The COVID-19 health crisis has been an enormously challenging time for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The extended period of remote learning impacted all students, including those with special needs who receive services and accommodations pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When schools reopened, issues relating to learning loss, mental health, socialization, and IEP violations were prevalent. The manner in which these issues were, and continue to be, addressed varies from district to district. In some cases, a child’s needs simply cannot be met, and an out-of-district placement is needed, but securing an out-of-district placement at the district’s expense can prove difficult. This article explores when an out-of-district placement is needed and how to best advocate for the appropriate placement. 

As a matter of both federal and state law, every child with a disability between the ages of 3 and 21 is entitled to free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. See 20 U.S.C. §1400 (2004) et seq.; 34 C.F.R. §300.1 (2006) et seq. The IDEA and New Jersey statutes provide that the student’s school district must deliver special education and related services in accordance with the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and guarantee the right of parents to participate in planning and monitoring the education program and services provided to the child. Id.; N.J.A.C.6A:14. There are approximately 230,000 students in New Jersey who are classified as eligible for special education. That translates to 230,000 individual education plans that need to be implemented to ensure FAPE.