If a school won’t evaluate your child, denies , or reduces your child’s services, you need to have a plan. Here are common reasons schools cite and possible ways to respond.
1. “Kids who are passing all their classes don’t get special education.”
The (IDEA) says that a child may need special education even though “the child has not failed…and is advancing from grade to grade.” Read the IDEA regulations.
Sample response: Bring a copy of the regulations and share it with school officials. “My understanding is that IDEA says kids can be eligible for services even if they’re passing their classes. What’s the best way to determine the special education services my child might need because of learning differences?”
2. “We’re removing a service because your child is getting good grades and doesn’t need it anymore.”
Just because your child is doing well doesn’t mean your child’s disability no longer exists. Your child may need services to continue doing well. You can point this out to the school. You can also challenge the school’s decision by filing for mediation or due process, which will trigger “stay put” rights.” “Stay put” rights prevent the removal of services until the challenge is settled.
Sample response: “My child needs this service and will fail without it. I disagree with this change and am writing a letter to the school asking for mediation. In the meantime, my child should stay put with the current .”
3. “This is a magnet (or charter) school. We don’t have IEPs here.”
All public schools are required by IDEA to provide a free appropriate public education to children with disabilities. Magnet schools and charter schools are public schools, and therefore they must provide special education through Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). IDEA regulations are clear about this.
Sample response: “This is a public charter school, and IDEA requires that you provide special education services. How can we work together to provide my child with these services?”
4. “We need to try response to intervention before we give your child special education services.”
Response to intervention (RTI) is a schoolwide approach for identifying and helping struggling students. But the U.S. Department of Education has reminded schools that RTI can’t be used to delay or deny services. You can share the official memo with the school.
Sample response: “I understand that the school uses RTI, but I still believe my child needs to be evaluated for special education services.”
5. “Your child’s issues are emotional and behavioral, not academic. So we can’t offer an IEP.”
Kids can get special education services under IDEA if they have a disability in one of the 13 categories. One category is “emotional disturbance.” Another category is “other health impairment,” which can cover ADHD. Kids who have emotional or behavioral issues that prevent them from participating and progressing in school and/or accessing the curriculum may qualify for an .
Sample response: “My child’s issues can be a qualification for special education services under IDEA. Can we go through the categories to see how?”
6. “We just don’t have the money or staff for technology and special reading programs.”
Schools can’t refuse to provide or services on the grounds that they don’t have adequate funding. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education says even if schools have budget concerns, that doesn’t change their legal obligations to your child.
Sample response: “Under IDEA, special education services depend on the needs of the student, not on money. The U.S. Department of Education says lack of funding doesn’t change my child’s rights. My child needs this technology to benefit from school and prepare for the future.”
7. “Our school doesn’t provide that service. We don’t do that here.”
IDEA requires that schools provide special education services that are individualized to meet your child’s “unique needs.” A school can’t have a total prohibition against services that may be best for your child. Recommendations from doctors and other service providers, such as speech therapists or occupational therapists, need to be considered.
Sample response: “I understand the school hasn’t provided this service before. But my child’s doctor says it’s needed. I printed out the part of IDEA that says services must meet my child’s unique needs. How can we work together to make this happen?”
8. “We can’t provide your child services in a regular or advanced class. Special education is provided only in the resource room.”
Under IDEA, students must receive special education services in the “.” This means, when possible, they need to be in general education classes. In addition, IDEA regulations say a school has to maintain a “continuum” of services for a variety of settings.
Sample response: “I thought children could receive special education in many different settings. I have a copy of the IDEA regulations here that says services can be provided in regular classes.”
9. “I consulted with my supervisor. He says your child only needs an hour of reading intervention a week.”
The IEP team makes decisions about a child’s educational needs. Parents are members of this team. If someone outside the team decides a child’s placement or services, that’s a violation of the IDEA.
Sample response: “I appreciate your supervisor’s recommendation. However, only the IEP team can decide my child’s placement or services. When can your supervisor join the team to talk about my child’s educational needs?”
10. “I know your child needs this technology to read, but the administration office has to approve it.”
IDEA specifically requires that the IEP team include a school representative who knows the school district’s resources and curriculum. This person must have the authority to approve special education services. The IEP team decides if your child “needs access” to technology. When possible, notify the school before an IEP meeting if you’re going to ask for a new service. If you find out that no decision maker is attending the meeting, document that in writing.
Sample response: “Let me clarify. Are you saying that there is no one at this IEP meeting who has authority to approve my request? Is it possible for a supervisor to join the team meeting now?”
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About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Analisa L. Smith, EdD serves on the national board of directors of LDA. She is an education consultant and a distance education professor.