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What to Do When You Disagree With a Special Education Decision


This article explains the rules that schools must follow to change or refuse to change a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Parents will learn what to do when they do not agree with a school’s decision about their child’s IEP. If you do not agree, you have the right to appeal the decision (have it reviewed). If you have any questions about your rights, please contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).

Does the school need my permission to change my child’s IEP?

Your child’s school may change your child’s IEP without your consent.  If you do not want this change to happen you must file for mediation or due process. This includes a change to your child’s school placement and services. Before the change is made, the school district must send you a letter, called prior written notice, which must be in English or in your native language. Many times the school district does this by sending a new proposed IEP. The school district is supposed to send you their proposal within 15 days of the decision to change the IEP and at least 15 days before the change will happen. The school district must describe what they plan to do and why. If you have asked for a change and they are not going to agree they must also tell you why in writing. They are required to tell you what other options  the IEP team considered and rejected before making its decision. The notice must inform you of your rights and your child’s rights and tell you where you can get a copy of the Parental Rights in Special Education manual, commonly called the PRISE manual. The manual describes your child’s special education rights. The notice must also include a list of resources where you can go for help.

THE PRISE MANUAL describes your child’s special education rights. It is written by the New Jersey Department of Education and includes information about:

  • Evaluations
  • Independent educational evaluations
  • Prior written notice
  • Parental consent
  • Access to school records
  • Discipline procedures
  • Due process hearings
  • Placement pending an appeal
Schools must give you a copy of the PRISE manual when your child is first referred for a special education evaluation and once a year after that. It must also be given to you the first time you file a due process request (for a court hearing to resolve a dispute with the school district). If you request a copy of the PRISE manual, your school must provide one to you. PRISE Manual (from the New Jersey Department of Education)
The PRISE manual is currently available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese.

What should I do if I want a change to my child’s IEP?

If you want a change to be made to your child’s IEP, you should send your child’s special education case manager a letter (or email) asking for the change you want. The school district must respond to your request within 20 days. If a meeting needs to be held to discuss your request, it must be held within 20 days of your request.

What should I do if I don’t agree with the school’s decision about my child?

If you do not agree with a decision the school has made about your child’s education, or if the school has refused your request about your child’s education, you may request mediation or due process. You may file for mediation alone or with a request for due process. Examples of reasons you may file a mediation or due process request include:

  • The school’s refusal to evaluate or reevaluate your child;
  • The school’s determination that your child is not eligible for services;
  • The fact that you disagree with the school’s choice of your child’s special education classification, placement, or related services.

If you are appealing a discipline matter, you may ask for an expedited due process hearing. This means your matter will be heard more quickly than a regular due process hearing request.

If you are planning to file for mediation or due process, speak with a lawyer before you file by calling the number at the end of this article.

What is the difference between mediation and due process?

Mediation is a meeting involving you, the school, and a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who will help you and the school reach an agreement about your child’s education. If you come to an agreement, it will be put into writing. This agreement is enforceable. You cannot be required to attend mediation or enter into a mediation agreement. Anything you or the other side says during a mediation session is confidential.

Due process hearings are conducted by judges. At a due process hearing, you and the school district will have the opportunity to argue your positions regarding your child’s education by presenting witnesses and evidence to support your argument. After hearing from both sides, the judge will make a decision in writing. If you do not agree with the judge’s decision, you have the right to file an appeal in state or federal court within 90 days of the judge’s decision.

How do I request due process or mediation?

You may request due process and/or mediation by writing to the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education. See Dispute Resolution Forms, Policies and Procedures (from the New Jersey Department of Education) for an online form that you can use to make the request.

The request must include the following information:

  • Your child’s name and address
  • Your child’s date of birth
  • The name of your child’s school
  • A description of the problem
  • Any facts relating to the problem
  • What you think should be the solution to the problem
  • A statement that you mailed a copy of the request to the school district.

Your request must include all the required information listed above. If the request is missing any information, the school district may object to it and your case could be dismissed.

Your request must also include all the concerns and issues you have. You will not be able to bring up any new issues at the time of the hearing. You can file a request up to two years from the date that you knew or should have known of the issue about which you are filing. Under certain limited circumstances, the two-year requirement may not apply. To file the request, mail to:

Director, Office of Special Education
New Jersey Department of Education
P.O. Box 500
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0500

Or email the request to [email protected]. You must attach your request as a PDF. If you plan to submit supporting documents, you cannot email them.

You must also send a copy to the school district and make sure to keep a copy for yourself.

If you file for due process and the school has not already sent you prior written notice (as explained above), the school must respond to your due process request within 10 days. If the school district has filed for due process, you must respond to the issues in its request within 10 days.

How do I request mediation and a due process hearing?

