Your child has the right to a free and appropriate public school education. Getting involved in his or her education is among the most important things you can do as your child’s advocate. As you’ll see below, you have a right to be a part of every decision regarding your child’s education, including the process of finding out if your child needs special services. You know your child best, and your input should be considered at every opportunity.
In order to make sure that your child with learning disabilities gets the help he or she needs throughout his or her school career, you should familiarize yourself with the rights you have as your child’s advocate. These rights are federally mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Your child’s rights in determining eligibility for special education and related services:
- You have the right to request in writing that your child be evaluated to determine if he or she is eligible for special education and related services. This evaluation is more than just a single test. The school must gather information from you, your child’s teacher and others who would be helpful. An assessment of your child must then be conducted in all the areas that may be affected by the suspected disability.
- If the public school agrees that your child may have a learning disability and may need special help, the school must evaluate your child at no cost to you.
- Teachers or other professionals can recommend that your child be evaluated, but the school must get your explicit written consent before any part of the evaluation is started.
- If the public school system refuses to give your child an evaluation, they must explain in writing the reasons for refusal, and must also provide information about how you can challenge their decision.
- All tests and interviews must be conducted in your child’s native language. The evaluation process cannot discriminate against your child because he or she is not a native English speaker, has a disability or is from a different racial or cultural background.
- Your child cannot be determined eligible for special education services only because of limited English proficiency or because of lack of instruction in reading or math.
- You have the right to be a part of the evaluation team that decides what information is needed to determine whether your child is eligible.
- You have the right to a copy of all evaluation reports and paperwork related to your child.
- You have the right to obtain an Independent Education Evaluation from a qualified professional and challenge the findings of the school evaluation team.
- You have the right for your child’s evaluation to be completed within a specific timeframe. Some states have set a limit. For states who had no limit, as of July 1, 2005 , the evaluation must be completed within 60 days of your written consent.
Your child’s rights once determined eligible for special education and related services:
- You and your child have the right to attend and participate in a meeting to design an Individualized Education Program (IEP) which must be held within 30 days of your child being found eligible for special education services. An IEP should set reasonable learning goals for your child and state the services that the school district will provide.
- You and your child have the right to participate in the development of the IEP, along with a team that will include: your child’s teachers, a representative from the school administration who is qualified to recommend and supervise special programs and services as well as representatives from other agencies that may be involved in your child’s transition services (if your child is age 16 or older). You can also request an advisor to help you better understand your rights and responsibilities as a parent, and request that this person be present.
- Your child has a right to the least restrictive environment possible. Unless members of the IEP team can justify removal from the general education classroom, your child should receive instruction and support with classmates that do not have disabilities. Also be sure that special education services or supports are available to help your child participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports.
- During an IEP meeting, the IEP team will develop goals for any related services, such as occupational therapy, which could help your child. Be sure the team specifies how often and for how long these services will be provided as well as in what setting the services will be provided. This team will also identify behavioral strategies to support your child’s learning in school and at home.
- Be sure to discuss what kind of assistive technology devices - such as speech recognition software, electronic organizers or books on tape - could help your child. Assistive technology services include evaluating your child for specific devices, providing the device and training your child to use the device.
- You have the right to challenge the school’s decisions concerning your child. If you disagree with a decision that’s been made, discuss it with the school and see if an agreement can be reached. If all efforts don’t work, IDEA provides other means of protection for parents and children under the law. These other ways of settling your dispute allow parents and school personnel to resolve disagreements. Options include mediation with an impartial third person, a due process hearing or a formal hearing in a court of law.
- An IEP meeting must be held once a year and comprehensive re-evaluation must be done every three years, unless the IEP team agrees that it is not necessary. However, you may request an IEP meeting at any time.