By Lyn Pollard
When it comes to your child’s legal rights, knowledge really is power. But there are a lot of misconceptions about the rights of kids with learning and attention issues. Learn the truth behind these 10 common myths.
Fact: It’s true that hiring a special education lawyer or advocate can be very helpful when advocating for your child. However, as a parent, you also have the ability to protect your child’s rights. In fact, one of the purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to give parents a voice in their child’s education. Get tips on how to be an effective advocate for your child.
Fact: Every state has at least one Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) where you can learn about your child’s rights and how to advocate for her. PTIs hold training sessions and help answer parent questions. Depending on your area, there may be other resources as well. Some schools, for example, have a special education parent committee. If you’re stuck and can’t seem to find support, plug into our community and ask fellow parents how they connected to local resources.
Fact: Every state must follow federal law, including IDEA. But states can set their own rules in some areas, including special education eligibility. States (and even school districts within states) may have different standards for deciding if a child is eligible for special education. The bottom line: Your child may qualify for an IEP in one state, but not necessarily in another.
Fact: A medical diagnosis by a doctor can give you insight about your child’s issues. However, your child doesn’t need one to be evaluated by the school. You have the right to ask for an evaluation at any time. The evaluation process is designed to identify children who have disabilities, which may include learning and attention issues like learning disabilities and ADHD.
Fact: Some schools use response to intervention (RTI), a schoolwide approach to helping struggling students. If done well, RTI can be beneficial for your child’s learning. However, you can ask for an evaluation for special education even if your child currently receives services through RTI. You don’t need to wait. (This memo from the U.S. Department of Education tells schools they cannot use RTI as a reason to delay an evaluation.)
Fact: Depending on your child’s issues, either an IEP or a 504 plan can be an option. As a parent, you can ask the school to evaluate your child to see if she qualifies for either. You don’t need to limit your request. In some schools, these evaluations will be done together. Since struggling students have a wide range of needs, asking for an evaluation for either may allow you and the school to explore different options. Here’s a sample letter for requesting an evaluation.
Fact: Children who have ADHD may be able to get special services through an IEP. However, not every child with ADHD is eligible. Conditions like ADHD can be covered under the “other health impairment” category in IDEA. Get more details on when kids with ADHD may qualify for an IEP.
Fact: It’s a common misconception that a 504 plan can’t include services. But it’s not true. The U.S. Department of Education has made clear that a 504 plan can include school services. However, it’s important to remember that the services a 504 plan offers may not be the same as those available in an IEP. Here’s a useful chart for understanding the differences.
Fact: Children who qualify for special education have a legal right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). But the right to FAPE doesn’t mean that your child’s education should be superior to that of other students. Public schools are required to provide an “appropriate” education. Courts have used the following analogy to explain the meaning of FAPE: A child with an IEP is entitled to a reliable and serviceable “Chevrolet”—not a luxury “Cadillac.”
Fact: Special education isn’t a place. It’s a range of services to address your child’s unique needs. As a legal matter, your child has the right to receive services in the least restrictive environment. This means, when possible, she should be in a general education classroom. Today, many schools offer a combination of services, curriculum, and accommodations for children. One example is an inclusion classroom.
Special education can seem like a foreign language. You may hear unfamiliar terms and acronyms in meetings and wish for a translator! Learn these key terms and you may find it easier to protect your child’s rights.
Understanding your child’s legal rights can help you advocate for him. But legal language can be complex and hard to follow. Here we define key passages from the laws that govern special education.
Lyn Pollard is a writer and mom to two kids who learn differently.
Patricia H. Latham, J.D., is an attorney and mediator and the coauthor of eight books on disability and the law.
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