Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that every student (between the ages of 3 and 21) with a disability that adversely impacts their academic progress is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This means that school districts must provide these students with access to a range of educational services designed to address their particular circumstances.

Special education costs are high and aid from the government has declined over the years, placing more financial pressure on the school districts. However, school districts remain legally obligated to provide a program that can appropriately address your child’s specific needs. When the school district fails to offer an appropriate program, or if it does not offer a plan at all, you should contact an experienced education law attorney.

IEPWhat Is Special Education?

Special education is defined as specially designed instruction created to meet the unique needs of the student. Although school districts attempt to incorporate students with special needs into the mainstream to the greatest extent possible, there are instances when a child’s disability requires that they receive additional and individualized attention.

The IDEA lays out the responsibilities of school districts regarding special education. To the greatest extent possible, school districts should incorporate special education students into the general education setting with the rest of their classmates. When that is not possible, the districts must find suitable alternatives, which are to be included in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP establishes a basic framework for the education of a child who requires special education services. Notably, it details the instructions, support, and services the student requires. Also, parents are entitled to participate in the development of their student’s IEP.

How Is an IEP Established?

Before a child receives an IEP, they must first be identified and evaluated by the school district (the evaluation request is generally made by parents or teachers).

During the evaluation, the school district will record a child’s strengths and weaknesses, and from there, schedule an IEP meeting. At this meeting, the results of the evaluation(s) will be discussed as well as options for how to appropriately educate the child. Those who are involved in this meeting include:

  • General education teacher: If your child has been assigned a general teacher, they must attend. If one has not been selected yet, then the district will provide a teacher for the meeting.
  • Special education teacher: This is a person who qualifies as a special education teacher according to the regulations of the state of New Jersey.
  • Case manager: This is the person who oversees your child’s IEP and coordinates the services that your child is to receive.
  • Specialist: The person who evaluated your child must be present to explain their findings and recommendations. One or more of these individuals may be in attendance.
  • Invitees: You and the district have the right to invite other people that you believe possess relevant information regarding the student’s education. This can include a private therapist, a lawyer, or an advocate . You should let the district know ahead of time if you plan to bring anyone else to the meeting.

If you are unable to attend the IEP meeting, you can reschedule or make other arrangements to attend (remotely or by phone). However, most school officials prefer to address these issues face-to-face.

Ultimately, a plan will be established and put into a written document that the parents will be asked to sign. If the parents disagree with the final version of the IEP, they can refuse to sign. However, the parents must inform the district of their objection within 15 days of receiving the proposed IEP. Otherwise, the program will take effect (even without their signatures).

How Can I Dispute My Child’s IEP?My Child’s IEP

Although you are involved in the process of developing your child’s IEP, in the end, it will be the school district that produces the final program. There might be instances where you disagree with that plan for a variety of reasons. You might disagree with a small detail or a significant portion.

Therefore, it is recommended that you try to maintain a good working relationship with the school district. That way, if there is a problem, you can feel comfortable discussing it with the district to solve the issue as quickly as possible.

Whenever you have a problem with an IEP, you should bring it to the school district’s attention immediately and in writing (so there is a paper trail to catalog your concerns). If school administrators are reluctant to change the plan in accordance with your desires, you have several options available to you. For instance, two options include:

  • Mediation: This involves the parents and school representatives working with a third-party mediator. The job of the mediator is to remain neutral, in hopes of negotiating an agreement between you and the school.
  • Due Process: The second option is to initiate a due process hearing, which is conducted before a hearing officer. Both sides present their arguments and witnesses may testify in order to provide the hearing officer with factual information necessary to make an informed decision on your case. The hearing officer will issue the decision in writing. If you do not agree with this determination, you may file an appeal in either state or federal court.

While these are the two most common options for parents, there are others available, such as:

  • Negotiation: This can be your initial step. As a member of your child’s IEP team, you have the right to request a meeting at any time. You can use this opportunity to discuss your problems with the current plan and to seek potential solutions.
  • Appeal: If you disagree with the hearing officer’s ruling in the due process hearing, you can file an appeal in superior court or in federal court.
  • Complaint Investigation: If you feel that the school district has failed to meet its obligations under the IDEA, you can request a complaint investigation from the New Jersey Department of Education. You must file the request within one year from the date of the violation(s).

As stated above, it is best to try to maintain a positive working relationship with the school.  However, when efforts to work collaboratively with the district fail, you should contact an experienced education law attorney.

The New Jersey special education lawyers at John Rue & Associates are available to support you during your dispute with the school district regarding your child’s special education services.

You want to have the best options for your child, particularly if they have a disability, and school districts are obligated to provide an education that is appropriate for your child’s unique circumstances. Lawyers at John Rue & Associates can help ensure that the district offers an appropriate program for your child. We provide parents who may need an education lawyer with a free initial consultation (30 minutes by phone), and a more detailed consultation (90 minutes to 3 hours by Zoom) for a flat fee of $595. Call us at 862-283-3155 or contact us online for more information

John Rue & Associates, LLC
40 South Fullerton Ave, Suite 29,
Montclair, NJ 07042


[email protected]

862-283-3155 (Phone)
973-860-0869 (Fax)