Can a student refuse an IEP or can a parent refuse special education? It’s weird to me, because as an advocate, I’ve spent over a decade trying to get IEPs for students.

It feels odd to not want one. But it happens. There are situations where a parent does not want an IEP for their child. Here’s what to know about refusing special education or an IEP, and what happens next.

A close-up of a person's hand with their thumb pointing downwards to refuse special education services.

It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but this Special Education Stigma scenario still happens. It goes like this:

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  • Parent recognizes that their child is struggling at school. They reach out and ask for help.
  • The school agrees and draws up the IEP.
  • Parent waffles and does not want to accept the IEP because they “don’t want their child in special education.

Despite being almost 50 years past the passage of IDEA, special education often generates more fiction and stigma than fact.

Here are some of the most difficult myths for parents to overcome.

Myths about Special Education

  • People will think my child is stupid. In fact, most have average intelligence. Some special education students have cognitive skills that distinguish them as gifted. Most students with IEPs also have talents that may not be recognized in the classroom. And, if my child needs help, shouldn’t I give them that help? If my child needs assistance at school, why should I care what others think?
  • Special Education will make my child lazy. It is safe to assume that some people with IEPs are indeed lazy. However, this characteristic is neither limited to, nor indicative of, having a learning disability. My point being: there are lazy people in all segments of society. Most students with disabilities actually work harder than those for whom learning does not require interventions or accommodations. Once your child starts receiving the appropriate interventions and supports, you actually may see more progress than before. If they are now able to be successful, they will build on those successes. The disabled children I know are among some of the hardest working people you will ever meet.
  • My child will get unfair advantages. There will always be those who believe that people with supports are cheating the system. People may find some disabilities hard to acknowledge because they are invisible. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that, just as a wheelchair ramp provides access for people with physical disabilities, learning accommodations give students with learning disabilities equal access to their education.
  • My child will be with the “misbehaved kids” and learn bad habits. News flash: There are “misbehaved people” in all segments of society. I went to college with many people who partied too hard and flunked out. I did not. When I worked in retail, some of my coworkers stole from our workplace and were arrested. I did not. And, misbehaving occurs in all classrooms, not just the self-contained or resource rooms. Your child spends most of their time with you and will continue to learn their behaviors and values from you. And to the contrary, many kids exhibit negative behaviors when their educational needs are not met. By denying Special Ed Services, this may happen.
  • Special Education will impede my child’s learning. Quite the opposite! They are being given supports and services that will help them better access and benefit from their education.
  • An IEP will negatively affect college opportunities. Again, just the opposite is true. With an IEP and development of self-advocacy skills, a student will know what works for them.

If your child is really struggling, I personally recommend that you try to overcome your own personal biases and get them the support they need. However, that is just a recommendation. I don’t feel it’s my place to tell parents how to parent their kids.

Just know that while you might feel like you are protecting your child from society’s stigmas, your outcome may not be successful. Our society makes it much more socially acceptable to be the “bad kid” instead of the “dumb kid” and your child may start to develop negative habits to avoid doing school work.

Things like task refusal, talking back, skipping school, and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

Still, many parents may choose other options like providing services on their own. In fact, I have two friends who paid their own money to have their kids attend an intense Lindamood Bell program in the summer.

Anyway, let’s move on and discuss what happens and how to refuse Special Education Services.

refuse special education services

What happens if a parent refuses Special Education Services?

The short answer is that your child goes back to or remains to be a General Education student.

A school may offer or implement a 504 plan, but they are under no obligation to do so. They may give the child general education supports such as RTI or MTSS.

But again, they are under no obligation to do so.

Your child will lose any and all protections associated with an IEP and being in a protected class. Including, but not limited to:

  • IEP Discipline protections and the right to a Manifestation Determination Review.
  • Any and all supports, interventions, accommodations and related services outlined in the IEP.
  • Supports for after school and extracurriculars may be available via ADA. However, if your child made a team via some type of district policy or waiver that they did not have to meet grade or attendance requirements, likely they will no longer be eligible.

How to Refuse Special Education Services.

Send a letter to your school stating your wishes.

You should receive a PWN that Special Education Services are going to come to an end. Here is an example.

Can a Student refuse Special Education Services?

In some cases, yes. If your child is of the Age of Majority in some states, they can refuse special education services themselves.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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If you want your child in Special Education and they do not, this is an issue for an attorney.

Power of Attorney or Legal Guardianship may be warranted. This is a complicated issue that varies by state.

Can a Parent Refuse Evaluations for Special Education?

Yes, the school cannot evaluate without your consent. There are some finer points and exceptions to this. For example, if you do not want your child evaluated, you must state as much. In writing!

Ignoring their forms and emails is not the same as explicitly stating you do not want evaluations. If a school makes repeated attempts to get your consent and does not hear back from you, they may evaluate anyway under some Child Find regulations.

If you do not want your child evaluated, make sure that it is clear and in writing.

It’s also important to note that IDEA specific separates that consent for evaluations does not mean that you are consenting for Special Education Services.

Here is the exact wording from IDEA.

Statute/Regulations Main » Regulations » Part B » Subpart D » Section 300.300

300.300 Parental consent. (a) Parental consent for initial evaluation.

(1) (i) The public agency proposing to conduct an initial evaluation to determine if a child qualifies as a child with a disability under §300.8 must, after providing notice consistent with §§300.503 and 300.504, obtain informed consent, consistent with §300.9, from the parent of the child before conducting the evaluation.

(ii) Parental consent for initial evaluation must not be construed as consent for initial provision of special education and related services.

(iii) The public agency must make reasonable efforts to obtain the informed consent from the parent for an initial evaluation to determine whether the child is a child with a disability.

Lastly, I found this handout from Iowa.

It appears that they do not use the special education acronym of LEA, but instead use AEA.

Otherwise, it’s a great FAQ sheet about refusing special education services.

Good luck with your decision!

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