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- What is PREP?
The Parental Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP) empowers parents to be effective advocates for their students by providing access to information on rights related to their child’s education. PREP equips parents with the necessary skills to take action to increase their child’s educational success through informed parent engagement in the special education process, school disciplinary decisions, and the overall quality of their student’s education.
- What is the goal of PREP?
The Parental Readiness and Engagement Program (PREP) seeks to improve K-12 student performance, retention, and access to equal educational opportunities for low-income and minority children in targeted communities by increasing parental engagement and ensuring that parents become successful advocates for their children so that they have meaningful access to a quality education
PREP engages legal volunteers, tools and training, technical assistance and media to achieve that goal.
- What services does PREP offer?
PREP offers interactive parent workshops to provide advice to parents on how to navigate the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process, how to ensure a fair discipline process for their students, and other relevant advocate skills. PREP also offers free legal consultation clinics with volunteer attorneys to discuss your child’s needs and specific concerns to help you write an action plan for the future. PREP’s services and resource materials are available in Spanish and English.
- Can you offer a training in my community?
PREP offers volunteer attorney trainings, parent workshops, and free legal consultation clinics for parents of students in the San Diego Unified School District and will offer trainings in other communities in the near future. This website provides general resources for parent advocacy for and state specific education laws for students throughout the country.
- How can the materials on this website or attending a PREP training assist my child?
PREP website materials on special education, education quality, and school disciplinary procedures provide all the information you need to attend and participate in school meetings and decisions about your child’s education. You will find information about how decisions are made, who participates in these decisions, state, federal, and local policies that your school must follow, and information about how to respond when you are unsatisfied with a school decision or believe that your child is being treated unfairly.
Attending a PREP training in your area provides you with the opportunity to connect with other parents in your area and provides you with access to information specific to the policies of your school district. PREP trainings are designed to be interactive and engaging with group activities, discussions, and time for you to ask specific questions. After PREP trainings are free consultation clinics, opportunities for you to talk with a volunteer attorney about your child’s specific educational needs.
- Does PREP provide legal advice or assistance?
PREP trainings, presentations and informational materials are not substitutes for legal advice since all cases are different. PREP materials only provide general information and are not legal advice. Participating in a PREP workshop or clinic does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. PREP does connect you with valuable information about the education laws that apply to your child and can connect you with volunteer attorneys and resources to obtain legal advice in your community.
- Can a school suspend my child without notifying me?
NO. A school can never suspend a child without giving both the student and parent notice.
- Can a school suspend my child without giving him the opportunity to defend himself?
NO. A school must always give the student the opportunity to defend himself.
- Can a school suspend my child without giving me the chance to defend him?
THIS DEPENDS ON THE LENGTH OF THE SUSPENSION. Federal law only requires that parents can participate in the student’s defense when the suspension is 11 days or longer. Some states and school districts may allow parents to participate in all suspensions.
- What is due process or a due process hearing?
Due Process is the constitutional right of students to receive notice of the charges against them and a chance to respond to those charges. Due process can be as informal as a quick explanation of what the school believes he has done and a quick opportunity for the student to tell his side of the story. Due process can also require more formal procedures, particularly when the student is to be suspended for long periods of time.
- When are students guaranteed due process?
Anytime a student is suspended or denied some significant education benefit, the student is entitled to due process.
- Does a school have to present evidence that my child has violated a rule to punish her?
YES. The school must present evidence to the student that s/he violated a rule.
SOMETIMES, the school must present evidence to the parent.
- Does the school have to call witnesses to tell their stories in front of the student or parent?
NO. The witnesses or accusers must only tell their story to a school official who repeats or summarizes the story to the student or parent.
- Does a student or his parent have a right to present evidence?
YES. The student has the right to present his side of the story, which might consist of:
- telling officials what others told him
- telling officials what he knows himself
- bringing in other documents or information that do not require witnesses
- Does a student or his parent have a right to call other student or teachers as witnesses?
THIS DEPENDS ON HOW SEVERE THE PUNISHMENT IS.
