Get the IDEA? Simplifying a Complex Law
Last week, we partnered with Starbridge to host “Knowing Your Child’s Educational Rights,” a free workshop for parents to learn what their children's rights are, how they qualify for special education services, and ways these services may be delivered.
Children of 50 parents attending have struggled with a wide range of learning, behavioral, and developmental challenges. More important than the diversity of our children’s needs, though, was the thread that connected us – we were there because we want to be the strongest advocates for our children.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) rose to the surface as a critical set of protections for students’ educational rights. Here are 3 key aspects of the law:
Least Restrictive Environment: IDEA mandates students be educated as closely as they can be to a normal classroom setting. The phrase educators use from IDEA is Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Simply translated, this means every effort must be made for a student with a disability to be educated in a general education setting. If education goals for the student are not being met, supports are added to the setting. Only if this does not work are alternate settings are explored.
Evaluations: If you believe your child has a learning disability, it is your right to request (in writing) a free evaluation from your school district. If the testing indicates a learning disability, the most likely outcome will be an Individualized Education Program (IEP). After the initial evaluation, you are also entitled to one evaluation per year provided by the district if requested or every three years/until the IEP is removed.
Changes to IEP: If your child’s school wants to change any part of their IEP, they must send prior written notice describing the proposed changes. This gives parents a chance to evaluate the change and provide input before it is included. Also know you are a key member of the IEP team that develops the program. If you do not understand the plan or disagree with it, it is your right NOT to sign it. The best pathway to resolution is to work with the team without getting frustrated. If resolution is not possible, there are education lawyers and legal advocates (many available at no cost or sliding scale) who can help you determine if you there is a legal basis upon which the school must honor your requests for the IEP.
Ultimately, parents left the workshop with new knowledge and more tools to navigate systems that are complex and difficult to understand. Starbridge is an outstanding resource in our community and we’re pleased to partner with them throughout the year to bring resources to parents. Know that you can contact them or us at Norman Howard if you have questions about IDEA or your child’s rights.
Stay tuned for a "go-to-guide" on key educational laws and rights.