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Expert Q&A

What can a teacher do when a parent refuses special education services that the child needs?

I am an Educational Facilitator (a teacher who works with home-school families) for a public home-school program in California. A family I work with has a student who has been diagnosed with PDD and ADHD. This student has qualified for special education services, but the parent declined those services—she doesn’t want the student to be labeled. The mother is in denial regarding the condition of her son.

This student is being home-schooled without any supplementary services and his communication skills and academic skills are grossly deficient. What is the school’s legal recourse? I have been informed our only option is an expensive lawsuit.


Your question addresses the options available to schools if a parent refuses special education eligibility for a student the school feels is badly in need of special education services. For better or worse, depending on the circumstances, IDEA 2004 gave parents an absolute right to refuse special education eligibility and removed the ability of the school to go to due process to overcome the parents’ refusal.

In recognition that this meant the school might be unable to meet the student’s needs without such services, the statute immunized the school from liability for the student’s lack of progress if the parent refused eligibility. 34 CFR 300.300 (b). Further, parents are generally entitled to home school their children, regardless of their reasons for doing so and whether the reasons appear to be in the child’s interests. Standards for home schooling vary by state.

Some states have child abuse and neglect laws with provisions for filing reports in relation to medical or educational neglect. Even if your state has medical or educational neglect provisions, you may benefit from consulting with an experienced school lawyer before pursuing this avenue, as well as determining whether it would ultimately be in the interests of the child for this type of proceeding to be initiated. Sadly, the child welfare system often does not serve children with disabilities well either and getting the court and child welfare involved may have negative consequences that could outweigh whatever benefits you hope for.

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