Once you start to suspect that your child needs extra help at school, you might find yourself going to many meetings. Like meeting with your child’s teachers to find out what’s happening in the classroom. Or meeting with your child’s doctor or specialists to get their evaluations to give to the school, and then meeting with other people at the school who are also evaluating your child. And eventually, you might find yourself in an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting talking about your child’s strengths, needs, and goals. In every one of these meetings, you are your child’s advocate.
Most of the time, these meetings are friendly, and everyone’s on the same page. But, to make sure that your child receives an education that meets their educational needs, it is essential to know your family’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
IDEA is a federal law that created special education. Find the latest IDEA manual at The Arc of Texas IDEA page. It details how children with disabilities have rights to the education services they need in public schools, and it includes the following rules for local school districts:
- You can ask for the school district to evaluate your child for a learning difference, intellectual disability, or other disability that might affect your child’s ability to learn. You have the right to ask for this evaluation, even if a teacher or doctor has not yet recommended it. You must ask for this in writing, either as a letter or on a special form that your school district will give you if you ask. If you want to see some sample letters, you can look at the latest IDEA manual at The Arc of Texas IDEA page. Once you have turned in your letter or form, the school must evaluate your child within a specific time period.
- Your child is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education or FAPE. FAPE is the part of IDEA that guarantees your child access to general and specialized educational services free of charge.
- If your child is approved to get special education services, you and the rest of your child’s ARD committee must create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that the school district must follow to ensure that your child receives a FAPE. This covers all the academic and non-academic needs your child will have during a school day.
- Education services must be given in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) possible. This guarantees your child the right to be educated with peers in a general education classroom as much as possible, while still meeting their IEP goals.
- If your child is acting out at school as a result of their disability, the school must work on behavioral supports before moving your child to a different classroom or environment. This usually means it’s time for your child’s ARD committee to meet. The ARD committee has to agree on the best solution – behavioral supports or a change in environment. Of course, you are a part of this committee; your thoughts, opinions, and knowledge about your child are an important part of this decision.
- These educational services are free, and your school can’t require you to put your child on medication in order to receive them.
What Is Section 504?
Section 504 is not special education but a federal civil rights law that gives students who have disabilities the legal right to get the same access to learning and activities as their peers without disabilities.
- Schools give 504 plans to students that list accommodations (changes in how content is taught, supported, or tested).
- Students can get 504 accommodations if they need them; they don’t have to be approved for special education services.
- It gives students with disabilities a legal right to a FAPE (as mentioned above). They must be given the same chances to participate in academic, nonacademic, and after school activities as their peers without disabilities, if they otherwise qualify. Nonacademic activities can include recess, lunch, and assemblies. Extracurricular activities can include sports, clubs, or other after school programs.
Being Your Child’s Best Advocate
If you find yourself asking your school to put more services and accommodations into your child’s IEP, you aren’t alone! Many parents find themselves working very hard with schools to make sure their children are getting the education that meets their needs.
It takes practice to speak your mind and ask for what you think your child needs. Here are a few helpful tips from other parents about speaking up for your child’s education:
- Remember that you are an expert on your child. Even though the other members of the ARD committee have their own specialties, none of them will ever know your child better than you do. Your opinion counts a lot. You are your child’s first teacher.
- If you can, talk to your child’s teacher, doctor, and therapists before you ever go into an ARD committee meeting. The more specific that you can get about your child’s needs, the easier it is to ask for them to be met.
- If English is not your first language, you can ask the school to include a translator in your child’s ARD committee meetings. You will have to talk about complex subjects that can be hard to express in any language. Especially in one that’s not your native language.
- You can bring anyone with you to the ARD committee meeting who you think will help. This could be a family member who takes notes. Or, if you think you need to ask for more services or supports, you can bring a therapist, case manager, or doctor to help you explain why your child needs them.
- Take a training class (or a few!) on being an advocate. You can find some at your TEA regional Education Service Center or through the Partners Resource Network. The Wrightslaw website also has many online classes, papers, newsletters, and other tools to help you advocate for your child. Texas Project First can help you find out more about IDEA and your child’s rights.
- If you’re having trouble getting an IEP that you and the school agree on, see our page on When You’re Having Trouble Getting the Right Services for Your Child to help understand your options.
Tips From Other Parents on the ARD Process
- Try not to go to your child’s ARD meeting alone. There are usually 4 to 15 people there from the school, and it helps to have someone with you who knows you and your child.
- Connect with other parents from your school or district to see if any of them have worked with this campus or school district before – and have any good ideas.
- Talk to your child’s teachers before the meeting, make sure they know your concerns, and ask to look at a draft IEP if it’s ready. Sometimes, the draft IEP and reports won’t be done until the day of the ARD meeting. But if you can see them early, you can have time to think about any questions you might have.