Special Education Legal Primer

Introduction: You are your child’s best advocate.

A child (ages 3-21) with a disability which interferes with his or her ability to learn is legally entitled to receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.

special education and related services must begin on the child’s third birthday, and eligibility continues until the receipt of a high school diploma or until the end of the school year of the student’s 21st birthday, whichever is earlier. Eligibility can also end if a child is found to no longer have a disability, upon a re-evaluation by the local school district.

If school personnel suspect a disability:

If a child is suspected of having a disability by the child’s teachers or a school official, the local school district is obligated to provide a free case study evaluation, even for children attending private school. The purpose of the case study evaluation is to provide information about the child and to determine why the child is having difficulty in school and whether or not the child has a disability, such as a learning disability.

If you suspect a disability:

If the parents suspect that a child has a disability, they should raise their concerns with the principal in writing and request a case study evaluation for their child.

The Process:

If a child is thought to possibly have a disability, he or she may be referred for a case study evaluation by school personnel. Your written consent must be obtained before a school district begins the evaluation. If you refuse to allow the evaluation to proceed, the district may request a Level 1 due process hearing. Then a hearing officer will decide whether the evaluation will proceed.

If you believe your child is having difficulties at school which should be investigated, you should contact your child’s principal in writing. You should describe any reasons you feel that a disability may exist and request that the child be evaluated. If the school district decides that a case study evaluation is not necessary for your child, it must notify you in writing of its decision, explain the reasons for its decision, and inform you of your legal rights. Once the child has been referred for a case study evaluation (i.e., beginning the day you hand the letter to the principle), the school district has sixty school days to complete the evaluation and convene a multidisciplinary conference, unless there are less than 60 days left in the school year. In that case, the evaluation must be completed before school starts the following year.

At the multidisciplinary conference (MDC), the members of the multidisciplinary team report their findings from the case study evaluation. The MDC is primarily held to determine a child’s eligibility for special education services. A written report of the MDC conference must be made available to you at the conclusion of the MDC meeting. The report must indicate who participated in the meeting and what were the conclusions and recommendations of the multidisciplanary team.

Once a child has been determined to be eligible for special education services, an individualized education program (IEP) must be developed. The IEP may be developed at the multidisciplanary conference, or a second meeting may be convened to develop, review, or revise the IEP within 30 days of the determination of the child’s eligibility for special education services.

I strongly recommend that parents take the MDC report home and sleep on it before having the IEP meeting. The parents can help the teachers to develop specific goals in the IEP meeting. Remember, the members of the multidisciplinary team have already had weeks to discuss your child among themselves. You may need some time to think things through before agreeing to their conclusions and goals.

[Tip: Keep a log of every conversation you have with school personnel regarding your child. Keep track of the dates and subjects of the conversations. Also, keep a file of all written communication from school personnel regarding your child.]

Introduction | Disability | Free and Appropriate Education | Least Restrictive Environment | Special Education | Related Services | Case Study Evaluation | Multidisciplinary Conference | Individualized Education Program (IEP) | Re-evaluation


Referring to this article:
“Special Education Legal Primer for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorders, and Other Educational, Physical, and Cognitive Disabilities” was written by C. J. Newton, MA, and published in the Find Counseling.com (formerly TherapistFinder.net) Mental Health Journal in September, 1997.

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