Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Frank R. Kemerer, PhD; Margaret Dalton, JD; Afsaneh Nahavandi, PhD


Catholic schools, “child find” process, Diocese of San Diego for Catholic Schools (San Diego, CA), Free and Appropriate Public Education--FAPE, inaccurate reporting, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act--IDEA, Leadership studies, Local Education Agencies--LEA, principals, private schools, school administration, special education, students


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.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies