What rights do parents have under the special education process. What should I tell them?

When parents inquire about "their rights," it is important to know the legal rights to which the parents are entitled. It is also important to know the rights that parents have through state and local special education policies.

Factual Information

It is also important to be sensitive as to why the parents are asking about their rights. Are they asking for informational purposes or might they have concerns about how the special education process is evolving for their child at your school?

The intent of the law is to individualize a child's education through collaborative planning that involves school personnel and the student's parents or guardians. All of the procedures surrounding the identification of a child for special education services and, if appropriate, the provision of those services, must be consistent with the United States' Constitution's due process clause. This ensures that a student will not be deprived of their legal right to a free public education without the appropriate procedures being followed.

Under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school personnel must do the following:

Identification of a child for special education services

  • Make reasonable efforts to ensure the participation of parents/guardians in the discussions that relate to the placement of their child.
  • Provide parents/guardians with timely notification about meetings pertaining to their child including the purpose, time, location, and who will attend. Use phone or conference calls if parents/guardians are unable to attend.
  • Notify parents/guardians that they or school personnel may invite to the IEP meetings any individuals with special expertise.
  • Notify the student's parents/guardians that they have the right to refuse special education services.
  • Receive written consent from parents/guardians before proceeding with any evaluation, special education services, or before conducting a test or evaluation.
  • Inform parents that they have the right to an independent educational evaluation that may be provided at public expense if the evaluation provided by the education agency is determined to be inappropriate.

Special Education Services

  • Provide the student's parents/guardians with written notification before any changes are made in the identification, evaluation, educational placement of the student.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Meetings

  • Provide written information to the student's parents/guardians about the requirements for membership on the IEP Committee. Students should be attending these meeting beginning at age 16 or younger if participation is appropriate.
  • Provide the student's parents/guardians with a copy of the IEP at no cost.
  • Inform parents/guardians of their right to ask for revisions to the IEP or their right to invoke due-process procedures if they are not satisfied.


  • Notify parents/guardians of their right to mediation, a resolution session, or a due process hearing.
  • Allow parents/guardians to review their child's records and to request changes to the file if those changes are deemed appropriate.

Classroom Activities

Before responding to a parent or guardian who has inquired about their rights under the special education process, check with a special education teacher in your school or with your district's central office to request a copy of the information on special education that is provided to the parents in your district. Also share the parent's request with the appropriate personnel at your school or district and inquire about the procedures for responding to the request.


  • Consider inviting a colleague from the special education department to provide professional development on your district's special education policies and your district's outreach to parents, guardians and families.
  • If your school or district has a parent/teacher organization, consider working with members from this organization to provide information for parents about the special education procedures in your district.

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