Rights and Responsibilities of Parents of Children with Disabilities
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and
Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Toll Free: 1.800.328.0272
ERIC EC Digest #E567
Author: Bernadette Knoblauch
What Are Your Rights, as a Parent, in the Special Education Process?
Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, clearly strengthens the rights of children with
disabilities and their parents. It builds on the achievements gained under Public Law
94-142, the Education for the Handicapped Act, and Public Law 101-476, the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A fundamental provision of these special education
laws is the right of parents to participate in the educational decision-making process.
This includes the right to:
- A free appropriate public education for your child. Free
means at no cost to you as parents. Appropriate means meeting the unique educational needs
of your child.
- Request an evaluation if you think your child needs special
education or related services.
- Be notified whenever the school wants to evaluate your
child or change your child's educational placement, or refuses your request for an
evaluation or a change in placement.
- Informed consent. Informed consent means you understand and
agree in writing to the evaluation and educational program decisions for your child. Your
consent is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time.
- Obtain an independent evaluation if you disagree with the
- Request a reevaluation if you think your child's present
educational placement is no longer appropriate. The school must reevaluate your child at
least once every 3 years, but your child's educational program must be reviewed at least
once during each calendar year.
- Have your child tested in the language he or she knows
best. For example, if your child's primary language is Spanish, this is the language in
which he or she must be tested. Students who are deaf have the right to an interpreter
during the testing.
- Review all of your child's school records. You may request
copies of these records, but the school may charge you a reasonable fee for making the
copies. Only you, as parents, and those persons directly involved in the education of your
child will be permitted access to personal records. If you feel that some information in
your child's records is inaccurate or misleading or violates the privacy or other rights
of your child, you may request that the information be changed. If the school refuses your
request, you have the right to request a hearing in order to challenge the questionable
information in your child's records or you may file a complaint with your state education
- Be fully informed by the school of all rights that are
provided to you under the law.
- Participate in the development of your child's
individualized education program (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP), if
your child is under school age . The school must make every possible effort to notify you
of the IEP or IFSP meeting and then arrange it at a time and place that is convenient for
both you and the school.
- Participate in all IEP or IFSP team decisions, including
- Request an IEP or IFSP meeting at any time during the
- Be kept informed about your child's progress at least as
often as parents of children who do not have disabilities.
- Have your child educated in the least restrictive
environment possible. Every effort should be made to develop an educational program that
provides your child with the services and supports needed in order to be taught with
children who do not have disabilities.
- Voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve
differences with the school that can not be resolved informally. Be sure you make your
request in writing, date your request, and keep a copy.
What Are Your Responsibilities, as a Parent, in the Special Education Process?
Parents have a key role in the special education process.
The following suggestions may offer some guidance:
- Develop a partnership with the school. Share relevant
information about your child's education and development. Your observations can be a
valuable resource in your child's progress.
- Ask for an explanation of any aspect of the program that
you don't understand. Educational and medical terms can be confusing, so do not hesitate
- Make sure the IEP or IFSP goals and objectives are
specific. This will ensure that everyone teaching your child is working toward the same
goals. Take the IEP or IFSP home to think about it before you sign it.
- Make sure your child is included in the regular school
activities program as much as is appropriate, including nonacademic areas such as lunch
and recess and other areas such as art, music, and physical education.
- Monitor your child's progress and periodically ask for a
report. If your child is not progressing, discuss it with the teacher and determine
whether the program should be modified. As a parent, you can initiate changes in your
child's educational program.
- Try to resolve directly with the school any problems that
may occur with your child's assessment, placement, or educational program. In some
situations, you may be unsure of how to proceed to resolve a problem. Most states have
protection and advocacy agencies that can provide you with the guidance you need to pursue
- Keep records. There may be questions about your child that
you will want to discuss, as well as meetings and phone conversations you will want to
remember. It is easy to forget important information that is not written down.
- Join a parent organization. Besides sharing knowledge,
experiences, and support, a parent group often can be an effective force on behalf of your
child. Parents often find that, as a group, they have the power to bring about needed
changes to strengthen special services.
As the Parent of a Child with a Disability, What Can You Offer the IEP or IFSP Process?
Parents of children with disabilities should be involved
in the process as much as they want to be and as much as they can be. The following are
some ways in which parents can become involved:
- Before attending an IEP or IFSP meeting, make a list of
things you want your child to learn. Take notes about aspects of your child's behavior
that could interfere with the learning process. Describe the methods you have found to be
successful in dealing with these behaviors.
- Bring any information the school may not already have to
the IEP or IFSP meeting. Examples include copies of medical records, past school records,
or test or evaluation results. Remember, reports do not say all there is to say about a
child. You can add real-life examples to demonstrate your child's ability in certain
- Find out what related services are being provided, and ask
each professional to describe the kind of service he or she will be providing and what
improvement you might expect to see as a result of these services.
- Ask what you can do at home to support the program. Many
skills your child learns at school can also be used at home. Ask to meet with the teacher
when your child is learning a new skill that could be practiced at home.
- Discuss methods for handling discipline problems that you
know are effective with your child.
- Regard your child's education as a cooperative effort. If
at any point you and the school cannot reach an agreement over your child's educational
and developmental needs, ask to have another meeting. This would allow time for you and
the school to gather more information. If there is still a conflict over your child's
program after a second meeting, ask for a state mediator or a due process hearing.
- When you feel teachers and school personnel are doing a
good job, tell them.
What Resources Are Available to Help You?
Your local and state education agencies have information
to help guide you through the special education process. Since the specific criteria and
procedures used by school districts may vary, your local director of special education and
his or her staff can help you access such information. Additional resources are available
from national organizations. Some of them will also be able to direct you to local and
state chapters that can provide more local support:
The ARC of the United States (Mental Retardation)
500 East Border Street, Suite 300
Arlington, TX 76010
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders
499 NW 70th Avenue, Suite 308
Plantation, FL 33317
The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Learning Disability Association (LDA)
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
National Information Center for Children and Youth with
PO Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
Bernadette Knoblauch is an
at the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
ERIC Digests are in the public
domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source.
This publication was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office
of Educational Research and Improvement, under contract no. RI93002005. The opinions
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or
the Department of Education.