The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
Your child with a disability has rights under numerous federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (known as 504). Your child has a right to equal access to education, employment, public places, and state and federally funded services. Your child cannot be excluded based on his or her disability.
Perhaps the most important law protecting children with disabilities is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), now also referred to as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA). Under IDEA, children with disabilities have a right to a free appropriate public education, referred to as FAPE. If your child has a disability that impacts his or her educational performance, he or she may be eligible for special education services. Special education means specially designed instruction based on the unique needs of your child. Special education is free to parents and can be provided in the regular education classroom, in smaller classroom settings, at home, and even in the hospital. It can also include related services like occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, and counseling.
Under FERPA, the term educational records includes any records that are directly related to the student and maintained by the school. That is a pretty broad definition and includes all of the educational evaluations, IEP’s, email communications between school employees, report cards, progress reports, test protocols, test answers, raw data collected by the school, nurse’s records, and program books. Some records, like personal notes, are excluded from the definition of educational records. Keep in mind that “personal notes” are only “records that are kept in the sole possession of the maker, are used only as a personal memory aid, and are not accessible or revealed to any other person except a temporary substitute for the maker of the record.”
Yes, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) both give parents the right to inspect and review their children’s education records. If you want to review your child’s educational records, be sure to make your request in writing and maintain a copy of your request for your records. Parents have a right to review their child’s education records “without unnecessary delay and before any meeting regarding an IEP or any due process hearing or any resolution session.” Under Connecticut regulations, schools must comply with request to review educational records within ten school days of the request. In addition to the right to review your child’s educational records, Connecticut regulations give parents of children with special education needs a right to receive a free copy of their child’s educational records. The Connecticut regulations also say that parents can inspect but not receive a copy of “any test instrument or portion of a test instrument for which the test manufacturer asserts a proprietary interest in the instrument.” Parents must make their request in writing and schools must provide a copy of the educational records within ten school days of the written request. If you feel the school is not providing all of your child’s educational records, you should contact an attorney to discuss your legal rights.
When a due process hearing is pending, children have a right to “stay put,” meaning the child stays in the “then current placement” until the administrative hearing is resolved. The school can’t simply change the placement on its own. Parents and schools can choose to agree that a particular placement or program will act as the “stay put” placement while the hearing is being resolved.
Due process is an administrative hearing before the Connecticut State Department of Education to resolve disputes between parents and school districts regarding special education services. It is a formal hearing before a hearing officer. Both the school and the parents must present evidence through witness testimony and documents. The rules of procedure generally follow Connecticut’s rules for administrative hearings under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. If you are heading for a due process hearing, you should consult with an attorney.
Unless you and the school agree in writing to change the IEP outside of the annual review, changes to your child’s IEP can only be made by the PPT. The school can schedule (and you can request) a PPT meeting at any time but you must receive written notice of the PPT meeting at least five school days before the meeting. The school must make “every effort” to schedule meetings at a mutually agreed upon time and place. Whenever the school proposes a change in special education services, it must provide you with written notice not later than ten school days before the board “proposes to, or refuses to, initiate or change the child’s identification, evaluation or educational placement or the provision of FAPE.” If you don’t agree with what the school recommends at the PPT, you have a right to object to the change and to request a due process hearing and invoke your “stay put” rights.
Yes, you have a right to refuse special education services and, if you previously consented, to revoke your consent. Refusing services is different from disagreeing with some services. Refusing services means you are refusing all special education services. If you refuse special education services (or if you revoke your consent), the school must provide you with written prior notice that it is terminating services and may not continue to provide special education and related services. In addition, the school cannot use due process to obtain a decision from the State Department of Education to provide special education services without your consent. Refusing services may not be the best choice. When you refuse special education services, you lose many legal protections for your child. Before refusing services, you should consult with an attorney and understand the significant consequences of that decision.
The specific special education and related services the school will provide depend on the needs of your child and must be decided by the PPT after evaluations have been completed. The PPT make decisions about what services to provide based on what the school has available. Instead, what your child needs in order to make meaningful educational progress drives what must be made available by the school. Parents are equal members of the PPT and can ask for the services they believe their children need. The PPT must write an individualized education plan (IEP) that outlines your child’s strengths and weaknesses, the goals for your child, short term objectives, how the goals and objectives will be measured, and what services will be provided to help your child reach his or her goals. The PPT must meet at least once every year to review your child’s IEP and make appropriate changes.
When the school evaluates your child, and you disagree with the results of the evaluation, you have a right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE). You do not have to explain why you are requesting an independent evaluation. When you request an IEE, the school must either agree to pay for the evaluation or request a due process hearing (at which they must show that their evaluations were appropriate). The school can set criteria for independent evaluations but they must be the same as the criteria used by the school when it conducts an evaluation. Parents have a right to select any evaluator who meets the criteria set by the school and the school cannot impose any other conditions on your right to an IEE. The school can give parents a list of evaluators but they can’t reject particular evaluators, as long as the parents’ chosen evaluator meets the criteria set by the school. Parents are not required to notify the school before getting an IEE. So, parents can obtain an IEE and then ask for reimbursement. It is also important to note that parents can choose to obtain evaluations at their own expense and share the results of those evaluations with the school. Such evaluations must be considered by the school. The Connecticut State Department of Education recently issued this important letter to schools.
The school is required to evaluate your child in all areas of suspected disability. Once your child is identified as a student with special education needs, the school is required to conduct re-evaluations every three years, known as triennial evaluations. The specific evaluations used to assess your child are decided by the PPT. Parents are part of the PPT and information provided by parents must be considered by the PPT. Under IDEA, the school cannot evaluate or re-evaluate your child without your written consent. If you refuse to consent, the school may, but is not required to, seek a decision from a hearing officer at the State Department of Education, using due process, to allow the school to go forward with evaluations.
The school is legally obligated to find and identify all children with special education needs. In Connecticut, if the school refers your child for special education services, they must notify you within five school days.
If the school has not referred your child, but you think your child might need special education services, you can request an evaluation by the school. The school may have a standard form but parents aren’t required to use a particular form. Your concerns must be put in writing and sent to the school principal, Director of Special Education (sometimes called the Director of Pupil and Personnel Services), and/for the Superintendent. Reasons for the request may include that your child has been suspended repeatedly, or his behavior, attendance or progress in school is unsatisfactory. Once you make a request, the school must schedule a meeting, called a PPT (planning and placement team) to decide what evaluations are needed. For more information, see the State Department of Education’s “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Connecticut.”