Within the law, there are specific procedural safeguards to protect your child’s rights. If you and the school disagree on placement, educational programming or another area related to your child’s education, you may want to use one or more of the following approaches:
Discussion or conference with teachers, counselors or principal.
- An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) review. You may request an IEP review at any time.
- Negotiation or mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process described in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) in which a neutral third party (a mediator) assists parties (parents and the school) in resolving their dispute. All states must have a mediation process that meets the requirements of IDEIA, including having a list of qualified mediators and bearing the cost of the mediation process. Neither party is required to use mediation, and the mediator cannot force either party to accept a resolution to the dispute. If a mutually satisfactory agreement is reached on some or all of the issues, a written agreement is set forth. Discussions that occur in mediation are confidential and may not be used as evidence in subsequent proceedings. Mediation must be available as a dispute resolution option, but may not be used to deny or delay the parental right to a due process hearing.
- Due process hearing. You may request a due process hearing if you do not agree with your child’s identification, evaluation, or educational placement. This is a legal proceeding, and you should obtain legal advice.
- Complaint resolution procedures. Any individual or organization may file a complaint alleging the local educational agency has violated a requirement of IDEIA. The complaint must be written and signed, and must cite the specific IDEIA requirement violated and the facts upon which the allegation is based. The state educational agency must resolve the issues of the complaint within 60 calendar days after it is filed.
Once the IEP is completed, ongoing communication and teamwork between school and parents are essential to a child’s success. The IEP is a working document that can change, and it should present a program flexible enough to respond to the changing needs and skills of the student with autism. The IEP team can meet to discuss changes or additions to a child’s plan at any time. The child’s parents or school representatives may request a meeting if either party feels the IEP needs to be adjusted to the child’s current needs.
Many parents seek out assistance from education or disability advocates. To help you better understand your child’s rights under federal law and communicate more effectively with professionals regarding your child’s education, each state has a federally funded Parent Training Information Center (PTI) that provides information and assistance to parents facing the educational process. PTIs are designed to teach parents basic advocacy techniques and encourage them to become full participants in their children’s education. These organizations, which are sometimes administered through other disability organizations such as Easter Seals or The ARC, can help parents gain confidence in advocating for their children’s rights. Many useful support agencies can be found in the Autism Society’s online database, Autism Source, where you can search by organization name within a state, county, town or radius around your ZIP code.
Every state also has a Protection and Advocacy Agency. Originally, these agencies were set up to protect people with disabilities from abuse and neglect; however, their scope is much broader now. Many agencies’ advocacy centers around helping families obtain a free appropriate public education for their children. State Protection and Advocacy Agencies often offer training, case management and legal counsel as well. You can find contact information for your state’s Protection and Advocacy Agency through the above link or Autism Source. In Autism Source, select your state and enter “Protection and Advocacy” into the keyword search field.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is another education rights information resource. If you have a question about IDEIA and can’t get an answer in your state, you can contact OSEP for clarification.