Parent’s Right to Observe Special Education Student in a Classroom Setting

Jeffrey A. Gottlieb – Special Needs Attorney

Considering all of the educational rights that the federal and State government have conferred upon the parents of special education children to participate in the development of an educational program, it is highly problematic that parents often have limited rights to observe their special education child in the classroom.

As a start, California grants parents the right to visit their child’s classroom; a good beginning [California Education Code sections 51100, 51101 et. seq.]. However, California law does not provide any specific parameters for the frequency and duration of such visits. Furthermore, California law does not provide any unique exception for parents of special education students. In fact, the Office of Special Education Programs within the United States Department of Education has asserted that “neither the [IDEA] statute nor the regulations implementing the IDEA provide a general entitlement for parents of children with disabilities… to observe their children in any current classroom.” [Letter from Stephanie Lee, Director of the OSEP, May 26, 2004]

This lack of statutory guidance leaves the school districts in near complete control. Some school district policies state that a reasonable amount of time will be made available to parents to visit the classroom. Of course that leaves the school district to unilaterally determine what is reasonable. Some school districts simply limit a parent to a specific number of minutes for a classroom observation (e.g., 20 minutes).

Fortunately, federal law supersedes State law as well as school district policy. Federal law, under the IDEA, provides that a parent of a child with disabilities have an opportunity to participate in meetings with respect to the identification, evaluations and educational placements of a disabled child. Additionally, the IDEA states that parents have their concerns and the information they provide considered in developing a child’s IEP.

Accordingly, it can be inferred that parents of a disabled child must be provided the opportunity to review all information pertinent to their child’s unique educational program. And that opportunity should include the right to appropriately observe the child in a classroom setting. Since, a disabled child’s education is much more complex than a typical child, a parent of a special education child should be provided with a greater opportunity to observe their child in all settings (i.e., within the classroom, the school yard, during recess, during lunch and while receiving services). Otherwise, it can be argued that without the right to observe a disabled child’s education program with an allotted amount of time commensurate to the complexity of the educational program, a parent is being denied the opportunity to participate in the IEP meeting. This is an argument that at some time must be presented before a judge, such that all school districts develop observation policies and practices based on the specific requirements of the disabled child.

Until there is a clear statutory right to an appropriate frequency and duration of school visits, parents must be assertive in exercising their rights to observe their children in the school setting. First, parents should obtain a copy of their school district’s parent observation rights. Second, parents should work directly with their child’s school teacher to obtain observations appropriate to their child’s unique educational program. Third, if the school policy is not appropriate parents should have an observation practice written within the IEP. Lastly, if the school district refuses to allow an appropriate frequency and duration of observations, the parents should consider filing a due process complaint against the school district.

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