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Special Education

Plain Talk on Rights Under the IDEA

By Christina A. Samuels — October 24, 2006 1 min read
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In Connecticut, parents of children in special education receive a document that says when disagreements arise over their children’s education, “the parent or the school may ask, in writing, for a hearing to review what was decided.”

In Maryland, the same type of document uses more bureaucratic terms: “The parent or a public agency may request a due-process hearing regarding the public agency’s proposal or refusal to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a student.”

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that parents be notified of their rights under the special education law.

But too often, parents are told of their rights in language that is hard to understand, says a study published in the Summer 2006 edition of Exceptional Children, the journal of the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, Va.

Authors Julie L. FitzGerald and Marley W. Watkins of Pennsylvania State University examined notices throughout the country. They suggest that the states could add larger text, summaries, subheadings, and flowcharts to such documents to aid their readability.

“I hope this paper contributes by helping schools and departments of education understand what plain language means,” Ms. FitzGerald, a graduate student in school psychology, said in an interview.

“To be honest, we haven’t gotten any complaints,” said William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education. However, the state will be revising its notices now that the U.S. Department of Education has issued final regulations for the 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA, and will do so with an eye toward comprehensibility, he said.

And for the first time, the federal Education Department has released a model document that states can adapt for their own use, said Alexa Posny, the director of the department’s office of special education programs. The model form focuses on making sure that all the parental-notice requirements of the law are met, Ms. Posny said, but “we did try to break it up and have it flow so that it makes sense.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week

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