Vouchers for special needs students have been endorsed by the Trump administration, and they are often heavily promoted by state education departments and by private schools, which rely on them for tuition dollars. But there’s a catch. Legal experts say parents who use the vouchers are largely unaware that by participating in programs that rely on vouchers, they are waiving most of their children’s rights under IDEA, the landmark 1975 federal civil rights law. Depending on the voucher program, the rights being waived can include the right to a free education; the right to the same level of special-education services that a child would be eligible for in a public school; the right to a state-certified or college-educated teacher; and the right to a hearing to dispute disciplinary action against a child.
Federal law requires public school districts to assess the needs of special-education students enrolled in private schools. But districts are not obligated to provide those children with the same services they would receive in a public setting — even if a child’s private school tuition is taxpayer funded through a voucher.
Private schools are bound by Section 504 and cannot discriminate against a child with a disability for reasons related to the disability and might be responsible for providing modifications, accommodations, and access to educational opportunities (such as a ramp for a child in a wheelchair).
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(image description: a female teach is sitting at a table with three young students)