If the punishment is severe, schools should generally allow students to have others speak on their behalf as long as this is not overly disruptive to the school day. Witnesses could include:
- fellow students
- other school officials
If witnesses are not able to speak at a given time, the student can collect written statements of these individuals and present them.
- Does due process apply to punishments other than suspensions, such as kicking a student off of an athletic team, out of a class, or denying a student the right to participate in graduation ceremonies?
THIS DEPENDS ON YOUR STATE’S LAWS. You should consult the policy of your specific state.
Traditionally, courts have said NO, ruling that these punishments are privileges rather than rights. However, some more recent court decisions have said YES, ruling that students have an educational right to these privileges.
- Is there any benefit to participating in a due process hearing if I know that my child has done what he is accused of?
YES, because you can help ensure that the school does not impose an overly harsh punishment.
The due process hearing serves two purposes:
- To determine whether or not the student has done something wrong
- To determine what the punishment should be.
- Should my child have an attorney represent him at a due process hearing?
Attorneys are helpful in the due process hearing but not always necessary.
Due process hearings are designed for everyday people to participate in. They do not follow the same complex rules of courtrooms.
- How can I prepare for my child and myself for a due process hearing?
Parents do not need “inside knowledge” to advocate for their children. Parents should be confident in their ability to advocate and step in to defend their children. With that said, there are various things parents should do to prepare their child and themselves for the hearing.
- Do I have the right to an attorney at a due process hearing?
YES, you have the right to have an attorney present to advise you. However, in many states, you do not have the right for that attorney to speak on your behalf or to cross-examine witnesses.
- Is there any limit on how long a student can be suspended for a particular behavior?
YES, but this limit is not always clear. Federal law only requires that a punishment be “reasonable.” (and most punishment is at least arguably reasonable) so schools have a lot of say in the length of the suspension. However, some punishments would seem clearly inappropriate under federal law. For example, suspending a student for a week because he disrupted class by talking would seem clearly excessive, or isolating a student in a dark room for hours for disobeying authority would seem cruel or degrading under federal law.
State law or school district policy might place specific limits or create specific punishments for certain behaviors.
For the most part, schools have the power to decide the length of a suspension.
- Are schools allowed to paddle students or administer corporal (physical) punishment?
IT DEPENDS ON YOUR STATE. Federal law permits paddling but some state or local laws prohibit it. For a list of those states, visit [http://www.corpun.com/usscr2.htm#arizona].
Federal law places some limits on how severe corporal punishment can be.
- What should I do if the school follows all the due process rules, but I believe that my child has been discriminated against or treated unfairly?
1. You should raise these concerns DURING the due process hearing rather than afterwards.
2. Present Concrete EVIDENCE such as:
- BEST FORM: Students of another race who have engaged in the same or similar conduct, but either have not been punished at all or have not been punished as severely.
- Testimony of your child or your child’s peers.
- If possible, locate data on the school district that reveals a pattern of unequal treatment under the rule. This may be something you are not able to acquire until after the hearing.
3. You should also consider whether the rule itself is discriminatory (not just the application of the rule to your child.) Does the rule restrict a behavior that is exclusive to one racial/ethnic group and does not restrict similar behavior for other groups? Example: If the rule itself only prohibits a hairstyle that tends to be worn by African Americans and no rule similarly restricts the hairstyles that tend to be worn by whites, it may be that the rule itself is discriminatory.
NOTE: You have the right to sue in court or to file an administrative complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. There is no cost and you do not need an attorney. You can file here: [http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html].
- What can I do if I believe my child has a disability?
You can notify the school and request that it conduct an evaluation of the student, which it would be required to do by law.
- What if the school concludes that my child does not have a disability, but I believe otherwise?
You may request an independent evaluation, mediation, and/or a due process hearing where a hearing officer will resolve the dispute.
- Can a school place my child in special education against my will?
No, before the school even evaluates your child for special education, it must provide you with notice and get your consent. If you refuse to consent, the school’s only option is to seek your approval through mediation or to request a hearing before a hearing officer. Even if you consent to the evaluation, you might not agree with its findings and are entitled to an independent evaluation of your child, mediation, or a hearing before a hearing officer.
