The governing federal statute with respect to IEPs is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Your child has the right to a free and appropriate education regardless of whether you have a disability. Rhode Island, like all other states, has enacted (created) laws and regulations describing how students with disabilities are to be provided with the required education.
If you or your parents, or education advocate, feel that the IEP is inadequate, you have an absolute right to challenge it and schedule a hearing before a person who can provide an independent opinion, which means they are not working for the school. You have the right to have a lawyer at the hearing and to appeal a decision with which you disagree.
In order to request a hearing, you or the school district must submit a due process complaint to the other party. Whoever files the complaint, must also provide the Rhode Island Department of Education with a copy of the complaint. The due process complaint will be considered sufficient unless the party receiving the due process complaint notifies the hearing officer and the other party in writing, within 15 calendar-days of receiving the complaint, that the receiving party believes that the due process complaint does not meet the requirements.
A due process complaint must include the alleged violation and the facts that this violation is based on. If the complaint is about a specific student then the complaint needs to include the name of the child, the name of the school the child is attending, the nature of the problem of the child’s and a resolution to that problem.
After a complaint has been filed, within 15 calendar days of receiving notice of your due process complaint, and before the due process hearing begins, the school district must convene a meeting with you and members of the IEP Team who have specific knowledge of the facts identified in your due process complaint. The purpose of the meeting is for you to discuss your due process complaint, and the facts that form the basis of the complaint, so that the school district has the opportunity to resolve the dispute, prior to the hearing.
To address concerns of what may happen to your child when a complaint is filed, Rhode Island there has a “stay put” law. Meaning if the parents have demanded a formal hearing the child stays in the last place that was agreed upon by all parties. This is also the same if the parents have received notice that the school is trying to take the child off the special education program.
Are there options other than a hearing?
Yes. In Rhode Island, mediation is available to the parents and school districts as a means of dispute resolution. Mediation can be used regardless of whether you filed a complaint. This is voluntary to all parties and needs to be conducted by a qualified and impartial mediator.
For additional information and assistance, contact the following agencies:
- Rhode Island Department of Education
255 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
- Rhode Island Legal Services Educational Advocate
Veronika Kot, Esq.
- Reference the Office of the Child Advocate’s Kids Rights Handbook