Updated: Apr 26
Disclaimer: Please know that there are state-by-state variations for many of these procedures (including the timelines), so you should include a disclaimer that the advice/recommendations are general and that each individual case or situation may need to be considered individually in light of the circumstances and region of the country. Additionally, this is a narrative of my experience only. You are strongly encourage to consult with a special education attorney before attempting to utilize any of these techniques. A list of special education professional by region can be found by visiting the COPAA directory.
I recently had a client who had been denied an IEP and was provided with a 504 plan that had no meaningful impact on their education. Frustrated with the lack of supports the school provided, I utilized my membership in COPAA to see what other options were available to the family.
With the wise counsel of an advocate named Sandy Shove , I learned about an underutilized option for families which is to declare unilateral placement and seek reimbursement for future services. Here is how that process worked:
1. Advise the parent(s) to issue a 10-day notice of unilateral placement so they can recover their costs.
This route requires that the the private service providers take pre-intervention data and monitor progress regularly via objective measures, to ensure that data can be utilized as part of any future assessment review. You can view a sample letter by visiting our resources page.
Make sure you note in the letter that the child will be continuing to attend their current placement and will be enrolling in this placement outside of school hours.
Here is an example of what the body of that message could look like:
CIty, Zip Code
Special Education Administrator at your child’s school
Director of Special Education
CIty, Zip Code
Re: Last Name of Student, First Name of Student (Date of Birth – xx/xx/xxxx)
NOTICE OF INTENT TO PLACE IN AFTER SCHOOL SUPPORT SERVICES PROVIDED BY EXECUTIVE FUNCTION SPECIALISTS
To whom it may concern:
My son, (student name), is currently attending (their school), and is having extreme difficulty in making academic gains, especially in the areas of (describe ares of need). His grades at school have continued to decline throughout the year, even with a 504 plan. It has become increasingly clear to me that his educational needs are not being met. (Student name) is falling farther and farther behind his classroom peers. He is not benefiting from the 504 plan that is being given by his current public school program.
I believe that the educational program and placement offered to him by the district at the most recent IEP eligibility meeting is inadequate to meet his needs.
Therefore, pursuant to Title 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.148(d)(1)(ii), I am writing to notify you that I will be placing my in an after school remediation program with Executive Function Specialists. Her first day in the program will be (10 business days after this letter is sent). Once he is placed, I intend to seek reimbursement from the District for the costs of this appropriate specially designed instructional program.
Since the public school is not meeting his educational needs, I believe that this non-public program placement should be at “public expense”. I will submit an invoice from Executive Function Specialists and proof of his attendance.
I look forward to your response. I would be very happy to hear of your willingness to offer assistance for (your student).
cc: IEP Team
2. Obtain baseline data to show that the student was NOT making appropriate academic gains in their current placement.
This is key! I needed to show that the student was making gains in our program, that they were not making in the public school. The baseline data we used was a combination of the following:
PDF documents that showed their grades and teacher feedback on assignments before starting our intervention
IXL data that showed their reading and math levels before the start of our intervention
Raz-Kids assessment to show their reading levels before the start of the intervention
Documentation of attempts by the family to problem solve with the school before enacting the 10-day unilateral placement
3. Show the effectiveness of your intervention through data to show that the student WAS making appropriate gains when utilizing your services
Make sure to track the progress they are making in your program. Using your baseline data, show where they start and where they end up, when you attend the next 504 or IEP meeting with the school. The clear and explicit you can show statistic growth that only happened because of your intervention, the more likely it is the school will be more responsive to the requests of the family you are serving.
Most Common Mistakes Made In Attempting This:
Parents do not give prior written notice before enacting unilateral placement
At the most recent IEP Team meeting that the parents attended prior to removal of the child from the public school, the parents did not inform the IEP Team that they were rejecting the placement proposed by the public agency to provide FAPE to their child, including stating their concerns and their intent to enroll their child in a private school at public expense.
Parents did not correctly count 10 business days
At least ten (10) business days (including any holidays that occur on a business day) prior to the removal of the child from the public school, the parents did not give written notice to the public agency of the information described in paragraph.
Commonly Asked Questions:
No. In order to seek
Can this technique be used to seek reimbursement for services that have already occurred?
No. In order to seek reimbursement for services that have already occurred, you will need to engage in an Alternative Dispute Resolution. Ask a member of your school's administration who the point person for this process is.
Can this technique be used for students with 504 plans, in addition to IEPs?
Yes. Students with 504 plans are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) as well, and can utilize this technique.
Read the legal information by visiting the official IDEA website by clicking here.
About the author:
Sean McCormick is a parent, husband and international executive function coach. He is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business which guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.
He has also spoken about executive function at prominent venues including the Association of Educational Therapists' National Conference, at the Athenian School and on the Qualified Tutors Podcast.
And last but not least, Sean has hosted over 50 episodes the Earn More Tutoring Podcast with a mission to eradicate educator poverty. The show recently surpassed 8,000 downloads.
Sean is regularly featured across media channels for his expertise on executive function, ADHD and special education.