- Who decides whether my child has a disability?
No one person decides. It is a group decision and many parties should participate in the decision. The decision of whether your child has a disability is made by a group called a “MET” (multidisciplinary evaluation team) of individuals who know your child in a school, personal, and community setting. The group could include:
- Parents/Legal Guardians
- Your Child’s Regular Teachers
- A special education teacher
- School Official in Charge of Special Education
- Your Child (if appropriate)
- Other people the parent believes has special knowledge of the child: friend/relative, community leader, religious leader
*If the group does not agree, the other processes (mediation, independent evaluation, or a hearing) decide.
- What services or opportunities are children with disabilities entitled to?
There is no set list of services that children with disabilities should receive. All students with disabilities receive an Individual Education Plan, or “IEP,” that is designed to meet the student’s specific abilities, needs and goals. Student’s IEP COULD INCLUDE:
- Divided Classroom time between a pull-out and regular classroom.
- Assistance from Aides, Other Staff
- Hearing aids, specialized reading materials, or specialized computer programs.
- Speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists.
- Additional time to complete exams or write papers/complete assignments.
*If you believe that your student’s IEP services are insufficient, you can challenge it through mediation or a due process hearing.
- Can a school discriminate against my child based on his/her disability?
NO. Anti-discrimination laws apply to students with disabilities and prohibit the school from discriminating against your child based on the disability. Discrimination occurs when the school prevents your child from participating in some activity that the school thinks the child is incapable of due to a disability when in fact your child is capable, or would be if the school made some reasonable accommodation.
- What accommodations must schools make for students with disabilities?
Schools should make all accommodations that are reasonable for students with disabilities. Schools cannot limit students’ educational opportunities just because they have disabilities. If a disabled student is capable of participating in an activity, the school cannot bar the student simply because he has a disability. In addition, if the student could participate if the school would only make a slight or reasonable accommodation, the school must make the accommodation that permits the student to participate.
- What steps can I take when I am dissatisfied with the special education services my child is receiving?
At almost any point in the special education process, the parent has the right to challenge the services that are being provided to the student through a due process hearing and/or mediation.
- Can schools discipline students who have disabilities/do any different rules apply to students with disabilities?
YES, schools can discipline students who have disabilities. HOWEVER, special rules apply to disabled students depending on the length of the suspension. If the suspension is for 10 days or less the same rules for general education students apply to special education students. If the suspension is for more than 10 days in a row OR if the student has been suspended multiple times for a total of more than 10 days, special rules apply:
- The school must conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment to decide how to modify the student’s IEP to address the behavior that led to the suspension.
- The school must ALSO conduct a Manifestation Determination Review to determine whether the student’s misconduct was related to the student’s disability or simply misbehavior in general.
If the behavior RELATED to disability the student must be readmitted to school immediately with his IEP adjusted accordingly. If the behavior UNRELATED to disability the student receives the same discipline as general students.
- What rules apply when special education students bring weapons or drugs to school, or pose a substantial danger of injury to other students?
The school must still conduct the assessments described in the previous question to make the necessary adjustments to the student’s IEP and to determine whether the behavior is related to the student’s disability. However, if the student has brought a weapon or drugs to school, or poses a substantial danger, the school has the authority to place the student in an alternative educational setting for up to 45 days.
- How soon does a due process hearing occur?
A due process hearing should occur within 45 days of you or the school requesting it. You can request a due process hearing for any aspect of your child’s special education program.
- What happens at a due process hearing?
1. Hearing Officer will offer introductory remarks.
2. School will present evidence and testimony.
3. You (or your attorney) will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony. In making your case, you have the right:
- to have an attorney or individual present to assist you
- to cross-examine witnesses
- to subpoena (to call forth/summon) witnesses
- to obtain your child’s records
- to receive a transcript of the hearing
- to a written decision by the hearing officer
4. Statements by the school, you, and the hearing officer that summarize the case.
- Do I have the right to challenge the outcome of a due process hearing?
YES. You can appeal the decision to an administrative law judge who specializes in these cases. After that, you can file a lawsuit in state or federal court.
