At a glance
Federal law requires public schools to get your consent before taking certain actions involving your child.
Schools must make sure you’re given information about your legal rights.
You can refuse to give consent.
But when does the school need your informed consent? And how does the school get it? Read on to find out.
When the School Must Ask for Your Consent
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school must ask for your consent at these times:
You must give permission in each situation above. For example, say you gave informed consent for an evaluation. Later, if the school wants to provide special education services, it must get your informed consent again.
Keep in mind that states and local schools may have rules requiring informed consent at other times, as well.
The Legal Definition of Informed Consent
According to IDEA, informed consent has three requirements:
- You’ve been fully informed about what the school wants to do. The school will typically send you a letter or document describing what will happen in detail. This is known as . Sometimes, this notice can be hard to understand and full of unfamiliar terms. You have the right to ask the school to explain anything you don’t understand. You also have the right to receive this notice (as well as give your consent) in your native language, like Spanish or even braille.
- You understand and agree in writing. Even if you say that you agree in a conversation or meeting, the school can’t proceed. The school needs your signature (or written agreement).
- You understand that consent is voluntary and that you can withdraw or deny consent at any time. The school must send you a written notice of your and your child’s legal rights, called procedural safeguards.
What Happens If You Refuse to Consent
You can refuse to give informed consent by simply saying no. A parent can also refuse by just not answering when asked. If you don’t give consent, the school can’t act. It’s your decision.
However, this only applies to evaluations. The school may never “override” your decision not to allow special education services to your child.
When Informed Consent Isn’t Needed
It’s important to know that the school doesn’t need to get informed consent in every situation. Without your consent, the school can:
- Give your child tests that are given to all children, including standardized tests
- Review the results of previous evaluations
Also, once you consent in writing to special education services for the first time, the school doesn’t need your consent again to implement an IEP. It doesn’t need to keep asking permission. However, if the school wants to change your child’s IEP, it does need to give you prior written notice. And you are always able to withdraw your consent.
You can refuse consent by simply saying no or not answering when asked.
A school can’t give your child special education services without your written consent—you have the final say.
However, the school can try to use due process to get an evaluation or reevaluation of your child if you don’t consent.
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About the author
About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Melody Musgrove, EdD served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.