Having a child with a disability can be a challenging experience when it comes to navigating the educational system. Fortunately, there are many laws in place to ensure that children with disabilities are given the opportunity to access the educational curriculum. However, many parents are simply unfamiliar with their rights, and in some situations their lack of knowledge can result in lost opportunities for their child.
Here are three of the more important things no one tells you, but parents should know about special education. Just a small disclaimer, these laws and regulations are complex, and vary by state. As a result, the material contained in this article is simply general information and is not meant to replace legal advice or legal representation from an experienced special education attorney regarding your child’s education. The following should not be used as legal advice, and is limited to general guidance and anecdotal examples.
1. Special education students are required to be evaluated every three years.
Having a regular evaluation of a student’s development is important to determine if they need additional services or an adjustment to their existing curriculum. Not long ago, our office came across a case in which a student was assigned to a home schooling program and wasn’t evaluated for six full years. The student was receiving a very limited home instruction program that was not meeting his needs; he struggled to make progress, showed signs of regression, and was entirely disengaged from his education — not to mention he missed out on peer-to-peer interaction. Had the student received timely assessments, he would have been back in a more typical school setting much earlier.
The importance of receiving special education assessments once every three years cannot be understated. This is an extreme example, but you should definitely have your alarm bells ringing if your child hasn’t been assessed in more than three years.
2. Parents have the right to say no.
During an annual IEP meeting, the school district may propose changes to your child’s educational services and placement. If a parent feels the current level of services and placement are meeting their child’s needs, that parent has the right to keep the current setup. Frequently, parents may not know they have this right and will reluctantly accept the school district’s proposals — even though the parent believes the current situation is best for their child’s overall development.
The IEP structure is a collaborative process that is meant to include the parent’s input and certainly their right to say no if they disagree with the school district.
*General Pointer: If you are uncomfortable with a school district’s proposal at an IEP meeting, you may take some time to review the proposal. You are not required to consent or disagree with the proposal on that very day! Take your time, review the district’s proposal and conduct your own research. Let the IEP team know you will give them a response in a few days.
3. Parents can request an independent educational evaluation (IEE).
If you find yourself disagreeing with a special education evaluation, make sure to state your concerns during the IEP meeting. Keep in mind that you too are a member of the IEP team! Your input is incredibly valuable and important to the IEP process. If you feel uncomfortable with stating your concerns during the meeting regarding an evaluation, you have the right to request that the school district fund an independent educational evaluation (IEE). What does that mean? Well, the school district must either pay an outside third party evaluator to conduct a brand new evaluation, or the district must defend the existing evaluation in an administrative proceeding. Either way, you have the right to challenge the sufficiency of the school district’s evaluation.
In summary, if your child is not receiving the appropriate services that would allow them to make academic progress, you may want to consider your rights as their parent. There are many ways you can have a positive impact on your child’s educational development. Use the IEP process as a vehicle to empowerment and advocacy. And always remember, if you find yourself lost or confused by the educational system, you have the right to consult with a special education attorney to assist you with the process.