Special Education Law: Support for Students and Families

In 2022, more than 140,000 grandchildren were being raised by grandparents in Florida. While they are loved unconditionally, many grandparents weren't expecting them. Times have changed and even services available at school are different this time around. As a grandparent, understanding the resources to help make the next generation successful is a daily learning experience.

All children have the right to a quality education. This right to education does not exclude anyone based on gender, race, financial status, or disability. The state of Florida has guidelines that specifically protect children who need alternatives to the traditional teaching model.

The right to a quality education is protected by special education state and federal laws. These ensure that children with disabilities have access to quality education that includes effective special education practices. These laws protect access to free education, protection of records, and protection from discrimination.

Federal Special Education Laws

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

These laws are an assurance that children with disabilities will receive Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services. This includes everything from a proper evaluation to procedural safeguards in the event a parent feels something improper has occurred.

5 Principles of Special Education Law

  1. Evaluation
  2. Free Appropriate Public Evaluation (FAPE)
  3. Parent and student participation
  4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  5. Individual Education Plan (IEP)

1. The first step is an appropriate evaluation.

Every parent wants their children to be successful in school. Some children struggle to master concepts but eventually grasp the information. Others may exhibit angry outbursts due to their frustration and inability to comprehend the required task. If you believe your child needs an evaluation, you need to formally request an evaluation from the school.

Your child’s teacher may have noticed the levels of frustration as well. A team of educators can observe and measure your child’s capability and assess the services they may require if any. This evaluation team can also include a psychologist to help determine the level of need.

Signs of a learning disability

Doesn’t master skills of reading, spelling, writing, or math at or near expected age and grade levels

Difficulty understanding and following instructions

Has difficulty remembering what someone just told to them

2. Exceptional Student Education services are always free.

As long as a child is attending public school, ESE services are never a cost for parents. Every child who qualifies and is attending public school in Florida is guaranteed free exceptional education services from the local public school district. This ensures that the cost of services never becomes a barrier to a child who needs them.

3. Parental participation is mandated by law and not just encouraged.

Parents have a unique understanding of their children. This is valuable insight when developing ESE services. Once a child reaches 14 years of age (or earlier, if appropriate), they are encouraged to participate and provide input into their own service plan. Empowering students and encouraging self-advocacy is an important and valuable aspect of inclusion.

4. Every effort must be made for a traditional learning environment.

Students are entitled to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that pinpoints their needs.

5. An Individual Education Plan is provided to a child through the public school.

The IEP is a roadmap for the disabled child’s journey through the school year. The plan reflects all the exceptional services and accommodations of the child’s PLP goals to measure progress. As children grow, needs change. It is vital that parents and children participate and interact with the school \ to assess the plan’s continued effectiveness.

Components of an IEP

Present levels of education performance


Special education and related services


What if the Disability Involves Hearing?

For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, a Communication Plan is developed to determine the support and services needed. The assessment for additional services needed in the areas of language, communication, reading, assistive technology, listening, and more will take place prior to the IEP meeting. The assessment findings help create the Communication Plan that will drive the development of the IEP.

How to Prepare for Your Child’s IEP Meeting

The IEP is a critical component of your child’s success in school. Preparing thoroughly for the meeting gives you the opportunity to attend with an open mind, fully focused on your child. You are going to cover quite a bit of information in the meeting, so settle your nerves with proper preparation.

Tips to Prepare for IEP Meeting

Gather prior IEP meeting notes, recent progress reports, and report cards

Ask for your child’s input

Write down questions, concerns, and relevant information you want to share

Know your rights

What if You Disagree with the IEP?

After verbalizing your concerns in the IEP meeting, if you don’t feel like you have been heard and do not agree with the plan, you can choose to review the plan with instructors. If that does not work and you cannot come to an agreement, seek mediation. Keep in mind that you do not sign the IEP itself. The school may want to meet again to address your concerns or bring in other professionals to consult.

If you need assistance advocating for your child’s success in the school system, you can retain the services of an experienced special education attorney. An Education Law Attorney is familiar with the ins and outs of the requirements of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and can support you and your child while helping you navigate your rights. Federal and state laws are in place to set standards for public schools – an Education Law Attorney can bring legal action on your behalf against a school district failing to meet the standards.

Special Education Attorneys are on your side to ensure your special needs child receives the education they deserve, making them a Resource We Love. Read more about topics about special education rights to preparing trust funds to pay for your child’s education, living, or medical costs in the Legal and Financial Section of our Blog.


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