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What is a 'stay put right' for special education students?

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides many benefits for children with special needs. IDEA is intended to ensure that all children with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. When a special needs child is accepted into the program, that child is given an individualized educational program. Any proposed change in an IEP can be extremely disruptive, and IDEA provides a method for avoiding or minimizing the disruption.

The method is called a "stay put right." A "stay put right" allows the parents of the child to exercise their right under IDEA to preserve the status quo while they attempt to work out a solution with the school about how the child should be treated. The term "IEP" is a bit misleading because it implies that it covers only physical placement of the child, as between two different schools. In fact, an IEP designates the school that the child must attend and also describes the various educational programs for which the child may be eligible.

A school may propose a substantial alteration in an IEP that will have no effect on the school that a child attends. For example, an IEP may provide that a child receive a certain type of physical therapy. A proposal by the school to eliminate the therapeutic program is as much subject to a "stay put" right as the location of the child's school.

A school that wishes to modify an IEP must provide written notice to the child's parents. A parent has 15 days after the notice has been mailed to invoke the child's "stay put" rights. The parent can file either a due process complaint or a request for mediation. Once the parent files the request for a due process hearing or for a mediation, the school can make no changes in the child's IEP unless it believes that keeping the child in the current situation will expose the child or others to risk of physical injury. The school will schedule the date for the hearing or the mediation and notify the parents.

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