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FAQs About Special Education


We are teachers and advocates, and as a part of that process we frequently answer questions from our clients — so we started collecting our Frequently Asked Questions. We are collecting and sharing them with you by topic and hope these are helpful to you.

Please feel free to email Patti at if you have a follow up question or comment. We'd also like you to let us know what you think of this new feature of our website.


We have redacted names to protect the innocent! Sometimes they are posed in a give and take format because they were developed through an email exchange.

(Note: questions are not edited for spelling, grammar or content.)

Independent Education Evaluation (IEE)

  • Question: If a parent disagrees with the results of an FBA, may the parent obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at public expense?

    Answer:  Yes. The parent of a child with a disability has the right to request an IEE of the child, under 34 CFR § 300.502, if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency. However, the parent's right to an IEE at public expense is subject to certain conditions, including the LEA's option to request a due process hearing to show that its evaluation is appropriate. See 34 CFR § 300.502(b)(2) through (b)(5). The Department has clarified previously that an FBA that was not identified as an initial evaluation, was not included as part of the required triennial reevaluation, or was not done in response to a disciplinary removal, would nonetheless be considered a reevaluation or part of a reevaluation under Part B because it was an individualized evaluation conducted in order to develop an appropriate IEP for the child. Therefore, a parent who disagrees with an FBA that is conducted in order to develop an appropriate IEP also is entitled to request an IEE. Subject to the conditions in 34 CFR § 300.502(b)(2) through (b)(5), the IEE of the child will be at public expense. (David Beinke – Cirkiel & Associates via COPAA discussion)

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)

  • From Memoires From The Waiting Room:

    Question: What is an IEP?

    Answer: An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a tool used by educators and parents of children designated as in need of special education to map out what special requirements a child needs and to ensure that everyone understands what will happen and why. When a child requires special education, because of a learning disability, significant developmental delays, or another condition that adversely effects a child’s education.

    Once it is determined that a child qualifies for special education, an IEP meeting will be set up with the parents, the child, the teacher (one regular education and one special education), a representative of the school with understanding of the schools resources, and generally a representative for the school district, others may be brought in such as therapists or psychologists depending on the child’s needs. All of these people are collectively referred to as the IEP team. At the IEP meeting, everyone on the IEP team will discuss their view of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to realize no one is there to judge or criticize your child! It can certainly be an emotional time for both the parents and child, but the best thing you can do for your child is keep an open mind and heart.

    The next step is for the team to make goals for the child’s education (generally these will be annual goals). The educators will discuss with the parents what areas they think need the most attention. Included in the IEP will be an outline of the services a child will receive to help him/her reach those goals (i.e. occupational therapy, vision therapy, special education, etc.). Usually, the goals are reviewed once a year, but can be reviewed sooner if there is a need. If you feel like your child needs a change in services (more, less, or different) you can request a meeting with the IEP team. If you disagree with any part of the IEP, you have a right to mediation or a hearing to discuss your reservations. The IEP process can be complicated, emotional, and even confusing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are unsure about or don’t fully understand something! No one knows your child like you, and everyone at that meeting is there to make sure your child receives the best education possible. Having said that, if you and the rest of the team can not agree on what is best, there is low-cost and even free representation available. Keep an open mind, but always do what you think is best for your child.

    Click link above for a sample of the IEP documents.

  • From

    Question: Why do schools resist writing methodology into IEPs? Why does the state DOE go along?

    Answer: By including frequent references to the need to use scientific, research based instruction and interventions, Congress clarified that methodology is vitally important. (Section 1414(d)(1)(A)). Read Methodology in the IEP by Pam Wright and Suzanne Whitney.

    Question: The IEP team said the school chooses the methodology. Is this true?

    Answer: The position of the US Department of Education is that including methodology in a child's IEP is an IEP team decision. If the team decides your child need a specific instructional method to receive FAPE, the methodology should be included in he IEP. Find out more about methodology in the IEP in Chapter 6 of the new FAQ publication, Wrightslaw: All About IEPs.

  • From The Wrightlaw Way

    Question: Alyssa:  I am a special ed teacher in Texas. All of our IEP goals are measured by report card grades. I.e. “By the next IEP, Sam will use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words as demonstrated by earning at least 70% in his English class.” Is this appropriate?

    Answer: No. Passing grades do not equal mastery of the TEKS. TEA & ESC 20 developed a document on grading that discusses this. Also the documents on Standards-based IEPs, & Specially Designed Instruction may be of interest to you.

Reading and Learning Disabilities

  • Question: My child has a reading disability – how can I advocate for his needs? (Learning & Reading Disabilities)

    Answer: Here are 15 guidelines that can strengthen the effectiveness of your advocacy.

