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Special Education: Protecting Your Child, Protecting Your Rights

This article was produced by LARCC in cooperation with CLS, GHLA, NHLAA, and SLS.

Special Education: Protecting Your Child, Protecting Your Rights

What is special education?

"Special education" means specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. This may include special classes, programs, and/or services to help the child take part in the regular classroom curriculum. Special education is provided at no cost to the parents.

Children can continue to receive special education through the end of the school year in which he or she turns 21 years old, or graduates with a regular high school diploma, whichever happens first. Children who receive a GED can still get special education through the end of the school year in which they turn 21, in some situations.

Who can receive special education?

Your child is eligible for special education if:

  • He or she is between the ages of 3 and 21, and is found to have a disability (see the list below), and
  • because of this disability, he or she needs special classes, special instruction or special services to succeed in school.

What if my child is younger than 3 years old?

If your child is less than 3 years old and you are concerned about his or her ability to see, talk, hear, move, eat, or play, the State's early intervention system (the Birth to Three Program) can help. Call:

  • The Child Development Infoline 1-800-505-7000 (TDD accessible),
  • The Connecticut State Department of Developmental Services (DDS) 1-866-433-8192 (toll free) or 860-418-6117,
  • Your school district and ask about the Birth to Three Program, also referred to as early intervention services.
Disabilities that enable a child to receive special education include:
  • Autism
  • Hearing impairments, including deafness
  • Intellectual disabilities (mental retardation)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Neurological impairments
  • Orthopedic disabilities
  • Physical impairments
  • Pregnancy
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Speech and/or language impairments
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairments, including blindness
  • Other health problems (such as: asthma, Attention Deficit Disorder/ADD, diabetes, epilepsy, heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette Syndrome).
Your child may have other problems that would make him or her eligible for special education. Do not hesitate to ask about special education eligibility.

What is the first step in deciding if my child is eligible for special education services?

The first step is to get a "referral to special education," which is a written request for an evaluation of a student. A group of people, called a Planning and Placement Team or "PPT" will review the referral. (See below for more on the PPT.)

Referral to Special Education

How does my child get a referral to special education?

A referral to special education may be made by:

  • your child's teacher or other school staff;
  • a parent, guardian or surrogate parent, or person acting in the place of a parent with whom the child lives (such as a grandparent, aunt, etc.);
  • the student, if 18 years of age or older; or
  • another person such as a pediatrician or social worker.

The school must make a referral to special education for any child who has been repeatedly suspended or whose attendance, behavior, or progress in school is unsatisfactory. You may ask for a referral to special education if you believe your child has a disability but a referral has not been made by anyone else. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask for a referral--but make sure it is in writing!

How do I ask for a referral to special education?

You must ask for a referral to special education and an evaluation of your child in writing. You may write a letter (see Letter A) or use your school district's referral form if they have one. Make a copy of your letter or form and then send it by certified mail or deliver it in person. If you deliver it, be sure to get a signed and dated copy from the person who accepts it.

What happens after a referral is made?

Once a referral has been made, the school should schedule a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting. All decisions about special education, including whether to evaluate your child, are decided at a PPT meeting. A PPT meeting is also known as an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting.

What is a Planning and Placement Team?

The PPT is a group of people who know your child's abilities. Parents are important and equal members of this team!

The PPT must include

  • the child's parent (parents must be invited to the PPT meeting and it is very important that you attend);
  • a school administrator (or someone named by him or her);
  • your child’s teacher;
  • a member of the special education staff.

The PPT may include

  • other school staff;
  • your child (if you think it is appropriate);
  • other people you want. For example, if your child received Birth to Three services, you have the right to ask that someone from that program be invited to the first PPT meeting.
Note: If your child might have a "specific learning disability" (a disability involving listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or math), the PPT must also include someone who is qualified to do special testing of your child for a learning disability.

PPT Meetings

How will I know when a PPT meeting will take place?

The school district must notify you in writing at least 5 school days before the meeting. The notice must tell you

  • the date, time, location, and purpose of the PPT;
  • who has been invited;
  • what your rights are, including your right to invite people with knowledge of your child or people who will give you support.

