Over the past few years, I've received over a thousand emails from parents asking specific questions about special education. Since so many have similar questions, I decided to put together a Special Education FAQ page so that you can find the answers to common questions all on one page. If your question is not addressed here, please feel free to contact me and I'll get back to you within 24 hours.
1. How do I get my child on an IEP?
Simply put, you don’t. An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is the result of a child qualifying for special education services. If you suspect that your child has a learning disability and needs modifications in order to be successful, you must first request to have him or her evaluated. Once the evaluation is complete, the IEP team meets with you and the results are discussed. At that time, the IEP team makes a recommendation as to whether or not the child qualifies for special education. If so, an IEP is written.
2. My child is in special education and would benefit from attending a private school. How do I make this request?
Special education services are only mandated in K-12 public schools. Private placements are only granted if the IEP team determines that the child’s needs require a service that the public school cannot provide. Usually, this is not the case since public schools receive funding to address most issues. If a parent chooses to enroll their child in a private school, they are responsible for the costs. Private schools do not have to provide special education services nor do they have to implement an existing IEP. It is their choice as to whether or not they provide services. Sometimes, private schools partner up with their local public school district and will provide basic, low cost services like reading support or speech services, but it is not mandated by law.
3. My child has been expelled from school and has an IEP, can they do this?
Yes, they can. However, if a student is up for expulsion and has an active IEP, a manifestation determination IEP meeting must be held in order to determine if the violation was a direct result of the student’s disability. If the IEP team determines that the violation was caused by the student’s disability, he or she cannot be expelled. However, if the IEP team decides that the infraction was not related to the disability, the expulsion can proceed. Also, if a student possesses, uses or sells drugs on campus or brings a weapon on campus, they can be expelled regardless of their disability. Remember that being expelled means the child has been removed from the school district. It does not mean that the child no longer attends school. Usually, students who have been expelled receive their education at an alternative site provided by the County Department of Education.
4. Can homeschooled students receive special education services?
It depends. Once again, IDEA and special education only applies to K-12 public schools so if a parent decides to homeschool, they are essentially giving up their right to these services. The school district that you reside in is required by law to evaluate your child if you desire. However, they do not have to provide services even if the child qualifies. Some ways to get around this is to enroll your child part time in school so that they can receive services. Of course, you always have the right to re-enroll them at the public school so they can receive the services they need.
5. I do not agree with my school regarding the services they are providing my child, what can I do?
All services must be negotiated through the IEP team. Services are based on the child’s evaluation results, teacher input, test results and medical data. If you feel the school is not providing a service that is necessary, you can continue negotiations with the IEP team for as long as deemed necessary. Negotiations usually start at the school level. If services cannot be agreed on, negotiations progress to the district level. Mediation is usually the next step with the final step resulting in a due process hearing. 95% of all negotiations are resolved before they reach due process. You do not need an advocate or attorney during any of these steps, but it is your right to obtain one if you desire. It is always best to collaborate with your school whenever possible. One thing parents need to remember is that public schools are required by law to provide a free appropriate education. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE BEST EDUCATION POSSIBLE. During negotiations, you need to agree on what is appropriate, not what is the best.
6. What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
An IEP is a student educational plan that is written when a child qualifies for special education. There are 13 qualifying conditions of special education including autism, specific learning disability, intellectual disabilities and speech disorders. A 504 plan is an educational plan that is written for a student who needs modifications or accommodations within the regular classroom environment. This usually pertains to students who have ADHD, psychological disorders, medical conditions and physical disabilities. Special education is governed by IDEA while 504 is a component of the Civil Rights Act of 1972.
7. I do not want my child in special education but my school is insisting? What can I do?
Parents have the right to choose not to place their child in special education and do not have to give consent for an evaluation or services. The IEP process requires parents to give consent twice so you can consent to having your child evaluated and then choose not to give consent for services. If your child is in special education and has an IEP and you decide that you want them placed back in regular education, you can choose to revoke your consent and services will be terminated.
8. My child’s IEP does not seem to be helping. What do I do now?
The IEP is a working document and can be amended at any time. Any child on an IEP has an assigned case worker who is responsible for IEP implementation. If you feel the IEP needs to be amended, you can ask the case worker for an IEP meeting so that concerns can be addressed. If needed, new goals and services can be discussed and the IEP can be amended to include any agreed upon changes and modifications.
9. My child has ADHD and the school is saying he doesn’t qualify for special education. Can this be right?
ADHD and other medical disorders are not considered qualifying conditions for special education. If they are mild to moderate disorders, they can usually be addressed through a 504 plan. Examples of modifications that they can receive through 504 include preferential seating, adjusted homework, shortened assignments, altered testing environment, adjustments to their schedule, progress reports and regular feedback, behavior modifications and reward systems. Often, the school nurse and school psychologist are involved in the plan but the classroom teacher or school counselor is usually the assigned case worker. If a child’s ADHD or psychological condition severely affecting their ability to learn, you can request a special education evaluation and it is possible that the child may qualify under the category of Other Health Impaired. Here, the IEP team needs to agree that the child requires placement in special education classrooms and/or needs services that are only provided through special education.
10. My child has a conflict with her teacher and they are not following his IEP.
I strongly believe that most teachers act in good faith and are trying to meet the needs of their students. Many teachers have over 40 students in a class and are expected to address the learning styles and achievement levels of each child. A parent/teacher conference is the best start to heading off conflict. Here, you can share concerns, set up a communication system, offer suggestions regarding your child as well as your support at home. If the meeting does not go well, I’d recommend that you set up a meeting with the school principal. If your child has an active IEP, it’s a good idea to involve the case worker as well. On rare occasions, it’s in the best interest of everyone to make a teacher change but this should not be your first course of action.