What should I know about IDEA rights for students in special education?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Students with Disabilities

Rights of parents and students with disabilities under the IDEA


What rights do parents and students with disabilities have under the IDEA?

All parents and students have certain rights in schools when it comes to things like access to student records, discipline, and discrimination (link to student rights article). 


Students with disabilities and their parents have additional rights under several laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This article covers students and parents rights under the IDEA.

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Who is considered a student with a disability?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers: 

  • Students with disabilities,

  • Who, because of their disability, need special education to make progress in school.


The IDEA covers 13 categories of disabilities: 

  • Autism

  • Deaf-blindness

  • Deafness

  • Emotional disturbance

  • Hearing impairment

  • Intellectual disability

  • Multiple disabilities

  • Orthopedic impairment

  • Other health impairment (including ADHD)

  • Specific learning disabilities, including 

    • dyslexia, 

    • dyscalculia, 

    • dysgraphia, and other learning differences)

  • Speech or language impairment

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Visual impairment, including blindness


If a student is covered under the IDEA, they qualify for special education services. 


If your student does not qualify under the IDEA for services, they may still qualify for support for their disability. Schools give students accommodations under 504 plans. Accommodations might include:

  • More time for tests, or

  • A study skills class.


A 504 plan is available to any student with a condition that limits daily activities in a major way. Learn about 504 plans on the Understood.org website.

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What rights do parents and students with disabilities have with testing?

Under the IDEA, the school must identify all children that may be disabled and then evaluate each child to decide what type of educational services the child needs. 


Parents must agree to any testing.


Parents may also ask for an evaluation. The school may not agree.  If they don’t agree to the evaluation, the school must:

  • Give you written notice explaining why they will not test your child, and

  • Notice that you have a right to a due process hearing to decide whether your child should be evaluated.


If both you and the school agree to testing, you have the right to:

  • An initial evaluation and decision within 60 calendar days. Certain days, like summer or breaks, do not count towards the 60 days.

  • Have your child tested using a variety of tests and data. 

  • Have the test done in your child’s native language or way of communicating.

  • Give the testers information you have from a private evaluation. This information should be considered in deciding whether your child gets services.

  • Have an evaluation done at least every three years.

  • Get a free copy of the evaluation and any information used to make the decision.


If you disagree with the school’s evaluation, you have the right to request an independent evaluation paid for by the school. This is done by a specialist outside of the school. Once you make the request, the school must either:

  • Ask for a due process hearing if they think another evaluation isn’t needed. The hearing will be to show whether the evaluation was appropriate. If there is a hearing and it’s decided that the evaluation was appropriate, you can still get an independent evaluation, but you will have to pay for it. 

  • Give your child an independent evaluation that the school pays for.

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What rights to students with disabilities have with their learning environment?

Students with disabilities have the right to be taught in the “least restrictive” environment. This means that they have the right:

  • To the greatest extent possible, be in classrooms and school activities with all students who are the same age and grade.

  • To get accommodations and changes made that allow the student to be a part of school activities and programs.

What rights do students with disabilities have if they do not have a parent or guardian to participate in their education?

Students whose parents are not available or who are wards of the state need someone to work for their rights. In this case, the student has the right to a “surrogate” parent. This means:

  • The school assign an adult to step in for the child’s parents. That adult will help make decisions in the best interest of the child when it comes to:

    • Testing,

    • Special Education Meetings, or

    • Educational decisions.

  • These adults will get special training.

  • They will have the same rights as a parent in special education decisions.

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What rights do parents have to participate in and get notice of their student’s education decisions?

Parents have the right to participate in the decision about the educational placement and services their child receives. The school must get a parent’s consent:

  • before evaluating their child,

  • before meeting to make a plan of action, and

  • before changing their child’s placement.

If parents disagree with anything in the school’s evaluation or education plan, they should tell the school that and explain what action they want the school to take.


Parents have the right to:

  • be invited to attend any meetings about your child,

  • get copies of all documents about your child in your native language. If you need an interpreter, the school district must provide one.

  • Have your kid’s IEP Team meeting held at a time that both you and the other team members can attend.

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What rights do parents have to private education?

A school district is only required to pay for a private school if they did not:

  • Offer a free public education that,

  • Meets your child’s particular educational needs. These needs are the ones that are:

    • Identified through testing and

    • Included in your child’s IEP.

