Special Education law is specifically designed to provide a free, appropriate, public education for every child who needs special help. It is called FAPE for short. When your child is qualified for special education services and supports you are a member of the team that will make decisions about his Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.
The law now recognizes parents as equal participants in the process. You are the expert on your child. No one knows your child better than you. At the same time, you need professional assistance and expertise from those who have knowledge about your child's disability and the educational services that can ensure meaningful progress. The ideal team will always focus on the child's needs. Sometimes this does not happen. Parents are then wise to ensure that their recommendations and concerns are always presented at a meeting both verbally and in writing. You are entitled to answers to your recommendations as well as the district's recommendations, as all participants are valued equally. Prior Written Notice can give you that assurance if you request the team respond to each of your recommendations in writing. If it is written as the law intended, you can have no more valuable document from the IEP meeting, as it should say it all. Be sure to read the article on Prior Notice.
When parents first believe their child is struggling in school they can request the school convene an inhouse assessment team meet. This team assess the child's performance and recommendsome strategies and/orinterventions that might alleviate the difficulties. Sometimes simple interventions and informal accommodations and modifications by a flexible teacher is all that is needed. But such a process should not be long or drawn out.
Parents are entitled to know what interventions are being tried, during what period of time they are used, and whether each one was successful or not successful. There should be written documentation for such observations and they should be done in a methodical, careful way to produce measureable results.Parents would be wise to know in writing the timeline for such an assessment. A few months should be adequate to know if minor interventions are successful. After the trial period, if documentation proves such interventions alone are not successful, parents should consider requesting, in writing, a full educational evaluation of their child. The district conducts the evaluation without cost to the parents.
If parents disagree with the evaluation they have the right to ask in writing for the district to pay for an independent educational evaluation. Parents can select who will conduct that evaluation, as long as the persons doing the evaluation "meet the criteria" of the district's own evaluators.
The district can disagree with an independent evaluation. But they if they do, they should be able to detail exactly why they disagree. Generally districts will seriously consider the information in such an evaluation. They are required to consider information from a number of sources, including yours.
The Multidisciplinary Evaluation
If your child is referred for a initial evaluation it should include testing in all suspected areas of disability. Test results should not be simply a grade level of performance. Test results should be measurable and understandable by you as a parent. If you do not understand ask that the results be explained in another way that you will understand. The evaluation must be done by a team of people, not just one person and must include a number of tests, not just one test.
Hopefully this will never happen to you. You go to an IEP meeting and find all this evaluation information plopped in front of you, explained, then the district starts the IEP meeting that will determine whether your child even qualifies for services. You will need time to assimilate the information, form your own conclusions, and perhaps consult with other people who have knowledge of your child's disability. Always come to the meeting with your own list in writing of concerns and recommendations based on all the information you know about your child.
For that reason, it is wise to let the district know that you wish to go over the information with the evaluators at least several days before the meeting, maybe even a week. You can tell them this at the time of the evaluation. Be sure someone who heads the team hears you and understands your request. Parents should never attend a rushed meeting for which they have not had time to prepare written documentation to present. The district has had time to assimilate the information and have probably already formulated some thoughts on placement. You should be given the same consideration of time and preparation.
Meetings must be held at a time and place convenient for both you and the district.
After the IEP meeting, you receive a copy of your Prior Written Notice. Minutes are no longer encouraged as Prior Notice should say it all. Be sure it does. Be sure to read about that notice as it may be the only written record of proposals at your meeting.
If you disagree with the IEP or if Prior Notice does not include all recommendations made at the table, including yours in writing, you can attach a sheet to the IEP stating you disagree with the IEP and then list the areas of disagreement.
Then the district should get together with you and try to iron out any differences in a reasonable fashion. If you still disagree, you can file a formal complaint with your state education department. If it is still unresolved, you can request mediation and/or a facilitated IEP meeting. Those two things will be discussed later on at his site. Then, if all else fails, you can hire a lawyer and go to due process. But know that with the new law, if your suit is deemed "frivolous" you will have the bear the entire cost of an attorney. Before, if parents prevailed, the district had to pay your attorney's fees.
Your Informed Consent
There are certain times when the district must have your consent. Be sure not to miss this article Informed Consent as it pertains to your parents rights.
Information at this site should not be construed as legal advice.