IEP helping pay for therapeutic boarding school

We are at a loss with a 14 year old who really hasn't been able to attend public school since last year. The school did an evaluation and assigned an IEP for 'emotional disturbance' and after a long round of treatment we enrolled in 9th grade and sadly didn't make it two weeks before the self harm and suicidal thoughts came back. Was admitted to the hospital but will come out soon and we'll be looking at therapeutic boarding schools to help get through the next year or so. I've been told the IEP might help defray some of the cost. Is this true? What are the next steps from someone who has been through this before? Is it worth pursuing getting the district to help pay (I don't want to spend weeks/months to recoup $500...)?  We live in Contra Costa County, if that matters.

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My son has/had an IEP and this did nothing to help with paying for a therapeutic boarding school.  Your first step should be consulting a Educational Consultant to help you on this journey. 

Hi I'm so sorry that your child is having difficulties.  I know that you are asking a different question but my son went through very difficult school times and was helped very much by the partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient program at Alta Bates

It takes time to get in the program but I highly recommend it.


You should contact Wind in the Willows support group. They have meetings around the Bay Area and help families with navigating these things.

We may end up in the same position and apparently you can get the District to pay but it’s work. They also have specific schools the State certifies and is more likely to pay for. Good luck! 

So sorry to hear this. It’s so hard to see your child suffer. I’ve got years of experience in this  area for my my child has behavioral problems. We went the therapeutic school route( boarding and day) and this was achieved only because has has Medi-Cal (he’s a former foster child). This was 5 years ago and it made a difference, plus a good therapist  He has had an IEP for some time and it’s hit or miss with out district. The District should provide supports such as a counseling, therapists, classroom aids to help them succeed. Goals need to be measurable and services must be provided. If the services aren’t provided as written in the IEP then you will need meet and meet and meet with them until they are. If still the IEP is not followed then seek help from an educational rights attorney. Getting a district to pay for outside School placement is hard. It will take time. You will need to show/prove that they can’t provide a fare and appropriate education in the district.  For help with the IEO contact DREDF in Berkeley. For info on treatment facilities, contact Willow in the Wind, a support group of parents . People attend who are seeking info on therapeutic placement,  have kids in such schools, or a transitioning out of residential placement. I found it helpful to attend.  In closing, know that an IEP alone won’t get you an independent placement. You need proof and then the right advocate to push for you.  Good luck and be strong. 

I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

Yes, in some cases a school district will place a kid in a therapeutic boarding and pay for it as part of an IEP for emotional disturbance.  I would call DREDF (you can google them for the number) for a free consultation. You could also pay a couple hundred bucks for an hour-long consultation with an attorney. I highly recommend Deborah Jacobsen. 

Hi, I am so sorry you are going through this, trying to care for a child at risk when you are not a mental health professional is the scariest experience for a parent. Have you reached out to Willows in the Wind, a free support group for parents considering RTC/Wilderness or are currently facing crisis? Or to DREDF, a free organization that has trainings and information about Educational Law and rights? Your child has a disability and is not able to access their education, which encompasses the social/emotional realm as well as the academics. Your District is required to address the disability with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). 

To respond to your questions based on personal experience, you are already on  the most effective best path to reaching an IEP agreement for placement at a Residential Treatment Center to meet FAPE since you already have a District-specified qualifying disability of Emotional Disturbance. Yes I would highly recommend an Educational Attorney, we used Deborah Jacobson in Berkeley and she is truly magical. It may take months of IEP to recoup, but we are talking about recouping potentially $500K, not $500.

I would recommend getting a copy of the facility spreadsheet and start screening RTC's now and get an Educational Attorney on board. You do have an option to do what is called a "unilateral placement", which means to give your District 10 days notice that you are placing your child at an RTC urgently now and will work out the details with the IEP team, all the way through Due Process if neccessary, later. You will need to be able to float about $15,000 per month for treatment. I had my credit limit increased to $200K and played a shell game for quite some time until we settled confidentially with our District. Some District are more difficult to work with and have a hard time being compliant with the law and treating families with respect and not blaming the "home environment". Other Districts may offer RTC as FAPE up-front with not much battle. But as I said, since you already have the education disability identified as ED, you are most of the way there and there's not much to battle about.

A good way to get quickly introduced to Education Law is through an amazing organization called DREDF. There are free training classes and advice.

Best wishes on this journey. We survived emotionally and financially (thanks to Willows in the Wind and our attorney), my son is alive (thanks to Heritage RTC in Provo, Utah), and is now more than 1 year home after 3 months of hospitalization and 3 years of RTC and is doing "good enough" (thanks to my son and his amazing recovery and resiliency)!.

Willows in the Wind is a terrific resource for support around issues like this (!)

Consider attending a meeting and speaking with the folks there.

Get in touch with Willows in the Winds. They run groups for parents  and  can help guide you in requesting assistance from school district. My understanding is that therapeutic boarding schools or Residential treatment centers cost about $10k a month, so you are looking at much more than $500 if they will cover some of it. Definitely worth it in my opinion.

I'm adding more, another consideration could be a NPS (non-public school) funded through the IEP FAPE, which is a "less restrictive environment" than a RTC.Personally I hate that legal term "less restrictive" as to me it seems like a description of a punitive setting, it really just means "less supports in place". For some kids, just getting to a smaller more supportive environment with other students that understand the struggle can be a therapeutic setting.

The NPS my son attended after RTC, Bayhill in Berkeley, had therapy built in to the day. He learned coping tools at RTC but needed a safe place to implement them before transitioning back to public school and the increased support when he first returned home after being in treatment for 3 years.. 

Also check through BPN posts from the past about Willows, TBS, RTC, etc.

Best wishes

I was able to have the school district my grandson was in pay for him to go to a therapeutic boarding school in Utah. The school district failed to provide him with an appropriate education setting for two years. I hired an attorney and after quite a bit of time and out of pocket money spent he was placed in the appropriate therapeutic setting, completely at the expense of the school district, including travel expenses for him and his parents, and reimbursement for the money spent on attorney fees, outside psychological testing, short term placement in a private school and mileage. You have to be very strong, research educational law and not back down. Document everything and save all emails, messages, etc.