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Special Education: An Advocate's Manual

“Special Education: An Advocate’s Manual,” is MPAS’ guide to the rights and laws that govern special education and other rights of children with disabilities in Michigan. Each chapter includes a brief summary, a list of “Advocacy Hints,” detailed descriptions of state and federal rights, sample letters and forms (including the Michigan Department of Education’s model IEP form), and resources for more information. The manual is divided into 15 chapters and can be downloaded or ordered in hard copy by contacting MPAS.

Document Title Files

Special Education: An Advocate's Manual - Complete Version

Download the entire Special Education: An Advocate's Manual.

Title Page

Title page for Special Education: An Advocate's Manual

Table of Contents

The Table of Contents for Special Education: An Advocate's Manual

Introduction/How to Use This Manual

This document explains the purpose of Special Education: An Advocate's Manual and acknowledges the writers and contributors.

Chapter 1 - The Legal Basis for Special Education

The federal and state laws that help students with disabilities attend school include the U.S. and state constitutions, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Michigan Mandatory Special Education Act.  Each of these laws independently protects students with disabilities.

Chapter 1 explains the different laws, the rules that explain what they mean and how to interpret the laws.

Chapter 2 - Special Education Services and Supports

State and Federal laws help students with disabilities attend public school.  The intention behind these laws is to help students with disabilities overcome the historical barriers to attending school. Public schools must provide services and supports according to these laws.

Chapter 2 describes "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), related services, definitions of special education and supplemental aids and services.

Chapter 3 - Referral and Eligibility

A parent or school can refer a student with a disability for special education services; in fact, schools have an affirmative obligation to find students with disabilities who may need help, including students in private or charter schools. Students may also be eligible for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Chapter 3 explains "Child Find", protections for students not yet identified with a disability, referrals for special education services and eligibility.

Chapter 4 - Evaluations

Many kinds of evaluations are administered within school. Some evaluations, including the initial evaluations that help determine eligibility and subsequent similar reevaluations, are carried out by a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET). 

Chapter 4 reviews the various evaluations used to determine eligibility for services, the requirements for standardized assessments and the evaluations available for students with behavior difficulties.

Chapter 5 - Records

Schools keep records on children in special education.  Schools have to grant access to these records in a timely manner. Parents may view records, may have a representative view them, and may copy them for a nominal fee. Records are confidential, with some exceptions, and cannot be disclosed without written consent.

Chapter 5 includes a definition of "records", who has access to them, how they are handled and what parents should keep as part of a students' records.

Chapter 6 - The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The Individualized Education Program Team (IEPT) takes information from evaluations, assessments, and observations and decides whether or not a student is eligible for special education, and creates an individual plan for each student in special education. 

Chapter 6 includes general information about the IEP, and the IEPT.  It also explains what will happen at the IEPT meeting, the IEP form (with samples) and some timelines.

Chapter 7 - Behavior Support Plans (BSPs) and Functional Assessments of Behavior

IDEA focuses on positive behavioral support to prevent behavior problems in school.  The law requires development of behavior support plans (BSPs), involvement by general education teachers, and use of behavior support as an alternative to discipline.  

Chapter 7 reviews the elements of positive behavior supports; assessments, BSP's and discipline, and includes some assessment worksheets.  

Chapter 8 - Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Once proper services are identified for a student with disabilities, the services must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  Federal and State law require schools to serve students with disabilities in the general education setting to the maximum extent possible. 

Chapter 8 includes the concepts of LRE's, requirements under IDEA and mandates under Section 504.

Chapter 9 - Informal Problem Solving

Although formal procedures exist for resolving disputes over special education services, informal methods often work better and more quickly. The special education process offers several opportunities to informally resolve problems.

Chapter 9 outlines basic problem-solving steps, a list of common problems and solutions and some examples of practice problems.

Chapter 10 - Formal Problem Solving

When a school violates the law or fails to do something the law requires, you may file a complaint.  Sometimes, you may be able to resolve the complaint informally (see Chapter 9); other times you may have to file a formal complaint.

Chapter 10 will explain state complaints vs. federal complaints, due process hearings and mediation. Sample letters are included.

Chapter 11 - Infant, Toddler, and Preschool Programs

Under Michigan and federal law, children with disabilities birth through five-years-old are eligible for special education and support services.  Children "at risk" of having a disability are also eligible for services. "Early intervention" services utilize Individualized Family Service Plan's (IFSP), IEP's and 504 plan's.

Chapter 11 reviews "Early On" services, IFSP, transitions to special education, least restrictive environment and preschool services.

Chapter 12 - Transition

Almost all students in special education are entitled to prevocational, vocational and transition planning and services. The school should offer assessment and services to help your child prepare for life after school, including work and other community activities. The school must include transition goals and services in a student's IEP. 

Chapter 12 will explain the options, steps and timelines involved in transitioning from public schools.

Chapter 13 - Suspension and Expulsion

Schools have the authority and discretion to suspend or expel students.  All students have basic due process rights to notice and an opportunity to be heard when accused of misbehavior. Students with disabilities have additional rights. For example, a student in special education (or a student who should be in special education) cannot be expelled or suspended for more than 10 days without review by an IEP team.  

Chapter 13 reviews the school's authority to suspend or expel a student, due process, a manifestation review and the role of family court.

Chapter 14 - Section 504

Services are also available to students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The 504 Plan must include special education and related services to meet the individual needs of the student.

Chapter 14 talks about the steps to follow for services under Section 504, who is eligible, how to apply and the differences between Section 504 and IDEA.

Chapter 15 - Protection Against Disability-Based Harassment

This chapter explains the rights of students with disabilities facing harassment because of their disabilities by peers or staff in school.  It outlines the steps to take to address the problem and what to do if the school district fails to act.

Chapter 15 also reviews who is responsible, how to file a complaint, and the policies within the State of Michigan.

Glossary of Abbreviations and Terms

Glossary of abbreviations and terms included with Special Education: An Advocate's Manual