Understanding Your Family's Rights

a guide to the legal aspects of special education

Working Together for Student Success

As a parent or legal guardian, when anything happens concerning your child it is natural to desire a complete understanding of the situation. The special education process in particular is known for being complex and confusing. This is logical; it takes the chorused efforts of the school, family, and governmental regulations to ensure that your student receives all of the tools he or she needs to be successful in school. You deserve to be knowledgeable and to have a chance to provide some of the support and assistance your child needs.

The mountains of facts and regulations you are given to mull over, however, can make this process seem impossible. We understand. This page is meant to help you make sense of the packets of papers, acronyms, and terms that are swirling around you. Beyond what is listed here, the resource links below can be used to deepen your knowledge about these now critical topics. By being well-versed and up to speed with the process and regulations of special education, you can possess the tools needed to be an integral part in helping shape your child's education experience.

Becoming Informed

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

This law, passed first under a different name in 1975, was amended in 1997 and again in 2004. IDEA is a comprehensive piece of legislation that dictates nearly all of the rule and regulations concerning special education. It provides funding and support for students with qualifying disabilities. Many of the other aspect of the special education process detailed below are either included in, or reflect the principles of, IDEA. (Overton 35-36)
A link to the official IDEA informational site is included in the resource links below.

What are procedural safeguards?

Procedural safeguards are provisions within IDEA which are meant to protect the rights of children and their parents as they go through the special education process (Overton, 58). These documents provide you with detailed information about your rights as a parent/ legal guardian and how the special education process is designed.
According to section 615 of IDEA, parents of a child with a disability must receive a copy of the procedural safeguards once a year.
These documents must also be made available:
  • the first time the child is referred for special education evaluation by the school or by a parent
  • the first time a due process complaint is filed
  • at the request of a parent

Not without your permission

According to IDEA, informed consent from a parent/ legal guardian is required to...
  • release any information about your child to a third party (detailed in FERPA)
  • evaluate your child for possible special education services
  • administer special education services to your child
  • change the special education services your child receives
    Parental consent may be revoked at any time
(Overton, 39)

Special Education Evaluation Process

Students who have been identified as possibly being in need of special education services are evaluated and placed in the following manner. Notice the times when parental consent is specifically called for.
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For more information concerning procedural safeguards, how you can obtain another copy, or the referral timeline, please follow the links in the resource section below.

What if there are disagreements?

Challenging Descisions from Either Side

The right to due process is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; each state must have due process procedures in place. "Individuals may not be deprived of fundamental rights without due process of law" (Lombardi and Ludlow 2004). Due process allows parents/legal guardians to contest a school's decisions concerning their child. There are two aspects of due process, detailed below, that encompass the range of issues to which due process can be applied. Between the two, procedural due process is more closely monitored and adhered to. Therefore, substantive due process violations are more likely to attract legal action, which happens in the form of hearings.
Hearings are monitored by officers, who represent the state education agency and decide due process cases. (Lombardi and Ludlow 2004). It should be noted that "courts generally do not rule against school systems for procedural violations alone" (Osborn and Russo 2003 as quoted by Lombardi and Ludlow 2004). Courts are also "not permitted to substitute their that of qualified school personnel who have followed best practice" (Yell 1998 as quoted by Lombardi and Ludlow 2004). It is in the rights of the school to request a due process hearing against parents, as well (Lombardi and Ludlow 2004). Hearing rulings may be contested and brought as far as the Supreme Court. Any judgements made at this level become legally binding across the United States.
"Parents must represent their child's abilities and performance accurately and must provide access to all relevant records..." (Lombardi and Ludlow 2004)

For further information, please browse the resource links located at the bottom of the page.
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Protecting Your Child's Privacy

What is FERPA?

The acronym FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Protection Act. Passed in 1974 and amended in 2011, FERPA is a Federal law that protects the privacy of a child's educational records. Not to be confused with HIPPA, FERPA only concerns educational information, not medical history.
In a similar fashion, however, the law prevents critical information about the child or their disability to be released to anyone without legal rights or parental consent. This confidential information is contained within the child's official CA-60 file. Without written consent, information about a student's disability will only be released if the welfare of the student or others is at stake; no unauthorized individuals may view or receive copies from the file. The school may request written consent from the parent or guardian for a variety of reasons. In these situations it is within the adult's rights to refuse to give this permission.
(The United States Department of Education)

* All Parental Permission Must Be Given in Writing*

"Directory information" is classified as information that will not be harmful to your child if it is released. This generally includes his or her name, address, date of birth, ect. Parental consent is not needed to release these details (Michigan Department of Education).
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a student's records may be disclosed without parental consent in the following situations:
  • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
  • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
  • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
  • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
  • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
  • Accrediting organizations;
  • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
  • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
  • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.

CA-60's: the how-to's and what-for's

As mentioned above, a CA-60 is your child's "permanent record." It is accessible through your student's current school. Upon transferring schools, these documents will move with the child. Both biological parents have access to the file unless legally ruled otherwise.

Parents/ legal guardians may:
  • View their child's CA-60 file
  • Make copies of the documents
  • Add outside documents to the file

Parents/ legal guardians may not:
  • Take the original file into their personal possession
  • Remove documents from the file
  • View information about any other student besides their own

(King 2012)

Moving Forward

Steps Families Should Take

  • Establish good communication between your child's school and your family
  • Thoroughly read all information provided by your child's educational agency and other services
  • Prepare a list of questions to discuss with personnel at every meeting or another scheduled time
  • Understand what privileges, services, and protective measures are available to your family by law
  • Attempt to settle disputes through mediation rather than via a hearing
  • Take advantage of your rights to view your child's information
  • Discuss the special education process with your child, if appropriate

By willingly working together and each playing their part, families, schools, and the government, can help all children achieve success in education.

Presented by

Kate Bauer
Teacher candidate from Hope College
Education 251: Introduction to Assessment
October 1, 2012


King, Mark. "Understanding FERPA- Ottawa Area ISD Special Education Services." Hope College, Education 251 presentation. 10 September 2012.

Lombardi, T., & Ludlow, B. (2004). A short guide to special education due process. Phi Delta Kappa Fastbacks, 523 (1), 7-48. Found on July 11, 2011 at http://mhspa.wikispaces.com/file/view/Week+2+--Lombardi+--+Special+Ed+Due+Process.pdf.

Michigan Department of Education- Michigan Administrative Rules found on July 11, 2011 at http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-6530_6598-132157--,00.html.

Overton, T. (2011). Assessing learners with special needs- an applied approach (7th edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

U.S. Department of Education (April, 2011). Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Washington, DC. Author. Found August 27, 2011 at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html.