Know Your Rights in the IEP Process: What Do those Procedural Safeguards Really Mean?
If you’ve ever been to an IEP meeting, you’ve (hopefully) received a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards. In fact, if you’re an old pro at IEP meetings, you might have enough copies to wallpaper a room in your house! But have you read those safeguards and know what they really mean?
The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) explains procedural safeguards for the special education process. Those safeguards are the legal rights and protections the law gives you and your child.
You Have the Right to Expect Rights!
Sometimes you may hear people talk about “rights and responsibilities”, which can be confusing. IDEA does not outline responsibilities for parents, but rather a school’s responsibilities TO parents and students. Here’s a look at what those safeguards are and what they mean for you, your child and the school.
Your Right to Procedural Safeguards Notice
School responsibility: A school must tell you about the procedural safeguards you have under IDEA and state law. You will be given a written copy at least once a year.
It provides you the right to understand all of your protections in the IEP process. The notice must be written in a way that’s understandable to you. If necessary, it can be translated to your native language.
Your Right to Access Educational Records
School responsibility: A school has to let you see your child’s records no later than 45 days after you make a request. You can be charged a fee for copies, but not for the time it took to find and pull your child’s records.
Your Right to Confidentiality
School responsibility: A school must protect certain types of personal information about your child and, in some cases, get your permission before sharing.
It provides you the right to know the laws about what information is disclosed to whom, in what form and under what circumstance.
Your Right to Parental Participation
School responsibility: A school must make every effort to include you in meetings about your child’s education. That includes providing advance notice of meetings and trying to schedule them at a time you can attend.
It provides you the right to be an equal participant in meetings about your child’s identification, evaluation, and educational placement. It also means you can know who else will be attending meetings. You may also invite anyone you think has “special knowledge or expertise” about your child.
Your Right to Prior Written Notice
School responsibility: A school has to give you written notice before changing, adding, or denying services to your child. It also has to say what the decision is based on, what other options were considered and why the options were rejected.
It provides you the right to know what the school wants to do, why and what you can do if you disagree.
Your Right to Informed Consent
School responsibility: A school must inform you and make sure you understand what’s involved before evaluating or providing special education services to your child. They must have your written permission before moving forward.
It provides you the right to understand what you’re agreeing to and to revoke your permission at any time.
Your Right to Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)
School responsibility: A school must pay for an independent evaluation or file for a hearing to explain why they don’t think it’s necessary. It must also provide information about the criteria the school evaluation uses so that an IEE can follow the same standards.
It provides you the right to request that the school pay for an IEE if you disagree with the school evaluation. You are not required to provide a reason why you think it’s necessary.
It’s important to know, though, that an IEE isn’t an automatic solution to getting a special education program in place. Under IDEA, the school has to consider the results of the IEE, but does not have to accept them.
Your Right to Disagree
One of the most important rights IDEA provides you is the right to disagree with the school. It also gives you a number of ways to resolve those disagreements.
You may worry about what happens to your child’s education while you’re trying to work things out with the school. That’s when something called the “stay put” provision is helpful. As you and the school go through the dispute resolution process, the “stay put” provision lets your child’s program stay as is.
How to Stand Up For Your IEP Rights
There are times when an IEP meeting isn’t going to solve the issues you have with your child’s school. That’s when you need to consider exercising the due process rights given to you by IDEA.
Grab your copy of your procedural safeguards. That’s where you will find information about the formal options you have to resolve disagreements, from mediation to going to a due process hearing. If you’re looking at using those rights, it’s a good time to consult with an advocate or attorney. The Parent Training and Information center in your state often has specific information about where you can turn for that type of help.
Understanding your rights can be overwhelming. But the more you understand what is supposed to happen, the more you can make sure it is happening. That can make a huge difference in being a successful advocate for your child.
Amanda Morin, is an early intervention specialist, education writer, special education advocate and mother of two children with special needs. Her latest book, The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, aims to demystify the special education process and empower parents.
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This post originally appeared on our January/February 2015 Magazine