Raising special needs children can be a challenge when it comes to education. Sometimes it is difficult to determine a child’s particular needs. A child’s needs will likely change throughout their educational development as well. Parents need somewhere to turn in order to ensure that their children receive the best possible education to foster their intellectual growth.

As such, the federal government created the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide rights to children with disabilities. This law provides parents of special needs children the means to obtain appropriate education and mental development for their children. It also provides parents with the means to fight against any unfair treatment of their child.

What are Some Important Features of the IDEA?

The IDEA provides free access to education to students who have learning disabilities. It can apply to both school age children, as well as babies and toddlers. Under the IDEA, a wide range of learning disabilities will qualify. This includes the following disabilities:

  • Hearing;
  • Speech;
  • Visual impairment;
  • Autism;
  • Mental retardation;
  • Emotional disturbances; and
  • Orthopedic impairment.

The IDEA lays out a mechanism for schools and parents to work together in order to figure out an individual child’s specific needs. Each public school must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for special needs children. When a special needs child intends to enroll in school, the parents, teachers and other designated staff will need to meet to determine the parameters of the child’s IEP for the year.

Keep in mind that what will go into an IEP can vary between jurisdictions, so be sure to discuss this with the school before starting the process. An IEP will be reviewed each year and can be changed at any time if the school and parents agree.

For example, if a student is excelling in a math class that is being taught in a special education setting, the parents and school might agree to integrate the student into a general curriculum math class for the remainder of the year.

Regardless, special needs children are entitled to a re-evaluation once every three years to determine if they still qualify for the program or have changing educational needs.

How are Special Education Disputes Handled?

If you have a special education child and feel that the school is not appropriately meeting your child’s needs, you have legal recourse available to you. Some ways your special needs child’s rights may be violated include:

  • The school failed to implement an appropriate IEP;
  • The school failed to allow your child into their special education program;
  • The school failed to hire qualified teachers; and
  • Your child was the subject of unfair treatment at the school.

First, you should talk to the designated contacts at the school and try to remedy the issues. If this does not help, you have legal recourse available to you. However, before you can pursue litigation, you must file an IDEA claim with your appropriate state agency.

Keep in mind that every state will handle IDEA claims differently. You should contact your state agency or consult a local education attorney to determine what needs to be included in your IDEA complaint. If the required information is not included, your case will be dismissed.

The state agency will then perform an investigation and determine whether the school violated any aspects of the IDEA. They may interview each side and request further documentation in order to put together all of the pieces of the puzzle.

The state agency will likely try to get the parties to reach a settlement first. The agency may find in your favor and directly order the school to comply with the law. However, if they find in the school’s favor, then you can still file a civil lawsuit. There are deadlines for all of these actions which will vary between the states.

Whether you are filing an IDEA claim or a lawsuit, be sure to provide as much detail as possible. Hold on to all notes, text messages, letters, emails, and other evidence relating to your claim. This can help you prove your case and reach a positive outcome for your child.

Do I Need to Contact an Attorney for My Child’s Special Education?

If you believe that a school is not appropriately meeting your child’s special education needs in violation of the IDEA, you may wish to contact a local education attorney. An attorney can help you both file an IDEA complaint before the designated state agency and a civil lawsuit, if needed. Your attorney can ensure that all required information is submitted to the agency or court, and that no deadlines are missed.

An attorney can also review your case and counsel you about whether the school actually violated the IDEA, or whether they met their obligations under the law. If the attorney believes that you have a case, they can help you advocate on your child’s behalf to receive fair educational treatment.