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Special Education Law FAQs

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA) requires States that receive Federal funding for education to meet certain requirements. These requirements are designed to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an opportunity to access educational opportunities to the same extent as individuals without disabilities.


The following are some frequently asked questions. 

What is a free appropriate public education (FAPE)? FAPE is to be provided to children with disabilities receiving special education by local school districts. This part of the IDEA has been the subject of much litigation to clarify what that term means.  Essentially, it means that the school district is not required to maximize your child's potential but any program must be individualized for your child's needs and provide at least some educational benefit. 

What is Child Find? Child find means the school district has an obligation to locate, identify and evaluate all children with disabilities even if they are not attending public school. This includes children who are being home-schooled, those attending private schools and children not yet enrolled in school.

What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)? This is a document prepared by the IEP team (which includes the parents and, if applicable, the student) after a meeting. As the name implies, the IEP should be designed to meet your child’s individual needs. It is not designed to meet district policy nor should it represent what the district usually does or offers to students with a certain disability. Parent input in these meetings is critical to this process.

If you feel as though the school district is not considering your input please contact our office.

What is an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)? This is an evaluation at district expense if you do not agree with the findings of the school district. Although the school district may provide you a list of potential evaluators, they are not permitted to restrict your choice or evaluators to people on their list. If you request an IEE from the school district, the IDEA does not permit the district to just refuse an IEE. The district must either grant the IEE or file a due process complaint to determine that its evaluation was proper.

What is Private Placement? The IDEA makes the school district responsible for providing FAPE to your child - that is they have to meet your child’s individual needs.  If your child has educational needs that cannot be met in a public school setting, they may be required to place your child in a private school.  This means the district has to pay for the placement in the private school if that is what your child needs.

The IDEA also gives parents the right to unilaterally place their child in a private school if you believe the district's program is unable to meet your child's needs and pursue a claim against the district to pay for the placement.  This is called a unilateral private placement. In order to preserve your claim for reimbursement, you need to notify the school of your intent to pursue reimbursement before removing your child from the district school. 

If you are considering removing your child from public school, please contact our office

What is a Prior Written Notice (PWN)? The school is required to notify the parent of any actions impacting your child’s special education including eligibility determinations or changes to the services offered.

What is Mediation? Mediation is an informal and always voluntary and non-binding meeting with a neutral third party who tries to resolve a dispute between you and the school district. 

What is a Due Process Complaint? A due process complaint is a formal complaint in which you (or the school district) would request a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge to enforce your rights under the IDEA. 

If you file a due process complaint, you have the burden of proof on your case.  The due process hearing is a formal process not unlike a trial and involves the presentation of evidence and witnesses.  The school district will certainly have an attorney representing their interests once a due process complaint has been filed, if not before. 

The IDEA permits the reimbursement of attorney's fees on behalf of the parents if you prevail in at least some of your claims. 

If you are considering filing a due process complaint notice for your child (or if the school district has filed) please contact our office.

What is a State Complaint? A state complaint is a complaint that can be filed with the State Department of Education to investigate a violation of the IDEA and/or state education law.  The matter is investigated by the State and a decision is made usually within 60 days.  You can file a State Complaint and a due process complaint notice for the same issue but the due process matter will take precedence if the issues overlap.

What is Stay Put? Stay put is a right under the IDEA that prevents a school district from changing a student's placement without a parent's consent once a due process complaint or other proceeding under the IDEA has been filed.  See our blog post about stay put by clicking here

What is Transition? The IDEA requires that all students on IEPs have a transition plan in place no later than their 16th birthday. What services are required. Please check out this presentation about transition services under the IDEA. 

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