Parenting a child with a disability presents unique challenges and navigating the special education system can often be one of them. We understand and can provide the support and information you need to be an active and effective participant in the special education process for your child. We serve children and families with all disabilities (physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional). Our Family Support Consultants can help you by responding to concerns that parents and family members have by phone, email, or in person and are trained to respond to a variety of needs related to navigating the special education system.

Special education is specially-designed instruction that cannot be provided within the school’s standard instructional conditions or through the school’s educational support system. Specially-designed instruction (SDI) adapts content, methodology, or delivery of instructions, as appropriate, to address the unique needs of the eligible child that result from the child’s disability. SDI also ensures the child’s access to the general curriculum.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that makes available a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.

Infants and toddlers, birth through age 2, with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth ages 3 through 21 receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

IDEA emphasizes the importance of families’ participation in their child’s education:

  • Parents have the right to participate in meetings related to the evaluation, identification, and educational placement of their child.
  • Parents have the right to participate in meetings related to the provision of a FAPE to their child.
  • Parents are entitled to be members of any team that decides whether their child is a ‘child with a disability’ and meets eligibility criteria for special education and related services.
  • Parents are entitled to be members of the team that develops, reviews, and revises the individualized education program (IEP) for their child.
    Parents are entitled to be members of any team that makes placement decisions for their child.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Vermont Special Education Rules
  • Special Education Forms

The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education, #H328M100021. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

  1. What can I do if I think my child has a disability that is affecting their ability to be successful in school?

You can request an initial special education evaluation from the school to determine if your child is eligible to receive special education services, which are specially-designed instruction that cannot be provided within the school’s regular instruction.

2. What’s the difference between an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and a Section 504 Plan?

An IEP, also known as “special education,” provides individualized special education and related services to meet a child’s unique needs.  A Section 504 Plan provides access through services and accommodations to the learning environment so children can learn alongside their non-disabled peers.

3. What can I do if my child with a disability isn’t ready to graduate from high school?

A student on an IEP may stay in school until their 22nd birthday if the extra time is necessary for the student to work on transition-to- adulthood goals. All students on IEPs must have a transition plan in their IEP by age 16, but transition planning may start as early as age 14, especially for students who have more intensive needs . Our Transition Toolkit for Youth with Disabilities contains many useful resources.

4. Can my child have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if they go to an independent school, private school or are home schooled?

No. If you enrolled your child in an independent school, private school or a home study program, they are not entitled to an IEP. The public school in which the private school, independent school or home study program is located may choose to provide services to a child, but does not have to.

5.  I really need an advocate! Can someone come to my child’s IEP or 504 team meeting?

Our Family Support Consultants are extremely limited in their ability to offer in-person support at school meetings. While we are able to provide some virtual/telephone support at school meetings, our ultimate aim is to empower parents, through education and support, to become effective advocates for their children. Read our Family Support Program -Technical Assistance and In-Person Support and Advocacy.

6.  What can I do when the school keeps sending my child with a disability home because of their behavior?

If your child’s behavior impedes their learning or that of others, the IEP Team, of which the parent is a member, must consider in the IEP – the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior to help your child remain in school.

7. What do I need to know about truancy?

If a student with a disability (or a suspected disability) is truant, the school district must conduct social/emotional assessments and a functional behavioral assessment in order to determine the reason behind the truant behavior. The results of these assessments should be used to develop an appropriate positive behavior support plan to address the truant behavior.

8. I don’t agree with the school over my child’s IEP. What can I do?

Ask for an IEP meeting. Document your concerns and communicate with the IEP team. If the differences cannot be resolved, you may request mediation or file a due process complaint.

9. What are my options if the school isn’t following my child’s IEP?

Document your concerns, communicate with the school and ask for an IEP meeting. If the school does not adequately respond to your concerns and the IEP continues not to be followed, you may file an administrative complaint or a due process complaint.

10.  How do I know if my child with an IEP is making any progress and what can I do if they aren’t?

IDEA states that annual IEP goals must be measurable and linked to your child’s present levels of performance, as well as to Vermont’s academic content standards.

At the IEP team meeting, ask:

  • How will my child’s progress be measured?
  • When will my child’s progress be measured?
  • How well will my child need to perform in order to achieve their stated IEP goals?

If your child is not making meaningful progress, work with your child’s IEP team to determine why. An IEP is a living document that can and should be changed if it does not meet your child’s needs. The Endrew F. advocacy toolkit contains useful tips on setting high standards for your child on an IEP.

11.  My child receives one-on-one support at school. Do I have any rights as to who the school assigns to support them?

No. Hiring decisions do not fall within the purview of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents do not have the right to select a specific teacher or paraprofessional.

Watch our series of short Navigating Special Education webinars:

The special education process begins when a student is referred for an initial special education evaluation to determine if they are eligible for special education and related services. When the evaluation is complete, the evaluation and planning team (EPT), which includes the parents, determines whether the student is eligible for special education. There is a basic Special Education Process under IDEA 2004. If a student is found eligible for special education, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team will be convened to write an IEP. The IEP is reviewed at least once a year, and special education reevaluations are conducted at least once every three years.

