site. In addition to creating stories, it is an inviting tool for summarizing books to help improve reading comprehension. Comic Creator keeps it simple with very basic graphics and pared down options, making it great for students who may find flashy extras distracting.

 Story Jumper - grades 1 - 5

Younger students can choose between a seemingly limitless array of formats and pictures to supplement the stories they write. Books can be saved, shared, or purchased in hardcover form.

It hasn't escaped us that after more than a year, we are recommending more online instruction. But limited screen time and targeted lessons can be worth the "sitting still" time these programs require. We hope you and your student find them fun and helpful.