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Part 1: Diagnose Your Special Education Problem and Possible Solutions

Interactions between parents of children with disabilities and school districts can go wrong in so many ways: refusal to evaluate a child; inadequate IEP; not carrying out the IEP; harassing or bullying the child; refusing access to extracurricular activities; and many more. This frustrates parents and students. When this happens, what can you do?

Your first step is to figure out whether you have a legal cause to complain, based on statutory remedies. The school is responsible to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) or access for children with disabilities, but unfortunately this does not mean that your child is entitled to the best possible education. When you do have a legal cause to complain, there are various remedies for anything from disability discrimination to an inadequate IEP, and some of them are very successful. Sometimes nothing can be done, and your resources are better spent in different directions, such as changing schools or home schooling. 

Here is one thing you must realize at the start. This is your child, not the school’s child, and nobody cares about your child as much as you do. To get a good solution for your child’s educational needs, you will likely have to invest your own resources of time and money for research, testing, or legal help. Only rarely can the school district be made to pay for the process of getting the help you need. 

How do you find out what your child needs? You can do some background work on your own before you hire help, and you can also get good professional help. Contact a parent information group (like Peak Parent Center for Colorado). Do some background reading like that found at wrightslaw.com, particularly the Wrights’ book From Emotions to Advocacy. Have your child evaluated by an outside expert. You can ask the school for an independent educational evaluation (IEE) or pay for experts to evaluate your child. Talk to a special education advocate; or a special education attorney. A special education advocate will help advocate for you with the school, but cannot give legal advice, and may or may not understand the law in this area. An attorney is more expensive, but can both advocate and give legal advice. (You want an attorney who practices special education law). 

Usually, there is a charge for either an advocate or an attorney, but some offer an initial free or reduced fee initial consultations. For example, at Telios Law in Colorado, we offer one-hour initial consultations with an attorney for a $150 flat fee, which is reduced from the normal hourly rate. You may want to pay for an hour or two of the attorney’s time to thoroughly understand your legal options and perhaps map out a plan.

I will discuss your legal options in the next few blogs. If you are organized and know what you are doing, you can do certain things on your own. But for most of these options, having an attorney is much more effective. How do you get started right with the school district? 

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