Skip to main content


Special Education 101

The law surrounding special education is confusing and is not often explained to parents. Many parents are left to figure out the law alone, and are not always fully aware of their child’s rights. To help parents better understand their child's rights, here is a more detailed explanation of the Special Education and IEP law.

1. Eligibility
If you are the parent of a child with a disability, your child might qualify for special education services at school. To qualify for special education services, your child must have a listed disability that negatively impacts his or her ability to learn. There are 13 disability categories that could qualify a child for special education services: autism, hearing impairment, deaf-blindness, intellectual disability, deafness, multiple disabilities, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment. The most important thing to note is that the disability must negatively impact your child’s ability to learn.

2. Process
If you are concerned about your child’s performance in school and believe that he or she might qualify for special education, the first step is to make a request in writing. The request should go over your concerns about your child and list any medical conditions. The school has 7 days from your request to schedule a meeting with you. The meeting must be held within 21 days of your initial request. At the meeting, you will have a chance to talk to the school about your concerns. The school will look at grades, state testing, medical records, etc. and decide whether to evaluate your child for special education. If the school does not follow the timeline, you should immediately follow up with the school. If the school ignores you, contact us.
When the school evaluates your child, it has 60 days from the date of the meeting to complete the evaluation. After the evaluation is finished, the school has 30 days to schedule a meeting with you to go over the results of the evaluation. If your child qualifies, a plan, called an IEP, will be drafted. If the school decides that your child does not qualify for special education based on the evaluation, you are entitled to an independent evaluation. This evaluation serves as a second opinion. The school must pay for this evaluation. You should notify the school immediately if you wish to get an independent evaluation.

3. Individualized Education Program (“IEP”)
IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. An IEP is a legally binding agreement that lays out exactly what special education services and placement your child will receive. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) requires several things to be in the IEP. The IEP must include information about how your child’s disability affects his or her progress in school. It must also include goals for the year, including academic and behavior goals, along with a progress report that describes steps your child has made toward meeting those goals. It will also include a list of any special education or related services that your child will receive, as well has any accommodations that are necessary. It can include services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, school nurse services, transportation, and more.

4. Rights Under IDEA
Once an IEP is drafted, you and the IEP team will get together at least once per year to review the IEP. At this meeting you can express concerns about progress, ask for additional services, and review goals set in the previous year’s IEP. You are not limited to one IEP meeting per year. Many parents believe that they must wait to talk about concerns in the annual IEP review meeting. If you have concerns about your child’s placement or progress, you can request an IEP meeting at any time. You should make this request in writing. You can also ask for an IEP meeting if you believe the school is not following the IEP.
Every three years your child will be re-evaluated for special education services. After the new evaluation, an IEP meeting will be held to make changes to the IEP based on the evaluation. It might be that your child needs additional services. It might also be that your child has progressed enough that they are no longer in need of special education services. For more information on IEPs, visit and view the IEP fact sheet, or call our HelpLine at 800-967-9224.

5. Simple Tips for Navigating the School System
The following are helpful tips for making sure you are your child’s best advocate.
• Do everything in writing.
You should always ask for meetings or changes in your child’s IEP in writing. If you have face-to-face conversations, or speak by phone, you should follow up with a letter. Lots of times problems arise between parents and a school because there is a disagreement about what was agreed. Having a paper trail is very helpful in this case. It is also helpful in case the school is not cooperative and further legal action is needed.
• If you child has a new teacher, or is at a new school, give information about your child.
No two children are alike. Even if your child’s teacher is familiar with autism or ADHD, they may not be familiar with your child’s unique needs. Tell your child’s teacher and school administration about your child—triggers, likes, dislikes, personality traits, behavior concerns, and information about medical diagnosis. This information allows the school to get to know your child quickly and to provide the best education possible.
• Keep a notebook of important documents.
You should keep track of your child’s IEP and evaluation. You should also keep doctor’s notes and letters, medical records, grades, attendance reports, disciplinary records, and all other information related to your child’s schooling. It is helpful to have all of this information handy for IEP meetings and parent-teacher conferences. By keeping all of this information together, you can make sure that you have everything you need to be up to date, informed, and the best advocate for your child.

Thank you to our generous sponsors:

Close Menu