SERVICES FOR PARENTALLY PLACED CATHOLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS UNDER THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which Congress enacted
in 1975 with subsequent revisions, states that school districts are to provide a free and
appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students with disabilities in the least
restrictive environment. Public local education agencies (LEAs) including school
districts have an obligation to identify, locate, and evaluate private school students
suspected of having a disability—the “child find” process. Students enrolled by their
parents in private schools are not entitled to a FAPE if they choose for their children to
remain in private school after the children have been identified as having a disability and
offered services by the LEA. However, a portion of IDEA funding to LEAs provides
limited services for identified students with disabilities enrolled in private schools.
The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of the efficacy of the child
find process in the Diocese of San Diego for Catholic schools within the boundaries of
the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). The initial focus was on special
education law to describe how it applies in the public and private school context.
Thereafter, data are presented based on an electronic survey that was administered to 19
principals of Catholic schools in the spring of 2013 with five follow-up interviews to
learn how much understanding Catholic school principals have about both child find and
special education services under IDEA, as well as what services are being provided to
students with disabilities in their schools.
The study found that most administrators in the Diocese of San Diego within the
boundaries of SDUSD have a limited working knowledge of the child find process. The
implications of this include an inaccurate reporting to the school district of the number of
identified students in these schools. The inaccurate reporting adversely affects the amount
of IDEA funds reserved for students attending Catholic schools and therefore the level of
services that can be offered by the LEA within the private school setting. Drawing upon
these data, the dissertation provides recommendations for improving public special
education services for children enrolled in Catholic schools.