Rights and Responsibilities of Parents of Children
with Disabilities. ERIC Digest.
by Knoblauch, Bernadette
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS, AS A PARENT, IN THE SPECIAL
Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Amendments of 1997, clearly strengthens the rights of children with disabilities
and their parents. It builds on the achievements gained under Public Law
94-142, the Education for the Handicapped Act, and Public Law 101-476,
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A fundamental provision
of these special education laws is the right of parents to participate
in the educational decision-making process. This includes the right to:
*A free appropriate public education for your child. Free means at no
cost to you as parents. Appropriate means meeting the unique educational
needs of your child.
*Request an evaluation if you think your child needs special education
or related services.
*Be notified whenever the school wants to evaluate your child or change
your child's educational placement, or refuses your request for an evaluation
or a change in placement.
*Informed consent. Informed consent means you understand and agree in
writing to the evaluation and educational program decisions for your child.
Your consent is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time.
*Obtain an independent evaluation if you disagree with the school's
*Request a reevaluation if you think your child's present educational
placement is no longer appropriate. The school must reevaluate your child
at least once every 3 years, but your child's educational program must
be reviewed at least once during each calendar year.
*Have your child tested in the language he or she knows best. For example,
if your child's primary language is Spanish, this is the language in which
he or she must be tested. Students who are deaf have the right to an interpreter
during the testing.
*Review all of your child's school records. You may request copies of
these records, but the school may charge you a reasonable fee for making
the copies. Only you, as parents, and those persons directly involved in
the education of your child will be permitted access to personal records.
If you feel that some information in your child's records is inaccurate
or misleading or violates the privacy or other rights of your child, you
may request that the information be changed. If the school refuses your
request, you have the right to request a hearing in order to challenge
the questionable information in your child's records or you may file a
complaint with your state education agency.
*Be fully informed by the school of all rights that are provided to
you under the law.
*Participate in the development of your child's individualized education
program (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP), if your child
is under school age. The school must make every possible effort to notify
you of the IEP or IFSP meeting and then arrange it at a time and place
that is convenient for both you and the school.
*Participate in all IEP or IFSP team decisions, including placement.
*Request an IEP or IFSP meeting at any time during the school year.
*Be kept informed about your child's progress at least as often as parents
of children who do not have disabilities.
*Have your child educated in the least restrictive environment possible.
Every effort should be made to develop an educational program that provides
your child with the services and supports needed in order to be taught
with children who do not have disabilities.
*Voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve differences
with the school that can not be resolved informally. Be sure you make your
request in writing, date your request, and keep a copy.
WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES, AS A PARENT, IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION
Parents have a key role in the special education process. The following
suggestions may offer some guidance:
*Develop a partnership with the school. Share relevant information about
your child's education and development. Your observations can be a valuable
resource in your child's progress.
*Ask for an explanation of any aspect of the program that you don't
understand. Educational and medical terms can be confusing, so do not hesitate
*Make sure the IEP or IFSP goals and objectives are specific. This will
ensure that everyone teaching your child is working toward the same goals.
Take the IEP or IFSP home to think about it before you sign it. You have
10 school days in which to make a decision.
*Make sure your child is included in the regular school activities program
as much as is appropriate, including nonacademic areas such as lunch and
recess and other areas such as art, music, and physical education.
*Monitor your child's progress and periodically ask for a report. If
your child is not progressing, discuss it with the teacher and determine
whether the program should be modified. As a parent, you can initiate changes
in your child's educational program.
*Try to resolve directly with the school any problems that may occur
with your child's assessment, placement, or educational program. In some
situations, you may be unsure of how to proceed to resolve a problem. Most
states have protection and advocacy agencies that can provide you with
the guidance you need to pursue your case.
*Keep records. There may be questions about your child that you will
want to discuss, as well as meetings and phone conversations you will want
to remember. It is easy to forget important information that is not written
*Join a parent organization. Besides sharing knowledge, experiences,
and support, a parent group often can be an effective force on behalf of
your child. Parents often find that, as a group, they have the power to
bring about needed changes to strengthen special services.
AS THE PARENT OF A CHILD WITH A DISABILITY, WHAT CAN YOU
OFFER THE IEP OR IFSP PROCESS?
Parents of children with disabilities should be involved in the process
as much as they want to be and as much as they can be. The following are
some ways in which parents can become involved:
*Before attending an IEP or IFSP meeting, make a list of things you
want your child to learn. Take notes about aspects of your child's behavior
that could interfere with the learning process. Describe the methods you
have found to be successful in dealing with these behaviors.
*Bring any information the school may not already have to the IEP or
IFSP meeting. Examples include copies of medical records, past school records,
or test or evaluation results. Remember, reports do not say all there is
to say about a child. You can add real-life examples to demonstrate your
child's ability in certain areas.
*Find out what related services are being provided, and ask each professional
to describe the kind of service he or she will be providing and what improvement
you might expect to see as a result of these services.
*Ask what you can do at home to support the program. Many skills your
child learns at school can also be used at home. Ask to meet with the teacher
when your child is learning a new skill that could be practiced at home.
*Discuss methods for handling discipline problems that you know are
effective with your child.
*Regard your child's education as a cooperative effort. If at any point
you and the school cannot reach an agreement over your child's educational
and developmental needs, ask to have another meeting. This would allow
time for you and the school to gather more information. If there is still
a conflict over your child's program after a second meeting, ask for a
state mediator or a due process hearing.
*When you feel teachers and school personnel are doing a good job, tell
WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP YOU?
*Your local and state education agencies have information to help guide
you through the special education process. Since the specific criteria
and procedures used by school districts may vary, your local director of
special education and his or her staff can help you access such information.
Additional resources are available from national organizations. Some of
them will also be able to direct you to local and state chapters that can
provide more local support:
The ARC, 500 East Border Street, Suite 300, Arlington, TX 76010
Children with Attention Deficit Disorders (CHADD), 499 NW 70th Avenue,
Suite 308, Plantation, FL 33317
The Council for Exceptional Children, 1920 Association Drive, Reston,
Learning Disability Association (LDA), 4156 Library Road, Pittsburgh,
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
(NICHCY), PO Box 1492, Washington, DC 20013