To settle a dispute with the school district through mediation, and also keep open the option of having a due process hearing (in case mediation does not resolve the issue), you should request both mediation and due process. It is easy to do this using the standard form for a due process request, available online at the New Jersey Department of Education's Forms page. Check the box on the form that says you are requesting due process and then check the box below that says you are requesting mediation.

I only requested mediation and we did not come to an agreement. Is it too late to request a due process hearing?

If you only requested mediation and the mediation does not resolve your dispute, you can ask the mediator to convert your request to due process. You can also ask to change your mediation request to a due process request before mediation takes place. To do this, you will need to send a request in writing to the Office of Special Education. See Dispute Resolution Forms, Policies and Procedures (from the New Jersey Department of Education) for more information about converting “mediation only” requests.

I was told I have to go to a resolution meeting. What is that?

If you file a request for due process, before a due process hearing is held, you will be required to have a meeting with the school district to see if you can resolve your dispute without a hearing. This meeting is called a resolution meeting. Resolution meetings must be held within 15 days of filing for due process. If you filed for due process about a discipline matter, the resolution meeting must be held within seven days of when you filed for due process.

You must attend the resolution meeting, unless you and the school district agree to attend mediation or agree not to have the resolution meeting. The resolution meeting is a chance for you and the school district to try to resolve the matter without going to court. You have the right to bring a lawyer with you to this meeting. If you do, the school district may also bring a lawyer. If you do not have an attorney at the meeting, the school district may not have an attorney. What is said at a resolution meeting is not confidential. This is different from mediation. Everything said at mediation is confidential.

If you and the school district come to an agreement, that agreement must be put in writing and signed by you and a school district representative. You have three days to review the written agreement. After three days, the agreement is enforceable in state or federal court.

I filed for due process two weeks ago but still do not have a court date. What should I do?

Once you file for due process, your request will stay at the Office of Special Education for 30 days. If you do not resolve your matter within those 30 days, your due process request will be sent to the Office of Administrative Law and a hearing will be scheduled with an administrative law judge. The first court date will be a pre-hearing settlement conference. These conferences are held on Thursdays. A judge will be present at the conference to help you and the school district come to an agreement, but the judge will not be making a decision on your case. If you do not come to an agreement with the school district, your case will be scheduled for another pre-hearing conference and then a hearing date. The hearing is where you will have the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence and question the school district’s witnesses.

What happens if I need to have the hearing in less than 30 days?

Once you file a due process request, a hearing is not scheduled for at least 45 days (sometimes longer). If waiting this long will cause your child to suffer serious harm, you can ask for emergent relief as part of your due process request. Examples of when you may need emergent relief include a situation when your child is out of school and not receiving educational services, or a situation where remaining in a current school program may cause your child physical or emotional harm. You may only ask for emergent relief under certain circumstances, such as:

  • A break in delivery of services (such as transportation, speech therapy, or an aide)
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Placement (such as a school setting or home instruction)
  • Graduation or participation in graduation ceremonies

How do I ask for emergent relief?

If you believe you need emergent relief, you should fill out an emergent relief request along with your due process request. This form is located at the New Jersey Department of Education’s Dispute Resolution Forms, Policies and Procedures page. (Request for Emergent Relief and Certification in Lieu of Affidavit or Notarized Statement of Petitioner Seeking Emergent Relief. To obtain emergent relief, you will need to show that:

  • Your child will suffer irreparable harm if the relief you are requesting is not granted.
  • The legal right underlying your claim is settled.
  • You have a likelihood of winning your underlying claim on the merits.
  • Your child will suffer a greater harm than the school district if the relief you have requested is not granted.

What happens to my child’s educational IEP while I am disputing a change the school wants to make?

Once you file for due process or mediation your child is entitled to what is called “stay put”. “Stay put” means that during the time it takes to resolve your case, the school district is not permitted to make a change to your child’s education. This means that they cannot make any changes to their classification, program, related services or placement. For example, if the school district has proposed to reduce your child’s speech therapy services from three times a week to once a week, they will not be permitted to do so if you have filed for mediation or due process. “Stay put” does not apply to appeals of discipline matters. See Special Education and School Discipline.

What is a complaint investigation?

If you do not agree with a decision by your school district about your child’s education or you feel the school district is not following the law, you may also file for a complaint investigation. Any person or group is allowed to request a complaint investigation from the Department of Education. You do not have to be a parent of a special education student. A request for a complaint investigation must be filed within one year from the date of the alleged violation. See Dispute Resolution Forms, Policies and Procedures (from the New Jersey Department of Education) for a Request for Complaint Investigation form.

When a complaint investigation is requested, the Office of Special Education must investigate the matter. This may require an on-site investigation of the school or the placement. The Office of Special Education then issues a report. If it determines that the school district is not following the law, the school district will be required to correct the violation(s).

For more information about complaint investigations, or if you have questions about your rights, contact LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). You may also contact the hotline through our online intake. If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​