I can’t get special education for my child

Dealing with the special education system can be frustrating for parents. In theory—and under the law—parents are equal partners with school officials in developing special education services for their kids. But it hardly ever seems like a level playing field.

It is important to understand there’s a process for getting a child into special education—which we've also written about.

But say you’ve gone through that process, and your child is eligible for special education. There are still things that can go wrong. For instance:

  • The school won’t agree to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your child.
  • The school won’t agree to put into the IEP some of the things you think are important.
  • The school won’t implement the IEP for your child.
  • The school won’t change the IEP when your child’s need change.

Often, this has to do with time. The school might allocate only fifteen minutes for a meeting. Officials put together a plan of services in advance, and they use the meeting time to rubber-stamp the recommendations.

Other times, it has to do with language. Teachers and principals use some terms that parents may not know. That can make parents feel stupid or naïve if they want to make their own recommendations.

If you are feeling railroaded, speak up. You can always ask for more time and for more input.

Here are some additional tips:

  • First, you can bring in your own experts to help you, such as your child’s clinician or an outside educational consultant.
  • Second, you can offer your recommendations in writing in advance of meetings, and you can insist that the recommendations be considered and voted on before the meeting is adjourned.
  • Third, you can appeal to the special education administrator in the district to make the school implement services that have been agreed to for your child.
  • Finally, as a last resort you can use “due process.” This gets an impartial, outside hearing officer to decide if the school is being unfair to you. Due process usually means getting a lawyer and spending weeks or months getting evaluations, giving testimony under oath, and entering exhibits. But if you win, the school is to pay all the legal and other costs you incur.

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