Your child receives the help and services he needs through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). But now the school wants to take his services or IEP away. What can you do? Here are some steps you can take if your child is losing services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the school tell you before it takes away services in your child’s IEP. The school must also explain its reasons in detail. This is called prior written notice. It’s usually a letter from the school to you.
“Understanding why the school wants to take away services will help you plan how to respond.”
Before removing services, the school also must have an IEP team meeting to talk about the change.
If you didn’t get prior written notice, send a letter to the school asking for it. It’s important to do this for two reasons. First, without written notice, the school can’t remove services. You’re documenting the lack of notice. Second, you can ask the school to explain itself.
Understanding why the school wants to take away services will help you plan how to respond. For instance, if the school’s reason is inappropriate, such as “we’ve never offered that service option before,” you’ll have a strong reply.
You also may find that the school has a good reason. For instance, if your child has been recently reevaluated and is reading at grade level, the IEP team may find he no longer needs, say, biweekly sessions with the reading instructor.
Use your child’s “stay put” rights.
“Stay put” refers to your child’s right to keep the current placement and services in his IEP while you and the school are resolving a dispute. By using your child’s “stay put” rights, you can stop the school from removing a service—at least temporarily.
There are a number of ways to make sure your child stays put. The simplest way is to ask for mediation. Mediation allows a neutral third party to help you and the school reach an agreement.
To request mediation, write a letter to the school. (Here’s a sample letter.) To keep services in place, you’ll need to do so within 15 days of when the school sent written notice to end services.
Ask for additional testing.
Every three years, a child with an IEP is entitled to a new evaluation. The school will notify you of the testing that will occur. As always, it needs your consent to do this.
If after the evaluation the IEP team determines your child no longer qualifies for special education services, you may want to ask for additional testing in areas that could show your child still needs services.
If a school’s evaluation says your child no longer needs services, you may want to get an independent educational evaluation (IEE). An IEE is performed by an outside professional who doesn’t work for the school. You usually have to pay for the IEE, but you can ask the school to pay. If the school refuses, it has to show that its own evaluation was done properly.
Contact the Parent Information Training Center.
Under IDEA, each state must have a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). PTIs provide information that parents need to work with schools that provide special education services.
Your PTI may have legal resources, support groups, and the ability to connect you with other parents and education advocates. The center’s staff may be able to answer specific questions you have about your state’s special education system.
Talk to an education advocate or lawyer.
You may want to consult with an education advocate. This is a professional who can help you navigate the school system, understand your options, and even negotiate a solution with the school. Another option to consider is talking with a lawyer, who can represent your child’s legal rights.
Advocates and lawyers are generally paid, but some provide free services to low-income families. (Read more about the differences between education advocates and lawyers.)
Consider other dispute resolution options.
Sometimes it’s necessary to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). OCR may investigate and can resolve disputes quickly.
You may also want to consider other dispute resolution options under IDEA, such as due process and state complaints. Due process is the formal process that starts with a written complaint, goes through a kind of courtroom trial and ends with a decision.
A state complaint is a written letter to the state department of education. These options can be costly and take time, and you may want to consult with an advocate or lawyer first.
Get more details on options for resolving IEP disputes. And if you’re nervous about getting tongue-tied when talking to the school, here are ideas on what you can say.