Who ensures schools follow special education law?

Q. My daughter just got an IEP. I know I have a role in making sure her IEP is followed. But who oversees the school? Who’s responsible for making sure the school follows the law?

A. Making sure schools are following the law is a big responsibility. Some of that responsibility lies with federal and state agencies. But most of it rests with local school districts.

The main law that covers special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It includes requirements that are meant to hold schools accountable. IDEA also provides parents with steps they can take if they believe the law isn’t being followed for their child.

State departments of education oversee local school districts. Their job is to make sure school districts are following the laws. They’re also expected to correct any instances when they find districts are not following them.

States use a variety of strategies to monitor school districts. These may include reviewing data on how well students with disabilities are faring compared to other students. States may also examine parent complaints and due process hearings. And they may conduct in-person visits to local schools.

School districts should supervise the staff in their schools. It’s the district’s job to see that those who are responsible follow through with requirements of the law.

Your child’s IEP must state the services and supports she needs in order to participate and reach her annual goals. The school district is responsible for making sure her IEP is being followed and services are being given as planned. But it isn’t responsible for providing supports beyond those listed in her IEP.

IDEA requires schools to have what’s called an “agency representative” on the IEP team. This person is responsible for seeing that your child gets the supports and services as written in her IEP.

If you believe the school isn’t following through on your child’s IEP, contact the agency representative. (Their name may be listed on the IEP. But if not, ask the principal who to talk to.) Identify the specific services your child isn’t getting, ideally in writing. And ask for a time to meet to discuss it.

If you don’t feel the representative resolves your concern, there are steps you can take. Start by contacting your district’s special education coordinator to make a complaint. Again, it’s best if you do this in writing. You should also review the district’s due process procedures in the procedural safeguards packet.

IDEA gives parents the option to file complaints with their state department of education. Parents can also request a due process hearing.

States have flexibility with some of the legal requirements, so you should become familiar with your state’s regulations. Plus, every state has a federally funded parent training center to provide families with information on your rights under IDEA. Find your parent training center here.

Are you interested in learning more about the laws that protect your child? Read about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the main education law for public schools.


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