For most children, following the standard course of education offered in the public school system is usually sufficient to ensure a quality education. But for students with disabilities, the traditional classroom setting does't always work. To address this reality, the federal government established the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which ensures that disabled students have access to special educational programs tailored to their needs.
Federal Law Requires Individualized Education Plans for Special Education
The law refers to specially tailored programs for disabled students as "Individualized Education Programs," or IEPs. An IEP ensures that children with disabilities aren't grouped into a single form of alternative education. The law requiring IEPs recognizes that different disabilities require different educational programs and a "one size fits all" approach doesn't work.
Your Child Must Satisfy Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for special education services, a student must have a disability that presents unreasonable challenges at school. To avoid situations where too many children in need of special education are disqualified, the law provides a broad definition of "disability." Though not an exhaustive list, children with disabilities such as autism, ADHD, emotional and cognitive disorders, hearing and speech impairments, and learning disabilities are eligible for special education services. If your child qualifies, your public school system must create an IEP.
You Have the Right to Be Involved in Drafting the IEP
Once your child's eligibility is established, your school must hold an IEP meeting. The school must keep you informed about each step of the IEP process and allow you to participate in your child's education plan. You also have the right to hire an educational specialist to advise you during the process. The school can't force you or your child to accept a plan that you don't believe will be helpful or in the child's best interest.
Consider Periodically Evaluating Your Child&'s Progress
Soon after the IEP is finalized, you'll receive a copy of the plan and then periodic reviews and updates from the school. Your child's IEP should include milestones or goals that, if not met, may indicate that the program should be modified or changed. No one knows your child better than you do, and it's likely that you'll have the most helpful insights. You should give your child some time to adjust to the IEP, but also keep in mind that you have the right to request changes as needed.
A Disability Rights Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding special education is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. We hope you found it useful. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a disability rights lawyer.