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What rights do parents of students with disabilities have to challenge education decisions?

Parents can also request mediation and a hearing about disagreements they have with the school. Parents can have an attorney go with them to meetings, mediation and hearings.

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How can a parent or guardian of a student with a disability challenge an education decision?

If you disagree with any decisions about your child’s education, you should first try to solve the issue by talking to:

  • Your kid’s teacher,

  • The principal, and 

  • The special education director.


If you still can’t solve the problem, you should request a due process hearing. A due process hearing is a legal proceeding. You must request a hearing within 2 years of the date you:

  • Knew or

  • Should have known about the problem.

If the school hid the problem or told you the problem was solved, the time limit doesn’t apply.


A due process hearing request must be in writing and can be filed by the family of the student or the school. A due process hearing request should include:

  • Your student’s name,

  • Home address,

  • Name of the school,

  • A description of the problem,

  • Your idea for a solution to the problem (what change you want to happen).


Send the due process hearing request to:

  • The Georgia Department of Education:

    • By fax to (404) 651-6457

    • By mail. Send to:

Director, Division for Special Education Supports and Services

Georgia Department of Education

1870 Twin Towers East

Atlanta, Georgia 30334

  • The school, superintendent or Special Education Director.

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What happens after I file a due process hearing request?

After you request a due process hearing, the school system must:

  • Respond in writing to your request within 10 days. The response should explain why they will or will not make the changes you are asking for.

  • Hold a resolution meeting within 15 days. A resolution meeting is a meeting to work out the issue. If both you and the school agree, you do not have to hold this meeting. You also do not have to hold this meeting if you decide to go to mediation to solve the problem. If you do have the resolution meeting, it must include:

    • You (the child’s family),

    • Members of the IEP team,

    • Someone from the school who can make decisions.


An administrative law judge (ALJ) decides the outcome of the due process hearing. If, after 30 days, you and the school have not come to an agreement, the ALJ has 45 days to hold the hearing.

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What happens at a due process hearing?

The due process hearing is where you will present all of the evidence in support of your request. These are legal proceedings, so you may want to talk to a due process hearing expert or attorney to help you prepare for the hearing.


If you asked for the hearing, you will give your opening statement and present your evidence first. Evidence can be witnesses or documents. As a parent, it is your right to:

  • Have your child attend the hearing,

  • Have the hearing open to the public,

  • Have the hearing recorded at no cost to you.


After the hearing, the ALJ will send you a written decision by mail. If you disagree with this decision, you have 90 days to appeal to a district court.

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What can I do if there is a violation of the IDEA?

For any violation of the IDEA, you should file a formal complaint with the Georgia Department of Education. You can file a formal complaint about violations that affect:

  • One student,

  • A group of students, or

  • The entire school system.


A complaint must be filed within one year of the violation. After you file a complaint, the Georgia Department of Education will likely offer mediation between you and the school district. You do not have to go to mediation if you do not want to.


You must include certain information with your formal complaint.

  • A statement that something the school system did was against the IDEA Part B,

  • Detailed facts about the violation,

  • Your signature and contact information,

  • If the claim is about one specific student, including:

    • The student’s name,

    • The student’s home address,

    • The student’s school,

    • What the problem is,

    • Any facts about the issue, AND

    • A proposed solution to the problem.


File a written complaint with the Georgia Department of Education. Fill out the Formal Complaint Form and send:

·  By fax to (404) 651-6457

·  By mail. Send to:

o   Director, Division for Special Education Supports and Services

Georgia Department of Education

1870 Twin Towers East

Atlanta, Georgia 30334


Send a copy of the complaint to the Superintendent or Special Education Director.

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What happens after I file a formal complaint?

The Georgia Department of Education must investigate and take action within 60 days.


The investigation might include:

  • A written response from the local school system,

  • Witness interviews, a school visit, or document reviews.


The investigators will decide whether there was an IDEA violation. You will then get a written decision. The decision will let you know what steps the school district must take.

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More info


  • Learn about 504 plans on Understood.org.
  • Find support and information on the Parents Helping Parents website.

  • Learn more about filing a formal complaint with the Georgia Department of Education (this links to a PDF which may not be fully accessible).

  • Learn more about requesting a due process hearing on the Georgia Department of Education website (this links to a PDF which may not be fully accessible).
Last Review and Update: Apr 13, 2022
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