You may agree to ignore (waive) the 5-day requirement and hold the PPT at a time that is convenient for you and the school.

If you cannot attend the PPT, you can ask the school district to reschedule the PPT for a time and place that would be better for you and the school.

If you still cannot attend the meeting, the school district must try to use other ways to have you take part, including individual or conference telephone calls.

If you do not attend the PPT meeting after the school district has tried to schedule it at a convenient time for you, the PPT may be held without you. The school district must still send you a full copy of any written reports within five days after the PPT.

What will happen at the first PPT meeting?

At the first PPT meeting, the team will talk about the referral to special education. The team will look at information that is already available about how your child is doing in school and decide whether to evaluate your child more. If the school refuses to evaluate your child, it must let you know this decision in writing. You can challenge this decision by asking for "due process." (See Due Process Rights.)

The information the PPT looks at could come from:

  • The parents (your ideas and concerns about your child's school experiences, abilities, needs, behavior, and more).
  • The teachers and other school staff (including classroom observations, scores on tests given in the classroom and on any state tests, such as the Connecticut Mastery Test).
  • Other professionals (such as a school psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, and physical therapist.

Evaluations

What is an evaluation?

An evaluation is a way to gather important information about your child from different sources (including you). The evaluation will help you and the school make important decisions about your child's education.

Evaluations may include:

  • Educational testing to determine general intelligence and current levels of academic performance;
  • Physical and/or occupational therapy evaluation of fine and gross motor skills;
  • Social work or behavioral assessment;
  • Psychological or psychiatric evaluation;
  • Speech/language evaluation;
  • Hearing and vision examinations;
  • Medical exams (but only to diagnose a student’s needs).

> All evaluations are confidential and may not be shared with anyone outside of the team unless you give your written consent.

> All evaluations should be done at the school’s expense. You do not have to use your insurance to pay for evaluations, and, usually, you should not agree to do so.

> The school should obtain your consent, evaluate your child and hold a PPT to discuss the evaluations within 45 school days of your request.

> All assessments and other evaluation materials must be given

  • in your child's native language or way of communicating (for example, sign language);
  • in a way that does not discriminate against your child because he or she is from a different race or culture or has a disability;
  • by trained and knowledgeable people;
  • in all areas related to a suspected disability, including: health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and fine and gross motor abilities.

> Written consent for evaluation is needed. The school must get your written permission before it can evaluate your child. If you do not want your child evaluated, you can say "no." A school cannot evaluate your child without your permission unless a hearing officer decides it should be done. (See Due Process Rights.). Before you sign the consent form, read it carefully and ask any questions you have about the tests or procedures being recommended.

What happens after the evaluation is finished?

After the evaluation is done, another PPT meeting will be held to review the results and decide whether your child has a disability and is eligible for special education.

> If the team decides your child IS ELIGIBLE for special education, the team's next steps are:

  • Identify all of your child's special education and related services needs.
  • Decide whether more testing is needed.

> If the team decides your child IS NOT ELIGIBLE for special education:

  • The school must tell you so in writing and give you information about what to do if you disagree with this decision.
  • You may want to ask how the school will help your child since he or she will not be getting special education services.

What if I disagree with the school’s evaluations?

You have the right to have your child evaluated by a person who does not work for the school if you disagree with the school’s evaluations or refusal to evaluate your child.

You have the right to have your child evaluated by someone who does not work for the school.

You can choose your own evaluator or ask the school for a list of independent evaluators. This evaluation is called an independent educational evaluation. The school district may ask you why you disagree with its evaluation, but you do not have to explain.

When the independent evaluation is done, another PPT meeting will be held to review the independent evaluation. The school district must consider the results of the independent evaluation, but it does not have to agree with the independent evaluator's results or recommendations.

Who pays for an independent evaluation?

The school district must pay for the independent evaluation without delay unless it asks for a due process hearing. If a due process hearing is held, the school district must prove that its own evaluation was appropriate. The hearing officer will either decide the school's evaluation:

  • is NOT appropriate, which means the school must pay for the independent evaluation, or
  • is appropriate, which means you may still get an independent evaluation, but you will have to pay for it.

