It’s back to school time!  Now is the best time to meet with the teachers and administrators to make sure they know you and the importance of your interest in your child’s education and disabilities. The father and the mother have a right to communicate with school representatives to keep updated with their child’s progress, even if the parents are divorced or separated and share “legal custody.”  This includes the right to make educational decisions on behalf of children.  You can learn more about legal custody rights in another article entitled “Back to School and Legal Custody”.

If you have a child with special needs, you should know that there is a federal law mandating schools to provide services for eligible students   known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).  Schools are required to evaluate students who are suspected of having issues that affect their learning and provide special education services without additional cost to the parents.  IDEA covers thirteen categories of “disabilities” that make children eligible for special education services, including, for example, “speech or language impairment” and “emotional disturbance.”

If, as a result of the identified disability, the child needs help to make adequate progress in school, then he or she may be eligible for special education services. For children who qualify, such services are most likely to be provided through the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Parents are important members of the team that develops the IEP to identify a child’s educational goals and the support services that are most useful.

Special services may be denied if a student is evaluated by the school and it is determined that the child does not have a qualifying disability or that the educational progress is not hindered.  When there is a dispute about the most appropriate means of facilitating a child’s education, parents have the right to request an IEP meeting and advocate for other types of assistance.   If there is no consensus on the student’s most appropriate form of treatment, a parent may pursue legal means of alternative dispute resolution or due process.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education has created the following guide to help parents understand special education their legal rights to under the IDEA law.

If you have questions about special education, legal custody, or other family law issues, contact the Mazza Law Group to speak to one of our attorneys for more information.