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Surrogate parents for students with disabilities

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The federal regulations for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes many provisions to protect the rights of parents and their child with a disability while also giving families and school systems means by which to resolve disputes. Children with disabilities who are wards of the state require a surrogate parent under IDEA.

Any school district or other public agency must ensure that the rights of a child are protected when either the parents of the child are not known; the agency, after reasonable efforts, cannot locate the parent, the child is a ward of the state or the child is an unaccompanied homeless youth as defined in section 725 of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. When any of these situations exist, the school district or public agency must appoint a surrogate parent. A person assigned to act as a surrogate for the parents may not be an employee of the State education agency, the local education agency, or any other agency that is involved in the education or care of the child.

It is the school district or public agency’s duty to assign an individual to act as a surrogate for the parents to help determine the best educational program possible. This must include a method for determining whether a child is in need of a surrogate parent as well as a method for assigning a surrogate parent to the child. The public agency must make reasonable efforts to ensure the assignment of a surrogate parent not more than thirty days after the agency determines the child is in need of a surrogate parent.

The public agency may select a surrogate parent in any way permitted under State law. However any person(s) selected as a surrogate may not have a conflict of interest and be qualified to represent the child. A person who otherwise qualifies to be a surrogate parent in accordance with the guidelines is not an employee of the public agency if compensated by the agency to serve only as a surrogate parent.

A person assigned as a surrogate may not be an employee of a public agency involved in the education or care of the child. The surrogate parent may represent the child in all matters relating to identification, evaluation, placement and the provision of free, appropriate public education.

In the next article, who may serve as a surrogate parent will be discussed.

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