What if we moved before the evaluation was finished?

If you moved out of the school district before the old school could decide if your child has a disability, the 45-day time limit does not apply if the new school district is trying to finish the evaluation without delay. The best thing to do is to talk with the director of special education to see if you can both agree to a specific time when the evaluation will be finished.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

My child is eligible for special education. What happens next?

The next step is to create a plan for your child's education called an Individualized Education Program or IEP. The IEP meeting should:

1. Set reasonable educational goals for your child, and

2. List all special education and related services that the school will give your child.

The IEP must be written and the school district must get your written consent to the placement before your child is placed in special education. If you refuse to give permission the school cannot force you to agree to special education for your child.

Who develops my child's IEP? Can I help?

The Planning and Placement Team develops your child's IEP. Remember, you are a very important part of the team—you know your child well and your input, thoughts, and concerns are needed! After the PPT, the school must give you a written report.

How can I get ready for the IEP meeting?

One of the most important things you can do for your child is to take part in his education. Before the IEP meeting, you can:

  • Make a list of your child's strengths and weaknesses and what you think your child can accomplish during the school year.
  • Talk to your child about his or her thoughts and feelings about school.
  • Talk to your child's teachers and/or therapists and get their thoughts about your child.
  • Visit your child's class (with the school’s permission).
  • Get and carefully read a copy of your child’s school records. You have the right to look at all the information in your child’s file within 10 school days of your written request (or within 3 days if a PPT meeting is scheduled). You also have a right to get a free copy of the file within 5 days of your written request . (See Letter B.)
  • Make sure that all necessary evaluations have been done. You should not hesitate to ask for additional evaluations. You may want to have a professional review your child’s records to see if any other evaluations should be done. (Professionals could include your child’s pediatrician, social worker, or a medical expert.)
  • Invite any professionals who will support your suggestions about your child's IEP or placement. These professionals must have evaluated your child or reviewed your child's records. Don't hesitate to speak up and make suggestions about your child’s IEP!
  • Make notes of what you would like to say during the meeting. Don't be shy about asking questions and sharing your feelings about your child.
  • Bring a tape recorder and let the school know you will tape the meeting. (You have the right to tape record it.)

What should be in my child’s IEP?

The IEP should include all of the specific services your child needs. It is very important to make sure that it does! At a minimum, an IEP must include:

1. Present level of performance. A description of how your child is doing now in school, both academics and regular activities of everyday living (such as getting along with others, eating, toileting, etc.).

2. Annual goals and objectives. A statement of what you and the team think your child can accomplish in the year. The goals must be measurable and show what is expected of your child in specific subjects.

3. Evaluation procedures. A description of how the team will decide if the annual goals are being met. It must include the schedule that will be followed to decide if the goals are being met.

4. Special education and related services. A description of all the special education and related services that will be given to your child. This list includes physical and vocational education; nursing services; monitoring and maintenance of medical devices needed to keep your child safe and healthy; interpreting services (including sign language); assistive technology; and transportation. "Related services" might include parent counseling and other services for parents.

5. Participation in regular education. A description of how much of the school day your child will take part in regular education classes and activities

6. Settings, providers, dates, etc. A list of where your child will be (regular class, resource room, etc.); who will work with your child; the start and end dates of the services, and how often and for how long each session will last.

7. Length of the school day and year. A list of changes your child needs to the length of the school day or year. These services may include an Extended School Year (ESY), summer school, or services before and/or after school.

8. State and district-wide tests. A list of any changes your child needs when taking state or district-wide tests, such as the Connecticut Mastery Tests. If the team decides your child will be assessed in a different way, the IEP must state the reasons for the alternatives.

9. Transition goals and services. A list of any transition services your child needs. (See Transition Plan.)

Placement

Where will my child get this special education?

Your child’s special education program may be given in:

  • regular classes with supportive aids and services;
  • special classes;
  • special schools, including public and private schools that are out of your school district;
  • your home;
  • hospitals; and
  • residential programs.
Remember, the school district is responsible for paying the full cost of the special education program and related services that the PPT recommends.