- Do I have the right to an attorney in special education proceedings?
YES. You have a right to have legal representation. However, the school is not obligated to provide one for you. You must locate your own attorney. If you are ultimately successful in your administrative or court proceedings, you will be entitled to attorney’s fees. Some attorneys are willing to take special education case without requiring any upfront money from you because they are confident that you will later be awarded attorney’s fees.
- What happens if I demonstrate that the school has acted inappropriately?
If you win a due process hearing, an appeal, or a case in court, your child will be entitled to:
- The services you are demanding in the future.
- If necessary, compensatory services to remedy the past mistakes of the school.
- Reimbursement for private services that you may have paid for your child while the school was acting inappropriately (most often, this is private school tuition.)
- Attorney’s fees
- Does my child have a right to an education/is education a fundamental right?
YES, the state constitutions and the laws of every state entitle your child to an education, a right that cannot easily be taken away without due process.
In SOME STATES, education is a “fundamental right.” These states protect students’ right to education to an even greater degree, including: 1) the quality of education students receive and 2) necessary processes to remove a student from school.
- Is the school obligated to deliver a “good” or “quality” education?
In most instances, the answer is yes. Several state supreme courts have held that the state is obligated to provide students with a quality education. Some states call this a “sound basic education,” while others call it a “thorough,” “efficient,” or “high quality education.” Even where courts have not mandated a quality education, most states have enacted statutes that require schools to deliver particular instruction to students that is designed to lead to high school graduation and college or employment.
- Is the state or school district obligated to eliminate inequalities between schools?
It depends on what state you live in and what is causing the inequality.
“Education is a Fundamental Right” States: In those states where education is a fundamental right or students have a right to a quality education, inequalities between schools and school districts are often unconstitutional. In “fundamental rights” states, most courts will apply the highest scrutiny to educational inequality and demand a justification from the state or school. If the justification is less than compelling, the court will order a remedy.
“Right to Quality Education” States: In states where there is a right to quality education, inequalities are unconstitutional if those inequalities result in students receiving a low quality education. Inequalities that do not significantly diminish the quality of education, however, are constitutional. In the remaining states, courts have tended to find that inequalities between schools and districts are fine because their constitution values local control and discretion over equality.
Finally, regardless of what state you live in, if the inequalities are a result of racial discrimination, they are barred by the United States constitution.
- What should I do if my child is receiving a poor education/struggling in schools?
You should determine the cause of the problem:
5 Common Causes for a Child Struggling in School
1. THE SCHOOL LACKS RESOURCES
- School is not receiving enough support from the school district or state.
- The state and/or school district are often obligated to fix these resource deficiencies.
2. THE TEACHER IS NOT SUFFICIENTLY QUALIFIED
- Federal law requires that teachers in the four core subjects are “highly qualified,” which varies by state, but generally means that they have received certification in the areas they teach.
- If a teacher is not certified, you should challenge this as a violation of the No Child Left Behind Act.
- If the teacher is certified, but a poor teacher, your complaint might instead be that the school and state are failing to provide your child with the necessary quality of education.
3. THE CURRICULUM IS NOT CHALLENGING
- The teacher is fine, but the curriculum is too basic or remedial.
- If your child has been placed in a low-level ability group, you should challenge this placement with the school (Ability placement is often influenced by school administrator or teacher bias.)
- Even if your child does not need a higher level placement, you should argue that your child’s curriculum does not meet state standards.
4. YOUR CHILD IS EXPERIENCING DISCIPLINARY PROBLEMS
- You should ensure that all of the due process procedures are being followed.
- You can use these procedures to attempt to minimize the punishments or force the school to be more careful in how they deal with your child.
- Discuss this matter with the teacher and see if there are strategies that the teacher and your child could adopt to improve your child’s experience.
- If the problem is more serious, it may be due to problems outside of school so it may help to notify the school of these problems to take them into account.
5. YOUR CHILD HAS A DISABILITY
- If you believe your student’s behavior might stem from a disability, follow the special education process outlined above or in our Tips on Special Education section.