Your Rights on the Autism Scholarship or the Jon Peterson Scholarship

August 18, 2021 by Emily Durell / special education

In Ohio, special education scholarships such as the Autism and Jon Peterson scholarships are available for students on an IEP. These scholarships provide tuition waivers to pay for tuition at a private school or provider. For many families, these scholarships seem like a good option. However, when you exit public school, you lose many rights. This post will explain the rights you have in an Ohio public school that you will not have a private school while on a special education scholarship.

Public School
Private School or Provider w/ Autism Scholarship
District must provide FAPE Parent’s responsibility to ensure its upheld
Manifestation determination if over 10 days No protections
Must be provided K-8, if you live 2 or more miles from school and the trip is less than 30 minutes. Often districts provide more transportation than the required state minimum. District may provide transportation, or you may purchase transportation using scholarship funds depending on your situation—see below for more details.
Required to develop bullying prevention and reporting plan. Also required to address bullying that is based on the child’s disability or is so pervasive that it impacts a child’s ability to receive education. Private schools generally do not have the same legal obligation to address bullying as public schools unless specific circumstances apply.
English language learners
Must have programs to make sure EL students have an equal education opportunity; school must communicate with parent in their language Not required to provide any special programs for ELL; must provide interpretation/translation services for parents only if they receive federal funding



The right to a free, appropriate public education (often abbreviated as FAPE) is guaranteed to all students under IDEA, the federal special education law. However, if you choose to take a special education scholarship, you waive your child’s right to FAPE. This means your home school district is no longer responsible for providing a free, appropriate public education to your child.

The private school or provider you attend does not have to provide FAPE. The education they provide is not free, as you are paying tuition. They also are not required to provide an “appropriate” education. An IEP is what ensures your child’s special education is appropriate. When you take a special education scholarship, the provider will receive a copy of the IEP, but the private school or provider is not required to implement all terms of the IEP. For example, if the IEP states that your child gets occupation therapy (OT), but the school does not have an occupational therapist on staff, the school is not required to hire an OT to fill that need.

While attending a private provider it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that the IEP is upheld. This means you must communicate with the school or provider about what services are being provided and how. If the school is unable to provide a certain service, then it may not be the best placement for your child. It is up to your discretion whether you remain at the provider, or choose a different education option. Your school district is still responsible for updating the IEP annually.

2. Expulsion/Suspension

Public school has several protections in place regarding expulsion and suspension.

Generally, a student cannot be suspended or expelled without due process. You can read more about expulsion and suspension in public schools here:

There are additional protections in place for students on IEPs. If a student on an IEP is suspended or expelled for a cumulative 10 or more days, the school must hold a manifestation determination review to determine whether the behavior resulting in the suspension/expulsion was a manifestation of the student’s disability. If it is, then the school must develop a behavior plan to address the behavior and cannot expel or suspend the student for over 10 days.

In a private school or provider, there are almost no protections regarding expulsion or suspension. Private schools or providers are allowed to expel or suspend students at their own discretion, with the exception of discriminatory expulsions/suspensions—if the expulsion or suspension was done based on race or disability. This means that a private provider can legally suspend or expel a student for disability-related behaviors, for parent conduct, or any other non-discriminatory reason. Once again, the responsibility rests on the parent to ensure the provider is the appropriate placement for the child.

3. Transportation

In Ohio, public schools are required to provide free transportation to students 8th grade and under if they live 2 miles or more away from their school of attendance. Many districts opt to provide more transportation services than the state minimum.

When taking a Special Education scholarship, transportation becomes trickier. There are three options:

  • If your child has transportation as a related services documented on their IEP, you can use scholarship funds to pay for a private transportation provider. The district is not required to provide transportation as a related service.
  • If your child attends a private provider (i.e. not a school), there is no obligation on the part of your home school district to provide transportation.
  • If your child attends a nonpublic chartered school, the District is required to provide the same transportation to you as it provides to regular education students that reside in the district and attend that school.
4. Bullying

Ohio public schools districts are required to develop policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying, and train their staff and teachers on addressing bullying. School districts must have a bullying reporting procedure, must notify parents when an incident of bullying is reported, and must have a procedure for responding to and investigating any reported incident. Public schools are also required to intervene if the bullying of a student with a disability is based on the child’s disability or if the bullying is so pervasive that it impedes the child’s ability to receive FAPE.

If a private school receives federal funding, it is subject to federal law Section 504 which prohibits harassment based on disability if it denies the student with a disability an equal education. If a private school receives a written notice of harassment based on disability, it must conduct a thorough and prompt investigation. If the school finds that such an incident occurred, it must take actions “reasonably calculated” to address and prevent disability harassment. The law does not define specifically which types of actions a school should perform.

However, many if not most private schools do not receive federal funding. These schools and providers are not required to develop anti-bullying policies, although they may choose to do so.

5. English Learners

Public schools across the county must have policies in place to identify English learners, annually assess their English language proficiency, and provide language service programs and education approaches that best meet the needs of their English learner students.
Public schools are also required to communicate with parents in a language they can understand. When the school contacts a parent with limited English proficiency about any school program, service, or activity, they must communicate in that parents preferred language using a trained translator or interpreter.

Private schools and providers are not required to provide English learning services. They also are not required to communicate with parents in a language they can understand, unless that private provider received federal funding.

When making the decision to take the Autism or Jon Peterson Scholarship, it is important to understand the pros and cons of your decision. If you need more specific advice, or would like an advocate’s assistance with your case, please contact us at Disability Rights Ohio.

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