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Special Education Rights and IEP Advocacy

All children have the right to the least restricted education and the right receive 
appropriate education services.  “Special education” programs provide students
who need extra academic help the resources and services needed to reach their
potential. In the 1970’s, Congress passed laws to make sure that all children who
need special services are evaluated and receive individualized educational plans (IEP)
so that they receive services that are appropriate.  Congress also gave parents the
right to participate in planning their child’s educational plan.  Currently, students can
receive a wide variety services from extra tutoring to special and individualized

What is the Basic Process for Receiving Special Education Services?

A parent or teacher may request an evaluation of the student’s need for special services or classes.  If a parent does not want their child to be tested for special education classes, they have the right to say no.   If the parent requests or agrees to allow their child to undergo the evaluation, the school must evaluate the student.  A team of teachers, specialists, and psychologists will determine whether the student should receive special education services.

After requesting an evaluation, a team of teachers, specialists, and psychologists must meet within thirty (30) school days to discuss the findings.  This meeting is called an “Individual Educational Planning Team” or IEP.  Parents should be a member of the educational planning team to determine what is best for their child.

This planning meeting should be attended by:

  • The parent or guardian
  • The child’s teacher
  • A Special Education Teacher
  • Someone who did the testing, and can talk about the results of the test
  • The Student (if old enough)
  • The Principal (or other school official)
  • An advocate (lawyer, friend, relative, religious adviser)

At the planning meeting, the school officials and the parents will develop a plan for individualized instruction for the

student.  The plan is a written report that describes what programs and services that will be provided, such as special classes, extra tutoring, or other services.  This written report is a contract between the parents and the teachers that includes educational goals for the student.

It is important to remember that students have the right to have the least restricted education, students should be not taken out of regular classes unless the type or severity of the disability does not allow the student to participate.  (For example, a student with a learning disability may improve if he spends only one hour a day in special reading classes. Another student who has special needs might benefit from spending all of their time in special education classes.)

Signing the Educational Plan

If the parents and student do not agree with the educational plan, the parents DO NOT have to sign the educational plan.  Parents have the right to accept the educational plan completely or only accept parts of the plan.  If the parents and student agree with the education plan, the school must provide the services to the student.  The parents must agree completely with the contract.  

Parents should feel free to take their time making the decision.  Parents have thirty days after signing the plan to meet with the school officials to change the plan.  Parents should receive a signed copy of their child’s education plan. 

Parents have the right to have their child re-evaluated if they feel the educational plan is no longer appropriate. They can ask the school officials for a change in the plan. An IEP should be conducted at least every year.

What Happens If You Disagree With The Educational Plan?

If the parents do not agree with the educational plan, the parents may refuse to sign the educational plan. After the parent signs a form disagreeing with the educational plan, the school will organize a hearing between the parents and the school officials.  The Michigan Department of Education will send the parents a list of possible hearing officers.  These hearing officers have a special background in education and training in resolving disputes.  At the hearing, the hearing officer will listen to the parents and school officials and make a decision concerning the appropriate educational plan for the student.

What If the School Determines That Your Student Is Not Eligible for Special Education?

Sometimes the school officials determine that your child does not qualify for special services, but you think that your child needs help.  You have the right to request an independent evaluation of your child’s academic problems.  A counselor or educational specialist who is not associated with the school can interview your child to determine if your child needs services.  The school is legally required to pay for this independent evaluation.

Following the independent evaluation, the educational planning process begins again with a new educational planning team.

Don’t Forget Your Rights as a Parent

Schools must ensure that parents are involved in the special education process by:

  • Communicating with the parents in the native language
  • Communicating with parents early enough so they have an opportunity to attend the IEP meeting
  • Scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreed time and place
  • Notifying the parents about the purpose of the meeting 

Further, schools must arrange a translator for you if you cannot speak English for Special Education Meetings.  At any time during the special education process, you have the right to contact an attorney about your rights.  You do not have to attend special education meetings alone. If you are preparing to begin the special education process or if you feel the school is not following the IEP, speak with an experienced attorney today about your rights.  Bommarito Law is experienced in advocating for your child and negotiating and individual educational plan that is in the best interest of your child and their future.