Click on a heading to expand or collapse that heading’s content.

  • What is special education?

    Special education programs in Ohio are governed by both federal and state law.  In most instances they are the same or very similar.  In some cases, state law may provide more protections than federal law.  State law never limits the protections offered under federal law.  Under both federal and state law, school districts must provide each student with a disability with a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

  • Who is eligible for special education?

    Children with a qualifying disability are entitled to receive special education and related services.  Eligible disabilities include:

    • cognitive disability (mental retardation);
    • hearing impairments (including deafness);
    • speech or language impairments;
    • visual impairments (including blindness);
    • serious emotional disturbance;
    • orthopedic impairment;
    • autism;
    • traumatic brain injury;
    • other health impairments;
    • specific learning disabilities; and
    • developmental delay (for children ages 3-5 only). 

    20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401(3); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.8; Ohio Admin. Code (O.A.C.) Rule 3301-51-01(A)(10).  Children may be eligible for special education between the ages of three and twenty-one years of age.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(A); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.102(a)(3).

    A child is not eligible for special education if the determining factor in the child’s needs is a lack of instruction in reading, a lack of instruction in math, or limited English proficiency.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414(b)(5); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.306(b); Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(G)(2)(a).

  • What type of education are children with a qualifying disability entitled to? What is a “free appropriate public education”?

    Under both federal and state law, school districts must provide each student with a disability with a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  FAPE means special education and related services that:

    • are provided at public expense and without charge;
    • meet appropriate standards;
    • include preschool through secondary education; and
    • conform with an Individual Education Program (IEP). 

    20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401(9); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.17.  Special education must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  To the extent appropriate, all students with disabilities should be educated with students who are not disabled.  34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.114.

    Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of a child with disabilities.  Specially-designed instruction means “adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child…the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that he or she can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.”  34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.38(b)(3).

    An “appropriate” educational program and placement is one which is designed to meet a student’s unique needs in accordance to his or her individualized education plan (IEP) and allows him or her to obtain “educational benefit.” See Hendrick Hudson Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982); see also Doe v. Smith, 879 F.2d 1340 (6th Cir. 1989).

  • In addition to a free appropriate public education, are there other services a child with a disability is entitled to? What are “related services”?

    In addition to being required to provide a free appropriate public education, school districts are required to provide “related services”, which allow a student to benefit from his or her special education program at no cost to the parents.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(A)(3)(b).  In Ohio, related services may include any of the following:

    • transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education;
    • speech-language pathology and audiology services;
    • interpreting services;
    • psychological services;
    • physical and occupational therapy;
    • recreation (including therapeutic recreation);
    • early identification and assessment of disabilities in children;
    • counseling services (including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services);
    • medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes;
    • school health services and school nurse services;
    • social work services in schools; and
    • parent counseling and training.

    Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(B)(52).

  • Who provides special education?

    The child’s school district of residence is responsible, in all instances, for ensuring that the requirements for making a free appropriate public education available are met.  This applies to every eligible child in the district’s jurisdiction, regardless of whether services are provided by another school district or other entity.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(A)(2)(a).  Each school district is also responsible for serving a child with a disability who is living in its school district, even if it is not the child’s school district of residence.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(A)(3)(a). 

    If the school district fails to provide services, the Ohio Department of Education is ultimately responsible for providing special education services.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1413(a)(1); 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412(a)(11); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.149; Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-07(F).

  • Where should a child receive his or her special education and related services? What is a “least restrictive environment”?

    Special education must be provided in a least restrictive environment.  To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or nonpublic institutions or other facilities, must be educated with their nondisabled peers.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-09(B)(2)(a).  Students with disabilities may be removed from the regular educational environment only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412 (a)(5)(A); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.114.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-09(B)(2)(b). 

    Specialized education can be offered:

    • in the mainstream classroom;
    • in a resource room;
    • at home;
    • in hospitals;
    •  or residential programs. 

    Ohio law includes related services within the definition of special education if the related services help meet the requirements for specially designed instruction.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(B)(58).

  • How is a child determined to be eligible for special education? Is there an assessment or evaluation?

    Either a parent of a child or a public agency may request (either orally or in writing, although writing is recommended in order to document the request) that the school district conduct an initial evaluation to determine if the child is a child with a disability.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(B)(2).  The school district must then provide the parent with an evaluation/assessment plan upon receipt of such request.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(H)(2).  A copy of the parent’s procedural rights must accompany the evaluation/assessment plan.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(I)(1)(a).

    The school district must then obtain written consent from a parent to conduct an evaluation within thirty days of receipt of the request for evaluation.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-09(B)(2)(3).  The evaluation must be completed within sixty days of receipt of parental consent to the evaluation.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(B)(4)(a).  If a school district refuses to conduct assessment following a written referral, the parent may request a due process hearing.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(7)(a).  An evaluation for special education cannot occur without parental consent.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(C)(1)(a).

