Unilateral Placements: A big gamble
In the world of special education litigation, the unilateral placement is probably the biggest gamble a parent can make.
What is the unilateral placement?
When a parent disagrees with the school district’s proposal for special education services or placement, the parent may choose to unilaterally place her child in a private school to ensure that her child receives a Free and Appropriate Education pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”).
After unilaterally placing the child in a private school, the parent may then sue the public school district for reimbursement association with private school tuition and transportation costs pursuant to the IDEA.
But unilaterally placing a child in a private school with the expectation that the public school will ultimately pay for it is a big — and risky — gamble. Since the standard is very high and the chances of reimbursement often depends on expert witness testimony, there is absolutely no guarantee that the parent will be reimbursed.
Keep in mind that if a parent chooses to unilaterally place her child at a private school because she believes that her child is not being provided a FAPE or because the school district’s IEP proposals are inadequate, the parent needs to sue the school district for reimbursement. That means:
1. The parent needs money to pay for the private school tuition and transportation until the parties settle or the court decides that the parent is entitled to reimbursement.
2. The parent needs money to hire at least one expert to write a report and testify at a hearing.
3. The parent needs money to hire a special education attorney to increase the likelihood of winning the case.
If, based on the evidence presented, the court denies the parent’s request for reimbursement, all of the money comes out of the parent’s pocket. While the parent certainly has the right to file an appeal, that too will cost the parent even more money. One can never predict what will happen on appeal.
Unless the parent has sufficient disposable income, the unilateral placement is a dangerous gamble because it can bring the entire family into debt. Before a parent unilaterally places a child at a private school, it is critical to consult with a special education attorney to determine if there are other options to consider.