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Expert Q&A

How can I address systemic problems within a school’s special education program?

Dear Matt,

My son started ninth grade this past year and had an IEP for his writing disability. Before school started, I introduced myself and my son to the teachers and explained his disability, IEP, and how to contact me. Within one week, he began to fall behind and his resource teacher emailed the teachers to be sure they knew he was twice exceptional.

By late November, after many e-mails and phone calls, he was making D’s and F’s and was very upset. We found that his IEP was not the one that we discussed in the spring of 8th grade, and they weren’t giving him any accommodations from the incorrect IEP either.

I had him transferred to another school at which he has thrived and made B’s. I have asked that they change his grades from the first semester to reflect only his tests since that shows his knowledge of the subjects without penalizing him since he had no accommodations. They are probably going to change the grades, but nothing has changed in the process and other kids are still going to be affected. How can I pursue this to push them to correct the system for these other kids? Should I file a lawsuit or write a “letter to the editor”?



Dear Gina:

Your question asks what can be done to address systematic problems within a school or school system, even if your own child’s problems have been resolved.

First, if a child is denied a free appropriate public education in a way that significantly interfered with his ability to benefit from the education or make appropriate progress, the student may be entitled to receive compensatory educational services to make up for the services that were inadequate or not provided. However, compensatory services generally only can be obtained through mediation or through a due process hearing. Although this remedy is difficult to obtain, it may cause schools to review their procedures in order to avoid similar problems in the future.

Beyond this individual remedy, there are a number of other procedures available to address systemic problems. First, each state education agency must have a complaint procedure that parents may use to address procedural violations or systemic problems within a school or district. If parents file an administrative complaint using this procedure, the state is required to investigate and make a determination as to whether the school is complying with IDEA requirements.

A second option is to file a complaint for violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These complaints are filed with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint procedure can be found at the OCR website .

If there is a violation involving discrimination based on disability, complaints can also be brought to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is responsible for investigating and taking action in relation to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additional options may be available if your state, county, or municipality has a human rights act or ordinance. You may also bring grievances to the local school board, either simply as a citizen or parent of a child in the district, or using the District’s ADA, 504, or general complaint procedures.

At times, meaningful change may only occur if parents organize and use the political process to raise the community’s awareness about the problems with special education within the system or by bringing pressure on the administration or school board.

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