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The CDR Guide to Disability Rights
(and dealing with the system)

Special Education

Is there an agency that can help me understand how the school system works with relation to my child?
Yep. Each state has one or more federally sponsored Parent Training and Information Centers. Contact information is here.

What rights do my child and I have in the public schools?
How can I get an evaluation for my child?

Under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1973, public schools are required to provide students with disabilities a free and appropriate education based on the individual and unique needs of the child. This means the child receives the special education and related services based NOT on what the school or the school district offers, but based on an individualized evaluation and educational plan (IEP), which the school is obligated to provide in order to determine the educational needs of the child.

How is a referral for special education and related services made?
The parent or school official can make a referral for a case study evaluation to be conducted to determine whether special education and related services are required for an appropriate education.

If the parent makes the referral, the referral should be made at the local school (the school the student would be attending if he/she did not require special education and related services). To perform formal testing for a case study evaluation, the school requires written consent of a parent or guardian. The school has 60 days from the date the consent form in signed to complete the case study. If the school fails to meet this time limit,the parent has the right to request a hearing.

If the school requests a case study evaluation and the parent denies consent to testing, the school must go to hearing before performing testing. The components of a comprehensive case study will vary according to the suspected disability. The most common components are hearing and vision assessment, general physical examination, speech and language assessment, a statement pertaining to the student's academic history (if any) and current level of performance, information about the student's strengths and weaknesses, and recommendations. It's helpful for the parent to submit to the evaluation team any information regarding these issues they observe outside of school.

What is an IEP?
Individualized Education Plan. Parents are equal partners in the evaluation process and the development of the IEP. If parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to request a hearing before an impartial hearing officer at no cost to the parent.

What is an MDC? Multi-Disciplinary Conference (also called Staffing). When the comprehensive case-study evaluation is complete, the professionals from various disciplines (school nurse, speech language pathologist, social worker) will meet with the parent in conference to discuss the results of their assessments.

How can I change my child's placement and/or services?
The Individualized Education Plan is required to be reviewed annually and changes in placement and services can be made at this time. However, if the parent or school believes that a change is necessary, either party can request an IEP meeting prior to the annual review. If the parent has made the request for a change in the plan and the school denies their request, they have the right to request a hearing in attempt to secure any changes.

What recourse do I have if I disagree with the school district or the school fails to adhere to the provisions of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?
The parent has the right to request a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. Each state is obligated to have in place a grievance procedure to resolve disputes between parents and schools. Procedures for requesting a hearing and hearing formats vary from state to state. Check with your state educational agency for more information regarding this matter.

READ All these issues are addressed in-depth in the Parent's guide to special ed / special needs.


Council for Disability Rights

Knowing your rights is the easy part. Exercising them can be a bit trickier.

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