What every Grandparent needs to know about Special Education

What every Grandparent needs to know about Special Education


You’re a Grandparent.  

You need to know this.

Jean Murrell Adams, Senior Managing Attorney

ADAMS ESQ, a Special Education Law Firm

You’ve reached grandparent status.  If you don’t have a grandchild with a disability, you probably know someone who does.  You may volunteer at your local school or simply be the “go to” person in your neighborhood, church or on-line.  You may be raising your grandchild or live miles away from him.  In any case, you will probably hear the question “I think my child has a disability, what should I do?”  Here are the basics of what every grandparent needs to know about special education.

Special education has grown up.  In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, students with special needs were routinely warehoused in one classroom regardless of the type or degree of disability. A child with dyslexia could be in the same class as student with cognitive impairments or blindness or one with mental illness.  Many kids with physical disabilities were not allowed to attend school at all.  In my elementary school, the “special” kids were housed in the dank school basement.  When it rained, the basement flooded and they were temporary allowed to come up to ground level.  In California, students were routinely labeled “educable mentally retarded” and forced into a permanent special ed track if they failed just one standardized test.  Even up through 2004, the certification standards for special education teachers and aides were only loosely followed in some of the largest school districts in the country.

Today, children with disabilities have the right to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE)appropriate to meet their own unique needs.  If their needs can be met in a regular classroom, they should be educated there.  If not, then alternative placements from a daily pull-out session to a private school might be considered.  Education is more than reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.  It may include speech services, occupational therapy, safety awareness, toileting, counseling, computer training, special physical education and more.  Special Education teachers must be credentialed and aides must meet minimum standards.  Children cannot be placed in special ed on the basis of just one test.  They must be tested in their primarylanguage and the tests cannot be culturally biased.  Testing must be given by qualified assessors.  Parental permission is required.

An IEP (individualized education plan) is a contract involving the parent of a special needs child and the school district.  The IEP defines the child’s specially tailored school program and controls placement, services, identifies the type and severity of her disability and tracks her educational progress.  Parents have the right to participate fully in developing the IEP and have equal say-so with the school district in its creation.  The other members of the IEP team must include anyone who tested the child (usually a school psychologist), a special education teacher, a general education teacher and someone with the authority to say “yes, we can do that” (usually a principal, vice-principal or special education administrator).

Grandparents can and often should participate in this process.  If you are your grandchild’s primary caregiver, then you are considered her parent under special education law and must be allowed to give approval and input on any special education testing or IEP.  Even if you are not her main caregiver, you can still attend IEP meetings on her behalf (with parent permission).  You can also attend the IEP meeting with the parent to provide your input regarding your grandchild, ask questions about the IEP or simply to lend your support.

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