The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that schools develop special education plans for all students with disabilities in order to provide them with a free, appropriate public education. These education plans, known as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), are written documents that identify the student’s specific needs and outline a plan for ensuring the child receives appropriate educational opportunities.
When parents disagree with their child’s IEP, there are steps they can take to appeal the decision. Some common areas of disagreement between parents and schools include:
- The results of a child’s disability evaluation
- If a child is eligible for an IEP
- Where a child is placed
- The assessment methodology used
- The services provided to a child
- Changes to an IEP
- The suspension or expulsion of a child
How do I appeal an IEP decision?
In general, there are two methods for resolving IEP conflicts between parents and schools: mediation and IEP due process hearings.
Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution where the parent and a representative of the school district meet with a neutral third party to discuss the situation. The mediator cannot force a decision on anyone. Rather, their job is to help the parties come to a mutually agreeable compromise. While parents are not required to go to mediation, it can be a very effective way to resolve IEP disputes quickly and favorably.
IEP Due Process Hearings
If the dispute cannot be resolved in mediation, or if the parent does not want to mediate, the next step for a parent to take is to request an IEP due process hearing. A due process hearing provides both the parent and the school district the opportunity to present written evidence and witness testimony that supports their position in the dispute.
According to the IDEA, parents must formally file a request for an IEP due process hearing within two years of learning about the dispute. If a request is not submitted within two years, the right to a due process hearing is forfeited. The party asking for a due process hearing must provide a written request to the other party and file it with the state or local education agency in charge of conducting due process hearings.
The written hearing request must include:
- The student’s name and address
- The name of the school
- A description of the relevant facts
- A suggested resolution for the dispute
The hearing will be held before an impartial hearing officer or panel of independent hearing officers. IDEA regulations require that the hearing officer issue a decision and mail a copy to the school district and the parent within 45 days from when the education agency received the request for a hearing. If a parent does not agree with the hearing officer’s decision, they can appeal the decision further to state or federal court.
When should I contact an education lawyer?
If you disagree with an IEP decision your child’s school has made, you should immediately contact an education lawyer. As a parent, you are legally entitled to have an attorney advocate on your child’s behalf throughout the IEP appeal process. Partnering with an experienced education lawyer can increase the likelihood of success in your appeal, as they can help you present your viewpoint in the best possible light. They will also be well-versed in the IDEA’s IEP requirements and the due process hearing process.
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