Special Education Advocacy

As a parent, you know what is best for your child. Knowledge of your child’s special education rights will help ensure that their unique needs are met. It is critical to be knowledgeable about laws, regulations, and school procedures impacting your child’s access to the general curriculum prescribed by the school district. The following will provide you with an overview of specific federal laws, such as the federal Individuals with  Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Connecticut and New York state laws pertaining to special education.

What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted by Congress in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This legislation imposes legal obligations upon local Boards of Education regarding special education students. IDEA requires that “all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education [(FAPE)] that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living…”

The word “free” means that the cost of providing special education and related services is the responsibility of the public school district in which the child resides and cannot be passed along to a child’s parent. FAPE is an unqualified right and a school district will not be excused from providing specific special education needs to a particular child because of expense.

How will I know if my Child is eligible for Special Education services?

In order to qualify for special education under IDEA, an individual’s disability must have an effect on his or her ability to learn. IDEA provides coverage for students age three through the time frame the student no longer needs to the services or the school year in which the individual turned 21, whichever is earlier. While your child’s disability may not be covered under the IDEA, it may be covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 is a federal civil rights statute that protects the rights of persons with disabilities participating in programs and activities, such as public schools, that receive federal financial assistance. You should consult one of our attorneys at Maya Murphy P.C. to determine whether, or to what extent, your child falls under Section 504, the IDEA, or both.

Who refers my child to Special Education?

Connecticut requires each school district to reach out and identify children from birth to twenty-one years of age who may be eligible for special education services. A referral to special education services is the first step in determining whether a child is entitled to receive special education and related services in Connecticut. The referral takes the form of a written request that a child be evaluated if he or she is suspected of having a disability and may be in need of special education and related services. In New York, students suspected of having a disability are referred to a multidisciplinary team called the Committee on Special Education or the Committee on Preschool Special Education.

What is Informed Consent? When is my consent as a parent required?

Informed consent means that, as a parent, you must be given full and complete disclosure of all relevant facts and information pertaining to your child regarding certain proposed activities by your local educational agency. Consent remains voluntary and may be withheld or withdrawn at any time as it pertains to an initial evaluation of your child. Written parental consent directed to your child’s school district is required when: (a) your child undergoes an Initial Evaluation to determine his or her eligibility for special education and related services, (b) before your child is placed in special education services, (c) before your child is placed in private placement, and (d) before your child is reevaluated.

What is the evaluation process used to determine my child’s Special Education
requirements?

An evaluation study will include a review of information collected by the school district through formal and informal observations, and a review of schoolwork, standardized tests and other information provided by your child’s teachers and other school personnel.

IEP, IEP Team and  “Planning and Placement Team”

The term “Individualized Education Program” or “IEP” is a written plan detailing your child’s special education program as designed by the
PPT/IEP Team. The IDEA and New York law refer to this resource as the Individualized Education Program Team (“IEP Team”), while Connecticut law calls it the Planning and Placement Team, or PPT. Whether you live in Connecticut or New York, your child’s PPT/IEP Team will be involved in most every request or decision made pertaining to your child, including: determining whether your child should be evaluated, deciding which evaluations will be given to your child, and whether your child is eligible for special education and related services. The IDEA requires that the PPT/IEP Team be composed of the following:

  1. the parents of a child with a disability;
  2. not less than 1 regular education teacher of such child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);
  3. not less than 1 special education teacher, or where appropriate, not less than 1 special education provider of such child;
  4. a representative of the local educational agency who–
    1. is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
    2. is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
    3. is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the local educational agency;
  5. an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the team described in clauses (ii) through (vi);
  6. at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and
  7. whenever appropriate, the child with a disability.

What are Related Services?

Under the IDEA, the term “related services” means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.

What is Assistive Technology?

The term “Assistive Technology Device” means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability. These devices can range from specialized drinking cups to more sophisticated technologies, such as computers and motorized wheelchairs.

Where will my child be placed if he or she requires Special Education services?

A major component of your child’s placement is that he or she be placed, to the maximum extent appropriate, with his or her non-disabled peers. . A child’s placement is to be determined annually in accordance with their IEP and be as close as possible to their home.52 Unless your child’s IEP requires otherwise, he or she should attend the same school as if he or she were not
disabled.

Is my child with a disability obligated to adhere to the same disciplinary rules as any other non-disabled student?

The code of student conduct that your child’s school district has in place applies to all students, including students who receive special education and related services. A more detailed look at disciplinary procedures can be found in the Discipline section of this publication, but the following will provide you with an overview of certain obligations that both you as a parent and the school district must fulfill when your child has been disciplined due to behavior that may or may not have been disability-related. Your child’s PPT/IEP Team, of which you are a part, will meet to review the relationship between your child’s behavior and his or her disability. This is known as the “Manifestation Determination.”

What is a Due Process Hearing and Alternative Dispute Resolution?

A due process hearing is a legal proceeding that ensures fairness in the decision making process regarding your child. As a parent, if you disagree with a proposed or refused action pertaining to your child’s education, you or the school district may initiate a due process hearing to resolve the disagreement. In Connecticut and New York, you may file a due process complaint within 2 years of the time the school district proposes or refuses to:(a) consider or find that your child is disabled;  (b) evaluate your child; (c) place your child in a school program that meets his or her unique individual needs; or (d) provide your child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that meets your child’s needs

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

Our firm in Westport, Connecticut serves clients with legal assistance all over the state, including the towns of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge. In addition to assisting clients in Connecticut, our firm handles education law matters in New York as well.

If you have any questions about education law in Connecticut or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@Mayalaw.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.