A Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process: Finding Solutions




This is a summary of the third edition of CSNLG’s podcast series “A Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education”. In this podcast, our host Michael Boll and lead attorney Richard Isaacs discuss how a family should find solutions to their child’s special educational needs. The podcast can be found here.

What happens when the district disagrees with your IEP?

  • Oftentimes, once we have all the outside assessments that we need, we present them in an IEP meeting, the district has its data, and it has offered what it feels is appropriate, there’s still a disagreement with the district.
  • To us, this is just the beginning of the conversation and there is nothing to worry about.
  • Districts typically do not take risks in IEPs – they simply offer a basic level of services. However, parents can push harder for a better program.
  • This may be in the form of filing a due process complaint. This approach provides several opportunities to reach a resolution including a resolution meeting and mediation.  
  • Oftentimes we can get an appropriate program funded by the district, but it will be outside the IEP process.

FAPE and ‘basic floor of opportunity’

  • FAPE: the district’s obligation to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education.
    • “Appropriate” is what’s meaningful to each particular student in light of their own potential.
  • The district’s obligation is merely to provide  a ‘basic floor of opportunity’.
    • Our job is to get the district to provide much more than that basic floor of opportunity and get a much higher level of services.

Finding the Appropriate Placement

  • Oftentimes, districts never actually close the learning gap of students with special needs. Generic RSP (resource specialist program), SAI (Specialized Academic Instruction), or SDC (special day class) programs have limited outcomes at best.
    • For example, a student may be struggling academically so the district puts that  student in a special day class in fourth grade. For the next four or five years, they remain in the special day class and by the time they enter high school, the student is off diploma track
    • Conversely, we have had students graduate high school reading at a second/third grade level. After pushing for intensive intervention, we have gotten them beyond the 12th grade reading level after about six months.
  • Finding the appropriate solution is about identifying the specific programs (as suggested by outside assessments), and then pushing the district to provide them.
    • Often this is will happen outside the IEP, through a settlement agreement.

Do parents really need an attorney?

  • A good advocates can handle most cases  all the way up to the beginning of litigation.
  • Advocates are also typically less expensive than attorneys. However, advocate fees are not statutorily recoverable whereas legal fees often are. This means it may be cheaper to use an attorney throughout the whole process.
  • At IEP meetings, advocates shine because they often have a higher level of expertise – they know the resources of the school district better, know how to read and present assessments, and talk about goals.
  • The problem particularly with parents who go at it alone: the district will direct you towards outside assessors that they work with a lot, which often renders the recommendations meaningless and unusable.
  • Advocates or an attorney will direct the family to experts that can identify what’s going on with the student.
  • At that point, if the district says no, parents may want to contact an advocate or attorney to help with the next steps.

This summary is part of our complete Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process.

3 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply