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Special Education (IEP / 504)

PACER is the Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs.

Special Education Overview

Every child is unique and learns in different ways. If your child has been identified as needing special education services to support his or her learning at school, you can play a major role in shaping the services your child receives.

This section will help you understand the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the importance of your participation in developing your child's IEP Plan. You are a required member of your child's IEP team, and your ideas must always be considered in any decisions the IEP team makes. The development of the IEP is required in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), its regulations (known as 34 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] Parts 300 and 301), and in Minnesota state special education rules and statutes. The federal regulations, which have the force of law, explain how the law will be carried out.

Each state implements the federal laws somewhat differently. If your child qualifies for special education and attends a private school, you may call PACER Center for more information on special education for private school students.

The purpose of special education is

“to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” — IDEA 601(d)(1)

Video Reviews of the Special Education Process

Special Factors: Five Areas That May Affect IEP Services for Your Child

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Understanding the Special Education Process

See an overview chart of the special education process. Learn about the structure of special education in Minnesota. Tips for effectively communicating in IEP meetings and many more resources.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as Section 504) is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Those programs include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. To qualify under Section 504, a student must have a disability and that disability must limit a major life function. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 (ADA) broadened the definition of disability in the ADA as well as in Section 504.

IEP - Individualized Education Program

Understand the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the importance of your participation in developing your child’s IEP. You are a required member of your child’s IEP team, and your ideas must always be considered in any decisions the IEP team makes.

Minnesota Special Education Recovery Services and Supports

Many students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) have experienced gaps in their services and/ or have not been able to make meaningful progress toward their IEP goals because of the impacts of COVID. Federal and State laws have been passed to help make up for these educational losses and the lack of access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This information sheet will help parents of students with IEPs in Minnesota to discuss service options for the 2021-2022 school year.

Top 10 Parents Concerns

The statement that “knowledge is power” is especially true for parents who want to be effective advocates for their children with disabilities. To make sure parents have the information they need most, PACER conducted a survey, and nearly a thousand people responded. Given a list of choices, parents of children from each age group indicated their top three concerns.

Improve Communications with School Staff

PACER’s parent advocates often hear from parents when they encounter certain statements or situations at school meetings that they find uncomfortable or uncertain. These tips are suggestions and techniques from PACER advocates to help parents address some of those concerns, as well as improve communication with school staff.

Parent Leadership

Take your experience and perspective as a parent of a child with a disability and put it to use by helping others. Use your ideas for improved supports and services for children with disabilities and their families. Tap into existing opportunities to have your voice influence decisions and policy. Increase your big picture knowledge base of important legislation and policy. Develope your leadership skills.

MN Statewide Assessment Testing

All students in Minnesota, including students with disabilities, must take statewide assessments in certain academic areas. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), it’s important for you to understand the required assessments as well as testing options that may be appropriate for your child. These decisions are made by the IEP team which always includes the parents.

Surrogate Parents

Congress recognized the importance of active parents' involvement in planning their children's educational programs, monitoring progress, and challenging inappropriate decisions. This child advocate role is usually filled by parents. However, the laws give an alternative if the parents of a child with a disability are unknown or completely unavailable or if the child is a ward of the state. Surrogate parents fill the parental role in these situations. Most often a surrogate is either a foster parent or a volunteer from the local community.

Student Dropout Prevention

Students who drop out of school often face a difficult future. For students with disabilities, the risks are intensified. Their dropout rate is about 40 percent--more than twice that of their peers without disabilities. However, families can play an important role in making sure their student with or without disabilities graduates. It is critical for parents to stay involved in their teen's life during middle school and high school.

School Discipline Guide - Suspension & Expulsion

Parents of children with disabilities often ask:

  • Can the school send my child home before the end of the school day?
  • Can the school district suspend my child?
  • Can the school district expel my child?
  • What happens to my child’s educational services if he or she is sent home, suspended, or expelled?

This interactive guide will answer these and many other questions. Whether your child is on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan, or if you suspect that your child has a disability that affects his or her behavior at school, this guide will help you understand the complex disciplinary process for Minnesota public school children with disabilities.