When you are working with your child’s school, you, the teachers, and the administration should all be on the same team – and you generally are. You all want the best education for your child.
But there are times when it’s hard to get on the same page as your child’s school. Maybe the school just did an evaluation, and the results look like they describe a completely different child. Maybe you’re sitting in your child’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting and you know key services are missing from your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Or maybe you believe your child should be in a general education classroom, but the school believes they should be in a less inclusive classroom.
If you are having trouble agreeing on assessments, accommodations, or plans with your child’s school and district, you aren’t alone.
And you do have rights. They’re clearly spelled out in the federal Notice of Procedural Safeguards. On this page, we break down some key parts of this process in Texas for you.
Your Child’s Evaluation
Getting the right evaluation and diagnosis is critical for your child to get the right services. But what can you do if the school does a screening and says they don’t think there’s a need for an evaluation? Or what can you do if the evaluation doesn’t match what you know about your child?
- If the school’s screening shows no need for an evaluation, and you disagree, you can file a written complaint or ask for a due process hearing from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
- If you disagree with the school’s evaluation results, you can write to the school to ask for a second opinion – called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) – that is done at no cost to your family. Your child can only get 1 IEE (at no cost to you) each time the school does an evaluation with them. Once you’ve asked for the IEE, the school must either give it to your child or ask for a “due process hearing” (see below) to defend its evaluation. The school will tell you how to get an IEE for your child.
- If you still don’t feel that the school’s evaluations match your child’s needs, you can get a private evaluation done by an outside specialist. Your child’s main doctor or therapist can recommend a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, neuropsychologist, educational psychologist, or other professional who can do the evaluation. You – not the school district – will have to pay for this evaluation, and your health insurance might cover all or part of the cost. Be sure to get a copy of the school district’s assessment criteria before you go. If the evaluation meets their criteria, the school district must consider it in making decisions about your child’s education.
Disagreeing With Your Child’s ARD
Sometimes going through the ARD process is tough. If you are having trouble agreeing with what the school is offering your child, here’s what you can do to help make sure the ARD and IEP give your child what they need to be successful.
- If you are in your child’s ARD meeting, and you are not comfortable with the IEP, don’t sign it right away. You can ask to stop the meeting and start again later (called a recess). The ARD committee can agree to recess for any period of time, be it a few days or longer. This gives you time to think and get any outside opinions you might need. During the recess, the school must follow the current IEP.
- If you disagree with your child’s IEP, you can write a statement of disagreement, and the ARD committee will agree to meet again in the future on a specific date and time. This is different from a recess.
- If, after that next meeting, the ARD committee still is not agreeing, the school will provide you with a notice of “refusal” or “proposal” that:
- Lists the action or service that you do or do not want for your child.
- Explains why the school is doing or not doing something (and why), including the facts involved and the other choices not picked.
- Explains your family’s rights on the federal Notice of Procedural Safeguards.
- Has ways you can get help understanding the law.
- After all these steps, if you and the school still haven’t agreed on your child’s IEP, next is a “facilitated IEP team meeting.” TEA will provide an independent person (called a facilitator) who is trained to help with the meeting. Facilitators guide the ARD committee’s discussion and help keep the focus on making an IEP that everyone agrees on. The facilitator makes sure that everyone has a chance to speak and tries to solve disagreements. But the facilitator is not part of the ARD team and cannot make IEP decisions.
- TEA also offers mediation services. A lawyer is focused on special education and is trained to help people reach agreement (called a mediator). The mediator helps you and the school district agree on a legally binding contract that describes how your child’s education needs will be met. Parts of that contract might be used to create your child’s IEP, but it is important to know that a mediation meeting is not an ARD meeting, and this contract is not an IEP.
- If you believe that your child’s school district or TEA isn’t following state or federal special education rules and laws, you can file a complaint with TEA at any time during the process. This complaint must be in writing and include certain facts and details. TEA has a web page with complaint forms and instructions. If your complaint is complete when TEA gets it, they must investigate your child’s case and let you know their decision within 60 days.
- Finally, you may also ask for a special education “due process hearing”. This formal legal process is a lot like having a court trial. You can ask for a due process hearing when you don’t agree that the school district is giving your child an appropriate education or you don’t agree about your child’s evaluation, educational placement, or the services they need to get. In a due process hearing, a licensed Texas lawyer (called a hearing officer) will listen to you and your child’s school. Most of the time, both you and your child’s school will have lawyers to represent you. The hearing officer will act as judge and jury, making a final decision about your child’s IEP in the hearing.
If You Need an Advocate or Lawyer
In many cases, when you’re having trouble agreeing with the school district, it’s helpful to have a professional advocate or a lawyer guiding you. To find one, you can email the Office of Legal Services Division of TEA or call them at 512-463-9720. The Texas Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates also has a list of Texas professionals, and the National Center for Dispute Resolution in Special Education has many types of tips and resources.
To learn more about being an advocate for your child—or hiring one—see our page on Special Education Advocates and Advocacy.
By law, your child has the right to a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE). An “appropriate” education means they can get 504 and special education services if they need that support. But the different ways people understand the word “appropriate” can also lead to disagreements between parents and schools.
The law defines an appropriate education as one where a child is “getting educational benefit” – or making progress with their learning. This doesn’t require schools to use the latest or best support tools available. It does require them to make sure that your child is moving forward to meet their educational goals.