In last week’s blog, I shared an overview of the IEP process. But, what if you are concerned that promised services and supports are not being provided?
It is important to remember that your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a binding document between the school district and the parents. And while the IEP is a working document that can be modified as needed, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that an IEP team cannot change your child’s placement (where and how your child is being taught, along with any services such as speech therapy or assistive technology), without giving the parent a chance to challenge that change. You and your child do have legal rights under IDEA if your school district is non-compliant and does not provide the services or accommodations outlined in your child’s IEP.
When you have a dispute with your school district, you have several resolution options. The first step is to request an IEP meeting to discuss the dispute, and you have the right to request a meeting at any time. Approaching the team with a collaborative spirit is the best way to start, and most district-parent disputes are resolved in this way. If you are unable to resolve the issue at the IEP meeting, you also have the right to request mediation where a neutral third party is brought in to help the parent and school district to come to a resolution. IDEA also gives parents the option to file complaints with their state department of education.
If there is still no resolution, you have the right to a due process hearing, which is a more formal process where you and the school district present written evidence and testify about the disputed incident before a hearing officer. At this stage, an attorney or a special education advocate is highly recommended, but not required. The school district is not responsible for your legal fees, but if you have incurred fees, you can ask the district, as part of your proposed settlement, to pay for the fees you have accumulated. You are not entitled to reimbursement for the costs of a special needs advocate
If you still do not agree with the outcome, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit, at which point an attorney is required. Legal fees can be considerable during a civil lawsuit. If you win your case, you will be entitled to reimbursement of your legal costs. If you lose the hearing, you are responsible for your legal costs, but you are not responsible for the school district’s legal fees.
You should become familiar with your state’s regulations, as each state has some flexibility with legal requirements. Every state has at least one federally funded Parent Training and Information (PTIs) Center with information on your rights. You can find a list by state of PTIs at this link. Many states also offer handbooks or guides to help parents understand state-specific regulations.