What is Special Education?
Special Education helps students from ages 3 to 22 who have trouble learning at school due to disabilities. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires school districts to provide a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE) to eligible students. Children who are eligible may be able to get special education and/or related services. These related services could be transportation, speech therapy, psychological services, physical therapy and counseling services.
How do I know if my child needs special education?
It is not always easy to notice a disability. A child can have trouble learning at school for many different reasons, such as, behavioral, emotional, language, medical and/or learning issues. Generally, parents, teachers, school psychologist and child's primary care physicians can seek a referral for an assessment to determine whether the child needs special education. As parents, it is extremely important to be and get involved in your child's school life because parents know their child best and know whether they have problems learning or behavioral issues that prevents him or her from learning.
What is the assessment process?
Parents have a right to request for an assessment. This must be done in writing to your child's school district. Also, in the letter you should request that your child be assessed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) to determine whether your child may be able to receive services under that law. The reason is the accommodations and/or services provided under Section 504 may not be available under special education.
Once your child's school district receives the assessment request letter, they have 15 days to respond with an assessment plan or reject the request, and it must be done in the parent's native language or other mode of communication, unless it is not feasible to do so. If a plan is proposed, the parent has 15 days to decide whether to agree or disagree with the plan. If the parent agrees with the plan, the parent must sign the consent form and return it. Upon receipt of the parent's consent, the school district must complete the assessment and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed within 60 days of the parent's consent.
How is the student assessed?
The parent has a right to have their child assessed in all areas of suspected disability. The assessment must be done in the child's native language or mode of communication that is likely to yield the most accurate information as to what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally and functionally. The law states that no single procedure can be used to determine eligibility and development of the child's FAPE.
Once the assessment is completed, parents should request, in writing, to the school district that all records be sent to you for examination. California law requires that parents be given reasonable time to examine and receive copies of all school records within five business days from the date the request was made by the parent.
What happens if the parent disagrees with the assessment?
If the assessment determines that the child is not eligible for special education services or parts of the services, parents have a right to request for an independent educational assessment to the school district in writing. The school district must respond to your request for an independent educational assessment and provide you information about where to obtain the independent assessment. The parent is entitled to one independent educational assessment.
What happens at the IEP meeting?
The student's IEP meeting is held at a mutually agreed upon place and time. If the parents do not speak English, an interpreter must be provided. During this meeting, all of student's learning, developmental and/or functional disabilities will be discussed and addressed. All services and/or accommodations the student will receive either through the school district or through other agencies must be discussed and written in the child's IEP. It is very important that everything discussed in terms of special education services and its duration, frequency and location be written in the IEP so that the district's commitment and responsibility be clear.
Further, it is absolutely imperative for parents to be an active participant in the IEP process because IEP goals must be measured according to California law. For example, parents should not consent to goals like: "Eric will improve Reading." The IEP must explain at what level Eric is currently reading and how much Eric will improve from that level.
Parents are not required to consent to services and/or accommodations at the end of the IEP meeting. They may take a copy of the IEP recommendations home to read over more closely and discuss with others before making a decision. Parents may consent to all or part of the IEP recommendations. If the parent disagrees with certain recommendations, they can resolve the issue in a due process proceeding.
What is a due process proceeding?
Parents have a right to request for an impartial due process hearing regarding for the identification, assessment and educational placement of your child's special education under FAPE. Due process hearing request must be filed within the two years from the date you knew or should have known about the alleged action that forms the basis of the due process complaint.
At the due process proceeding, the parent has a right to present evidence and witnesses, and an impartial judge will determine whether the school district violated and didn't provide appropriate services and accommodations under FAPE. It is highly recommended that the parents retain an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in the area of special education for due process proceedings.
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