By Andrew M.I. Lee
If a school won’t evaluate your child, denies her special education or reduces her services, you need to have a plan. Here are common reasons schools cite and possible ways to respond.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (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 my child can be eligible for services even if she’s passing her classes. What’s the best way to determine the special education services she might need because of her learning issues?”
Just because your child is doing well doesn’t mean her disability no longer exists. She 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 in her current placement.”
All public schools are required by IDEA to provide a free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities. Magnet schools and charter schools are public schools, and therefore 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. Now how can we work together to provide my child with the services she needs?”
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.
Sample Response: “I understand that the school uses RTI, but I still believe my child needs to be evaluated for special education services.” You can show the school a copy of the Department of Education’s memo reminder if necessary.
A child can get special education services under IDEA if she has a disability in one of the 13 categories. Category 4 is “emotional disturbance.” Category 9 is “other health impairment,” which can cover ADHD. If your child has an emotional or behavioral issue that prevents her from participating and progressing in school and/or accessing the curriculum, she may qualify for an IEP.
Sample Response: “My child’s issues can qualify her for special education services under IDEA. Can we walk through the categories to see how?”
Schools can’t refuse to provide accommodations or services on the grounds 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 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.”
IDEA requires that schools provide your child special education services that are individualized to meet her “unique needs.” A school can’t have a blanket 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 portion of the IDEA that says services must meet my child’s unique needs. How can we work together to make this happen?”
Under IDEA, students must receive special education services in the “least restrictive environment.” This means, when possible, they need to be in general education classes. In addition, the 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.”
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?”
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 no decision maker is available, document that in writing by letter.
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 us to call a supervisor now or bring one here?”
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.
Andrew M.I. Lee is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues.
Analisa L. Smith, Ed.D., serves on the national board of directors of LDA. She is an education consultant and a distance education professor.
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