Is Special Education Right for My Child?

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When a student struggles academically or behaviorally, some parents request an evaluation for special education. Schools may also request parental consent to evaluate for special education and, if the student is eligible, consent to special education services. This handout seeks to help parents decide if special education is needed and appropriate for their child. Start by considering how your child is doing without special education services and consider the issues below to determine whether to seek services, provide consent for evaluation, or consent to services. Also, keep in mind that you can revoke consent in the future if you begin to believe special education services are more harmful than helpful.

Listed below are things to consider.

Individualized Educational Services

  • Full evaluation of child.
  • An ARD (Admission, Review, and Dismissal) Committee, including the parents, makes an individual education plan for your child.
  • The plan must provide a free appropriate public education.
  • The plan may include individualized instruction, accommodations (such as extended time), and modifications (such as changes in the grading scale or what is being taught).
  • The plan can provide additional services such as speech therapy, transportation or counselling.
  • The plan may also include a behavior improvement plan that uses positive behavioral supports or other behavioral modifications and accommodations.
  • Individualized services may be available in the summer.

Standardized Tests Don’t Determine Promotion or Graduation

There are students who are not identified for special education services who fulfill all credit requirements for graduation but do not graduate because of challenges with standardized tests. For students in special education, their ARD committees can provide for accommodations on STAAR or determine that satisfactory performance on state assessments is not necessary for promotion or graduation.

Discipline Protections

  • When the school wants to suspend, expel or send a student to disciplinary placement for 10 days or more, the ARD committee must decide if the conduct was caused by the student’s disability or school’s failure to implement the individualized plan. For most conduct, the student can’t be removed if the answer to either question is “yes.”
  • Despite this strong legal protection, most school systems continue to disproportionately remove students with disabilities, and enforcing discipline protections often requires advocacy. See our interactive discipline guide to learn more.
  • Students receiving special education whose behaviors interfere with their education should be evaluated to determine why the behaviors are occurring. The evaluation should be used to develop a plan to improve the student’s behavior.  In special education, a student who doesn’t receive adequate services to make improvements in behavior goals may be able to challenge the educational services provided by the school.

Transition Services

  • Must receive transition assessment and services to prepare for life after high school.
  • May remain in public school through age 21, instead of paying for instruction in college or vocational program.

Other Legal Protections

  • Parents play a key role in determining what special education services look like for their child. Parents do not have to accept what a school proposes.
  • Parents have the right to file a complaint, request a hearing, and even file lawsuit in federal court to ensure child receives appropriate education.
  • Parents have the option to bring an advocate or lawyer to help at ARD meetings.
  • Advocacy can improve outcomes for children receiving special education. You can learn about your rights with our Self-Advocacy Resources or apply for our services to get help.

Potential for Stigma and Self-Esteem Issues

  • Students and parents understandably fear the stigma of special education, potential bullying by peers and impact on a student’s self-esteem. While a school shouldn’t disclose a child’s special education status, peers may notice if a student receives additional assistance, goes to a self-contained placement, or rides a special education bus. However, educators often report that peers are more tolerant of differences than families fear.
  • Some students report being ashamed of receiving special education, but others report relief in having an explanation for academic or behavioral struggles.
  • There is also sometimes a risk of stigma involved in not intervening. Students who don’t receive needed assistance may fall more behind or have escalating behaviors, which can also lead to stigma.

Potential for Lowered Expectations

  • The ARD Committee can sometimes reduce performance expectations for your child more than what is appropriate. Inappropriately challenging material can be frustrating, discouraging, and increase behavior challenges.
  • Some teachers may not expect your child to learn or succeed in mastering the material at the level they are capable of. Some educators may help your student too much, subconsciously communicating lack of confidence to your child, or fail to challenge them.

Potential for Restrictive Placement and Exclusion

  • The IDEA law provides that students with disabilities should receive education in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) whenever possible.
  • Most students who receive special education services spend the majority of their school day in regular general education classes (inclusion).
  • Sometimes students are moved to more restrictive classes with all special education students for part or even all of their day. Those classes may offer fewer students per teacher so more customized education services. However, most special education classrooms contain a wider range of ages and grades, so students miss some of instruction and curriculum that occurs in the general education classroom. Students also miss out on positive peer role models who demonstrate strong communication, behavior, and academic skills. Additionally, when a child is placed in a restrictive behavior classroom, the child may begin to mimic some of the negative behavior exhibited by peers.
  • Some students are moved to separate special education classes for part of their day, and in rare cases can be sent to separate schools or even residential placements.

Racial Disproportionality

  • Racial disproportionalities exist in special education identification, placement and discipline.
  • In Texas, Black students are disproportionately identified as needing special education services, while Hispanic/ Latinx students and Asian-American students are under-identified as needing special education services.
  • English Language Learners are also under identified as needing special education in Texas.
  • There are larger disproportionalities in some disability categories, in some districts, and on some campuses.
  • Environmental pollution, lead exposure, nutrition, and access to prenatal care and preventative health care all influence presence of disability. Some risk factors are not spread equally across racial and ethnic groups.
  • Disproportionality is also caused by implicit bias in referral and evaluation for special education services.
  • Research has found that students of color in special education are more likely to experience disciplinary removal and to be placed in more restrictive special education classrooms and schools.

Role of Advocacy


Created: October 14, 2020
Publication Code: ED25

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Disclaimer: Disability Rights Texas strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate.

The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney’s advice or assistance based on your particular situation.

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