Informed consent in the special education process: What you need to know

At a glance

  • Federal law requires public schools to get your consent before taking certain actions involving your child.

  • Schools must make sure you’re given information about your legal rights.

  • You can refuse to give consent.

During the evaluation and special education process, parents have many legal rights and protections. Informed consent is one of them. Before the school can take certain actions, it must inform you and get your written consent. This right gives you a voice in decisions about your child’s education.

But when does the school need your informed consent? And how does the school get it? Read on to find out.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school must ask for your consent at these times:

  • Before the school conducts an initial evaluation or a reevaluation of your child

  • Before the school provides services to your child for the first time through an IEP

  • Before inviting non-school agencies to participate in IEP meetings to discuss your child’s transition to adult life

You must give permission in each situation above. For example, say you gave informed consent for an evaluation. Later, if the school wants to provide special education services, it must get your informed consent again.

Keep in mind that states and local schools may have rules requiring informed consent at other times as well.

If the school takes one of these actions without getting your consent, you have options. You can ask for due process or file a state complaint.

According to IDEA, informed consent has three requirements:

  • You’ve been fully informed about what the school wants to do. The school will typically send you a letter or document describing what will happen in detail. This is known as prior written notice. You have the right to ask the school to explain anything you don’t understand. You also have the right to receive this notice (as well as give your consent) in your native language, like Spanish or even braille.

  • You understand and agree in writing. Even if you say that you agree in a conversation or meeting, the school can’t proceed. The school needs your signature (or written agreement).

  • You understand that consent is voluntary and that you can withdraw or deny consent at any time. The school must send you a written notice of your and your child’s legal rights, called procedural safeguards.

You can refuse to give informed consent simply by saying no. A parent can also refuse by just not answering when asked. If you don’t give consent, the school can’t act. It’s your decision.

Sometimes a school can’t get in contact with a parent. Or the school wants to evaluate or reevaluate a child, but a parent refuses. In these cases, the school can try to use dispute resolution options like mediation or due process to get an evaluation.

However, this only applies to evaluations. The school may never “override” your decision not to allow special education services for your child.

It’s important to know that the school doesn’t need to get informed consent in every situation. Without your consent, the school can:

  • Give your child tests that are given to all children, including standardized tests

  • Review the results of previous evaluations

Also, once you consent in writing to special education services for the first time, the school doesn’t need your consent again to implement an IEP. It doesn’t need to keep asking permission.

However, if the school wants to change your child’s IEP, it does need to give you prior written notice. And you’re always able to withdraw your consent.

Learn more

Key takeaways

  • You can refuse consent by simply saying no or not answering when asked.

  • A school can’t give your child special education services without your written consent — you have the final say.

  • However, the school can try to use due process to get an evaluation or reevaluation of your child if you don’t consent.


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