What Is an Out-of-District Placement, and Who Needs One?

Smiling schoolgirl and teacher using digital tablet in classroom at school.

  • An out-of-district placement benefits children whose local school can’t meet their special education needs. 
  • Out-of-district schools are sometimes referred to as special education private schools. 
  • If your child qualifies for out-of-district placement, they can attend a specialized school at the district’s expense. 

As parents, we agree that we want the best for our children’s education. However, what happens if you don’t think your child’s school best meets their needs?

Many parents opt for out-of-district placement, which takes the student out of the general education classroom and into a school that better meets their special education needs. 

If your student’s IEP team, a group of professionals who understand your child’s needs, determines that they can’t be met in their school district, they may recommend out-of-district placement. 

Let’s delve deeper into the concept of out-of-district placement and the criteria for qualification. 

What is an Out-of-District Placement?

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An out-of-district placement11. Range of Educational Placements. Federation for Children with Special Needs. https://fcsn.org/rangle-of-placements/#1649690443668-4b99a42e-4bf7 refers to schools that are separate from public schools and provide specialized instruction to meet the needs of a specific population. 

Students are generally referred to an out-of-district school if it’s determined that a public school can’t adequately fill their special education needs. Typically, the district pays for your child to attend an outside school, whether a private school, another public school, or a residential school. 

When considering the type of out-of-district placement for your child, consider what environment they would thrive in. For example, would they benefit from attending a school where they would live, or is another school in your same city the best fit for them? 

Out-of-district placements may be temporary or long-term, depending on the student’s progress. 

Legal Basis for Out-of-District Placement 

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The legal basis for out-of-district placements varies by county and jurisdiction. However, it’s important to note that both federal and state laws affirm that children with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

This underscores the system’s commitment to ensuring every child’s educational needs are met, regardless of their circumstances. 

The least restrictive environment (LRE) principle is critical to IDEA. It states that children with special needs should be in the same classroom as other students as much as possible. 

Even before COVID, when families were homeschooling, some students weren’t receiving FAPE because their school district couldn’t meet their unique needs. For example, if a child’s IEP isn’t correctly implemented, it’s difficult for them to progress in school. 

Out-of-District Placement: Who Needs One?

Teenage girl in wheelchair with classmates studying at school.

An out-of-district placement is ideal for students who require specialized attention or have behavioral issues that can’t be accommodated in their school district. 

Additional characteristics of students typically considered for out-of-district placement include:

  • Students with medical needs requiring specialized facilities or staff 
  • Students with cultural or linguistic needs
  • Students in transitional circumstances 
  • Students with disabilities
  • Students with exceptional needs 

Ultimately, an out-of-district placement ensures every student, including those with special needs, has access to an effective and appropriate program that helps meet their needs regardless of where they reside or the current resources available in their local school district. 

This opportunity for a more tailored and specialized education can significantly enhance a child’s learning journey, inspiring educators to continue their dedicated work. 

Case Study on Out-of-District Placement 

Reading time in an elementary school or kindergarten, a teacher reading a book to children in an elementary school or kindergarten.

A 2017 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education22. Andover Public Schools equips paraprofessionals to catalyze early intervention efforts. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. https://www.doe.mass.edu/research/allocation/casestudies/andover.pdf case study found that out-of-district placements help improve Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessments. 

The study also found that the number of children needing out-of-district placement decreased as the school system improved its support of students with disabilities. 

How to Secure an Out-of-District Placement

Teacher having meeting with parent of schoolboy.

Your active involvement as a parent is crucial in addressing the issue of out-of-district placement at your child’s IEP meeting. 

Remember, you are your child’s primary advocate. With a counselor’s caseload, they may not fully recognize the need for an out-of-district placement. Your voice and insights can make a significant difference in securing the best educational environment for your child. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to secure an out-of-district placement:

  1. Request an initial evaluation and identification of special education needs.
  2. Determine the inadequacy of local district resources.
  3. Explore available out-of-district options and the selection process.
  4. Understand legal considerations and parental rights.

At the end of the day, you need to prove that your school district isn’t offering FAPE to your child. 

Benefits and Challenges of Out-of-District Placements

Teacher is helping one of her primary school students in the classroom.

Parents need to balance the benefits and challenges of out-of-district placements to ensure their child receives the appropriate support and services while considering their overall well-being. 

Here’s a snapshot of the benefits and challenges you should consider when deciding whether an out-of-district placement is appropriate for your child. 

Benefits Challenges 
  • Specialized services
  • Better access to necessary resources
  • Individualized attention and tailored education plans
  • Least restrictive environment
  • Distances and logistics
  • Social implications and integration challenges
  • Monitoring and communication
  • Expense for school districts

Out-of-District Best Practices

Communication session of school psychologist.

Providing your child with an out-of-district placement generally involves a complex process requiring planning and collaboration with the school district. However, rest assured that there are ways to help streamline the process. You are not alone in this journey; resources and support systems are in place to assist you every step of the way. 

Some of the best practices for parents and educators to consider include:

  • Active involvement and communication between parents and educators. 
  • Conducting a comprehensive assessment to understand the student’s needs and strengths. 
  • Strategies for maintaining a connection with the child’s education.
  • Collaborating with out-of-district placements for a seamless education.

Some children struggle socially with out-of-district placement, so retaining original friendships and considering joining local youth clubs or team sports is essential. 

What to Do if Your Child Isn’t Accepted in an Out-of-District Placement 

Young man and his son meeting with headmistress at school.

If you receive the dreaded letter saying your child has been rejected for an out-of-district placement, you have options. While it will likely be frustrating after all the hard work you put into the process, it’s important to remain calm (as much as possible!).

First, you can review your application to ensure nothing is off-putting or inaccurate. For example, did you provide an accurate overview of your child and why they should qualify for an out-of-district placement?

You may have your child’s IEP counselor reevaluate it to reflect your child’s needs better. In addition, reach out to the school where you’d like them to be placed to see if there is anything you can do to help your child qualify. Can they come for a trial to see if the school best fits them?

Remember to be your child’s number one advocate and keep fighting for what your child deserves. 


How do I know if my child qualifies for an out-of-district placement?

If your child struggles in public school, you may wonder how to qualify for an out-of-district placement. If there isn’t a program in your school district to meet your child’s unique needs or they aren’t making adequate progress, you should approach the school’s administration. 

Remember that the school may sometimes have differing views about out-of-district placement. You’ll have to advocate for your child, ensuring they are in the appropriate school that best fits their needs. 

What are the common signs that an in-district program isn’t meeting a child’s needs?

If you recognize your child isn’t making sufficient progress in their current school district, an in-district program may not be the best fit. You may also notice your child’s individualized needs can only be met with special education services. 

Can a child return to their local school district after an out-of-district placement?

Children may return to their local school district if they thrive in the out-of-district placement or if it does not benefit them. 

When are children referred to a residential placement?

Generally, children are referred to a residential placement if:

  • They require 24-hour structured treatment. 
  • There is concern for self-injury or danger to others. 
  • They cannot function in daily activities. 
  • They commit destructive acts at school or in the community. 

Every child is unique, meaning no two cases are the same, and the reason why one student qualifies for residential placement will likely differ from the next. Find the best fit for your child in an environment where they can thrive. 


  1. Range of Educational Placements. Federation for Children with Special Needs. (n.d.). https://fcsn.org/rangle-of-placements/#1649690443668-4b99a42e-4bf7
  2. Andover Public Schools equips paraprofessionals to catalyze early intervention efforts. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (n.d.). https://www.doe.mass.edu/research/allocation/casestudies/andover.pdf
What Is an Out-of-District Placement, and Who Needs One?

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