A Parent's Guide To Special Education And Related Services: Communicating Through Letterwriting
by Susan Ferguson and Suzanne Ripley
ContentsSome Background Information
Requesting Services: A Guide To Letter Writing
The Special Education Process
Additional Resources Available From NICHCY
ForumsLearning and Other Disabilities
Related ArticlesQuestions Often Asked About Special Education Services
A Parent's Guide to Accessing Programs for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers with Disabilities
This Parent's Guide presents a general overview of how a child becomes eligible for special education and related services, parents' rights and responsibilities, and a school's rights and responsibilities. Because the focus of this issue is on communicating through letter writing, we have identified points in the process when writing a letter is necessary or useful. The term "parent" is used throughout this Parent's Guide to include foster parents, legal guardians, or any primary caregiver who is functioning as a parent.
Throughout your child's school years, there is always a need to communicate with school: teachers, administrators, and others concerned with your child's education. There are also times when the school needs to communicate with you, as the parent. Some of this communication is informal, such as phone calls, comments in your child's notebook, a chat at the bus stop or at a school function. Other forms of communication are more formal and will need to be written.
Letters provide both you and the school staff with a record of ideas, concerns, and suggestions. Putting your thoughts on paper gives you the opportunity to take as long as you need to state your concerns specifically, to think over what you've written, to make changes, and perhaps to have someone else read over the letter and make suggestions. Letters also give people the opportunity to go over what's been "said" several times. A lot of confusion and misunderstanding can be avoided by writing down thoughts and ideas.
However, writing letters is a skill. Each letter will differ according to the situation, the person to whom you are writing, and the issues you are discussing. This Parent's Guide will help you in writing to professionals involved in your child's education.
Sample letters are shown for when you want to:
Some Background Information
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA), Public Law (P.L.) 101-476 (formerly known as the Education of the Handicapped Act, [EHA], P.L. 94-142 and its amendments), mandates minimum requirements for a free appropriate public education for children and youth with disabilities, including early intervention services, and defines these children's rights. Each state, using this law as a guideline, develops specific policies for the special education and related services of children with disabilities in that state. Each local public school district follows these guidelines and will base its policies on the federal laws and regulations, as well as on the laws and policies developed by the state. Copies of each state's special education and early intervention policies are available to parents.
Q: How does this really work?
A: A flow chart is provided at the end of this Parent's Guide to show how the process works, beginning with "I think my child may have a problem" and leading to the provision of special education and related services. The process of identifying that a child may be in need of special education and related services can begin with the parent or a professional. The attached NICHCY State Resource Sheet lists many of the people involved in special education and disability issues in your state.
Q: What are my rights as a parent?
A: Your rights begin with your child's right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education. This is often referred to as FAPE. Free means that your child's education is at public expense and at no cost to you. Appropriate means that the educational program for your child will be tailored to his or her individual needs. Any change in the provision of FAPE to your child should be in writing.
You, as a parent, have the right to be fully informed by the school of all rights that are guaranteed to you under the law. Each state, county, and school system has written policies and guidelines that are available to you. Ask your child's school to send you copies.
Your rights also include:
Q: What are the parents' responsibilities?
A: The special education team includes education specialists, therapists, medical personnel, the parent(s) or person(s) who have custody of the child, and the child when appropriate. As a full member of this team, the parent has responsibilities. These may not be as clearly defined as your rights, but they are just as important. Your most basic responsibility is to be an active team member, to establish effective communication between home and school, and to share information about your child's education and development with other members of the team.
Your specific responsibilities include:
This document was originally developed in 1991 by Interstate Research Associates, Inc., pursuant to Cooperative Agreement #H030A00002 with the Office of Special Education Programs of the United States Department of Education. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.
The updating of resources listed in this document and the document's availability via the Internet are made possible through Cooperative Agreement #H030A30003 between the Academy for Educational Development and the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education.
The Academy for Educational Development, founded in 1961, is an independent, nonprofit service organization committed to addressing human development needs in the United States and throughout the world. In partnership with its clients, the Academy seeks to meet today's social, economic, and environmental challenges through education and human resource development; to apply state-of-the-art education, training, research, technology, management, behavioral analysis, and social marketing techniques to solve problems; and to improve knowledge and skills throughout the world as the most effective means for stimulating growth, reducing poverty, and promoting democratic and humanitarian ideals.Back to the Top
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