The law says that a child must be placed in the “least restrictive environment.” This means your child should stay in the regular classroom unless the team decides that even with special additional aids and services, your child cannot be successful there. Support services might include (but are not limited to) an aide in the classroom, use of computers or other assistive technology, or changes to the regular education curriculum.

What happens after my child is in special education?

After your child has been placed in a special education program, a PPT meeting must be held

  • at least once a year,
  • whenever you reasonably ask for a PPT meeting,
  • before it can change your child's
    • identification as a child with a disability,
    • evaluation,
    • placement, or
    • giving your child a free appropriate public education, and
  • if your child is suspended for 10 days or more (see Discipline).

The school must notify you in writing every time a PPT meeting is scheduled. And, the school must give you a copy of your rights once each school year, when your child is first referred for special education, and whenever you ask for one.

The Annual PPT meeting

You and the other team members will meet and talk about your child's progress towards the goals and objectives in the current IEP and develop an IEP for the next year. The team should consider your child's strengths, any concerns you might have, the results of any evaluations, any behaviors that interfere with your child's learning, and any communication or assistive technology needs.

Can my child's IEP be changed?

Generally, your child's IEP will not be changed without a PPT meeting. However, if you and the school agree that changes need to be made to the IEP, but a PPT meeting is not needed, the IEP can be changed without a PPT meeting. In this case, make sure that any changes to your child's IEP are put in writing and given to all of the team members. You should always ask for a copy of the revised IEP for your records, too!

PPT Members

The PPT members must include:

  • At least one of your child's regular education teachers,
  • At least one of your child's special education teachers,
  • Related service providers, if appropriate (such as a school psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, or others), and
  • Someone from the school district who is qualified to supervise special education providers and knows about the general curriculum and the resources available to the school district (usually the Director of Special Education).
Note: A PPT member may be excused from attending some or all of the PPT. To excuse a member, you and the school district must agree in writing that the member does not need to be there.

The PPT members may include:

  • Staff from other placements if the team is discussing a placement outside your public school.
  • Other people with expertise or knowledge of your child or a friend that you invite who can give you support.

Will my child be reevaluated?

Yes. Your child must be reevaluated

  • At least once every three years, unless you and the school agree that a reevaluation is not necessary;
  • Before any significant change in his or her placement can happen; and
  • Before a determination is made that your child is no longer eligible for special education.

And, you may ask that your child be reevaluated if you believe your child’s educational performance is unsatisfactory. If you ask for a reevaluation more than once during a school year, and the school does not agree that it is needed, the school must give you a written notice that it refuses to do the evaluation. You can challenge this decision through "due process."

Transition to Adult Life

How do we help my child plan for life after school?

The PPT must develop a plan to help your child be prepared for life after school. This written plan, called an Individual Transition Plan (ITP), is developed at the annual PPT following your child’s 15th birthday (or younger, if appropriate). If your child is involved with an adult agency such as the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) or the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS), a representative or your child's case manager from that agency should attend the meeting.

Individual Transition Plan (ITP)

The ITP must be based on your child's needs and take into account his/her preferences and interests. The ITP must include:

  • Long-range goals and specific objectives for:
    • Employment,
    • Post-secondary training,
    • Education,
    • Independent living skills (if appropriate), and
    • Community involvement;
  • Services needed to meet the above goals;
  • Person or agency responsible for providing the services;
  • Ways in which the school and any adult agencies will need to work together before your child leaves school to make sure there is no interruption in services.

Summary of Performance

Before your child graduates with a regular high school diploma or finishes the school year when he or she turns 21, the school must give you a report called a Summary of Performance. It will include:

  • Your child’s academic achievement and
  • Your child's functional performance, and
  • Recommendations on how to help your child in meeting his or her goals after high school.

Discipline

May my child be disciplined?

