Skip to main content

Know Your Rights: Special Education

Learn more about the rights of students with disabilities in California.

What is a disability?

A problem that interferes with a child’s ability to learn can be a disability, such as:

  • Learning Disabilities (dyslexia, ADHD, autism)
  • Visual/Hearing Impairments
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Physical Disability
  • Emotional Disorders

How do I know if my child has a disability and is eligible for accommodations?

Schools must identify and evaluate students with disabilities. Parents also have a right to request that their child be evaluated for disabilities.

What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

An IEP is a document created by the child’s parent and school staff who know about the student’s needs. The document contains learning goals and resources to support a child with disabilities.

What should my child’s learning environment look like?

Students with disabilities have a right to free and appropriate public education that includes:

  • Access to education in the least restrictive environment
  • An equal opportunity for participation in nonacademic
  • Specialized services and supports that result in educational benefit

Preparing for an IEP Meeting

  1. Make a list of your child’s learning challenges and think of goals for each one.
  2. Know what you want to achieve out of the meeting to address learning needs.
  3. Ask to receive all school reports at least 72 hours before the meeting.
  4. Never sign the IEP in the meeting – take time to review the document carefully before you sign.

What if I disagree with the school about services?

Parents have the right to request a due process hearing if there is a disagreement about your child’s eligibility, placement, and service needs.

IEPs and COVID-19

Federal timelines for Individualized Education Plans have NOT changed. The IEP team may agree to conduct an IEP team meeting through other ways, like video.

Discipline of Special Education Students

Students CANNOT be punished for behavior that is a direct result of their disability. Examples of school discipline include detention, suspension, and expulsion.

If a student with a disability is disciplined, they have the right to tell their side of the story and other rights to defend themselves. Talk to an attorney for more information.

Do students have rights about safety and bullying?

Students have the right to attend schools that are safe, secure, and free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying. Students are also protected from cyber bullying that happens during distant learning.

English Learner Students with a Disability

English Learner students have the right to appropriate support services so that they can develop English language skills AND have access to learn all core curriculum for their grade level.

Schools should evaluate students for disabilities in a way that language is NOT a barrier to accurate assessment.

Rights of Parents Who Primarily Use a Language Other Than English

Parents who primarily use a language other than English have a right to participate in creating their child’s IEP and receive free translated materials and interpretation at meetings.

Want more information? Download our Education Manual: A Basic Guide to Students' Rights for Parents and Advocates.


This website is not intended to provide nor does it provide legal advice. Transmission and receipt of the information in this site is not intended to solicit or create, and does not create, any attorney-client relationship between California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. and any person or entity. CRLA, Inc. only has offices in the state of California and only provides legal services for claims that arose in California. Our privacy policy is straight-forward: This website does not collect any personal information about you or any user. CRLA, Inc. is not responsible for any third-party content that may be accessed through this site.


© 1966–2024 California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc

Web design & development by Agaric Tech Cooperative

Photos from CRLA archives & Creative Commons sources

Legal Research Services (Bloomberg Law®) provided by the Bloomberg Industry Group

Legal Services Corporation Logo