Parent Access To The Special Education Classroom
A Survey of Protections Under the Law
Parents frequently contact our offices with questions relating to problems accessing their child’s educational placement. From district to district, school to school, even from general ed to special ed, there seems to be different rules in place for parents seeking to play an involved role in their child’s education. Given the complexity of the details required to create an appropriate program for special education students, parent involvement is especially critical. To assist parents in understanding their rights related to classroom involvement and visitation, we have assembled relevant Federal and California law on point.
IDEA on Parent Involvement:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has specific provisions governing parent involvement in placement decisions. Title 34, section 300.501(c) states:
- Each public agency shall ensure that the parents of each child with a disability are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child.
As a necessary member of the team, you will require personal information regarding your child’s placement. The best way to gain this knowledge is through active participation in your child’s program which should certainly include first hand observation of the appropriateness of the placement. Similarly, for future placements, you must have a clear understanding of the range of placements available for your child ahead of the IEP meeting so that you can actively contribute to the discussion of whether a particular placement is appropriate for your child.
California Education Code
California has clear and established law on point designed to facilitate and expand parent involvement in the classroom. Specifically, California Education Code Section 51100 states:
The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
- It is essential to our democratic form of government that parents and guardians of school age children attending public schools and other citizens participate in improving public education institutions. Specifically, involving parents and guardians of pupils in the education process is fundamental to a healthy system of public education.
- Research has shown conclusively that early and sustained family involvement at home and at school in the education of children results both in improved pupil achievement and in schools that are successful at educating all children, while enabling them to achieve high levels of performance.
- All participants in the education process benefit when schools genuinely welcome, encourage, and guide families into establishing equal partnerships with schools to support pupil learning.
- Family and school collaborative efforts are most effective when they involve parents and guardians in a variety of roles at all grade levels, from preschool through high school.
California Education Code Section 51101(d) continues (relevant provisions included):
The parents and guardians of pupils enrolled in public schools have the right and should have the opportunity, as mutually supportive and respectful partners in the education of their children within the public schools, to be informed by the school, and to participate in the education of their children, as follows:
- To volunteer their time and resources for the improvement of school facilities and school programs under the supervision of district employees, including, but not limited to, providing assistance in the classroom with the approval, and under the direct supervision, of the teacher. Although volunteer parents may assist with instruction, primary instructional responsibility shall remain with the teacher.
- To have a school environment for their child that is safe and supportive of learning.
- To examine the curriculum materials of the class or classes in which their child is enrolled.
- To be informed in advance about school rules, including disciplinary rules and procedures in accordance with Section 48980, attendance policies, dress codes, and procedures for visiting the school.
If you find yourself facing difficulty is accessing your child’s current or prospective placement(s), you may want to consider the following:
- Secure a copy of your district’s policy on parent visitation. Is it consistently applied to parents of general ed students and special ed students? Does it violate the principles of the above referenced laws? Pay specific attention to parent involvement/volunteer programs in place in the district.
- Does the policy artificially limit your classroom access to only certain times of the school day, for instance only during lunch time, drop off, pick-up times?
- Does your access allow you to equally contribute to the IEP discussion on placement? In other words, can you intelligently discuss the programs strengths and weaknesses equally with other members of the team? If not, you may wish to consider what gaps in knowledge you have and craft a visitation plan that will give you the necessary information.
Above all, remember that parents are partners with the educator in this process. Strive to cultivate that relationship and wherever possible, build trust and collaboration with your child’s team.