    A multidisciplinary team conducts evaluations or assessments in all areas of suspected disability.  Depending on a child’s needs, this may include an assessment of:

    • health;
    • vision;
    • hearing;
    • social and emotional status;
    • general intelligence;
    • academic performance;
    • communicative status; and
    • motor abilities. 


    Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(E)(3)(d).  No one assessment is determinative of eligibility or educational needs.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(E)(2)(b).  Assessment tools must be valid and given by trained and qualified professionals.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(G)(1)(a).  Tests must also be administered in the child’s primary language.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(E)(3)(a)(ii).

    For preschool-age children, as appropriate in certain cases, the evaluation shall include the following specialized assessments: (i) physical examination conducted by a licensed doctor; (ii) vision examination by an eye care specialist; and (iii) an audiology examination completed by a certified or licensed audiologist.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(E)(3)(i-iii).

    Parents are entitled to a copy of the assessments.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-06(G)(1)(b).  If the parent disagrees with the findings or recommendations, the parent may request an independent education evaluation (IEE), which must be considered at the child’s IEP.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(G)(2)(a).  The school district must provide an IEE to the parent at no cost, unless the school district seeks a due process hearing and the final decision of such due process hearing is that the school district’s assessment was appropriate.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(G)(2)(b-c).  In this case, the parent still has the right to an IEE, but the parent would have to pay for the cost of the IEE.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(G)(2)(c).

  • Once a child is identified as being eligible for special education, what are the next steps? What is an “IEP” (Individualized Education Program)? Do parents have any say in the IEP?

    Once it is determined that a child is eligible for special education, an Individualized Education Plan (frequently referred to as an “IEP”) is developed for that child.  An IEP outlines in writing the educational program for the student.  It is developed at a meeting by an IEP team.

    The IEP team must include:

    • the parent;
    • a special education teacher;
    • a regular education teacher;
    • a school district representative;
    • other individuals with knowledge or special expertise regarding the child; and
    • whenever appropriate, the child with the disability. 

    Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-07(I)(1)(a-g).

    The IEP must include:

    • a statement that discusses the child’s future;
    • a statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance;
    • a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals and benchmarks or short-term objectives designed to meet the child’s educational needs that result from the disability;
    • a description of the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals;
    • a timeline of when periodic reports will be provided regarding the progress the child is making toward meeting his or her goals;
      • a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, including the projected date of beginning such services;
      • an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other activities; and
      • a statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on state and district wide assessments.

    Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-07(H)(1)(a-i).

    Under Ohio law, a student with disabilities is not allowed to participate in any part of a special education program without written parental consent to the IEP.  On an initial IEP only, a parent has the option of refusing his or her consent for one or more specific services.  If this is the case only the parts of the IEP to which the parent has consented, if any, will be implemented.  Any parts of the IEP to which a parent has not consented may become the basis for a due process hearing.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(7)(a). 

    Parental consent may be revoked at any time by the parent, in which case any special education or related services to which consent has been revoked will cease.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-01(B)(12).

    If a child with a disability (who had an IEP that was in effect in a previous school district in Ohio) transfers to a new school district within Ohio, the new school district of residence (in consultation with the parents) must provide a FAPE to the child (including services comparable to those described in the child’s IEP from the previous school district), until the new school district of residence either:

    • adopts the child’s IEP from the previous school district of residence; or
    • develops, adopts, and implements a new IEP that meets that applicable IEP requirements. 

    Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-07(K)(5).

    If a child moves to Ohio with an IEP from another state, the receiving school must provide that child with a FAPE that includes services comparable to those included in his or her existing IEP until the receiving school district conducts necessary assessments and reviews relevant records.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-07(K)(6).

  • What options does a parent have if he or she disagrees with the proposed IEP placement or services? What are the procedures for due process?

    Due Process Complaint

    If a parent objects to the proposed IEP placement or services, or believes the school district has failed to comply with the child’s IEP, the parent is entitled to file for a due process claim.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(7).  In Ohio, such requests for due process are filed with the school district of residence.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(10)(b).

    When a parent files for due process, the complaint should contain:

    • identifying information about the child and provide a description of the nature of the problem.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(8)(b). 
    • a proposed resolution to the problem to the extent one is known and available to the parent at the time.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(8)(b)(vi). 

    If the complaint fails to do so, the school district may file a notice of insufficiency within fifteen days of receiving the complaint.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(8)(e)(i).  Within another five days, the administrative hearing officer may dismiss the complaint if this defect is not adequately addressed by the parent in an amended complaint.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(8)(e)(iii). 

    The parent is entitled to a written decision within forty-five days of completing or waiving the resolution process (described below), and may appeal within forty-five days of the receipt of the written decision.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(15)(a); (14)(b)(i).

