IL Estate Planning Blog

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Knowing your Rights as a Parent of a Child with Special Needs

Guest Blog by Kristen Sutera: Special Education Teacher at Sopris Elementary


Between the thousands of acronyms and discipline specific language, navigating the world of special education can be daunting and frustrating at times. Many parents do not realize their rights as a parent of a child with a disability. Knowing the special education laws will help you be the best possible advocate for your child. This article will cover specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  IDEA was originally passed in 1975 to give children with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  IDEA covers educational guidelines for children from birth to 21. There are six main points of this act:


1.  Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

As a parent of a child with special needs, you should never have to pay for school in order to meet your child’s needs. No child can be denied a public education, whether they have a disability or not.  Schools are required by this law to meet all of the unique needs of all children with disabilities. For example, if it is stated in a child’s IEP that they need to receive occupational therapy, it is the school’s responsibility to provide this service. As a parent, you may definitely decide to supplement your child’s education with tutoring or other service providers, but you do not need to pay for anything that your child needs to participate in public schools. If they cannot meet the needs of a child because of a severe disability, it is their responsibility to pay for that child to attend a school that does meet their needs.


2. Least Restrictive Environment

To the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities must be educated in the general education classroom with non-disabled peers using appropriate supports and aids.   This is where the buzzword inclusion comes into play. This is the idea that children with disabilities should be included in the school community. However, IDEA does also state that this setting may not be the best for every child. If a child's disability is so severe that supplementary aids and services in the general education classroom are not appropriate, then pulling the student out of the general education classroom and into separate schools may be considered for the child.


3. Appropriate Evaluation

“Appropriate evaluations” must be conducted of students who are suspected of having a disability. A knowledgeable and trained team must do these evaluations. The school must have parental consent in order to evaluate a student for a disability. All assessments must be nondiscriminatory and all procedures be non-biased. There must be a variety of assessment tools and strategies performed in order to have an appropriate evaluation.


4. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

If an evaluation concludes with a child having a disability, then the school is required to provide an IEP that includes its offer of FAPE. An IEP is a legally binding document between the school and parents. If a school does not provide the services agreed upon in the IEP, then they are in violation of the law.  An IEP includes information regarding a student’s present educational performance, annual goals, services and supplementary aids and what their least restrictive environment is and why. When a student reaches the age 14 ½, a transition plan must be included in the IEP.


5. Parent and Student Participation and Shared Decision Making

IDEA states that parents are equal partners! Parents should be involved in any decisions made about the child. Parents’ input and wishes must be considered in IEP goals and objectives and placement decisions. Parents are required to be invited to all IEP meetings in order to be part of decisions for the child.


6. Procedural Safe Guards

IDEA established procedural safeguards to help parents and students enforce their rights under federal law. A notice of parent’s procedural safeguards must be made to parents once a year. This usually happens at an IEP meeting. A school district must provide parents with a prior written notice when any change is made. Parents have a right to review all educational records pertaining to their child, receive notice prior to meetings about their child’s evaluation, placement, or identification, and to obtain an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for consideration at such meetings. If disagreements arise, parents have the right to request mediation or due process hearings with state-level education agencies, and beyond that may appeal the decision in state or federal court.


Further Resources:

Family Resource Center on Disabilities

  • A few times a month the FRCD holds free IDEA workshops! Check out
   the exact dates on their website

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