What Are Your Rights, as a Parent,
in the Special Education Process?
Public Law 105-17, the individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, enhances the rights of children with
disabilities and their parents. It builds on the rights provided
under Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children
Act, of 1975. A fundamental provision of these laws is the right
of parents to participate in the educational decision-making process.
Currently this includes the right to:
- A free appropriate public education for your child. "Free"
means at no cost to you as parents or to your child, except for
incidental fees normally charged to parents of students without
disabilities as part of the regular education programs. "Appropriate"
means that your child's program must be individually designed
to meet his or her unique educational needs.
- Request an evaluation if you think your child has an impairment
that may require special education or related services. You also
have the right to get an independent evaluation if you disagree
with the evaluation obtained by the school.
- Be notified in writing ("written prior notices") whenever
the school proposes any of the following: an evaluation to determine
whether your child has a disability; a reevaluation; or a change
in your child's educational placement. You are also entitled to
be notified in writing if the school refuses your request for
an evaluation or change in educational placement for your child.
- Informed consent. This means you understand and agree in writing
to the evaluation and educational placement decision for you child.
Your consent is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time.
- Request a reevaluation of your child at any time. The school
must reevaluate your child if conditions warrant, or if you or
your child's teacher requests a reevaluation; but in any case,
the school must reevaluate the child at least once every three
- Have your child tested in the language he or she knows best.
For example, if your child's primary language is Spanish, this
is the language in which he or she must be tested. Students who
are deaf have the right to an interpreter during the testing.
Students who are blind or visually impaired have the right to
have the tests provided in Braille or large print, or to have
the test read aloud.
- Have access to your child's education records. A school must
comply with a parent's request to inspect and review his or her
child's education records within 5 days of the receipt of the
request. Generally, schools must have written consent from the
parent before releasing any information from the student's records.
However, records can be released to certain education officials
without the parent's consent. If you feel that some information
in your child's records is inaccurate or misleading or violates
your child's rights, you may request that the record be changed.
If the school refuses, you have the right to request a hearing,
or you may file a complaint with your state education agency.
- Be fully informed by the school of all rights that are provided
to you under the law and all procedural safeguards that the school
must follow to ensure that the rights of all are protected.
- Participate in the development of your child's individualized
education program (IEP) or, if your child is under age 3, individualized
family service plan (IFSP). You have the right to participate
in all IEP or IFSP team decisions, or any other decision regarding
your child. The school must make every possible effort to notify
you of the IEP or IFSP meeting and then arrange it at a time and
place that is convenient for both you and the school. The school
is responsible for reviewing this plan at least once each year,
but you have the right to request an IEP or IFSP meeting at any
time during the school year.
- Be kept informed about your child's progress, by means such
as periodic report cards, at least as often as parents of children
who do not have disabilities.
- Have your child educated in the least restrictive environment.
This means that, to the maximum extent possible, your child should
be educated in regular classes with his or her nondisabled peers,
and your child should receive supplementary aids and services
in his or her neighborhood school. If education outside the regular
classroom is determined to be most appropriate, your child should
be educated in the most integrated setting possible.
- Voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve differences
with the school that can not be resolved informally. Be sure you
make your request in writing, date your request and keep a copy.
What Are Your Responsibilities, as a Parent, in
the Special Education Process?
Parents have a key role in the special education process. The following
suggestions may offer some guidance:
- Develop a partnership with the school. Share relevant information
about your child's education and development. Your observation
can be a valuable resource.
- Ask for an explanation of any aspect of the program that you
don't understand. Educational terms can be confusing, so do not
hesitate to ask.
- Make sure the IEP or IFSP goals and objectives are specific
and measurable. This will ensure that everyone teaching your child
is working toward the same goals. Take the IEP or IFSP home to
think about it before you sign it. You have 10 school days in
which to make a decision.
- Make sure your child is included in the regular school activities
program as much as is appropriate, including, at least, lunch,
recess, and nonacademic areas such as art, music, and physical
- Monitor your child's progress and periodically ask for a report.
If your child is not progressing, discuss it with the teacher
and determine whether the program should be modified. As a parent,
you can initiate changes in your child's educational program.
- Try to resolve directly with the school any problems that may
occur with your child's evaluation, placement, or educational
program. Most states have protection and advocacy agencies that
can provide you with the guidance you need to resolve a problem.
- Keep records. There may be questions about your child that you
will want to discuss, as well as meetings and phone conversation
you will want to remember. It is easy to forget important information
that is not written down.
- Join a parent organization. Besides sharing knowledge, experiences,
and support, a parent group often can be an effective force on
behalf of your child. Parents often find that, as a group, they
have the power to bring about needed changes to strengthen special
As the Parent of a Child with a Disability, What
Can You Offer the IEP or IFSP Process?
Parents of children with disabilities can and should be involved
in a number of ways, including the following:
- Before attending an IEP or IFSP meeting, make a list of things
you want your child to learn. Take notes about aspects of your
child's behavior that could interfere with the learning process.
Describe the methods you have found to be successful in dealing
with these behaviors.
- Bring any information the school may not already have to the
IEP or IFSP meeting. Examples include copies of medical records,
past school records, or test or evaluation results. Remember,
reports do not say all there is to say about a child. You can
add real-life examples to demonstrate your child's ability in
- Find out what related services are being provided, and ask each
professional to describe the kind of service he or she will be
providing and what improvement you might expect to see as a result
of these services.
- Ask what you can do at home to support the program. Many skills
your child learns at school can also be used at home. Ask to meet
with the teacher when your child is learning a new skill that
could be practiced at home.
- Discuss methods for handling discipline problems that you know
are effective with your child.
- When you feel teachers and school personnel are doing a good
job, tell them.
What Resources Are Available to Help You?
Your local and state education agencies have information to help
guide you through the special education process. Since the specific
criteria and procedures used by school districts may vary, your
local director of special education can help you access such information.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC
EC). ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced
and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source.