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Legal Considerations & Advocacy

Because of the legal nature surrounding both the IFSP and IEP process, disagreements may arise at various times as families seek and receive services for their child. When this happens, it is helpful for all parties concerned to understand the legal nature of the special education process, how advocacy skills help families to achieve their goals, and how families might seek independent evaluations.

"Educational Rights and Responsibilities: Understanding Special Education in Illinois" is a guide produced by the Illinois State Board of Education to explain the legal nature of special education and how it is implemented in Illinois.

What are the laws surrounding special education?

There are three basic laws that pertain to early intervention and early childhood special education. They are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 2004 (IDEA), No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Comprehensive summaries of these laws are available through:

Information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA) is available through:

Information about the No Child Left Behind Act is available through:

Illinois Legal Aid provides specific legal information for:

How may parents use advocacy to achieve their goals?

Helping parents to become effective advocates for their child is important. Advocacy takes practice, a basic knowledge of legal rights, and a realization on the part of the parents that they are a child's most important voice. Resources to help parents get started include:

  • "Special Education Advocacy 101," is a handout available from Internet Special Education Resources that outlines various aspects of educational advocacy.
  • "From Emotions to Advocacy," published by Wrightslaw, is a book and companion website that provides ideas and information to help families as they prepare to advocate for their child.
  • "Talking About Your Child to Others" provides paraprofessionals tips on how to encourage parents to share the goals and dreams they have for their child.

Where can parents seek help in their advocacy efforts?

There are many organizations available to obtain advocacy support. Advocate supports can range from a trusted friend that attends meetings with the parent to an attorney hired to represent a child's needs.

Advocates can help

  • identify all sides of an issue
  • prioritize the issues and family goals
  • prepare and gather relevant data and information
  • build relationships and find common ground between various stake-holders
  • anticipate possible problems and brainstorm solutions

Many organizations provide training to help parents become more effective advocates. Advocacy Groups in Illinois include:

Resources provided by the Illinois State Board of Education include:

How can parents seek an independent evaluation?

When a disagreement arises over an educational placement, the type and quantity of services being offered, or the denial of services, it is sometimes useful for a parent to seek an independent evaluation from another professional.

"Yellow Pages for Kids" provides a listing of independent evaluators and advocacy support professionals.

Contact Us

Johnna Darragh-Ernst

Professor Early Childhood Education

1500 W Raab Road
Normal, IL 61761
Phone: 309-268-8746

Email: johnna.darragh@heartland.edu