Special Education

Parents’ Rights in Special Education: A Guide For Parents

If you have a child with special needs, it’s up to you to ensure they receive a quality education tailored to their unique needs.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and aren’t sure where to start, here is everything you need to know about parents’ rights in special education and the special education process.

What are the Responsibilities of Parents of Children with Disabilities?

Parental responsibilities for special needs children vary depending on the level of the child’s disability. That said, there are some things that you should do as a parent of children with disabilities, regardless of the level of your child’s special needs.

Be a part of the IEP or IFSP process.

When putting together an IEP or IFSP, ask how the school can include your special needs chilren in regular school activities. For example, just because your child needs some additional support in the classroom doesn’t mean they cannot participate in art, music, or gym class. Don’t forget about things like recess and lunch or any after-school activities, either.

If there’s something you don’t understand about your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) as parents of children with disabilities, ask questions. You have ten school days to sign the form, so take it home and review it thoroughly before agreeing to anything. Ask for clarification about anything unclear so you know what you should expect for your family and your child.

Monitor your child’s progress.

Ask your child’s teacher for regular progress reports so you can determine if the current plan is working. If not, meet with the teacher to see what parts of the plan need to be adjusted.

If your child is having any problems or if you’re not happy with their assessment or placement, discuss your concerns with the school. Hopefully, you will be able to work out a resolution, but if you can’t, reach out to advocacy groups and other agencies for help in getting the changes you need.

Keep your own records. Write down any questions you have or comments you want to remember and keep track of all meetings and phone calls that have occurred regarding your child.

Develop a partnership with the school or agency.

Make it clear to your child’s teacher, counselor, and principal that you want to be involved and are willing to help in any way you can. Creating an open and honest relationship helps improve communication and may make a difference in how well problems are resolved.

Also, make sure you speak to any professional from an outside agency working with your child. Ask them what services they provide and what you should expect to see in your child resulting from their teaching and services.

Manage ongoing relationships.

It’s helpful to follow up with your child’s teachers to ensure that everything is going smoothly. Reach out and ask if there are any growing concerns and what you can do at home to support the program at school.

Remember that your child’s education is a cooperative effort between you and your child’s teachers, counselors, and principal. If friction occurs and you cannot come to an agreement about how to proceed with your child’s education, ask for another meeting. Take time to gather more information supporting your wishes for your child, and allow the school to do the same. If you cannot agree to a second meeting, you have other alternatives. Ask for a mediator or request a due process hearing. Generally, no one wants it to escalate to that point, so try your best to advocate for your child and provide all the necessary information to support your opinion.

Share relevant information about your child’s education.

Bring as much information as possible to IEP or IFSP meetings, including copies of your child’s medical records, records from any other schools, and test scores. It’s also important to let the team know about their real-life abilities, particularly their strengths, so that they can be worked into and supported by the plan moving forward.

It is also helpful to share the disciplinary measures you use at home that are effective with your child. The consistency between school and home will help your child adjust, and it will help the teacher quickly understand what does and does not work when discipline is needed.

Get the support you need.

It’s always good to have support from people who know the challenges that you’re facing. Parental organizations not only allow you to share your knowledge and benefit from the advice of others, but they can also be strong advocates who fight for you and your child when it’s necessary.

What are the Parents’ Rights in Special Education?

Defining the parents’ rights in special education is much more straightforward. Laws like the Education for the Handicapped Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act clearly define your rights to contribute to your child’s educational plan. Note that your child’s school must inform you of all of your and your child’s legal rights.

Special education students are entitled to free, public education.

All special ed students are legally entitled to an appropriate free public education. That means that it should come at no cost to you and tailor to the specific educational needs of your child.

Your child should receive their education in the least restrictive environment possible, and the school should make every effort to provide support so that they can be taught in the same classroom as children without special needs.

Provide consent.

You can request that the school evaluate your child for special education or other services, or the school may contact you to request an evaluation. Either way, before the evaluation, you will be asked to voluntarily sign an informed consent form. You have the right to withdraw consent at any time.

Note that you also have a right to request your child be evaluated in the language they understand best. For example, if your child comes from a bilingual home, they must be tested in their first language. Any students with hearing impairments are also entitled to an interpreter.

Review your child’s records and progress.

If the school wishes to change your child’s placement or refuses to evaluate your child, they have to notify you. If you do not agree with these changes, you can request an independent evaluation.

You can also request an evaluation if you feel your child’s placement is no longer appropriate. Legally, the school must reevaluate your child every three years, but they must review the educational plan yearly.

You have the right to review any of your child’s educational records. You can also request a copy, though the school can charge you reasonable fees to create copies for you.

If you review your child’s records and feel that anything is incorrect or violates your child’s rights or privacy, you can ask the school to change the information. If they refuse, you can ask for a hearing to challenge the information you feel is inaccurate. You can also contact your state’s education department to file a complaint against the school.

Participate in your child’s IEP or IFSP.

The IEP and IFSP are written statements that lay out the educational plan for your child, and you have a right to be involved in the development of these plans. The school must make reasonable attempts to notify you when an IEP meeting is occurring and to work with you to arrange a time, date, and location that is reasonably convenient for you and the school. You may also request a meeting at any time during the school year.

