Effective Parents Have an Understanding of Special Education Rules and Regulations
Understanding Special Education Rules and Regulations
Special education laws and regulations are numerous and complex. Even those of us in the business of representing children with disabilities must study and attend seminars to keep abreast of the changing laws and decisions. So, what is a parent to do?
Effective parents make an effort to have at least a fundamental understanding of basic special education rights. Some parents may obtain this knowledge by simply reading notices of rights provided to them by the school through the special education process, while others who are more ambitious become involved in groups or take advantage of the numerous websites designed to educate parents.
Effective parents recognize the importance of seeking advice before making major decisions about their child’s education. When they are unsure of the consequences of rejecting an IEP or when they are questioning whether to allow the school to evaluate their child, they seek guidance from knowledgeable professionals. Parents who successfully navigate the special education process know that there are many requirements which, if not satisfied, will undermine their efforts to advocate for their children. As just one example, parents who place their child in a private school without providing the requisite notice to the school district will not be entitled to reimbursement.
Effective parents are aware of what I believe to be the most important rule in special education: Do not sign any document unless you completely understand what it means for your child. Never, ever give in to the often not-so-subtle prodding of school administrators that a form which you do not understand “needs to be signed today.”
Believe me, in my years of practicing special education law, I am not aware of any form that requires an immediate signature. Effective parents take the time to review all forms in the comfort of their home and to carefully reflect on their decision, and they seek advice if they do not understand the consequences of what they are being asked to sign.
I cannot count the number of parents who have come into my office to complain about their child’s services, only to hand me an IEP which they have signed and accepted just days before. I have met with parents who have even signed forms agreeing to send their child to a 45-day diagnostic placement, not having any idea that it meant that their child would be transported to another school miles away and placed with other children who the parents believed were totally inappropriate.
This is not intended to be critical. Parents naturally want to be trusting and cooperative, and are often embarrassed that they don’t understand the process. Effective parents realize that the special education process is very complicated with many federal and state laws, rules and regulations, and that they best serve their children by becoming as familiar as possible with their rights and by seeking guidance when necessary.