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Special Education - FAQ

Q: It seems like the school district makes all the decisions about my child? What rights do I have if I disagree?

A: Federal and State laws provide strong protections to students with disabilities and their parents. You must have the opportunity to participate actively in the development of your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). If you disagree with a determination regarding the classification, evaluation or placement of your child, you have the right to request mediation or an impartial hearing to resolve the dispute. Mediation is only effective if both you and your school district are willing to compromise. An impartial hearing will allow you to present evidence in support of your position to an objective individual who will ensure that your school district complies with the laws requiring that your child receive a free, appropriate public education.

Q: My child is struggling in school but his teacher says there is nothing wrong. What can I do?

A: You can refer your child to your school district's Committee on Special Education (CSE) which must then evaluate your child. Educational and psychological evaluations are required by law, and other evaluations, such as speech or occupational therapy, may be required depending on the particular needs of your child. Once the evaluations are complete, the CSE must hold a meeting to discuss whether your child requires special education. If so, a plan must be put in place, with your input, to address all identified needs. Sometimes school districts attribute a student's poor performance to laziness, lack of motivation, and "behavior problems". It is important to look beneath the surface; often professional evaluations reveal undiagnosed learning disabilities, or other neurological or emotional issues, which can be addressed by an appropriate educational setting and services.

Q: Whenever I go to CSE meetings the school personnel always seem to have documents about my child that I have never seen. How can I get this information?

A: You have an absolute right to copies of your child's educational records. It is vital to periodically request a copy of the file in writing, and to insist that any new evaluations be given to you in advance of a CSE meeting so that you will have time to review them.

Q: The school district believes my child should be placed in a BOCES program, but I want him to stay in his regular class with his friends. What can I do?

A: The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment. This means that they must attend their local school and have opportunities to interact with non-disabled children all or part of the day, as long as their educational needs can be met in such a placement. School districts must consider providing supplemental aids and services to a child in the regular classroom prior to placing him or her in a special education classroom. Such services can include: behavior intervention plans; classroom, testing and homework modifications and accommodations; speech or occupational therapies; a one-to-one aide; or a consultant special education teacher. You can request a CSE meeting to discuss these services. If an agreement is not reached you can request mediation or impartial hearing to resolve the dispute.

Q: My child's IEP provides for 60 minutes of speech therapy every week, but the therapist quit and the district is saying it can't find another speech therapist to replace her. Can I do anything about this?

A: Regardless of a change in staffing, school districts must provide all services listed on the IEP. If sessions of speech therapy, or any other service, are missed they must be made up. In certain instances, you may obtain the services privately and recover the cost from the school district.

Q: I have placed my child in a private school. Does my school district have to reimburse me for the tuition?

A: The law obligates school districts to reimburse parents of children with disabilities for private school tuition if the school district did not provide an appropriate education for the child, the school chosen by the parents is appropriate for the child, and equitable considerations support the parents' claim. Whether or not you can meet all three of these required criteria depends on an individual review of your case. If you are contemplating enrolling your child in a private school, it is crucial to consult with an attorney knowledgeable about special education law in advance to ensure that you do not unwittingly jeopardize a potential claim for tuition reimbursement.

Q: Why do I need an attorney to get my child the education he or she deserves? Can't I request a due process hearing on my own?

A: You can request a hearing on your own. However, the school district is always represented by its attorney at hearings. You will be in the best position to succeed at hearing, or to obtain a favorable settlement, if you are assisted by an attorney who practices primarily in special education law. If you prevail at hearing, any fees you have paid to an attorney must be reimbursed by the school district. In addition to legal knowledge, experience and technical expertise, an attorney can provide a much-needed objective perspective in a highly emotionally-charged situation for parents fighting for their child's future. Your child's education is at stake: do not leave it to chance by foregoing legal representation.

Q: I try to maintain a positive relationship with my child's school and the CSE. Will I appear too adversarial by asking an attorney to help me advocate for my child?

A: It is very important to resolve differences amicably with your school district, where possible. You need to do what you can to preserve a relationship that will be central in your child's life for many years. You will be in a much better position to advocate for mutually acceptable solutions if you have a firm grasp of your child's rights. Sometimes, unfortunate situations, which are harmful to your child, cannot be resolved without legal action. If you retain the Law Offices of Linda A. Geraci, we will endeavor to negotiate mutually acceptable solutions. When the time for talk is over, we will not hesitate to vigorously defend your child's right to an appropriate education which addresses his or her disability.

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