Yes, but there are limits on how the school may discipline a child with a disability. Generally, the school may remove a child with a disability for up to 10 school days if the child does not follow the school rules (or "code of student conduct"). Children with disabilities get extra protections once the removal reaches 10 days or it is found that the child's behavior was caused by the disability. A child with a disability must be treated the same as a child without a disability who breaks the same rule, unless

  • The discipline is considered a "change in placement,"
  • The behavior was caused by your child's disability, or
  • The behavior was because the school did not implement (carry out) the IEP.

Exception:

Weapons, Illegal Drugs, or Causing Serious Injury

Your child may be moved to a different educational setting (called an interim alternative educational setting or IAES) for up to 45 days (even if the disability caused the behavior) if your child

  • Carries a weapon to or has a weapon at school, on school grounds, or at a school activity (even a different school); or
  • Knowingly has or uses illegal drugs, or sells or tries to buy a controlled substance at school, on school grounds, or at a school activity (even a different school); or
  • Caused someone serious bodily injury at school, on school grounds, or at a school activity (even a different school).

> Removal or suspension for up to 10 school days:

Your child may be

  • Placed in a different educational setting (called an interim alternative educational setting or IAES);
  • Placed in another setting, including in-school suspension, or;
  • Suspended.

The school only has to give educational services if the services are given to a child without a disability who has been removed in the same way. A child who is removed from school must be given a chance to complete missed classwork including exams.

> Removal or suspension for more than 10 school days:

For a child in special education, a removal or suspension for more than 10 school days is considered a "change in placement," which means the following things must happen:

1. The school district must give your child educational services so he or she can keep working toward the goals written in the IEP. The educational services do not have to be at the school.

2. The PPT must meet to decide if your child's behavior is related to his or her disability. This meeting is called a manifestation determination (see below).

3. The PPT must meet to decide if your child's behavior was because the IEP was not implemented.

When is a removal or suspension seen as a "change in placement"?

A "change in placement" is when a child is removed from school:

  • for more than 10 school days in a row, or
  • for more than 10 school days during the school year in a way that makes a pattern. (A pattern may be established by looking at how closely the removals happen and how long each removal lasts.)

The Manifestation Determination Meeting

Who goes to the manifestation meeting?

The parents, other members of the IEP team, and other school staff attend the manifestation meeting. As with PPT meetings, you may invite a professional or a friend to support you. The team members must consider all information that is in your child's file or any other information you give them, teacher observations, and your child's IEP and placement.

What happens at a manifestation meeting?

The PPT must decide whether your child's behavior

  • is caused by or is related to your child’s disability, or
  • is the direct result of the school's failure to carry out your child's IEP.

This meeting must be held within 10 days of the decision to change your child's placement. The school must send you written notice of this meeting 5 days before the meeting.

The manifestation determination meeting is important, so if you are busy at the time of the meeting, you have a right to call the school and ask them to reschedule it for a time when you can be there. The school must also give you a copy of the procedural safeguards notice which tells you about your right to due process. (See Due Process Rights.)

If your child is involved in weapons, drugs, or seriously hurts someone, he or she may be placed in a different educational setting even if due process is started. (See p. 18, Exception).
  • If the team decides your child's behavior IS NOT manifested by (connected to) his or her disability:
    • Your child may be disciplined in the same way and same length of time as a child without a disability.
  • If the team decides your child's behavior IS manifested by (connected to) his or her disability, the team must:
    • Identify problem behaviors by doing a "functional behavioral assessment" (FBA) which looks at why a child behaves the way he or she does.
    • Develop a plan to stop problem behaviors and to teach proper behavior and social skills. This plan is called a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or behavioral intervention services (BIS).

The FBA and BIP should be developed at the PPT meeting.

If your child already has a behavioral intervention plan, the team must review the plan and change it as needed to address your child’s behavior. Your child must be returned to the placement he or she was in before being removed unless you and the school agree to a change in placement.

You may ask the team to re-evaluate your child to decide if the assessment and plans stated above are appropriate.

Note: If your child is repeatedly suspended or removed from the classroom, you should ask the school to hold a PPT. Your child should never be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year without a PPT being held!

If you disagree with any decision regarding your child's educational placement or with the manifestation determination, you have the right to ask for an expedited due process hearing. (See Expedited.)

