The law entitles all children in Alabama an education that prepares them to be as productive in life as they can be. Parents pay taxes to cover the cost of fulfilling that obligation and federal and state laws set minimum expectations for what is to be delivered. But the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), anticipating that parents and administrators won’t always agree on how to meet those standards, also spells out steps to take to ensure fairness in application.

It’s called due process

Due process is a legal concept that most readers are probably familiar with. If you hear, “You have the right to remain silent….,” and can say the next line, you grasp the idea of due process. In the context of the IDEA, the steps of due process typically follow a set pattern. It begins with holding discussions about the issues specific to your child. If those discussions don’t lead to a resolution, more formal proceedings might be required.

But successful pursuit of your due process rights depends on your knowing what they are and what legal precedents exist that may contribute to achieving an optimal outcome. This is when working with an experienced education law attorney is advised.

The steps

Assuming discussions specific to identifying, evaluating and placing a child in school based on his or her special needs have not worked, due process allows a parent or guardian to file a formal complaint in writing against the school. The elements of this complaint must relate either to a substantive issue, such as a view that the child’s individualized education plan (IEP) doesn’t address areas of specific weakness; or a procedural issue. An example of this might be if an IEP team meeting occurred without you being given written notice. Additionally, the complaint must include:

  • The name of your child.
  • Our child’s address.
  • The name of your child’s school.
  • An explanation of the issues and facts about the dispute.
  • A proposal for solution.

Each stage of due process has a deadline associated with it and it can take some time. In the meantime, the IDEA includes a stay-put provision that maintains current educational placement pending the outcome of your issues.