by Elton Krafft


Some children who are having problems in school may need extra help through special education.  Special education is for children who have a disability.  Schools must follow certain procedures to decide if a child is eligible for special education.  These procedures are written in state and federal laws.  The special education laws and procedures are complicated and can be hard to understand.

This book will help parents, school professionals and others understand some of the procedures of special education.  The book is not a complete explanation of all the special education laws, but it has information about many of the most common things readers may want to know.  This book is not meant to give legal advice.  If legal advice is needed, talk to a lawyer.

How to use this Book

This is an interactive handbook. It allows you to “click” on an underlined “colored” word and link to the desired information. A “click” on a “DPI Bulletin” will link you to that DPI Bulletin at the DPI web site. In the section labeled “The IEP Process”, you will find a long list of topics. By “clicking” on any one topic, you will see the information for this topic. This information is organized in four (4) sections:

Section 1: What the Law Says

This section has the exact words from state or federal law about the topic.  State law is shown as “115.xx.” It is from Chapter 115 of Wisconsin Statutes.  When there is not a state law about the topic, federal law is noted.  A citation that begins with “20 USC” is from the federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  A citation that begins 34 CFR 300 is from the federal regulations for IDEA.  If Wisconsin has a policy on the topic, there is a reference to the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI’s) “Update Bulletins.”

Section 2: What the Law Means

This section has plain language wording about the law.

Section 3: What Needs To Be Done

This section tells the things the school or the individualized education program (IEP) team must do.

What Parents Need to Know or Do

This section gives ideas for parents.

The law uses the term Local Educational Agency, or LEA.  Most LEAs are public school districts in the local community.  There are other agencies that have the same responsibilities as an LEA.  These are usually state facilities that have schools.  This book uses “LEA,” “district” and “school” as the same thing.

Part Two (Other School Choices), Part Three (Problem Solving) and Part Four (Special Education Behavior and Discipline) of this book tell what the law says as well as what experts say.  Some of the information is also found in the list of procedural safeguards schools must give to parents when they send them special education forms or notices.  State and national resources are listed at the end of the book.

This book refers to DPI Bulletins in many places.  DPI Bulletins are used to explain some parts of special education law or requirements.  They give more information on the topic.  These bulletins can be read on the internet at


Who is a child with a disability?

child with a disability is a child who needs special education and related services.  The child must be at least 3 years old, but not yet 21, and not yet graduated from high school.  The term includes a person who becomes 21 during the school term for the remainder of the school term (the last day pupils attend in a school year, other than summer classes).  The law has criteria for each category below to help IEP teams decide if a child has a disability.


The Language of Special Education

Special education has a language of its own.  School staff sometimes use letters instead of longer terms.  This can sometimes be confusing.  Here are a few terms used in this book.  Look in the glossary for more help with special education language.

IEP team – Individualized Education Program Team is a group of school staff, parents, and others that either the school staff or parents choose to include.
LEA – Local Education Agency or the school district.
DPI – Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the state agency that oversees LEAs.
FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education.  LEAs are required to provide FAPE for all children enrolled in special education in that district.


What do we mean by “Parent”?

In this book, the word “parent” means:

  • a biological parent;
  • a husband who has consented to the artificial insemination of his wife;
  • a male who is presumed to be the child’s father;
  • a male who has been determined to be the child’s father by a court;
  • an adoptive parent;
  • a legal guardian;
  • a person acting as a parent of a child;
  • a person appointed as a sustaining parent;
  • a person assigned as a surrogate parent; or
  • a foster parent under certain circumstances (See DPI Bulletin # 00.11).

“Parent” does not include:

  • any person whose parental rights have been terminated;
  • the state or a county or a child welfare agency if:
    • a child was made a ward of the state or a county or child welfare agency; or if
    • a child has been placed in the legal custody or guardianship of the state or a county or a child welfare agency; or
    • an American Indian tribal agency if the child was made a ward of the agency or placed in the legal custody or guardianship of the agency.


