Overview of the Special Education Process
Surrogate parents are appointed to assure that the child’s rights are protected. The surrogate parent will need to know how the special education process works and what rights the child and surrogate parent have.
The word “parent” means surrogate parent too. By law, surrogate parent rights in the special education process are the same as those of biological or adoptive parents. A surrogate parent assigned to a certain child may need more specialized information about early intervention, transition, emotional and behavioral disorders, and other special topics.
Early intervention services in Minnesota
Children ages birth to 3 who are eligible for special education are served under an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP plan and process focuses on identifying the needs of the child and family and determining how to best meet the needs. The law recognizes the importance of the family in the lives of young children and emphasizes that the IFSP plan and process is focused on and directed by the family. The IFSP process is to be comprehensive and coordinated and should include all disciplines and agencies involved in the child’s education.
Transition from school to adult life
Growing up is not easy! It is even more complicated for youth with disabilities. The special education transition process is the planned movement from school to adult life. Minnesota law requires transition planning to begin during ninth grade. It continues until the student receives his or her high school diploma, no longer has special education needs, or ages out of the special education system (July 1 after the student turns 21). Broadly defined, transition is a process that focuses on postsecondary education and training, and improving a student’s employment outcomes, housing options, and social networks after leaving school. The transition areas are:
- Postsecondary education and training
- Independent living (where appropriate may include recreation and leisure, community participation, and home living)
The transition plan provides the framework for identifying, planning, and carrying out activities that will help a student make a successful transition to adult life. It identifies what skills need to be learned, when or where transition services are provided, and who will provide them.
The special education law IDEA says that the IEP team must consider the following special considerations or factors when developing an IEP for a child with a disability:
- Limited English proficiency
- Vision impairment
- Communication needs
- Language and communication needs of deaf or hard of hearing students
- Assistive technology
Structure of Special Education in Minnesota
In Minnesota, special education programs for students with disabilities are provided primarily by school districts (public schools). Sometimes a single school district—usually in highly populated areas—provides services, including the entire range of programs and services for students with disabilities, to all children within its boundaries.
Sometimes school districts combine with other local school districts to form special education cooperatives. The districts—usually adjoining or within the same county or region—may join to provide special education services to students with disabilities within their combined boundaries. A cooperative may have a single administrative office with teaching personnel hired by that office. Minnesota has four intermediate school districts which operate similar to cooperatives. Charter schools also are required to provide special education services to eligible children.
For incarcerated youth, the Department of Corrections is responsible for the education of students placed in juvenile correctional facilities.
Regardless how the special education programs of a school district are organized, in most cases, one person called the special education director is in charge of coordinating all special education services. The director is often responsible for the appointment of surrogate parents or assigns the responsibility to another staff person.
Communication in the Special Education Process
IEP and IFSP meetings and other school meetings are crucial parts of a child’s educational program. A surrogate parent’s responsibility extends beyond giving consent and accepting explanations. Asking questions, bringing up issues to discuss, gathering information, and clarifying points are all part of the surrogate parent’s role.
Effective communication is two-way, generating understanding and support the professionals and the surrogate parent need to make effective decisions about the child’s educational program.
The key to effective communication is preparation and willingness to be actively involved in planning the child’s educational program. To foster meaningful communication, the surrogate parent can:
- Make sure the focus stays on the child.
- Be prepared by knowing in advance the important points to discuss and questions to ask. Then write down the points and questions and check them off as they are addressed.
- Listen. Listening helps gather information about the child and understanding of other viewpoints.
- State issues clearly. It is important to communicate in an honest and clear manner.
- Ask questions. This can be an effective way of clarifying a point and keeping the lines of communication open.
- Direct comments and questions to the person who can best address or answer them.
- Restate concerns if not heard the first time.
- Be confident. A surrogate parent never has to feel guilty or embarrassed asking questions or assertively pursuing the appropriate services for the child. That is their role and their right.
- Work together. Neither the surrogate parent nor the professionals have all the answers. Working together as a team encourages finding solutions. Everyone at the meeting has the same goal – to provide an appropriate educational program for the child.
Preparing for a School Meeting
The surrogate parent’s most important goal is helping to develop an appropriate educational program for the child. He or she must be prepared to work cooperatively with the professionals involved with the child’s program.
To prepare, surrogate parents can:
- Know their rights and be prepared to participate actively.
- Request a copy of the child’s most recent educational evaluation and review the results. The evaluation should be current and complete and the results explained so everyone understands the educational implications.
- Review the child’s last IEP or IFSP to prepare for developing his or her next one. Review the last progress report on the child’s goals or objectives.
- Think of a plan for regular communication with the school and keeping the child’s county case manager informed.
- Make an appointment to visit the child’s classroom. Observing the child in the classroom accomplishes two important functions:
- Seeing how the child performs and is progressing in the classroom
- Establishing rapport with the teacher
- Visit the child’s home or facility if the child does not live with the surrogate parent to learn how the child functions at home.
- Talk with professionals who work with the child. They can offer a wealth of information about the child’s progress and personality.
- Talk to the child if possible. Although a child can provide invaluable personal information and perspectives, some children cannot communicate well.
- Complete the “student profile” and jot down any notes that may be important for everyone to know about the child. A surrogate can share aspects of the child’s life such as interests, hobbies, relationships to others, behavior at home, and difficulties.
- Bring notes on the child’s needs, strengths, and realistic expectations of progress for the year.
- Before the meeting, the surrogate parent can write down questions for discussion that may be important for coming to a decision about the child’s program.
- Find out who will attend the meeting. The surrogate can also decide if it is necessary to bring a person from outside the school to the meeting. The surrogate should notify the school when inviting another person to attend. If the child has a social worker, it is a good idea to invite that person to the meeting.
- Explore other proposed programs that may be appropriate for the child.
These points are a framework for a surrogate parent’s informed participation in the child’s educational program. Adequate preparation may seem time-consuming, but it is worthwhile. The surrogate parent will then have the confidence to advocate for the student at meetings.
The surrogate parent has the same rights and responsibilities as any other parent and is a very important member of the team.
There are many resources available for surrogate parents. Attending local parent Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC) meetings or contacting various organizations that hold workshops on specific topics can lead the surrogate to other parents and professionals who can offer advice and support.
Resolving Differences with the School
Participants want IEP or IFSP meetings to result in mutual agreement about an appropriate educational program for the child. However, this doesn’t always happen. When differences arise, the surrogate parent can:
- Discuss concerns with the child’s IEP or IFSP case manager.
- Request another meeting to discuss specific issues and concerns.
- Request help from an advocate.
- Consider requesting a conciliation conference, mediation, or an alternate form of dispute resolution.
- File a complaint with Minnesota’s Department of Education Division of Compliance and Assistance if it appears that the school is not complying with special education laws.
- Explore other school programs or placements if necessary.
- Consider initiating due process procedures if the above methods don’t work and the situation is appropriate.
Tips for resolving conflicts:
- Put requests in writing and ask for a written response.
- Keep written records of communication with the school.
- Clarify issues and priorities related to points of agreement and disagreement.
- Define possible solutions.
Minnesota Dispute Resolution Guide
Built into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Minnesota’s special education laws are a variety of dispute resolution options. This mobile-friendly guide from PACER Center supports any parent, guardian, or surrogate parent of a child with a known or suspected disability to understand the full range of action steps they can take to resolve a disagreement with the school district.
PACER Center Workshops & Live Stream Events
Throughout the year, PACER Center offers opportunities to learn more about the special education process and a wide variety of topics that are especially relevant to parents, guardians, and surrogate parents of children, youth, and young adults with disabilities. Nearly all workshops and webinars are free.