If you and the school cannot come to an agreement about what is best for your child, you can request mediation or a due process hearing. Make this request in writing and keep a copy for your records.

What is an IEP?

An IEP or Individualized Education Program is a written document detailing the educational plan for students with special needs. It’s not a legal contract, but it spells out what your child needs and guarantees the services and support contained within the plan are provided for your child.

Every student who is eligible for special education has one. Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires some information to be integrated into an IEP, it doesn’t lay out any specifics as to how an IEP should look. State and local agencies may include additional information, and IEPs may look different from state to state.

It takes a team of many people to create an IEP. Parents should participate as they have insights into their child that other members of the team do not. The student should also participate when appropriate.  Other people involved include general education teachers; special education teachers trained to work with children with disabilities; a school district representative who knows about available services and can approve resources; and anyone with special knowledge about your child who you or the school invites to participate. If your child needs transitional services, representatives from those agencies should also be present.

IEPs vary from district to district and student to student, but they should all contain the following information

Your child’s current level of educational performance

This includes information provided by yourself, teachers, and other staff members about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, including classroom performance, observations, standardized test results, and the special education evaluation. Any other areas of concern should be addressed, too, including behavioral issues, social skills, or language development.

Goals for your child

Goals are based on your child’s current level of educational performance and should contribute to getting them involved in the general curriculum whenever possible instead of focusing on maintaining skills or reaching advanced academic milestones. They should be measurable things that your child can accomplish in one year and can focus on anything, including behavior, social skills, academic achievement, or self-help.

In addition to goals, an IEP must also describe how those goals will be measured and when progress reports will be provided.

How the goals will be met

Once measurable goals are in place, the team must determine the best way to help the student meet them. Remember, special education students are legally entitled to free public education in the least restrictive environment, so the team must develop ways to educate your child alongside their peers. This goal is often met by providing support services to keep your child in a regular classroom as much as possible.

Other parts of an IEP

Additional things in an IEP including the following:

  • When the services will begin
  • Where and how often services will be provided
  • How long the services will last
  • To what extent your child will be in a regular classroom with non-disabled peers

What is an IFSP?

An IFSP or Individualized Family Service Plan is similar to an IEP, but it is generally meant for younger children. Early Interventions commonly take place in the child’s home, and they can focus more on the family unit when necessary.

The idea behind an IFSP is that the family is a great resource for a child who needs early intervention services and that the child’s needs are tied to the needs of the family. This approach puts the strength of the family at the forefront, and the parents are big parts of the plan.

Other people responsible for developing an IFSP are:

  • Other family members requested by the parents
  • An advocate for the family, if requests
  • Someone trained to evaluate and assess the child and family
  • People who will be involved in providing services, including medical professionals and social workers

IFSP guidelines vary by state, but they must include the following:

  • Your child’s present level of functioning, including physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development
  • Family information, including priorities and resources, concerns you have as parents, and any other family members who are closely involved with the child
  • Expected outcomes
  • The specific interventions your child will receive
  • Where and when the services will be provided
  • If services cannot be provided in the natural environment of the child, an explanation of why not
  • How many sessions of each service your child will receive and how long each will last
  • The name of the coordinator overseeing the IFSP
  • How your child be supported as they transition to school or other programs when the time comes
  • Other services your family may need

Once the plan is put together and you feel that you have been heard and your suggestions have been considered, you must provide written consent before any services begin.

How Can Parents Become Involved in the IEP and IFSP Process?

An IEP or IFSP meeting may seem overwhelming, but as a parent, it is important to be involved. You know your child better than anyone and can provide insights that other members of the team cannot.


One of the best things you can do to prepare is to sit down before the meeting and make a list of all the things you want your child to learn. What do you want for your child? What services do you think they need to get them there?

Provide information about how your child performs at home.

In the meeting, parents play a key role in explaining to the rest of the team where your child is currently, and your input about how your child performs at home is valuable information that teachers and school officials don’t know. The information you provide helps create a well-rounded picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

As mentioned, it is also extremely helpful to talk about how you discipline your child at home, including what works and what you have determined doesn’t work.

Tell the team your goals for your child.

When it comes time to discuss educational goals, your input helps create a plan tailored to your child’s needs and what you want them to accomplish. Remember, these goals need to be measurable, which gives you and your child’s teachers something specific to work toward.

Advocate for services you think your child needs.

Make sure your child is getting all of the available services they need. Educational departments may have a standard list of services and providers they work with, and things can get overlooked. If there is something you think your child needs that is not being provided, ask the team to come up with a compromise. If they refuse or you are still unhappy, you can take formal steps to get things resolved.

Final Thoughts on Parents’ Rights in Special Education

Parents have the right to ensure that their child receives a free, public education that meets their unique needs. Remember, special education teachers want to help your child. Working with a team of qualified educational specialists and teachers is the best way to develop a plan that works for everyone.

Finding the best providers of special education can be a challenge, but not if you know where to look.  Working with Sunbelt is the first step to finding top special education teachers. Reach out today to learn more about our Education Staffing Solution.

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