Special Education Law
Your child's education is a precious right, so you must take every conceivable opportunity to safeguard this right. If your child needs special services to get the most from his/her education, it is best to have the services of an experienced attorney to shepherd your way through a complicated and sometimes difficult process. The whole concept of services rendered to a child with special needs can be summed up as the best available services a school district can offer in the least restricted (also called mainstreamed) environment to do so. This invariably means that the school district must spend extra time and money, so some conflict can be reasonably expected in times of reduced school budgets.
The first step in learning your rights under the special education law is to determine whether your child has a disability. If your child has a disability, then the district will develop an Individualized Education Program, otherwise known as an IEP. An IEP is a legal document outlining the type an manner a school district delivers services to your child. At times it may be necessary to hire an attorney to help you receive services you believe your child is entitled to. An attorney can help you negotiate with the school district to obtain the services your child requires in a least restrictive learning environment. Most people have no experience in bargaining with government authorities for services: we do not usually negotiate with the sanitation department, the police or fire department for essential services, but education as an essential service must be negotiated for the special education child. You must remember that school boards are rarely enthusiastic to spend money.
If, even at this time, the school district and the parent cannot reach an agreement, and neither or one doesn't sign the IEP, then an experienced attorney can take the school district to the local Federal or State court. This is not commonly done, but school districts often argue against a parent's often better judgment of the usefulness of an IEP. A judge can, and will, side with either side or even offer both parties a settlement. This is important because a child has a special relationship with the Court: the court will take every effort to remedy the problems, as the child will be considered a "ward of the court" in the matter.
Both sides (and usually the school district) hire experts to back their side. These experts speak of the desirability of their own IEP proposals. They also hire school attorneys, very experienced in the process, to take their own side. You will be at a great disadvantage without your own lawyer. Remember that good IEPs are very expensive, so a school district has a great incentive to pare down or even eliminate services. Court cases are also expensive, but judges tend to see the welfare of the child as more important than school budgets in every matter.
As a contract, the IEP will be strictly enforced, which sometimes means that a school district will often strive to cut corners during the years that an IEP is in effect. This may well mean going back to negotiations and to court, with the same incentive for the school district to fight services, even under an IEP. Again, attorneys are helpful. And an IEP must be renewed after so many years.