    Informal Resolution Meeting

    In Ohio, the parent and school district must participate in an informal resolution meeting unless both parties agree to waive it.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(9)(a).  This resolution session must occur within fifteen days of the parent’s complaint, and must be completed within thirty days of the parent’s complaint.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(9)(a-b).  This resolution session includes both the parent and the school district.  While a parent is entitled to bring a lawyer to the resolution meeting, the school district may not bring an attorney if the parent does not.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(9)(a)(i)(b).

    If the parties reach an agreement at the resolution meeting, the agreement must be put in writing.  Both parties have three days to revoke their agreement, but in the event they do not, the agreement is binding and enforceable in state or federal court.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(9)(d).


    Parents who waive the resolution session may still participate in mediation.  A parent may file for mediation only, or mediation plus due process.  Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a trained, objective facilitator works with both parties to reach an agreement.  Mediation is available at any time up until the hearing.  In addition, the time period within which a due process hearing must be held and a decision rendered is not paused during mediation as it is during the resolution session.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(3).

    Due Process Hearing

    A parent has many rights at the hearing: 

    • The parent must be informed of free or low-cost legal assistance if the parent or school district files a due process complaint.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(7)(b). 
    • The hearing must be held at a time and place reasonably convenient for the parent.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(15)(d). 
    • A child may attend the hearing, and the parent may request that the hearing be closed to the public.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(11)(c). 
    • The hearing must be fair.  This means that the hearing officer must be impartial and that the parent may bring an attorney or advocate.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(10)(c)(i); (11)(a). 
    • Parents may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses and evidence presented by the school district.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(11)(a)(ii).

    “Stay Put” Policy

    Once a complaint has been filed, the student is entitled to “stay put.”  This means that the placement and services of the child’s last agreed upon IEP remain in effect until the complaint has been resolved.  A hearing or reviewing officer may grant specific extensions of time at the request of either party.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(19).  Both the parent and the school district may agree to a change in placement or services pending the outcome of the hearing.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(19)(a).  A hearing or reviewing officer may grant specific extensions of time at the request of either party.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(15)(c). 

    In addition, a child who is pending expulsion for certain discipline violations may be moved to an interim alternative educational setting pending the outcome of a hearing.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(b).

  • Can a special education student be disciplined?

    Students with disabilities are subject to the same suspension rules as nondisabled students, except that suspensions of students with disabilities cannot exceed ten consecutive days without a manifestation determination review.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(b).  Federal law allows for up to ten consecutive days of suspension of special education students without any requirement of a manifestation determination, but for suspensions in excess of ten days, there must be a manifestation-determination meeting.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k)(1)(B); Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(f). 

    Suspensions of More Than 10 Days

    Suspensions for more than ten consecutive school days and expulsions are considered “changes of placement,” and schools cannot change special education students’ placements without parental consent, or without a manifestation determination meeting.  There are exceptions for certain behaviors such as where the student is involved with drugs, weapons or presents a danger to himself or others.  20 U.S.C. Sec 1415(k)(1)(G); Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(g).  In such circumstances, the school district may place the student in an interim alternative setting for up to forty-five days.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k); Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(g).

    Manifestation Determination Meeting

    A manifestation determination meeting is a meeting of the relevant members of the IEP team to determine whether a child with a disability may be expelled or have his placement changed for more than ten consecutive school days for misconduct.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(e)(i).  It must be held within ten days of the school’s decision to expel the student or change his placement.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(e)(i).  The team must consider two issues:

    • was the behavior caused by, or did it have a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability; and
    • was the behavior the direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP? 

    Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(e)(i).

    If the team answers yes to either question, the child cannot be expelled, and a placement change would require the consent of the parent or a hearing officer’s order.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(f)(ii).  The school must also do a behavioral assessment for the student or modify the student’s existing behavior plan to address the behavior.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(20)(f)(i). 

    If the team denies that the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability, the parent may appeal by requesting a due process hearing.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-05(K)(22)(a).  The appeal should be resolved within thirty days, and in the interim, the child remains in the interim educational setting.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k)(1)(F); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.530(f). 

    Students with disabilities must continue to receive educational services during any period of suspension beyond ten days, during any period of interim placement, and during any period of expulsion.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412(a)(1) and 1415(k)(1)(D); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.530(d)(1).  The services a child receives under these circumstances must enable him to continue to participate in the general curriculum and to continue to progress toward meeting his IEP goals and to receive needed behavioral assessments and services.  20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k)(1)(D); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.530(d)(1)(i)(ii).

  • Can parents see the school records of their special education child?

    A parent is entitled to inspect, review and get a copy of all of a child’s school records.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-04(D)(1).  The school must provide a parent with copies of a child’s records without unnecessary delay, and in no case more than forty-five days after the request has been made.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-04(D)(1). 

    The school may charge a fee for copies of records, but it may not charge a fee to search for or retrieve records.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-04(H).  Parents are entitled to request correction or removal of information the parent believes to be inaccurate, misleading, or a violation of privacy.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-04(I).  Within a reasonable period of time, the school must either grant or deny the request.  Ohio Admin. Code Rule 3301-51-04(L)(1).