Publication : Brochures
School Law in Maryland - Educational Rights
of Children with Special Needs
The Maryland State Bar Association’s Public
Awareness Committee and the Advocates for Children and Youth, the Maryland
Disability Law Center has prepared this information. It is intended to inform
the public and not serve as legal advice.
Please note that the online version contains information
not available in the print edition.
Under the federal law called the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and corresponding state law, a child with
a disability, which affects his or her learning has a right to a free and
appropriate public education. A child is entitled to a program, which is
designed to meet his or her individual learning needs. This includes specially
designed classroom instruction and related services needed by the child to
benefit from the education program.
Who is Eligible for Special Education Services?
- Children with disabilities from 3 to 21 years
old may be eligible for special education services.
- Infants and toddlers up to age 3 may receive
early intervention services through the Infants and Toddlers Program.
- A child is considered eligible for services
if he or she is having trouble learning in school because of mental,
physical and/or emotional disabilities.
Some of the disabilities that can make a child
eligible for special education and related services are: mental retardation,
emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, autism, deafness or hearing
impairment, blindness or visual impairment, physical or orthopedic disabilities,
brain injury, speech and language impairment, traumatic brain injury, multiple
disabilities or other health impairments.
What is the Process for Determining Whether a
Child is Eligible for Special Education Services?
A child becomes eligible for special education
services when he or she is identified as disabled by the school’s Individual
Education Program (IEP) team.
A parent or guardian is a member of the IEP team
and has the right to participate in the IEP meetings about the child. Other
members of the IEP team include a special education teacher; a regular education
teacher; a school official who knows about the special education system and
the general curriculum; and school personnel who can interpret evaluation
results. The student may be a member of the IEP team if it is appropriate.
Also, the parent may bring anyone else to the meeting, who would be helpful,
such as a family friend, an advocate or other professionals who know the
Before the child is identified as disabled, the
school system must evaluate the child. The evaluation process consists of
three parts: (1) screening, (2) assessments, and (3) a review of the assessments.
The IEP team must complete the evaluation process,
including the initial meeting, completion of the assessments, within 90 days
of receiving the written request for an evaluation.
a parent or guardian believes that his or her child may need special education
services, the parent or guardian should make a request for an evaluation
in writing and send it to the principal of the child’s school.
The IEP team will meet to determine if additional
assessments are needed and decide whether the child is eligible for special
education services. If the IEP team suspects that the child may have a disability
and needs special education, the IEP team will order additional assessments
after obtaining permission from the parent or guardian.
the assessment stage, the tests recommended by the IEP team are given to
the child. School professionals, such as a psychologist, educator, speech
pathologist, and physical or occupational therapists assess the child. The
types of assessments that should be performed depend on the child’s
suspected disability. Assessments determine the child’s disability
and what kind of educational services he or she needs as a result of the
disability. The school system is responsible for scheduling and paying for
all the assessments it has recommended.
Review of the Assessments: Once
the assessments are completed, the IEP team must meet to review the assessment
results and determine whether the child qualifies for special education services.
The Individualized Education Plan
Within 30 days after the IEP team meets to review
the assessments and determines that a student needs special education services,
the IEP team meets again to develop the IEP. The IEP is a document, which
sets the plan of services, and accommodations that the child will receive
through the school system.
For a child who is already receiving special education
services, the IEP team must meet at least once a year to review the child’s
progress and revise the IEP’s accordingly.
The IEP has many requirements. For example, the
IEP should describe a child’s disability, strengths, and needs and
the present levels of educational performance. In addition, the IEP should
set annual goals for the child and short-term objectives, all of which must
be related to enabling a child to be involved in the general curriculum.
The IEP must also include any of the following
that the child may need: related services, such as occupational or physical
therapy, or transportation, assistive technology devices or services; behavior
strategies; extended school year services, Braille; language and communication
services; and/or transition services.