Expulsion

What happens if the school district is thinking about expelling my child?

If your child is threatened with expulsion for any reason, you should talk to a lawyer right away!

If you are low income, call Statewide Legal Services at 1-800-453-3320. Statewide Legal Services may give advice over the phone, mail you information or refer you to a legal services office or a private attorney at no cost to you. Also, the school must give you an expulsion notice which tells you where and how you can get free or low-cost legal help.

First, a manifestation meeting should be held.

If the team decides that your child’s behavior was NOT caused by your child’s disability, an expulsion hearing will probably be scheduled. (Note: If your child was not eligible for special education when he or she broke the rules, you may ask for a manifestation meeting if the school had written knowledge that your child had a disability before the misbehavior happened).

Second, if you do NOT agree with the team's decision and you ask for due process, the expulsion hearing should not take place. Your child should stay in his or her current placement until due process is completed. However, if the school district believes that keeping your child in the current placement will probably result in injury to your child or others, it may ask for an "expedited hearing." (See Expedited.)

What could happen at the expulsion hearing?

  • If the hearing officer decides that your child's behavior was a manifestation of his or her disability or was caused by the school district’s failure to implement your child’s IEP, your child should return to the placement he or she was in before the removal.I
  • f the hearing officer decides that keeping your child in his or her current placement will probably result in injury to your child or others, your child may be placed in an appropriate interim alternative educational setting for not more than 45 school days.

Once your child’s suspension is over, even if the school decides to hold an expulsion hearing, your child must be allowed to go to school until your child is officially expelled at an expulsion hearing.

Even if you agree that your child’s behavior was not caused by his or her disability, if the behavior was a direct result of the school’s failure to implement your child’s IEP, then the school may not expel your child OR change your child’s placement without your agreement.

However, the school may still place your child in an interim alternative setting as described. (Remember, the PPT decides the interim alternative setting. You are part of that team, so you should have input.)

Once your child is expelled, it will be very hard for your child to attend another school even if you move to a different school district. Therefore, try to talk to a lawyer right away!

If your child is expelled:

  • He or she is still entitled to receive special education services to make progress on the goals and objectives described in his or her IEP.
  • A PPT should be held after the expulsion hearing to make sure your child will receive enough educational services to be able to make progress on his or her goals and objectives. However, schools very rarely hold such a PPT, so again, you should get legal help as soon as you think your child might be expelled from school!

Due Process Rights

What can I do if I disagree with the school about what is right for my child?

You have the right to disagree with the school's decisions about your child including his or her

  • Disability or whether your child is eligible for special education evaluation;
  • Special education (and related services) program, including whether the IEP is being implemented; and
  • Educational placement.

If you disagree, you and the school should first meet and talk about your concerns and try to come to an agreement. If you still disagree after trying to work it out, there are other ways to resolve the disagreements, including:

  • Complaint resolution process,
  • Mediation,
  • Due process hearing,
  • Advisory opinion, and
  • Expedited due process hearing.

Complaint Resolution Process

What is the complaint resolution process?

The complaint resolution process happens when you file a written complaint to the State Department of Education and claim that the school violated special education law.

How do I make a complaint?

1. Fill out a complaint form or write a letter. You can get a complaint form from the State Department of Education at 860-713-6921 or on the web at www.sde.ct.gov.

The complaint should include the following:

  • the facts that are the reason for the complaint,
  • the signature and contact information for the parent and/or other interested party,
  • the name and address of the child,
  • the name of the school the child is attending,
  • if the child is homeless, the child's contact information and the name of the school he or she is attending, and
  • a proposed resolution to the problem, if any is known.

2. Send the complaint to:

Connecticut State Department of Education
Bureau of Special Education
165 Capitol Avenue, Room 359
P.O. Box 2219
Hartford, CT 06415-2219
FAX: 860-713-7153

What happens after I send a complaint?

After you send a complaint, a Bureau of Special Education worker will:

  • conduct an investigation;
  • decide whether the school has violated education laws; and,
  • issue a written decision within 60 days of receipt of the complaint. The written decision will include the findings, conclusions, corrective actions, and recommendations, if appropriate.

