Can a Public School Deny Access to My Child With Higher Support Needs?

When you’re the parent of a child with higher support needs, the simplest things, like trying to enroll them in school, can come with challenges. You’re just trying to raise your child and give them the same things that other children have, including an education, but the bureaucracy of the school system can sometimes make it more difficult.

What if your local school says they can’t accommodate your child? Is that even legal? And what can you do about it?

Can a Public School Deny Access to My Autistic Child with Higher Support Needs?

In the U.S., federal law requires that every child receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. The following federal laws apply specifically to children with support needs:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (1975, amended in 2004)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990)

Every state must uphold these laws, but keep in mind that each of them have different criteria for eligibility, services available, and procedures. 

The ADA in particular requires that all schools meet the needs of children with differences (religious schools are exempt). Under the ADA, children who qualify cannot be denied educational services, programs or activities, The act also prohibits discrimination against these students.

According to the IDEA act, ‘qualified’ children are students who:

  • Are of an age at which students without disabilities are provided elementary and high school educational services
  • Are of an age at which it is mandatory under state law to provide elementary and secondary educational services to students with disabilities
  • Have one or more of the following conditions: autism, a serious emotional disturbance, a learning difference, intellectual disability, a traumatic brain injury, vision and/or hearing impairments, physical disabilities, developmental delays (including speech and language difficulties) or other health impairments

If your child is qualified, they have the right to receive a free, appropriate education just like everyone else.

Related: Overcoming Sensory Overwhelm in School or the Workplace

What Can I Do if a School Denies Access to My Autistic Child With Higher Support Needs?

Under these laws, children with support needs have the right to school services. If your child is denied access or you’re dealing with roadblocks, you should take the necessary steps to make sure they receive appropriate services. This process can be intimidating, but it’s part of advocating for your child and ensuring that they receive the education and other services they’re entitled to.

If a school denies your child access or you’re having difficulties getting them enrolled, here’s what you can do:

  • Try to understand the school’s reasons. They should give you a copy of the evaluation report at no cost, as well as information on how to appeal their decision. If you don’t understand the report, reach out to the school for an explanation
  • If your child isn’t eligible for services under the IDEA Act, ask about the school district’s Section 504 plan. Under a 504 plan, students can receive accommodations, such as extra time on tests or assistive technology
  • If the school still refuses to provide services, ask for copies of the district’s 504 plan, so you can see the details for yourself
  • If the school district doesn’t respond to your request, you can contact your U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Regional Office for assistance
  • If the school district refuses services under IDEA, Section 504 or both, you may choose to challenge this decision through a due process hearing (a legal hearing in which you and your child have an advocate who can help talk about your views and concerns)
  • It may also be necessary to hire your own lawyer if you decide to appeal a school’s decision
  • You can also ask about other options the school may provide if your child doesn’t qualify for a 504 plan or IEP, like one-on-one tutoring, peer mentoring or specialized help for certain difficulties
  • You can get an independent educational evaluation. This is done by a professional outside the school and is particularly useful if you want to challenge the school’s decision
  • You can also try working with a mediator, a neutral outsider who will mediate between you and the school to come up with a solution
  • Try working with an education advocate. This type of professional helps parents navigate the school system and can help you to work out a solution with the school

Resources for Parents of Children With Higher Support Needs

If you still need help or are looking into other resources, here are a few that are designed to help parents of children with support needs:

You Are Not Alone

Raising a child with higher support needs can feel daunting or even impossible. Sometimes you might feel overwhelmed or lonely, but we want you to know that you are never alone. There are countless services, support groups and other resources available for children with support needs and their parents. 

At RDI®, we’re dedicated to helping families just like yours. Our RDI® Certified Consultants commit their time, energy and skill sets to helping parents who are trying to give their child the best life possible. 

We’ve also created the RDI® Online Learning Community, so parents can have a place to ask for help, get advice from others who’ve been there or simply talk to someone who understands. Interested in connecting with other parents, autistic adults and RDI® professionals?

Join the RDI® Online Learning Community today.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from RDIconnect®. or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.


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