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No Child Left Behind and School Choice Opportunities in Special Education

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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Q: If a student with a disability chooses to transfer to another school as a result of the choice options, does the student's current Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan remain in effect?

A: The school of choice may adopt the existing IEP, in which case no new IEP is required since the move is considered a "change in location," not a "change in placement." This means, however, that the receiving school will execute all aspects of the existing IEP, including all specialized instructional services (including methodologies such as specialized reading programs), related services, participation with non-disabled students, appropriate accommodations, and inclusion in state- and district-wide assessments of student achievement.

If any of the services in the current IEP will change as a result of the school transfer, then the school of choice must convene an IEP team meeting and develop a new IEP that meets the student's needs.

Q: Must students with disabilities be provided transportation to the school of choice?

A: The district must pay for or provide transportation to the new school for all students who request it, including students with disabilities. If the available funding is not sufficient to provide transportation to all students requesting a transfer, the district must give priority to the lowest-achieving eligible students from low-income families. However, districts may not limit the opportunity to transfer because of transportation funding limits.

Q: How long may students with disabilities remain at the school of choice?

A: Students must be permitted to remain at their school of choice until completing the highest grade in that school. However, once the student's home school is no longer identified as "in need of improvement" for two consecutive years, the district is no longer required to pay for or provide transportation for the student. In such cases, transportation may be incorporated into the IEPs of students with disabilities as a related service, or the choice school could become the school placement determined by the IEP team.

Find our how your state is doing on the issue of school choice.

  1. Visit the No Child Left Behind database maintained by the Education Commission of the States.
  2. Select your state to access detailed information on this and other important NCLB requirements!

Endnote: The author wishes to thank Suzanne Heath for her review of this article. Heath is co-author (with Peter and Pamela Wright) of the publication Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind.

Reviewed January 2010

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"My son is 3yrs old and has a speech delay. He was going to a special class in clinton twp school district but we had to take him out for reasons to long to get into. He is back in his old daycare in roseville district and they will not let him attend the speech class because he is not in kindergarden and we are out of district. How can there be school of choice but only for kindergarden and up??? My child is 3 and needs help now.. "