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Special Education: Protecting Your Child, Protecting Your Rights

October 2016

If you think your child needs special education services, this guide can help you have your child evaluated to see what services are needed. You will also learn how to help make sure your child gets the services he or she needs to do well in school.

Si usted cree que su niño necesita servicios de educación especial, esta guía le puede ayudar para que su hijo sea evaluado para determinar qué servicios son necesarios. También aprenderá como asegurarse de que su niño reciba los servicios que él o ella necesita para hacer bien en la escuela.

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. If you disagree, you and the school should first meet to 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 a disagreement.

If you think the school broke a special education law

If you think the school broke a special education law, you can file a written complaint with the State Department of Education.

How do I make a complaint?

  1. Fill out a complaint form. You can get one from the State Department of Education at 860-713-6921 or on their website at www.sde.ct.gov. You can also write a letter. Your complaint should include
  • the name and address of the child,
  • the name of the child’s school,
  • the reason for the complaint,
  • a proposed resolution to the problem (if possible), and
  • the parent’s signature and contact information.

 Send the complaint to:

  1. 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 file a complaint?

After you send a complaint, a Bureau of Special Education worker should

  • investigate your complaint;
  • decide if the school broke an education law; and
  • issue a written decision within 60 days of receiving the complaint.

Note: 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 way to settle problems between parents and the school. The State Department of Education will appoint a person called a mediator to try to help you and the school come to an agreement. The mediator is supposed to make a fair decision about your case. Everything discussed in mediation is confidential and cannot be used in any future hearings.

How do I ask for mediation?

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

What happens during mediation?

The mediator will meet you and the school both together and separately to hear about the disagreement and to try to help you reach an agreement.

If you and the school can reach an agreement, the agreement will be put in writing and signed by you and the school. Once it is signed, the agreement becomes a legal document.

If you and the school cannot reach an agreement, there are other things you can do to resolve the problem, such as ask for a due process hearing.

Due Process

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

What happens at a due process hearing?

Both you and the school will present evidence such as records, evaluations, and testimony from witnesses. At the end of the hearing, the hearing officer will make a decision about the disagreement.

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 within two years of the date that you knew there was a disagreement or problem (see Sample Letter C).

Where will my child be during a due process hearing?

During a due process hearing, your child must stay in his or her current educational placement unless the school district and the parents agree otherwise. This is called the stay put placement and applies from the time the hearing is requested until all hearings and proceedings are finished.

Exception to stay put placement: If your child is placed in an interim alternative educational setting (IEAS), your child would stay in that setting for 45 days or until the hearing officer makes a decision—whichever happens first.

What if there is a disagreement about the results?

If you or the school district do not agree with the results of the hearing, then either of you can appeal to a state or federal court.

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;
  • if an interim alternative educational setting (IAES) is appropriate;
  • if your child can return to his or her original school placement at the end of a 45-day IAES.

Advisory Opinion

What is an advisory opinion?

An advisory opinion is a way to help you and the school district decide if it would be better to have a full due process hearing or try to settle your dispute through mediation. The advisory opinion process 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.

How do I ask for an advisory opinion?

To ask for an advisory opinion, use Sample Letter D or a form from the school if one is available.

What happens at an advisory opinion meeting?

A hearing officer will meet with you and the school in a confidential meeting. At the meeting, both you and the school

  • may bring one or two witnesses,
  • may bring a lawyer,
  • will each have 45 minutes to present your case,
  • may present evidence,
  • can respond to the other side's presentation, and
  • may continue with due process or ask for mediation.

After this meeting, the hearing officer will give an oral opinion. The opinion will not be in writing and it is not legally binding.

Sample letters

Discipline of Special Education students

Get Help From Legal Aid

Age 60+: Get help from legal aid.
Under age 60: Find legal help or apply online.
Not from Connecticut? Find help in another state.

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Dial 2-1-1 or go to 211ct.org for help with services in your community.

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