If you are not satisfied with your child’s progress with their special education program, you should first bring your concerns to the school team through calling a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meeting. The importance of having an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with goals and objectives tied to measurable data is that you have some way to determine if your child is making progress, or not. The PPT team needs to determine why the child is not making progress: are the right services being provided, or should different ones be used?; would increasing the frequency of services produce a different result?; is the environment in which the child is receiving services a factor in their lack of progress?; would a different setting make a difference?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) set forth that parents should be full partners in the PPT process. The challenge is that understanding how to address the above questions requires specialized knowledge that most parents do not have, which prevents them from adequately fulfilling that role. There is also the emotion associated with having a child with disabilities and trying to navigate a complicated, detail-intensive process that can easily get overwhelming.
Which is why many parents do what they and others routinely do when they need specialized knowledge and they don’t have the time or ability to develop it for themselves: they bring in an expert (such as a special education advocate) to analyze the situation and help them understand whether the child’s IEP is working, and if not, what can be done to assure that the IEP is truly meeting the child’s identified special needs. Sometimes knowing what to ask for, and how to ask for it, is the key to getting the right services in place for the child.
There will be times when the parents and the school team disagree about what the IEP should provide for the child. In those cases, there is a process in place where parents can request that the school mediate the issue, with the State Education Department acting as the mediator. If the issues cannot be resolved through mediation, parents have the option to file for a legal proceeding called a Due Process Hearing to have an independent hearing officer determine if the school has abided by special education law in their treatment of the child.
If a child is on a 504 Plan and the child is not making appropriate progress, there is a different process for determining if the school has abided by the law in their treatment of a child which involves the federal Office of Civil Rights, because services under 504 are provided under a different federal law which was designed to prevent people with disabilities from being denied access to educational supports and services.