Why IDEA Parents File Complaints Against Schools

Special education disagreements happen. Parents of children with learning disabilities may sometimes disagree with how schools manage their children's programs. Fortunately, many of those disagreements can be resolved informally. When problems are severe, parents may need to take formal actions to get them resolved. Learning the top conflicts that cause parents to file formal complaints or take legal actions against school districts can help you determine if you need to do the same.


Teachers and Staff Not Reporting Progress to Parents

female teacher helping special education students with a project

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When teachers and school staff do not share progress reports with parents, conflicts can arise. Failure to communicate can be caused by:

  • Failure to agree upon what will be communicated, as well as how and when
  • Parents and/or teachers misunderstanding what was agreed upon
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of classroom support needed to implement the plan
  • Lack of cooperation from the child to follow his part of the plan
  • A teacher agreeing to implement a plan she could not realistically implement
  • Unreasonable expectations from parents
  • In rare instances, teachers or school staff may not implement a plan because of willful noncompliance or negligence
  • Communication within the family is not effective

If you are feeling frustrated in any way with your child's special education, check out these ideas on how to bring concerns to special ed teachers.


Hostility Between Parents and School Staff

Conflicts are worsened when parents and school staff are hostile to each other. When parents' and teachers' behaviors become disrespectful and angry, relationships can become so strained that the child can suffer emotionally and academically. Some reasons hostile relationships can develop include:

  • Parents and/or teachers do not respect each other
  • Teachers, administrators, or parents refuse to make changes to accommodate the child
  • Parents make unrealistic demands in an angry, confrontational manner
  • Parents or teachers feel they are not valued, their input is not wanted, and that the child is not receiving an appropriate education
  • The school or home environment is negative, unsafe, rigid, or nonsupportive

Mutual respect between parents and teachers is critical in order to maintain a supportive environment for their child.

Parents can become extremely frustrated if they are not actively involved in all aspects of their child's care, and should be if they are left out. Remind yourself why parents have an important role as part of the special education team for their child.


School Does Not Implement IEP

Failure to provide specially designed instruction, implement an individualized education program (IEP), or provide related services required on an IEP are frequent reasons parents file formal complaints against school districts. Failure to implement an IEP may involve:

  • Students not receiving specially designed instruction
  • Students not receiving adaptations and modifications for testing
  • Students not receiving related services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, or other services listed on the IEP

Failure to Provide Equal Access to School Programs and Services

When schools fail to provide equal access to programs and services such as extra-curricular activities, sports programs, or access to advanced courses with reasonable accommodations, parents may file complaints. In many cases, such problems are covered under Section 504. In some cases, however, denial of access to school programs and services can fall under IDEA.


When and How to File a Complaint

If the school district has violated a legal rule, such as failing to hold an IEP meeting, conduct an evaluation, meet a time limit or implement the IEP, you can file a complaint. Each school district has its own complaint procedure.

IDEA requires you to formally file for IEP due process within two years after you know of the dispute.

If you do not file within this time frame, you forfeit your rights to file a lawsuit against the school district. During the hearing process, your child is entitled to remain in their current placement until you reach an agreement with the school, settle the matter through mediation, or get a court decision.

Obtaining legal services or a special education advocate during due process is within your rights as a parent and may increase your chances of success. However, legal costs can be notably large in amount and can range from $1500 to $7500 for a two-day hearing. In addition, an attorney may spend 10-20 hours preparing for the hearing.

Before taking the next step, make sure you are familiar with parents rights in special education and how special education mediation promotes conflict resolution.

It can be difficult to balance your frustration in a conflict and what is best for your child. Only you know which option—working to try to correct the problem without taking legal action or filing a complaint instead—will work out the best for your child over the long haul.

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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lake J, Billingsley B. An Analysis of factors That contribute to parent school conflict in special education. Rem Spec Educ. 2000;21:240-251. doi:10.1177/074193250002100407

  3. Lasater K. Parent-teacher conflict related to student abilities: The impact on students and the family-school partnership. School Comm J. 2016;26(2):237-262.

  4. Zirkel PA. Failure to implement the IEP: The third dimension of FAPE under the IDEA. J Disabil Policy Stud. 2017;28(3):174-179. doi:10.1177/1044207317732582

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fact Sheet. Your rights under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Updated June 2006.

  6. Mueller TG. Litigation and special education: The past, present, and future direction for resolving conflicts between parents and school districts. J Disabil Policy Stud. 2014;26(3):135-143. doi:10.1177/1044207314533382

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