If you disagree with the suggested 504 plan or the IEP, you have many options including due process, administrative complaints, mediation and resolution meetings. However, your rights regarding your education are different under Section 504 and the IDEA.
The Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR) can be used to file complaints against schools / districts, as well as the Delaware Department of Education, when they violate Section 504’s and the ADA’s protections for individuals with disabilities, including discrimination. OCR enforces Section 504 and Title II of the ADA, as well as other laws safeguarding protected classes. OCR does not have jurisdiction over IDEA but students with IEPs can still file complaints with OCR for violations of Section 504 and the ADA. This is because students who are covered by IDEA (meaning students with IEPs) also meet Section 504 and ADA eligibility requirement of qualified persons with disabilities, and so are protected by those laws as well.
OCR complaints can be used for a single student or for a group of students. OCR complaints must be filed within 180 calendar days of the alleged discrimination, except in certain circumstances. After OCR receives a complaint it performs a neutral investigation and can help the parties negotiate an agreement or issue “findings” (a decision on the complaint). If OCR finds that either the ADA or Section 504 was violated, the school, district, etc. can potentially lose their federal funding if they do not fix the problem. You can learn more, file an OCR complaint online, or download a PDF OCR complaint at: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html or call 1-800-421-3481.
As a parent or a student classified under IDEA, you have a substantial number of options if you believe that a student needs changes in his or her IEP.
If you find that you and the school have reached an impasse, you can write the school or Department of Education to request mediation. The school IEP team and the parents can attend mediation with a neutral third party at no cost to the parents (or student if 18+). It is often a successful, efficient way to resolve differences between the parties. It also is a less adversarial process. A mediation request form can be downloaded from the Department’s website at: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/procsafe.shtml.
If you are not satisfied with the school’s special education services and you have hit an impasse at meetings, you also have the option of filing an administrative complaint with the Delaware Department of Education. The Delaware Department of Education calls these complaints “State Complaints.”
State complaints are appropriate for cases where there is a clear denial of services or placement. Appropriate administrative complaints include, for example, when your child has not received therapy sessions listed in your child’s IEP, or when the school will not consider an evaluation in developing an IEP plan.
State complaints are only available for issues that arise within one year of when you knew or should have known about the problem(s).
The complaint can be sent to the Director, Exceptional Children Resources, Delaware Department of Education, John G. Townsend Building, 401 Federal Street, Suite 2, Dover, Delaware 19901, and should include:
You can obtain a sample state complaint form online at: www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/NEW/files/specialedcomplaintform.doc and further information on state complaint procedures at: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/files/admin_complaints_dp/admin%20complaint%20procedures.pdf.
Once you file a state complaint, the Department of Education will investigate within 60 days and issue a decision. During the investigation:
State complaints are investigatory actions; you will not go to a hearing in person to present your complaint. Therefore, any issues you have need to be thoroughly explained in your complaint. State complaints are a less contentious and faster way to resolve disputes, but they are most appropriate where no material factual disputes exist (meaning both sides agree on the important facts of the situation, they just may disagree about how the law applies to those facts).
Before you file for a “due process” hearing (also called a special education hearing), you have the right and opportunity to consider alternatives such as calling an IEP meeting, mediation, or a resolution meeting. If you decide to file for a due process hearing, keep in mind that it may take a long time to resolve and your child will remain in his or her same placement through the duration of the due process proceedings under “stay put.” However, if you believe that a due process hearing is the most appropriate means to resolve disagreements with the school regarding your child’s educational needs, the following are important steps.
You can find a copy of a due process hearing complaint form on the DOE’s website, as well as due process procedures and due process hearing requirements at: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/procsafe.shtml.
After you have filed your due process complaint, the school district must hold a resolution meeting with you and the IEP team within 15 days of receipt of the due process complaint to give parents and the school a chance to work through the complaint. A resolution meeting can only be waived in writing.
You have the option of going to mediation before you initiate due process. But, the school district or charter school is also required to offer mediation during due process in addition to a resolution meeting. There is no requirement for you to attend mediation before proceeding straight to due process. However, any agreement reached at mediation is enforceable in court.
At a due process hearing, you have the right to present any evidence or testimony in support of your case. The school district or charter school has the burden of proof, which means the school has to prove their actions were more reasonable then not. The dispute will be decided by a three person panel composed of a Delaware attorney, an educator with knowledge of special education, and a lay person with knowledge of special education.
If you are unsuccessful at Due Process, you have the right to appeal to Federal District Court or Delaware State Family Court within 90 days from date of decision.
You can go to a due process hearing without an attorney. If you choose to have legal representation, you may be able to collect attorneys’ fees for any actions arising out of the due process complaint. Attorneys’ fees are available if you are successful in your due process complaint for drafting the complaint, participation in mediation, resolution meetings, the due process hearing, or court proceedings. No attorneys’ fees are available for attorney representation prior to filing for due process.
The school district or charter school is also entitled to seek attorneys’ fees for due process complaints that are frivolous, unreasonable, or for an improper purpose in limited circumstances. If you file a complaint in good faith and withdraw it if the complaint is no longer valid, you are not subject to this sanction.
However, if you proceed to court (either federal or Family Court) you must be represented by an attorney if the student is under the age of 18. This may not be true if the student is over the age of 18 and represents himself “pro se.”
You can find more information on your special education “procedural safeguard” rights, including due process, administrative complaints and mediation, on the Delaware Department of Education’s website: www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/procsafe.shtml. This website has sample due process and administrative complaint forms which you can use should you wish to pursue one of these two procedures.