Putting a Plan In Place to Help Your Child Succeed at School

SEP. 02, 2015

By Jacob Bradshaw

Child's Rights in School

School is where most children spend the majority of their time during the day. Their experiences at school can play a major role in their development. It's important that these experiences are as positive and helpful as possible. A child with a mental health condition may have additional obstacles at school, and as a parent, you play a critical role in your child's education. There are laws in place, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that not only protect the rights of children with disabilities, but also give parents the right to oversee how the school handles their child’s education. These are called “procedural safeguards.”

Your rights as a parent include (but are not limited to):

  • An explanation of these rights and the way to make a formal complaint.
  • Participation in meetings about the special educational needs of your child.
  • Confidentiality and access to the educational records of your child.
  • The right to grant or deny consent for many actions that a school can take for your child.
  • The use of IDEA dispute-resolution procedures, and the right of appeal.
  • The right to disagree and challenge the decisions of the school.
  • An independent educational evaluation (IEE) for your child.
  • The right to be notified in writing before a school takes certain actions related to your child’s education.

Creating a Plan for Success

While knowing your rights can help ensure that your child is treated fairly by his or her school, occasionally additional resources are needed to help your child succeed. IDEA includes more than 13 categories of disability, including mental health conditions, which determine whether your child can receive special education services. However, just because a child has learning and attention issues doesn’t mean that he or she is eligible for services. In order to receive education services, the student must be evaluated.

Either a school official or a parent may request an independent educational evaluation (IEE), but parental consent is always required for an evaluation to occur. The school then conducts the evaluation at no cost to you.

You have the right to have an IEE of your child done by an outside professional. The school must consider this in any decision about an individualized education plan (IEP), but it does not have to adopt the recommendations. IEPs are only required for public schools, but many private schools also offer IEPs or similar procedures.

When a child between the ages of 3 and 21 receives special education services, IDEA requires that the school work with the parents and children to develop an IEP. Through an IEP, students may be provided with special education services, curriculum or assignment modifications, or accommodations.

Some examples of accommodations include (but are not limited to):

  • Alternative assignments.
  • Shorter papers or tests (or more time to complete tests).
  • A different or adjusted curriculum.
  • An atypical grading system.
  • Having instructions read aloud.
  • Ability to record lessons.
  • Use of a calculator or other technology.
  • Working in a quiet room away from noise or distraction.
  • Extra break periods.
  • Sitting at the front of the classroom.

The goal is to find a balance between giving your child the tools to succeed without providing them with an unfair advantage. Having too few accommodations can leave a child frustrated and affect his or her learning and development. Too many accommodations can leave a child poorly prepared for their post-IEP life.

If you don’t believe that your child needs an IEP, or you have not qualified your child as a student with a disability under IDEA, you may request a 504 plan. A 504 plan can be helpful when more substantial interventions are not needed.

In most cases, 504 plans do not allow for a change in curriculum, and they cannot place children in special education classrooms. They can provide certain services, such as counseling, speech therapy or other general services. If your child qualifies, a 504 plan must be provided for free.

Who Develops the IEP?

As a parent, you have the right to invite anyone involved in your child’s care to the IEP meeting to be part of the team. At a minimum, your child’s IEP team will include:

  • The child’s legal guardian(s).
  • At least one general education teacher.
  • A special education teacher.
  • A special school district representative.
  • A school psychologist or other professional in the field of psychology.
  • In certain cases, your child.

You should also bring someone with you to IEP meetings to help support

you, such as the child’s case manager, therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist, or someone they recommend.

There must be one IEP team meeting each year to review the plan. Through these meetings, the IEP adapts as the child progresses through school. Each child must have a new IEP at least every three years.

Moving Toward Independence

An IEP must also include a “transition plan” for when a child turns 16 years old, but it's often a good idea to start earlier. This plan provides a framework for preparing your child for adult life. It is more than just about school; it covers job and daily life skills, as well. It’s important that your child be included in creating this plan.

Knowing your rights for how to help your child succeed in school, and implementing services that can help him or her learn in the most effective way possible, can help prepare your chi


MAR, 21, 2018 07:39:41 PM
My son has bipolar disorder and often refuses to go to school during periods of mania or depression. Is it realistic to ask for an accommodation that holds him to a lower attendance requirement?

OCT, 02, 2016 11:37:32 PM
Kathryn Hinkle
Parents are their child's greatest advocate and first teacher. It is clear to see that families are the main stay for all children as they pass through various grade levels, medical providers and specialists. It is very critical to keep lines of communication open and offer support to teachers and staff to best understand what you and child are going through to avoid mistakes that could be easily avoided. Both systems are very beneficial when children and families are engaged in the process. This is the secret to long lasting success. I have been teaching for eleven years in a variety of settings. The greatest help a teacher can get is from parents who are invested in the teaching and learning process.

OCT, 01, 2015 08:40:30 AM
Alison Paine
Request for an IEE in writing. Always make copies of everything you send them or sign and return to them. They must respond to you within a certain amount of time (I think the IEE must be done within 2-3 weeks of the request).

OCT, 01, 2015 12:12:27 AM
Laura Myers
I became my child's advocate after the Baltimore City arts high school where she was accepted (1 of the 100 out of 1,000 applicants) refused to "lower their standards", denying my daughter an IEP for three years. Evaluative documentation from private psychiatrists and therapists diagnosed my daughter as having major depression, anxiety, and ADHD. All were in favor of establishing an IEP to help her succeed in school.
Had the administration taken a pro active and supportive stance, the spiral into shame, self injurous behaviors, isolation from her peers, and ultimately dropping out, could have instead given her what she wanted the most - to graduate with her senior class this past May.
I wrote to the MSDE with my grievances after two years, and the school was found guilty on two of eight counts.
I'll always remember the joy of reading the MSDE findings to my daughter!
While currently studying for her GED, my daughter plans to enroll in college next semester.

SEP, 05, 2015 09:18:19 AM
Jamie ellis
How do I request the school do an IEE? Has anyone done this and find it helpful?

SEP, 03, 2015 04:20:04 PM
Cathy Ramsden
Excellent article

SEP, 03, 2015 12:33:24 AM
Cynthia Clouser
I like this plan. While my children were in school, they/we, went through many trials and tribulations. Just trying to get an education. They were excited about going to school, learning. It was quite possibly, their ethnicity, that created obstacles, at times. Most teachers were awesome. It's when the ones who weren't, that's where things got messy. Children are little people. They deserve compassionate learning. It took all I could, to get them through it. Needless to say, most didn't finish. Thank you for being involved.

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.