Common Legal Mistakes Parents of Children with Special Education Needs Make, But Can Avoid: Part VII

Published on April 27, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

Part seven in the Series:  Unfortunately, prevailing in a legal dispute against your school district is very difficult, so if you can avoid some common traps, why not just avoid them? If you’ve already done one of these things, don’t give up hope, but do try to rectify the situation. If you haven’t done any of these things, DON’T.

MISTAKE #7:  Signing Things You Don’t Understand

Here is the deal, as a Connecticut special education attorney, every school year I represent several children whose parents actually are attorneys.  Special education law is complex and there are significant legal ramifications to much of what you might be asked to sign.

Don’t just sign papers because they ask you to.

There is something about being in a school building that makes people revert to childhood.  I have spoken to many parents who are high-powered executives or very experienced lawyers who have signed documents that make me shudder, and they will tell me that they just felt so pressured.  I genuinely believe that some people feel around their child’s teachers and administrators like they are kids themselves who have been called to the Principal’s office!

Documents that require your signature usually have serious legal implications.

If your school district asks you to sign something, anything, READ IT!!!   If you don’t understand it in its entirety, ask if you can take a copy home to review it before you sign it.  Ask the administrator to explain to you what it means, then repeat back to him or her what you understand them to be saying it means.   Then, when you get into your car or when you get home, write down what they told you it meant and make several copies for your files.  If you can follow that up with an email documenting the communication, more the better.

Finally, if your school district asks you or your child (if they are over 18) to sign anything that remotely resembles a contract or asks you to waive any rights at all, do not sign it until you have at least consulted with a special education attorney.  I have seen families give away years of rights without even realizing it.   Don’t let it happen to you!

5 Responses to Common Legal Mistakes Parents of Children with Special Education Needs Make, But Can Avoid: Part VII

  1. Rochelle Dolim
    August 24th, 2009 | 7:36 pm

    They just sign it into effect anyway, claiming they can’t get us to participate (at the same time they claim we are being disruptive with our amount of contact).

  2. The school does not have the right to put ANYTHING into effect without your consent. You can sue for violation of your right to consent if you don’t sign and they act as though you did.

  3. Jennifer Laviano
    September 6th, 2011 | 8:46 pm

    You are correct that informed consent is required for many things (I’m not sure I would agree that a district does not have the right to “put anything into effect without your consent”…an example would that a district can hire a consultant without your consent)…my point here is not whether a parent has the right to refuse consent. Parents have that right, of course. My point is that I consider it usually counterproductive to do so, and more often than not is used against the parents if there is a question of whether FAPE has been provided. Hope that clarifies!

  4. Susan Martin
    June 3rd, 2012 | 6:58 pm

    I almost made this terrible mistake as the school was telling me my son was expelled for his behavior, but if I signed this flow chart saying I had discussed his reason not to be eligible for an IEP, they would recommend a 504 for his next placement. I did sign it, but walking out the door felt sick and called an advocate. I sent a letter retracting the signature and stating I wasn’t appropriately apprised of its meaning. Things didn’t work out great, but by the end the Board of Education supported that they had acted improperly. This is great advice