Teacher Choice - Does IDEA Allow Parents to Choose a Teacher?

Can You Request a Different Teacher for Your Child with Learning Disabilities?

Teacher with her laptop and student
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Why Parents May Want a Different Teacher for a Learning Disabled Child

If there is one thing special education parents have in common with regular education parents, it is the desire to get the best teacher possible for their children. When possible, it can be helpful to speak with your child's principal or guidance counselor about the problem. In some cases teacher placement issues can be resolved informally at that level or perhaps speaking with a board office administrator.

While most parents and students will not have significant problems with teachers, some will have the misfortune of encountering a teacher that is not a good match for the child's learning needs, and it may not be possible to resolve the matter informally. Parents typically want changes when:

What IDEA Says About Teacher Choice

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gives parents of children with learning disabilities and other types of disabilities specific rights to help ensure students receive a Free Appropriate Public Education.

Parents are often surprised to learn, however, that teacher choice is not one of them.

What You Can do Under IDEA

Although IDEA does not allow parents to request a specific teacher, some aspects of the law may help. Under IDEA, you can:

  • Request an IEP team meeting to discuss your child's placement. If the teacher's failure to accommodate your child's needs is affecting his academic progress or self-esteem, the argument could be made that his current placement is not the Least Restrictive Environment.

    When there is a conflict over placement, you can use that reasoning, to request a change of placement rather than a change in teachers. You may not get the teacher you want, but you may be able to improve your child's situation by requesting a placement different from the current one.

  • If the teacher is not implementing your child's Individual Education Program, you may want to consider requesting placement in a collaborative classroom where a special education teacher works with the regular education teacher to meet the needs of all students.
  • If your child's teacher does not have the skills necessary to meet your child's unique learning needs, you may request that the teacher receive professional development in that area. Professional development may be provided in formal training, by consultation with qualified professionals and learned through job-embedded methods, or by teacher self-study. Professional development may take time, but the wait can be worth it if the teacher is otherwise working well with the student.
  • Get to know your rights as a parent of a child with a disability. If you have tried to resolve the placement problem but the school is unresponsive to your requests, you may want to consider filing a formal complaint, requesting mediation, or requesting a due process hearing.

    As always, make sure you have a legitimate complaint before taking any formal action against a teacher or a school district. Some special education advocates may attempt to flood a school district with frivolous complaints in attempt to bully them into submission. In my humble opinion, this is never a good idea. Filing a complaint without solid proof or for the purpose of harassment will destroy your credibility with the district and may make them more resistant to your requests. Further, IDEA specifically prohibits awarding attorney's fees to parents when hearings are requested for frivolous reasons. In other words, you could be stuck with advocate and attorney fees when you file baseless complaints, hearings, and lawsuits.

    There are important things you should know before you work with an advocate or attorney.

    Are There Any Laws to Help Parents with a Severe Problem Teacher?

    Under very specific circumstances, there may be some legal relief for children stuck with a problem teacher:

  • If the teacher is verbally or physically abusive, parents may file abuse charges with the local police. Schools will typically suspend teachers accused of abuse pending the outcome of the investigation. The child will typically be placed with a different teacher.

    It should go without my having to say this, but abuse charges are very serious. Never file such charges against anyone unless you can prove the allegations, and you truly believe your child is in danger. In some states, filing false charges against a teacher or filing charges for the sake of harassment is a crime.

  • If your child attends a school has been designated as persistently dangerous or deficient because of low performance under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), your child may be eligible to request transfer to another school. Free tutoring may also be offered under NCLB.
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