Vermont Special Education Rules relate specifically to Part C and Part B of IDEA and also provide reference to other pertinent Federal and State Rules governing special education in Vermont.

What is a referral for a comprehensive special education evaluation?

In order to receive special education services through an Individualized Education Program or IEP, a child must meet special education eligibility. The special education process begins when a parent, teacher or other individual requests an initial special education evaluation or refers the student.

What is the purpose of a special education evaluation?

  • To determine whether the child qualifies for special education
  • To identify the teaching methods, services, and accommodations that will effectively help the student learn
  • To develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP)

How do parents request a  special education evaluation?

A parent can speak to their child’s teacher, principal or director of special education to make the request but it is a good practice to make the request for the evaluation in writing. Parents may use our sample letters to help.

What happens next?

  • Vermont’s “15-day rule” guidance states that within 15 calendar days of a request for an evaluation, the school must convene an Evaluation Planning Team (EPT), or provide written reasons for denying the request.
  • The Local Education Agency (LEA), or school, will send a Notice of Meeting form to inform parents of their decision to proceed with the evaluation and invite you to a meeting to develop an evaluation plan and request a signed parental consent for a special education evaluation. Parental input is critical to a good evaluation plan. The evaluation is only as good as the questions team members raise and the input all provide. These questions help the team in answering whether or not your child is eligible, but also importantly identifies the programming and supports that the student needs to meet success.
  • The evaluation should begin on the date the school district receives the signed consent from the parent regarding the evaluation plan and be completed by the end of 60 days.
  • The team will gather and determine if the child is eligible and put the decision in writing by sending parents a Prior Written Notice of Decision, or Form 7a.

What if the child is not found eligible for special education?

  • It is not uncommon for a student to be evaluated and not found eligible for special education. Through this process, a student may be determined to have a disability, but not be eligible for special education.
  • Parents have the right to disagree with the team decision and should put their concerns in writing.
  • Parents have the right to request an independent evaluation at no cost and may want to put the request in writing (page 3 of 3 of sample letters).
  • The team should also consider if the student is eligible for a Section 504 Plan.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) consists of a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with Vermont Special Education Rules.

It includes:

  1. A description of all special education services, related services, and supplementary aids and services that the child will need to be able to derive benefit from their educational program;
  2. A description of the special education program; and
  3. Accommodations and/or modifications necessary for the child to progress in the general education curriculum.

Parents’ rights in Special Education are guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Vermont Special Education Rules. Parents’ rights are outlined in the Vermont Agency of Education’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards: Rights of Parents of Students with Disabilities.

Parents’ rights include:

  • Written notice from the school regarding your child’s identification, evaluation, educational placement or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE)
  • Consent and revocation of consent regarding special education evaluation, reevaluation and services
  • Conflict resolution through mediation, the due process complaint or administrative complaint procedures
  • Confidentiality of student records

If you and your child’s school team disagree about an education issue, you have several options for conflict resolution.


If you and your child’s school team disagree about an education issue in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, one tool that is available to you is mediation.

  • Mediation is a free, voluntary process that will be used only if you and the school agree to take part.
  • The mediator’s job is to help you and the school district come to an agreement, not to make decisions for you.
  • You or the school may end mediation at any time.
  • A trained, impartial mediator who is not an employee of the school district will be provided by the Vermont Agency of Education to conduct the mediation.

Administrative Complaint

You have the right to file an administrative complaint with the Vermont Secretary of Education if you believe a school district has violated federal or state special education laws.

  • Once you file the complaint the Vermont Agency of Education will investigate.
  • The investigation includes a review of all relevant information.
  • Once this review is completed, a decision is made about whether the school district has violated federal or state special education laws.
  • If a violation is found, the Agency of Education can require that the school take corrective actions to fix the problem.
  • If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to request a due process hearing.

Due Process Complaint

A special education due process hearing is a formal review conducted by a trained, impartial hearing officer appointed by the Vermont Agency of Education.

  • Due process complaints may be filed with the Vermont Agency of Education regarding special education and 504 plan issues for students.
  • If you disagree with the decision of the hearing officer, you have 90 days to appeal this matter with a state or federal court.

When your child on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) violates school conduct, different rules apply:

  • For up to ten days, your child may receive no services.
  • When it appears that your child may be suspended for longer than 10 days, the school must hold a “manifestation determination” meeting to decide whether the behavior is related to your child’s disability.
  • If the behavior is not related to your child’s disability, they will be subject to the same disciplinary measures as any other child in the school district, but your child must continue to receive services in accordance with their IEP.
  • If the behavior is related to your child’s disability, the school must provide more/different behavior supports and your child should be allowed to return to school.

However if your child:

  • Brings a weapon to school,
  • Possesses, uses, sells or solicits the sale of any illegal drug(s), or
  • Inflicts serious bodily injury upon another person,

The school may remove your child immediately to a different setting for up to 45 days.

If you disagree with any part of this process, you may request a due process hearing from the Vermont Agency of Education.