An Advocate's Guide

Each chapter includes a brief summary, a list of “Advocacy Hints,” detailed descriptions of state and federal rights, sample letters, and resources for more information. The manual is divided into 13 chapters and can be downloaded or ordered in hard copy by contacting DRM.

Each manual chapter was last updated in June 2020. A downloadable, updated version of the entire manual is coming soon.

Title Page

Title page for Student's with Disabilities: An Advocate's Guide

Introduction/How to Use This Manual

This document explains the purpose of Student's with Disabilities: An Advocate's Guide and acknowledges the writers and contributors.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - The Legal Basis for Special Education

The federal and state laws that help students with disabilities attend school include the U.S. and state constitutions, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Michigan Mandatory Special Education Act. Each of these laws independently protects students with disabilities. Chapter 1 explains the different laws, the rules that explain what they mean and how to interpret the laws.

Chapter 2 - Records

Schools keep records on children in special education. Schools have to grant access to these records in a timely way. Parents may view records, may have a representative view them, and may copy them for a nominal fee.

Chapter 2 includes a definition of "records", who has access to them, how they are handled, and what parents should keep as part of a students' records.

Chapter 3 - Special Education Services and Supports

All laws that help students with disabilities attend public school share common themes. The intention
behind these laws is to help students with disabilities overcome the historical barriers to attending school.
Public schools must provide services and supports that:
1. Are free of charge;
2. Are designed following the proper process and take into account information from all people who
know the student; and
3. Are reasonably calculated to help the student learn.

The school’s duty to provide services in this way is known as a “free appropriate public education” or FAPE.
This chapter will describe FAPE and the different kinds of services and supports that schools must consider
when providing it.

Chapter 4 - Referral and Identification

A parent or school can refer a student with a disability for special education services; in fact, schools have
an affirmative obligation to find students with disabilities who may need help, including students who are
homeless and those attending private or charter schools.

A student with a disability is eligible for special education services and supports if he or she fits into one of
13 categories of disability. Students who do not fit into one of the categories may still receive help under
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Chapter 5 - Evaluation and Assessment

Many kinds of evaluations take place in school. Some evaluations, including the initial evaluations that help
determine eligibility and subsequent similar reevaluations are carried out by a team. These evaluations are
called Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) evaluations in Michigan.

While the law requires that MET evaluations occur periodically, it also requires that the school provide
other, less extensive evaluations on an as needed or requested basis. When the student’s parents or
teacher request evaluations, they must be provided. This kind of evaluation might be used to determine
whether an additional service is needed or may help in designing individualized programs.

Students in special education must also have access to evaluations, such as the Michigan Education
Assessment Program (MEAP), given to general education students, or an alternative. If the student has
behavior difficulties, evaluations may be provided to determine how best to write a behavior intervention

Evaluations are not just standard tests, or checklists. The Individualized Education Program Team (IEP
Team) can design a specific evaluation process to determine the need for any kind of special education
service, including services like extended school year services, or an individual aide.

Chapter 6 - The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The Individualized Education Program Team (IEP Team) takes information from evaluations,
assessments, and observations and (1) decides whether or not a student is eligible for special
education, and (2) creates an individual plan for each student in special education.

IEP Team members include school representatives and teachers. Parents are also team members and
must be invited, with the meeting time arranged to meet their needs. The IEP Team may also include
other people, including evaluators, advocates, and the student.

IEP Team meetings differ depending on the individual students, but most should follow a predictable
pattern of introductions, discussion, and eligibility determination, then planning and completing the
actual Individualized Education Program (IEP) document. The IEP Team must take specific steps to
allow parental participation in the IEP process.

Chapter 7 - Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Once proper services are identified for a student with disabilities, the services must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Federal and State law require schools to serve students with disabilities in the general education setting to the maximum extent possible.

Chapter 7 includes the concepts of LRE's, requirements under IDEA and mandates under Section 504.

Chapter 8 - Problem Solving and Complaints

Disputes over special education services may be resolved informally or formally. When you disagree with your child’s school district over eligibility, goals, services, or supports, the special education process offers several opportunities to informally resolve disputes. You should know your rights and responsibilities in these situations so that your voice is heard.

Chapter 8 outlines problem-solving steps, a list of common problems, an explanation of state complaints vs. federal complaints, due process hearings, and mediation. Sample letters are included.

Chapter 9 - Infant, Toddler, and Preschool Programs

Under Michigan and federal law, children with disabilities birth through five-years-old are eligible for special education and support services. Children "at risk" of having a disability are also eligible for services. "Early intervention" services utilize Individualized Family Service Plan's (IFSP), IEP's and 504 plan's.

Chapter 9 reviews "Early On" services, IFSP, transitions to special education, least restrictive environment and preschool services.

Chapter 10 - Transition

Almost all students in special education are entitled to prevocational, vocational and transition planning and services. The school should offer assessment and services to help your child prepare for life after school, including work and other community activities. The school must include transition goals and services in a student's IEP.

Chapter 10 will explain the options, steps and timelines involved in transitioning from public schools.

Chapter 11 - Suspension and Expulsion

Schools have the authority and discretion to suspend or expel students. All students have basic due process rights to notice and an opportunity to be heard when accused of misbehavior. Students with disabilities have additional rights. For example, a student in special education (or a student who should be in special education) cannot be expelled or suspended for more than 10 days without review by an IEP team.

Chapter 11 reviews the school's authority to suspend or expel a student, due process, a manifestation review and the role of family court.

Chapter 12 - Section 504

Services are also available to students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The 504 Plan must include special education and related services to meet the individual needs of the student.

Chapter 12 talks about the steps to follow for services under Section 504, who is eligible, how to apply and the differences between Section 504 and IDEA.

Chapter 13 - Protection Against Disability-Related Harassment, Seclusion, and Restraint

This chapter explains the rights of students with disabilities facing harassment because of their disabilities by peers or staff in school. It outlines the steps to take to address the problem and what to do if the school district fails to act.

Chapter 13 also reviews who is responsible, how to file a complaint, and the seclusion and restraint policies within the State of Michigan.


Glossary of abbreviations and terms from the Students with Disabilities: An Advocate's Guide.

How Can We Help?
Contact Us Anytime

We want to hear from you! Whether you're looking for advocacy, have a question, or just want to connect, please reach out.


Contact Us