Date of Award



© 2020 Jonathan Roland Normand

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Suzan Nelson

Second Advisor

Corinna Crafton

Third Advisor

Al Durgin


A myriad of factors are considered in the out-of-district placement process of special needs students, but there is not a standardized process for weighing these. Little is known about how Maine School Administrators weigh each factor to determine the appropriate placement. This interpretive phenomenological study examined the question: What is the hierarchy of priority of the factors used to determine out-of-district placements by Maine special education administrators?

Six special education administrators representing different geographic areas of the state of Maine were interviewed individually. The researcher utilized a purposive sampling method to recruit from within the targeted population those who have experience with the phenomenon of out-of-district placements. This qualitative phenomenological study identified trends and correlations based on transcript analysis of these six interviews. Data collected included information about length in position, demographics of district, number of out-of-district placements, experiences with the placement process, and an analysis of each director’s priorities during the decision-making process.

Thematic findings included factors such as: safety, progress, medical needs, disability category, and finances. Safety was the primary or most important factor identified in the process hierarchy. The notion that students are making progress in their individual program was also a primary consideration. Complex medical needs were also a factor for most district leaders when placing students out-of-district. Administrators did not report finances as a factor in this process, but all identified availability (both openings and potential fit) as a factor.

Safety was the resounding issue leading to out-of-district placements. This finding suggests that, if educators can better identify how to provide programs that ensure safety for students, more students could remain in-district. Understanding what these out-of-district placements provide that might be replicated in a public-school setting or public day program might help increase internal capacities of a district. District leaders should look at programs within their regions and find ways to share programs and resources to program for students in the least restrictive environment. In some cases, bringing in external training and expertise to build sustainable long-term programs would be in the interests of both students, staff, and communities.


Ed.D. Dissertation