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December 18, 2017 Practice Points

How to Inform Parents of Students with Disabilities of Their Rights in Private School Programs

By Sophie Prown

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report, "Private School Choice: Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Parents Are Notified About Changes in Rights for Students with Disabilities," on November 16, 2017. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is satisfied that this report brings public attention to issues of students who attend a private school using public money (vouchers, tax credits, or other schemes).

GAO's report supports NDRN's position that much needed resources for the public school system should not be redirected to publicly funded private school programs as this is harmful to the quality of public schools overall. It is NDRN's belief that scarce public dollars should be earmarked for public schools to address the academic and behavioral requirements of their students, especially students with disabilities.

This report also highlights that parents of students with disabilities are uninformed regarding the limitations of enrolling their child in a private school using public funds. Often parents do not know the rights and protections they are forfeiting through these enrollments.

The GAO urges Congress to require states to notify parents and guardians that a change in special education rights may occur when moving a student with disabilities from public to private school. In addition, the report brings to light that states are sharing false information relating to their programs regarding rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Lawyers and advocates should work to inform parents of their rights as well to be sure that parents are making the best and most informed decisions for their children.

Beyond GAO's report, NDRN voices concern that students of color with a disability are disproportionately removed from voucher schools due to disability-related behaviors. This data is reflected in national trends of removals of students from public and charter schools, however, the data is limited. To address this, NDRN recommends that voucher programs be required to include removal data so that parents of students with disabilities are better informed about the rights they lose when moving their child into a voucher program.

Sophie Prown has her MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London Schools of Economics and volunteers with the ABA's Children's Rights Litigation Committee.

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