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News & Views - Jun, 1995 Issue #34 

School District Funding for
Emotional/Behavioral Therapeutic Programs 

(The following was written by a New England parent who learned from personal experience - twice. It is shared here to take some of the mystery out of what can be a very confusing and bureaucratic process. The writer requested that this remain an anonymous article. - LON)

Dealing with a child who has disruptive emotional problems and/or behavior problems is difficult for any parent. By the time you have reached the point of needing a specialized program for your child, you are undoubtedly exhausted, confused, angry and somewhat fearful of the future for your child. About the last thing you want to undertake is the long and tedious process of requesting funding from your local School District for your child's special program. Many people simply pay for the programs themselves or hire lawyers at this point because they need time to recuperate from the havoc their child wreaked on the family's life before he was placed in a special program. But the programs are expensive, and so are educational lawyers. If you are willing to be patient and follow a step-by-step process, a parent can be a child's most effective advocate with the School District. If you get to the end of the process, find it is necessary to invoke Due Process and request an Impartial Hearing on your child's program, you will probably need a lawyer. But you can easily begin the process yourself, making the initial request that the local School District take responsibility for your child's program. 

Before you approach your local School Board to fund a specialized program for your child, you will have to prepare answers to several questions:

1.) What kind of program do you think is necessary for your child?

2.) Is the program necessary to the child's educational goals? How? Why this program and not another? Do you have sufficient documentation to prove that this is an educational necessity? 

3.) Is this program approved by the State Education Department? What state licenses does the program have? [Placing your child in an out-of-state, unapproved facility is material for another article.] 

4.) Are there other funding sources (health insurance, non-custodial parent's financial contribution, etc.) which can be utilized in place of or in conjunction with funding from the School District? 

5.) Most likely, what will happen if your child does not participate in the program you request? 

If your School District is required to pay for your child's program, it will be through the local School Board's Special Education Department. Your first step is to request that your child be accepted into this department as a Special Education student. The Department of Special Education has several categories for its students, such as mentally retarded, multi-handicapped, orthopedically impaired, other health impaired, physically disabled, neurologically handicapped, and learning disabled, among others. For the type of emotional/behavioral problems were discussing here, your child would be in the category of socially and emotionally maladjusted

The School District must pay for a psychological evaluation, and the results of the evaluation are entered into your child's record, whether or not this information is supportive to your case. If you strongly disagree with the evaluation, you can request a second opinion (be sure you have solid reasons for refuting the findings) but again, if the School District pays for it, the results of the second opinion will also be entered into the child's record whether you want them to or not. Alternatively, you can pay for an evaluation yourself, then you can decide whether or not to admit the results into your child's record. It is not necessarily harmful to your case to have several dissenting evaluations, but it will be incumbent on you to prove your viewpoint over one the School might favor. 

My state publishes, A Guide to Special Education for Parents and Students, which is about thirty pages long and contains all the pertinent information on parents' and students' rights, the necessary procedure for requesting services or requesting a change in services, etc. It is available either through the State Department of Education or your local Special Education office. It is invaluable. If you are planning to ask the School District to fund all or part of your child's program, you should read this information carefully. Your success hinges on presenting your child's problems and your requested program in terms of the official criteria for Special Education. 

In my two requests (for two different children) to my local School Board, I have found that the individuals involved are caring professionals who do not hide behind government rules and regulations. They are firmly committed to their legal mandate of providing each person with a free appropriate public education until graduation from high school or age twenty one, whichever occurs first. And they are sensitive to the child's particular situation. However, they must do their job and that means they must keep costs down for the School District and offer an individualized educational plan (IEP) for your child in order of intensity and expense, the least intense and expensive being first. My state defines these programs in this order. 

1.) In your home school 

2.) In another school within your school district 

3.) In a nearby public school district 

4.) In a publicly operated regional program, or 

5.) In a private school. 

Be prepared to evaluate programs for your child in these places, in this priority. Even if you are sure that nothing appropriate can be offered your child except in a private school, you cannot skip over to that last possibility until the others have been formally ruled out. In most cases the School Board will offer several programs in categories 1-4 before agreeing to a private school, and it is up to you to evaluate these programs. If you reject them, you must have solid reasons for your rejection, along with some documentation from a professional (teacher, psychologist, etc.) to submit as well. From this point on it is important to substantiate your opinions and requests with documentation from an expert. 

When you do get down to the option of a private program, you will be choosing a program that is one of two types: 

1.) a treatment facility, where solely the emotional component of your child's difficulty is addressed. This is usually a short-term, residential program which tackles extreme problems (substance abuse, self-destructive behaviors, etc.) that have not responded to treatment in a less intensive setting. 

2.) a therapeutic educational facility, where your child is given individual and group therapy as an adjunct to academic classes which lead to a high school degree. Usually this is a longer-term program, extending until graduation from high school. 

Typically, a treatment facility is viewed as a medical program, and the School Board is likely to reject a program at a treatment facility for that reason. In many cases this determination of medical services is accurate, and if you have recourse to health insurance for all or part of these costs, that is the easiest way to get financial help for this kind of program. However, if you can prove that your child cannot participate in an educational program before his emotional problem has been addressed in an intensive treatment program, you have grounds to request funding for this kind of program as an educational expense. Key here is supporting evidence from psychologists, teachers, medical doctors and your overview presentation of your child's academic performance in relation to the particular emotional/behavioral problem (for example, when did drug use or self-destructive behavior start, what happened to grades and social behavior after that, etc.). 

School Districts are not responsible for your child's medical needs, but they are required to include such services as may be necessary to support the educational goals outlined in your child's IEP. These related services are tailored to each child's specific needs, and are very much a gray area of the law. Related services are defined, for example, as school psychological services, school health services, language, speech and hearing services, translation, guidance, social work, physical and occupational therapy, rehabilitation counseling services, transportation, parent counseling and training in understanding the needs of the child, and medical services required for diagnostic and evaluative purposes. 

In terms of accepting a therapeutic educational facility, the School Board may initially agree to fund only the tuition portion of that program, ruling that the therapeutic component is a medical expense. You may have to specifically request that they pay the therapy costs as a related service to the educational goal for your child. If you have any health insurance that covers therapy or residential therapeutic placement, the School Board may counter that this resource must be used first, and they will fund the remainder. It is my experience that the School Board resists paying residential costs (room, board, transportation) although by law they are required to pay them if residential placement is deemed necessary. My personal advice is to let this last point go because clearly, the bulk of the expense is in the tuition and therapy costs. Room and board costs can easily be defined as a typical parental expense. Hiring a lawyer to litigate this issue can cost you nearly as much as typical room and board charges, and at this point it can make one very weary to think about beginning the formal legal procedures of Due Process. It's worth it to have the process over. 

It's a long process (usually taking four months, or longer) but it is not difficult. Your local School Board, Special Education Department and State Department of Education will answer any questions you have about procedure. Be informed, collect all necessary information & documentation, and be patient. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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