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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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Frequently Asked Questions

Becoming a surrogate parent

How do I get started if I want to become a surrogate parent?

If you wish to be considered for a surrogate parent appointment, you should contact the special education director of the school district or districts in which you want to serve. Note that one director may serve more than one school district or charter school.

How can a volunteer surrogate parent gain the confidence needed to participate fully in planning the child’s educational program?

Many volunteers enjoy the important role of working on behalf of a child. The first step is to gather information on how to be a surrogate parent. Using this online training is one way to learn your rights and responsibilities. The next step is taking the time to become acquainted with the child and his or her educational background. By following the suggestions in this training, talking with professionals and other parents, and reading about the child’s educational background, a volunteer can gain the confidence that comes through knowing. As time goes on and your experience and your knowledge increase, so will your confidence.

Why can't staff members of the school, county, or care facility where the child lives be responsible for representing the child on educational matters?

There are a number of reasons, including:

  • The school, county, or care facility may have restrictions that conflict with meeting the child's individual needs.
  • Neither the school, nor the county, nor the care facility can act as a totally neutral party to advocate for the child without conflict of interest.

What is the role of the county social worker?

The county social worker can provide essential advice and support. He or she may facilitate the transfer of records from one school to another and make sure the school district has in place a parent as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which may be a surrogate parent. If the county social worker wishes to attend an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) team meeting for the child, he or she should ask the parent for permission. The parent may invite persons who have knowledge or special expertise about their child to an IEP or IFSP team meeting.

How much does a surrogate parent need to know about the child's disability and where can this information be found?

To be an effective surrogate parent, it is helpful to acquire some information about the child's disability. The child's teacher, many state and national organizations, and the local library may have helpful information. PACER Center updates a resource list of disability organizations annually.

Foster children

Do all foster children need surrogate parents?

No. Only when the biological or adoptive parents’ authority to make educational decisions on the child’s behalf has been extinguished under state law, might a foster child need representation by a foster or surrogate parent at school.

What is the difference between a surrogate parent and a foster parent?

Sometimes the foster parent is considered to be the "parent." If the foster parent meets all the requirements of the definition of parent under IDEA, the foster parent is the parent and no surrogate need be appointed. Sometimes, however, a child in need of a surrogate parent will have both a foster parent and a surrogate parent. When the requirements of “parent” are not met by a foster parent, the school district can appoint a surrogate parent. Whoever the school district appoints has the right to make special education decisions for the child. The foster parent would have all other rights granted to them by the placing agency.


Do surrogate parents have a choice in the selection of the child?

Yes. For example, surrogates may request assignment to a child with a certain disability or in a certain age group.

Can a surrogate parent be assigned to represent a student over the age of 18?

In Minnesota, students ages 18 through 21 are viewed as serving as their own parents. Therefore, if the student is able to make their own decisions, a surrogate would not be necessary. Sometimes students over 18 are under legal guardianship. In this case, the guardian is the parent as identified by IDEA.

Are a surrogate parent's activities evaluated?

Schools are responsible for monitoring the activities of each surrogate parent to make sure that he or she is fulfilling the duties as set forth by state and federal rules.

What happens if a surrogate is trained but the school does not assign a child to the surrogate parent?

There are several reasons why a surrogate may not be immediately assigned a child. No children may currently be in need of a surrogate parent or more volunteers may be available than needed. The surrogate should let the school know of continued interest, even if not assigned right away. If the surrogate wonders if there is a specific reason why he or she was not assigned a child, he or she should contact the person in charge of surrogate appointments or the Minnesota Department of Education Division of Compliance and Assistance to discuss the concerns.

If the child no longer needs a surrogate parent, can a surrogate be reassigned?

Yes. The surrogate can write or call the person in charge of surrogate parent appointments in the school district or special education cooperative to request an appointment to represent another child.

Can a surrogate parent resign?

Yes. A surrogate parent wishing to resign can contact the person in charge of surrogate parent appointments within the school district or special education cooperative and discuss the decision. All copies of records must be returned.

Why might a school terminate a surrogate parent appointment?

The surrogate should be informed about the reason for termination and has the right to be heard at a school board meeting to appeal the termination. A complaint can also be filed with the Minnesota Department of Education Division of Compliance and Assistance if the termination appears to be inappropriate. There are several reasons why the school should discontinue an assignment, such as:

  • The child changes school districts because of a change in living arrangements or residential needs.
  • An "unavailable parent" becomes available again.
  • The child reaches the age of 18 and no longer needs a surrogate parent.
  • The child no longer receives special education services.
  • The school thinks the surrogate parent has not fulfilled the responsibilities of a surrogate parent.

