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Parent Special Education Information

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

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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.

Surrogate parents play an important role in a child's education. The surrogate parent is an advocate for the student. The more surrogate parents know and the more comfortable they are with the special education process and procedures, the more effective they will be in the role of surrogate parent.

Special Education and the Important Role You Play for Your Child

Duration: 1 hour, 48 minutes

PACER prides itself on providing these resources free to parents.  We merely ask you to answer one survey question after viewing this video.  With your feedback, we can continue to create videos like this and show our funders the value of providing these resources free to parents.

Surrogate Parent Laws and Guidelines

Recommended Reading

Children in Need of Surrogate Parents

Call PACER Center (952-838-9000) to receive this book.

Cost: $9, but provided free Minnesota parents of children and young adults with disabilities.

29 pages

Children who need surrogate parents:

Students who either already receive special education services or who are thought to need such services are entitled to a free, appropriate public education and may be served by surrogate parents. In Minnesota, this includes students from birth to age 18.

Surrogate parents are appointed under three conditions:

  • The parent is unknown or unavailable
  • The pupil is a ward of the state
  • The parent requests a surrogate parent in writing

    Parents are not usually aware of their right to request a surrogate parent. When a potential situation arises, the parents should be notified of their right to request a surrogate parent. They should also be informed regarding the rights and responsibilities that the surrogate would assume in this role.

What is a surrogate parent?

Surrogate parent means a person appointed by a school district to represent a child with a disability who has or may need special education services. This person may not be receiving public funds to educate or care for the child.

Responsibilities of surrogate parents

A surrogate parent is only responsible for representing the child when decisions about his/her special education program are made concerning:

  • Identification of the need for the child to receive special education services
  • Evaluation to determine his/her individual needs
  • Design of his/her individualized education program, including placement
  • Ongoing reviews of educational progress
  • Disagreement with the school's educational proposals

In order to fulfill these responsibilities, the surrogate parent should learn about state and federal requirements for special education and about school district structure and procedures. The surrogate parent should also have an understanding of the pupil's disability and needs and have an ability to effectively advocate for the child. (Minnesota Rule 3525.2455 )

Although not a legal requirement, it may be best if the surrogate parent and child share a similar background, such as race or culture.

Some other qualities of an effective surrogate parent are:

  1. a commitment to learning about the child's educational needs and special education, and
  2. an ability to communicate constructively and effectively with school personnel.

A surrogate parent appointment may only be removed by the school board. (Minnesota Rule 3525.2450)

Summary of surrogate parents and special education

  • All children in special education have a right to a free, appropriate public education.
  • Children who do not have parents available must be assigned a surrogate parent.
  • A surrogate parent is a person appointed by a school district to represent the child in special education decisions.
  • A surrogate parent has the same rights and responsibilities that parents and guardians have in the special education decision-making process.

Summary of Responsibilities:

  • Surrogate - Carry out the surrogate parent role and to represent the student
  • School District - See that the surrogate parent carries out the role
  • School Board - Remove the appointment of the surrogate parent if role not carried out

The Parent Role in Special Education: Who Takes this Role for Foster Children?

Duration: 9 min

This short video gives a brief overview of the special education laws around who may take on the role of parent for a child with a disability who may not have a biological or adoptive parent to serve in that role.