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The Role of the Parent in Special Education

Do you feel like you are not an equal, important member of your child’s IEP team? You are not alone if you don’t feel that way. But you shouldn’t. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mentions the word “parent” nearly 450 times! The law is clear that parents should play an active role in developing and supporting their children’s individual education plans. So, here’s what you do when you want to stomp your feet and exclaim, “Listen to me!!!!”. Reference the law.  

Below is a list of over 15 references to parents’ input and IEP team membership, which parents may want to reference in advocating for the educational rights of their children, as well as a direct quote from the federal law:

1.      The intent of IDEA was, in part, to strengthen the role of the parents in their children’s educational experiences, both at home and at school. 

a.      “Findings.  Congress finds [that] [a]lmost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by… strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families of such children have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home.”  20 U.S.C. §1400 (c)(5)(b)

2.      The laws specifically lists the protection of parent rights as a purpose. 

a.      “Purposes.  The purposes of this chapter [are]… to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.” 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (d)(1)(B)

3.      Another express purpose of the law is to make certain that parents have the resources and information to help their children succeed. 

a.      “Purposes.  The purposes of this chapter [are] to ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results for children with disabilities by supporting system improvement activities; coordinated research and personnel preparation; coordinated technical assistance, dissemination, and support; and technology development and media services.”  20 U.S.C. § 1400 (d)(3).

4.      Parents are permitted to file complaints about the qualifications of school staff. 

a.      “Rule of construction.  Notwithstanding any other individual right of action that a parent or student may maintain under this subchapter, nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to … prevent a parent from filing a complaint about staff qualifications with the State educational agency as provided for under this subchapter.”  20 U.S.C. §1411 (a)(14)(E).

5.      In order to receive funding, school districts must ensure that both students and their parents are provided with all rights and safeguards mandated by IDEA. 

a.      “State agency eligibility.  Any State agency that desires to receive a subgrant for any fiscal year under section 1411(f) of this title shall demonstrate to the satisfaction of the State educational agency that all children with disabilities who are participating in programs and projects funded under this subchapter receive a free appropriate public education, and that those children and their parents are provided all the rights and procedural safeguards described in this subchapter.”  20 U.S.C. §1413(h)(1). 

6. Parents have the right to refuse services. 

a.      “Parental Consent For services.  If the parent of such child refuses to consent to services under clause (i)(II), the local educational agency shall not provide special education and related services to the child by utilizing the procedures described in section 1415 of this title.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1)(D)(ii)(II). 

7.   Parents have the right to request reevaluations, and if they do, schools must conduct the reevaluation. 

a.      “Reevaluations.  A local educational agency shall ensure that a reevaluation of each child with a disability is conductedif the child's parents or teacher requests a reevaluation.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2)(A)(ii). 

8.    In performing an evaluation, schools must consider parents’ input on the student’s functional, developmental, and academic strengths and weaknesses. 

a.      “Conduct of evaluation.  In conducting the evaluation, the local educational agency shall… use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent, that may assist in determining (i) whether the child is a child with a disability; and (ii) the content of the child's individualized education program, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum, or, for preschool children, to participate in appropriate activities.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(b)(2)(A) et seq.

9.   The team that determines whether the child has a disability must include the parent, and the school must also give a copy of the eligibility determination to the parent. 

a.    “Determination of eligibility and educational need.  Upon completion of the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures (A) the determination of whether the child is a child with a disability as defined in section 1401(3) of this title and the educational needs of the child shall be made by a team of qualified professionals and the parent of the child in accordance with paragraph (5); and (B) a copy of the evaluation report and the documentation of determination of eligibility shall be given to the parent.  20 U.S.C. §1414(b)(4) et seq. 

10.    The school must consider input from the child’s parent in considering the child has a disability, what the child’s present levels of achievement and need are, whether the child needs services, and whether the child needs program modifications 

a.      “Additional requirements for evaluation and reevaluations: Review of existing evaluation data.  As part of an initial evaluation (if appropriate) and as part of any reevaluation under this section, the IEP Team and other qualified professionals, as appropriate, shall (A) review existing evaluation data on the child, including…(i) evaluations and information provided by the parents of the child; (ii) current classroom-based, local, or State assessments, and classroom-based observations; and (iii) observations by teachers and related services providers; and (B) on the basis of that review, and input from the child's parents, identify what additional data, if any, are needed to determine…(i) whether the child is a child with a disability as defined in section 1401(3) of this title, and the educational needs of the child, or, in case of a reevaluation of a child, whether the child continues to have such a disability and such educational needs;(ii) the present levels of academic achievement and related developmental needs of the child; (iii) whether the child needs special education and related services, or in the case of a reevaluation of a child, whether the child continues to need special education and related services; and (iv) whether any additions or modifications to the special education and related services are needed to enable the child to meet the measurable annual goals set out in the individualized education program of the child and to participate, as appropriate, in the general education curriculum.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(c) et seq.

11.  The parent is part of the IEP team. 

a.      “Individualized education program teamThe term "individualized education program team" or "IEP Team" means a group of individuals composed of (i) the parents of a child with a disability…” 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(B)(i). 

12.    If an IEP team member wishes to be excused from a meeting, the parent must agree to the excusal. 

a.      “Excusal.  A member of the IEP Team may be excused from attending an IEP meeting, in whole or in part, when the meeting involves a modification to or discussion of the member's area of the curriculum or related services, if the parent and the local educational agency consent to the excusal; and the member submits, in writing to the parent and the IEP Team, input into the development of the IEP prior to the meeting.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(C)(ii).

13.    As the IEP team develops the IEP, they are required to consider the parent’s concerns. 

a.      “Development of IEP.  In general.  In developing each child's IEP, the IEP Team, subject to subparagraph (C), shall consider… (i) the strengths of the child; (ii) the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child; (iii) the results of the initial evaluation or most recent evaluation of the child; and (iv) the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(3)(A) et seq

14.  In writing IEPS, the IEP team must consider information provided by the parents appropriately. 

a.      “Review and revision of IEP.  In General.  The local educational agency shall ensure that, subject to subparagraph (B), the IEP Team… revises the IEP as appropriate to addressinformation about the child provided to, or by, the parents…”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(4)(A)ii)(III).

15.    Parents must be a part of the team that makes decisions regarding placement. 

a.      “Educational placements.  Each local educational agency or State educational agency shall ensure that the parents of each child with a disability are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child.”  20 U.S.C. §1414 (e). 

16.    If parents are unable to attend meetings, they may participate by video or telephone conferencing. 

a.      “Alternative means of meeting participation.  When conducting IEP team meetings and placement meetings pursuant to this section…the parent of a child with a disability and a local educational agency may agree to use alternative means of meeting participation, such as video conferences and conference calls.”  20 U.S.C. §1414 (f). 

17.    Parents are offered several procedural safeguards. 

a.      Procedural Safeguards.  [Parents are afforded the following procedural safeguards]: (1) An opportunity for the parents of a child with a disability to examine all records relating to such child and to participate in meetings with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child, and the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child, and to obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child; …(3) Written prior notice to the parents of the child, in accordance with subsection (c)(1), whenever the local educational agency… (A) proposes to initiate or change; or (B) refuses to initiate or change; …) Procedures designed to ensure that the notice required by paragraph (3) is in the native language of the parents, unless it clearly is not feasible to do so; …(8) Procedures that require the State educational agency to develop a model form to assist parents in filing a complaint and due process complaint notice.  20 U.S.C. §1415(b) et seq.