Child Find

Schools are responsible for finding children with disabilities living in the school district.  This includes children with disabilities attending private schools in the district and homeless children.  Schools also must evaluate those children to see if they need special education. 

School districts have policies and procedures for how they will find children with disabilities in their districts.  The plans describe how the district will help children get needed services.  The plans might include newspaper announcements, flyers in public places or mailings to doctors and hospitals in the area.  Most districts also have scheduled screening programs.


Notice and Consent

In this book, the word “notice” is used with a legal meaning.  Districts must give parents written notice before the district can change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a child.  Districts must provide notice before refusing to change the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child.  They must provide notice before starting or changing the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child.  They must provide notice before refusing to start or change the provision of an appropriate education.

A notice must include a description of the action the district wants to take or refuses to take.  It must explain why the district wants to take the action or refuses to take the action.  The notice must include a description of any evaluation, assessment, record, or report used in deciding to take the action or refusing to take the action.  The notice must tell parents that they have protections under special education law.  If it is not in response to an initial referral for evaluation, the notice must tell parents how they can get a copy of the procedural safeguards.

A notice also includes places for parents to contact for help in understanding special education requirements and procedures.  The notice must describe other options the district considered and why those options were rejected.  It must include a description of any other factors that were part of the district’s decision.

Notices must be written in language understandable to the general public.  They must be provided in the parent’s native language or other mode of communication unless it is clearly not practical to do so.  If the parent’s native language is not written, the district must translate the notice for the parent and have written evidence it did so.

Parent consent is required for districts to do evaluations or place children in special education.  It is sometimes required in other situations.  Consent means the parent has been fully informed in the parent’s native language of all information related to what the district is seeking consent.  Consent means that the parent understands, and agrees in writing, to the carrying out of the activity for which the district is seeking consent.  The request for consent must describe the activity.  If the consent is for the release of records, the request must list the records that will be released and to whom the records will be released.

Consent is voluntary on the parent’s part.  Consent may be revoked at any time, but, if consent is revoked, it does not undo something that has already been done.  If the revoked consent is for evaluation, the district must stop evaluating.  If consent is revoked for placement in special education, before the child has begun getting special education services, the district may not provide the services.  If consent for placement is revoked after special education services have started, the district will stop providing special education.

Withdrawal of consent


Pupil Records

Parents are permitted to review and inspect any education records relating to their child.  Parent representatives have the same right of access as the parents.  If the record contains information on more than one child, parents only have access to the information about their child.  Parents may request copies of records if failure to provide copies of the records would effectively prevent the parent from exercising the right to inspect and review records.

Districts must respond to parental requests for records without unnecessary delay, prior to any meeting about an IEP or a hearing regarding identification, evaluation or placement of a child and in other cases no more than 45 days after the request is made.  The building principal or designated staff member will explain and interpret the behavioral records with the parents on request.  Districts provide parents, on request, a list of the types and locations of records collected, maintained, or used by the district.  Parents can request a copy of their child’s special education records.  A district may charge a fee for copies of the records made.

Districts presume either parent has authority to review their child’s records unless the district has been informed a parent does not have authority under state laws governing guardianship, separation, or divorce.

More information about pupil records and confidentiality is available in a booklet from DPI.  The booklet can be found on the DPI website at:


Procedural Safeguards

Both state and federal special education laws give parents and schools certain rights.  The law says that the school must tell parents about procedural safeguards.  The school sends parents a written explanation of these rights at certain times.  The items in the procedural safeguard notice are:

For questions that are not answered in this book, talk to people at the child’s school.  Start with the child’s teacher.  If the teacher does not know the answer, or more information is needed, talk to the principal or the school district’s director of special education.  It is best to work out problems or get questions answered at the local school.  The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has many resources that can help parents.  Parents may call the DPI when the local school cannot answer a question or solve a problem.  Parents can also use the DPI web site (  An index of special education topics is at  Parents can call DPI at 800-441-4563 (press 6 for the receptionist).  See other resources