What is an Out-of-District Placement?

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA
As a private school for children with special needs, we often receive inquiries from parents and school district representatives regarding the possibility of an out-of-district placement for their child or student with special needs. Families and educators often want to know more about the basic structure of our program, and how the placement process works.
The following is a brief overview of an out-of-district placement, why it may be necessary, and how to proceed if you think a child may benefit from a such a placement.
In 1990, Congress reauthorized an important piece of legislation (formerly called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, or EHA) and renamed it the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Prior to the passage of EHA and IDEA, many special education students did not receive a quality education. These acts radically changed the way special education services were delivered.
IDEA mandates that a school district provide a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). When a child is deemed eligible to receive special education services, a special education team determines how to best provide services for the child, at no cost to the family.
Think of the LRE as a continuum. At one end, you’ll find the general education classroom, where a student with special needs receives instruction from a teacher, and accommodations and modifications as outlined in his or her Individualized Educational Program (IEP). At the other end, you’ll find a residential program where a student with special needs both lives and receives instruction so he or she can learn and practice skills throughout the day. There are many other options that exist between these two ends. All options have the overall goal of providing a student an appropriate education in a way that is as least restrictive as possible.
An out-of-district placement is a step along this continuum. A student is eligible to receive an out-of-district placement when an education team determines that he or she needs more intensive support than can be provided in the district. Depending on where the student lives, his or her level of need, and the types of placements available in the area, he or she may be sent to a school or program in another town or even another state.
An out-of-district placement may offer a longer school day or academic calendar year (some are year-round programs that do not break for summer). The selected school or program works with public schools, though it is not a part of the public school system. In most cases, families do not pay tuition; the placement is funded from a mix of state funds and payment from the family’s originating school district.
If the education team decides a student’s needs may be best met in another setting, the school district will send referrals to possible placement sites. This means the team is open to considering the placement as a possibility if all parties agree it is a match. The out-of-district placement site will typically conduct observations and assessments of the student to determine if it can adequately meet his or her needs. If all parties agree to the placement, the student will be accepted pending an opening at the selected placement site.
If you are a parent or member of a child’s education team considering an out-of-district placement, you may request to tour a program, which will help you decide if placement is something to pursue further. Many programs will allow you to tour prior to the issuing of a referral.
For more information about out-of-district placements in Massachusetts, visit the following websites:

Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA, is the Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, including one in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit