If your child receives special education services, she is protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is a federal law that was passed in 1975 “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” Thus, under the IDEA, children who qualify for special education services are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, also known as FAPE.
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are the main vehicle by which FAPE is provided. Children with disabilities have a right to an appropriate IEP. What does that mean? An IEP must meet several requirements to be appropriate:
- Before developing an IEP, a school district must perform a comprehensive educational evaluation, one that assesses all of a child’s suspected areas of disability. The IEP must be based on the evaluation’s findings.
- The IEP must aim to enable the child to make progress that is appropriate in light of her potential.
- The IEP must identify the child’s unique circumstances (i.e., academic strengths, socio-emotional strengths, unique needs).
- The IEP must be appropriately ambitious.
- The IEP must include, among other items, the child’s present levels of achievement, measurable (and understandable) annual goals, and a list of the special education and related services necessary for the child to meet those goals.
Parents, moreover, have a right to meaningful participation in the IEP process. Congress intended the process to be collaborative and for parents to have an opportunity to offer input. Your voice as a parent matters under the IDEA.
If you do not believe that your child’s IEP is appropriate, you should take steps to remedy the situation as soon as possible. All too often, parents come to Berney & Sang after too much time has passed, after years of education have been lost. A child’s brain develops in such a way that it is much easier to learn earlier on, so there is a real danger in waiting too long before you consult with an attorney to try to fix deficient special education services. Also, the IDEA contains a provision that prohibits parents from seeking remedies for legal violations that are more than a few years old. Therefore, when you feel like something isn’t right with your child’s education, take action!