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 Ask the Attorney: Questions and Answers (back to Ask the Attorney)

Question: I am a parent of a child who has just been found eligible for special education services. When I talk with other parents of special education students and with school officials they are always talking about the "law and rules". What laws and rules are they referring to? How do I become familiar with them?

Answer:  See Part IV Below; see previous postings for PART I - OVERVIEW, PART II - FEDERAL ROLE, PART III - STATE ROLE



Local Policies – each elected school board can create policies (e.g. rules) that are applicable to their students as long as they do not violate applicable federal or state law, rules, or regulations.  Local board policies cover such diverse subjects as student programs, discipline, curriculum requirements, in-district transfers, student's graduation requirements, parent’s building visits, etc.  The local school board has the power to create (and fund) different programs.  That is one of the reasons that special education programs can vary between school districts.  The school’s central office maintains a copy of its policies available for public viewing. 


Legal Research – with the growth of the Internet many of the statutes, regulations/rules applicable to special education are available via the Internet.  The difficulty arises in interpreting what the documents mean and how they interrelate.  To answer any particular question may require reviewing the published statues, regulations, published letters from the federal and Michigan departments of education, Office for Civil Rights, as well as published rulings from local and state hearing officers. 


One publication does a fair job of covering most this material.  That is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Law Reporter (cited as IDELR) published by LRP Publications of Horsham, PA.  This reporter is only available by subscription.  As the annual cost is high, only the handful of attorneys and law firms that regularly represent schools or parents subscribe.  In addition, copies are available in the libraries at the state’s law schools and at those universities that grant degrees to teachers or school administrators.


Final Thoughts – When I meet with parents who wish to consult with an attorney with education law skills, or when I speak to parent organizations, I frequently here that some school staff person, another parent, or at times even an advocate from one of the non-profit parent organizations has told a parent that this or that “was the law”.  Further, this person tells them that “the law” is directly applicable to the parent’s child.  That may well be so, but to be sure I suggest that anyone receiving this type of information consider the source and verify the accuracy of the claim.  To often the statement by school officials is self-serving.  At other times, I have found that the statement was made by someone who was not familiar with all the applicable facts (that is one reason I will not render an opinion on a situation without a detailed discussion with the parent(s)) or was generally uninformed or was not familiar with Michigan laws, regulations and common practice? 


My suggestion is that when someone makes this type of statement to you; if the person is a school person, ask (in writing if necessary) for a copy of the applicable law, rule, regulation, or court case that they are relying upon.  After reading what is provided, you may well find that the “the law” may not be at all clear.  It may not directly apply to your facts, or may be subject to different interpretations.  It is these kinds of differences that keep the attorneys that represent school districts and parents busy. 


The simple fact of education is that in the life of each child they only pass through the educational system one time.  Therefore, each day in school is a precious and irreplaceable commodity.  Therefore, I always recommended that if a question relating a legal matter is of some importance, that the parent consults with an attorney with experience in the interpretation of “the laws”.  If a parent cannot afford to pay an attorney in private practice, there are funded legal services organizations and non-profit organization (see main page of who have trained advocates and a limited number of staff attorneys available to assist a parent in understanding “the laws” that are applicable to the situation facing their child.


Hope this helped in increasing your understanding of “the law”.


John Brower, JD

Education Law Center, PLLC


Education Law Center, PLLC · 810-227-9850 · 

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