Once the IEP is developed, it must be implemented
as soon as possible and must be in effect at the beginning of the school
A “placement” refers to the actual
class and school a child attends in order to receive his or her special educational
services. The IEP team determines the placement after the IEP document has
The law requires that a child receive his or her
special education services in the “least restrictive environment.” This
means that an eligible child must receive special education services with
non-disabled children as much as possible and preferably in the neighborhood
school. This is often referred to as “inclusion.” The school
system must provide extra aid or services if it would allow a child to participate
in a less restrictive environment.
What Can a Parent or Guardian Do if an Agreement
Cannot be Reached with the School System?
There are times when a parent or guardian may
not agree with the evaluation, IEP or placement offered for his or her child.
If a parent or guardian disagrees with the school system at any stage of
the process, he or she has the right to request mediation or a due process
Mediation is a voluntary process in which a trained
mediator tries to help the family and the school system reach an agreement.
If a parent requests mediation and due process at the same time, the mediation
must be held within 20 days from the date of the request.
A due process hearing is a formal way to resolve
a dispute between the parent and the school system. The hearing is set up
by the Office of Administrative Hearings and takes place before an administrative
law judge. A parent can request a dues process hearing by submitting a request
in writing to the school system. The hearing must be held within 45 days
of the date the school system receives the request.
Parents have the right to bring an attorney or
advocate to represent them at the hearing. There are important rules regarding
due process hearings, which families should be aware of before requesting
a hearing. For example, parents and school official must exchange a list
of witnesses (including potential witnesses) and copies of all documents
they intend to use at the hearing at least 5 business days prior to the hearing.
If a party does not comply with this rule, the administrative law judge could
exclude that party’s evidence.
If a parent believes that his or her child is
not getting the services listed on the IEP, or if the school system does
not comply with the timelines or other procedures, the parent can file a
complaint with the Maryland State Department of Education. Under federal
law, the state has 60 days to investigate the complaint and issue a decision.
What is Section 504?
Some children with disabilities may not qualify
for special education services under the IDEA, but may still need specific
adaptation to their educational program to allow them to participate fully
in their classes. For example, a child who uses a wheelchair may not need
special education services but may need some accommodations to access the
school building. The federal law that applies to these children is referred
to as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Children with disabilities who need accommodations
and services under Section 504 are entitled to a Section 504 Plan. This Plan
sets forth the accommodations and services that the student will receive
from the school system. As with the IEP, the Section 504 Plan should be reviewed
and revised regularly to ensure that the child’s needs are being met.
Suspension and Expulsion of Children with Special
Schools must provide an education to all students
and may not discriminate against students with disabilities. This means that
the school may not suspend or expel a disabled student for behavior that
results from his or her disability.
Children who are eligible for special education
services or who have a 504 Plan are entitled to a manifestation meeting when
the school proposes to suspend them for more than 10 days in a semester or
to expel them. This meeting determines whether a child’s actions were
caused by his or her disability and must be held within 10 days of the child’s
removal from class. At this meeting, the IEP team must determine:
- Was the child’s IEP appropriate?
- Was the IEP implemented as written?
- Is it true that the child’s disability
did not impair his/her ability to control the behavior subject to disciplinary
If the answer is no to any of the above, then
the child must be returned to class immediately, unless the charges involve
weapons or drugs. If the team determines that the child’s behavior
was not caused by his/her disability, then the child goes through the regular
What Services are Disabled Students at the College
Level Entitled to?
College students with disabilities are in a slightly
different position from students in elementary and high schools. The Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect students at the college level, rather
College students with disabilities are entitled
to reasonable, appropriate accommodations in the instructional process. A
student is responsible for informing the college of his or her disability
and needs, and for utilizing the support services provided. Accommodation
plans should be written for eligible students; however, these plans will
not modify the curriculum or reduce course requirements. Generally speaking,
the accommodation plans will simply address the learning differences.
For more information, college students should
contact their schools’
Where to Get Help and More Information
Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education
7484 Candlewood Road
Hanover, Maryland 21076
Maryland Disability Law Center
1500 Union Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21211
Parents’ Place of Maryland
801 Cromwell Park Drive
Glen Burnie, MD 21061
University of Maryland Law Clinic
500 W. Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
School Law in Maryland - Education Rights of
Children with Special Needs © 2000, MSBA, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form
without written permission from the Maryland State Bar Association.