After being appointed as a surrogate

After the appointment, where can a surrogate parent obtain answers to special education questions?

First, contact the child's special education teacher, principal, or other school staff who work with the child. Other sources of information include other parents of children with disabilities, disability support groups, and PACER Center. Contact [email protected] to ask a PACER parent advocate a question about surrogate parenting.

Can surrogate parents receive a stipend?

There is no requirement in Minnesota that a surrogate parent receive compensation. However, the school may choose to cover or offer payment for the expenses, such as mileage, of the surrogate parent.

Can a surrogate be held liable for making a wrong decision?

In Minnesota there is no legislation that specifically protects any parent, including surrogate parents, from being held liable.

Educational rights

Do surrogate parents have rights to the child's educational records?

Yes. Surrogate parents have all the rights guaranteed to parents under special education laws and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Surrogate parents can see, correct, obtain copies of, and approve or disapprove the right of others to see the child's educational records. If an agency other than the school has records that the surrogate parent thinks are relevant to special education planning, the surrogate would call that agency to discuss release of records to the school for educational planning.

How often can a surrogate observe the child in his or her classroom?

The surrogate parent is expected to follow the same rules set out in the school policy for all parents. Check with the school about the procedures for visiting the classroom by contacting the teacher or principal. Make separate arrangements with any of the school's other staff who may be providing services to your child. A surrogate parent may visit the child's classroom to get to know the child and begin a profile of his or her needs and abilities as well as to monitor how the program is working. Do not interrupt the teacher while you are observing.

Special Education and the IEP

What if the surrogate parent does not understand what is written in the child's IEP or IFSP?

If there is special education terminology or language that the surrogate parent does not understand, it is the responsibility of the surrogate parent to ask questions of school staff involved or contact PACER Center.

What happens if the surrogate parent requests a particular service for the child that the school says they cannot provide because of lack of money?

Money cannot be used as a reason for not providing appropriate and needed services. If the IEP or IFSP team determines a service is necessary to meet the needs of a child, the team can look at alternative ways to provide the service. Does a neighboring school district or agency in the community have the service? Whatever the team decides to do should be put in writing. The surrogate parent can monitor the progress to prevent undue delay in the provision of a needed service. Whenever the school district refuses a surrogate parent’s request, the school must document their reasons for refusing on the Prior Written Notice form.

What if the school will not listen to the surrogate parent's concerns about the child's educational needs?

School staff should respect your role of parent on behalf of the child. The first step is always reasonable discussion with school personnel, beginning with the IEP or IFSP case manager. The surrogate parent can also contact an advocacy organization such as PACER Center for assistance in resolving concerns and understanding what steps could be taken.

Can the child receive special services if the surrogate parent refuses to sign the IEP or IFSP?

The answer depends on whether the services will be for the first time or if the child is already receiving services. The school cannot place the child into a special education program for the first time without the consent of the surrogate. If it is not an initial placement, the school can make proposed changes and will proceed unless the surrogate parent objects in writing within 14 calendar days of being sent the proposal.

What should a surrogate parent sign or not sign?

Surrogate parents will be asked to sign all the forms relating to the child's special education, including permission to evaluate and the IEP or IFSP. Consent should not be given to any proposal that seems inappropriate for the child's needs. Permission for all other types of activities is given by the child's county caseworker, residential care provider, or other person responsible for his or her care.

Involvement outside of school

Can a surrogate become more involved with the child beyond participating in his or her school program?

Some volunteer surrogate parents choose to become more involved by visiting the child at home to get to know the child better. This decision is made jointly between the surrogate and persons where the child is living. The surrogate can be effective even if not involved outside of the area of special education.

As a volunteer, what is the surrogate parent's role at the child's place of residence?

The surrogate only has the authority to make decisions about the child's special educational needs. However, it is important to talk to other people involved with the child, especially in his or her home environment, in order to get a complete picture of the child's needs. Make sure the social workers and others involved in caring for the child understand the surrogate's role to gain their cooperation in securing information necessary to help in making decisions about the child's special educational program.


Surrogate Parents: Frequently Asked Questions
Ten frequently asked questions about becoming a surrogate parent.  Available for download at no cost.

Connect with a PACER parent advocate today
If you have more questions about the important role of surrogate parents in special education, you can access individual assistance from a PACER parent advocate by calling 952-838-9000 or sending an email to [email protected].