What Are My Rights?
From time to time, I receive brief telephone messages on my answering service or a brief email from a concerned parent of a special needs child who is only interested in learning the answer to a single question: “What are my rights?”
The answer to the question, “What are my rights?” cannot be given until the parent has provided sufficient background about the child (age, grade, disability), the child’s current placement (general education, resource, self-contained), the level of services currently being provided to the child (speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.).
In addition, a special education attorney needs to know if there is an IEP currently in place; how long the child has been classified; and when the child was last evaluated. It does not even end there. Sometimes, attorneys need to know if the child’s placement or services has ever been litigated.
Without knowing the basics, the question “What are my rights” cannot be answered. It is like sealing a leak without the necessary tools. When a client gives a detailed background about what has happened (the tools), it is much easier for a lawyer to explain what rights the client has.
A parent of a classified child has many rights: They have a right to request an IEP meeting. They have a right to request an independent evaluation. They have a right to file a petition for a due process hearing. They have a right to request reimbursement for attorney’s fees and costs if they are a prevailing party. These are but a handful of rights (there are plenty more). That is why it is important to answer each and every question the attorney asks you, so that the attorney can figure out what your rights are right now.
So, when you call or email an attorney for the first time about a legal issue, you can reasonably expect to answer many questions before your lawyer will give you the answer that you’re looking for.