    1. Have your child evaluated by experts who can identify your child’s needs.
    2. Make sure you understand his needs before you meet with school personnel to discuss his needs and possible interventions.
    3. Make specific requests (in writing) for meeting his needs; support your requests with reports from well-credentialed experts, experts whom the school respects.
    4. Treat people with respect, even if you disagree with them, even if they reject your requests.
    5. Keep looking for ways to solve problems; remember that the school’s suggestions for solving your child’s problems may be as good as yours. Avoid the trap of advocating for a specific reading method, especially one that has a weak research base (e.g., Wilson, Fast Forword, Orton-Gillingham); instead, focus on goals, objectives, frequent monitoring of progress, and frequent meeting to adjust your child’s program.
    6. Keep written, dated records of whatever anyone in the school tells you.
    7. Make a copy of every item you receive from the school. Organize the originals in chronological order; don’t write on them. Organize the copies in chronological order by subject.
    8. Have someone accompany you to all meetings. If possible, have a knowledgeable expert or an advocate accompany you. Make sure that whomever accompanies you treats people with respect, works to solve problems, and understands both the relevant laws and reading disabilities. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned advocates have little knowledge of reading disabilities, and many reading specialists and special educators have little knowledge of special education laws.
    9. Take your time at meetings, but never cause unnecessary delays. Work to understand what’s being said and what’s happening. If necessary, schedule a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and umpteenth meeting. Keep meeting until you get your child the program and services he needs, and until he makes satisfactory progress. If people tell you this is unrealistic, think of the consequences of not meeting, of not getting your child what he needs.
    10. Send the school a written summary of each meeting: what happened, what was agreed to, what you disagree with, remaining issues and concerns, requests for additional meetings.
    11. Know and understand the special education and and related laws that apply to your child.
    12. Understand how the school operates, how it does things, who has the real decision-making power.
    13. Keep momentum going. Combat the memory-numbing effects of long periods of inactivity by contacting school personnel weekly until your child gets the services he needs, scheduling frequent meeting to monitor progress and problem-solve your child’s needs, keeping your child’s unmet needs in the forefront of school personnel’s concerns.
    14. Be persistent, be respectful. By your actions—not just your words—help school personnel realize that until your child’s needs are met you will be in continual contact with them and will use the relevant laws to get your child the services he needs.
    15. Monitor your child’s progress. Even programs strongly supported by research may fail your child. Small tweaks in the program and complementing it with other instructional strategies and classroom modifications may produce huge gains. So ask the school to monitor your child’s progress, at least weekly. Do the same for yourself.

Written Assessment Reports

  • Question: Can I get copies of written assessment reports before the IEP?

    Answer: Yes. School districts are required by federal and state law to provide copies of assessments and other educational records before an IEP meeting. [20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414(b)(4); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.562.] You should request in writing that all records be sent to you within a reasonable time before the IEP meeting. There are no specific timelines in federal or state law to tell school districts how many days before the IEP meeting they must provide copies of assessments and other educational records to parents. Federal regulations require school districts to comply with a parent’s request to inspect and review educational records without unnecessary delay and in no case more than 45 days after the request has been made. However, state law gives parents the right to examine all school records within 5 calendar days from the date of either an oral or written request. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56504.]

Inclusion vs. Grade Retention in Michigan Special Education

  • Question: Is it a violation of a student's right to recommend they be retained or held back a year?

    Answer: Click here for link to a research paper with attachments of references related to the laws or other requirements in Michigan regarding holding back a child who is disabled a grade versus the alternative position that such child should be schooled with his or her "age-appropriate peers." The specific facts of this case are that the parents wanted to hold the student back and the district disagreed to protect the innocent.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA):

  • The following exchange comes from

    Question: I have a FERPA Problem – School Won't Help!

    My son Mike is in the 11th grade and is reading on a 2.5 grade level. I want an independent professional to review my son's records. I spent four hours on the phone but can't get copies of my son's records. I called the school to get the records – they said to give them a few days. I want to get these records right away. I called the school my younger son attends. The principal said I could come in any time and he would copy my son's records. I called the high school again to tell them what the principal said. They hung up on me. When I called again, they said federal law gives them 45 days to honor my request. Is there a law that says I have to wait 45 days? What can I do?

    Answer: Stop. Think. Gather information. Control your emotions. Develop a plan. You say, "I have a FERPA problem. What can I do?" FERPA is your least important problem. You son is in the eleventh grade and is illiterate. This problem has been ongoing for years, it did not happen overnight. You decide you want an independent evaluator to examine the school records to find out what they failed to do.

    Over a period of four hours, you called the school repeatedly to request (or demand?) copies of your child's records. At first, the school asked for a few days to get the records together. When you continued to call, they changed their position and told you that the law gives them 45 days to respond to your requests. You managed to ensure that your relationship with school staff is polarized. No one wants to help you because you are perceived as unreasonable, demanding – or worse. You need a crash course in advocacy skills.

    Here are some ideas about how you can deal with these problems. (Click here for the rest of the article.)