It is best to get advice from a lawyer before going ahead with any of the options below.

Mediation

What is mediation?

Mediation is a voluntary way to settle a dispute between the parents and the school. The State Department of Education will appoint a “mediator” (an impartial person) who will try to help you and the school come to an agreement.

What happens during mediation?

The mediator first meets with both you and the school at the same time to hear about the disagreement. The mediator then meets with each party separately to try to help you reach an agreement.

If you and the school can reach an agreement, the agreement is put in writing and signed by both parties. Once signed, the agreement becomes a legally enforceable document.

If you and the school cannot reach an agreement, you still have other due process rights, such as asking for a due process hearing to resolve the problem.

Everything discussed in mediation is confidential and cannot be used in any future hearings.

How do I ask for mediation?

You and the school must ask for mediation in writing by using the school district’s form or writing a letter. (See Letter E.)

Due Process Hearing

What is a due process hearing?

A due process hearing is a meeting where an impartial hearing officer decides how to resolve the disagreement.

What happens at a due process hearing?

Both you and the school present evidence in the form of records, evaluations, and witness testimony. At the end of the hearing, the hearing officer will write a decision on his or her findings and conclusions.

How do I ask for a due process hearing?

It is best to speak with a lawyer before you ask for a due process hearing. You must ask for the due process hearing in writing and include specific information. You must ask for a due process hearing in writing within two years of the date that you knew of the disagreement or problem. (See Letter C.)

Where is my child in school during a due process hearing?

During a due process hearing, unless the school district and the parents agree otherwise, your child must stay in his or her current educational placement. This is called the “stay put” placement and applies from the time the hearing is requested until all hearings and proceedings are finished or settled. Exception to "stay put" placement: If your child is placed in a different setting (an interim alternative educational setting), your child would stay in that setting for 45 days or until the hearing officer makes a decision (whichever happens first).

What if I (or the school district) disagree with the results?

You or the school district can appeal to either a federal or state court.

Advisory Opinion

What is an advisory opinion?

An advisory opinion is a way to help you and the school district decide whether it would be best to have a full due process hearing or to try to settle your dispute through mediation. The advisory opinion process is voluntary and can only happen if both you and the school agree to take part in it. It is only available after you have asked for a due process hearing.

What happens at an advisory opinion meeting?

A hearing officer will meet with you and the school at a time and place that is convenient for all. The meeting is confidential. After this meeting, the hearing officer will give an oral opinion. The opinion will not be in writing and it is not legally binding. Both you and the school:

  • will each have 45 minutes to present your cases;
  • may present evidence (such as the most recent evaluations and IEP);
  • may bring one or two witnesses;
  • may bring a lawyer;
  • will have another 15 minutes to respond to the other side's presentation; and
  • may continue with due process or ask for mediation after the advisory opinion process.

How do I ask for an advisory opinion?

To ask for an advisory opinion, use Letter D or a school form if it has one.

Expedited Due Process Hearing

What is an expedited due process hearing?

An expedited due process hearing is like a regular due process hearing except it is held more quickly. You or the school district can ask for a due process hearing to be expedited when there is a disagreement about:

  • your child's removal from school because of discipline problems, including what is decided at the manifestation determination meeting;
  • the appropriateness of an Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES);
  • whether your child may be placed in an IAES; or
  • whether your child may return to his or her original school placement at the end of a 45-day IAES. (See Discipline section.)

Resources

Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center
www.cpacinc.org
1-800-445-2722 or 860-739-3089
Spanish Speaking: 203-776-3211

State Education Resource Center
www.ctserc.org
1-800-842-8678

Statewide Legal Services
www.slsct.org
1-800-453-3320 or 860-324-8838

Sample Letters

Sample Letter A

Sample Letter B

Sample Letter C

Sample Letter D

Sample Letter E

For more information, contact:

Statewide Legal Services: 860-344-0380 (Central CT & Middletown) or 1-800-453-3320 (all other regions).

For people over 60, click here to get help from legal aid.

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