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Special Education Tip-of-the-Day: Parental Consent


by Amanda Glass, Equal Justice Works Fellow

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parental consent is required before certain steps can take place in the special education process. This gives parents some control over their child’s special education.

Parental consent is one of the rights described in the procedural safeguards notice that schools are required to provide to parents at least once a year. Parental consent means that a parent is fully informed (in his or her native language or through another mode of communication, if needed) about the activity for which consent is being given. The parent must give consent in writing. Schools make sure that parents are fully informed by providing a comprehensive description of the proposed action in a document called a Prior Written Notice (which will be discussed in more detail in tomorrow’s blog post).

Parental consent is voluntary—a school cannot force a parent to sign any document to give consent, and the school must make sure that parents understand that giving consent is a choice. Also, parental consent can be revoked at any time. If a parent consents to starting special education for her child in September, but the parent changes her mind in October, she may revoke her consent and special education services must end. There is a form that allows parents or adult students to revoke consent for special education and related serviceson the Arizona Department of Education website.

Parental consent is not required for every single action a school might take relating to a child’s special education. IDEA specifically requires parental consent:

  • before conducting an initial evaluation;
  • before conducting a re-evaluation;
  • before providing special education and related services to a child for the first time;
  • before inviting representatives of other agencies to participate in IEP team meetings where the transition of the child to adult life will be discussed.

In some states, schools must get parental consent before making certain types of changes to a child’s special education. But in Arizona, parental consent is only required in the four instances described above. An Arizona school can change a child’s services, placement, eligibility category, and can even find a child is no longer eligible for special education without parental consent. If a parent disagrees with those decisions, the parent must use dispute resolution, like requesting mediation or a filing a due process complaint (to be discussed in future blog posts).

This means that getting frustrated and leaving an IEP meeting before the team is finished or refusing to sign an IEP document won’t prevent a school from making changes to your child’s special education. The better self-advocacy strategy is to attend meetings from start to finish. Use that meeting to tell the school which decisions you disagree with, explain why you disagree, and ask questions about the school’s reasons for taking the action or refusing to take the action. If at the end of the meeting you have not come to a resolution, ask that the school document your disagreement in the Prior Written Notice document or an IEP. Then, you can use one of the dispute resolution options available to you to challenge the school’s decision.

For more information about parental consent under the IDEA, visit the Center for Parent Information and Resources.

Tomorrow’s Tip-of-the-Day: Prior Written Notice

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