School districts have to give students with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This means that if a student with a disability needs AT in order to get an appropriate education and have equal access, the school district has to make the AT available to the student.
There are 3 main laws that give students with disabilities the right to use AT in public schools:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, school districts have to provide special education and related services. School districts have to provide AT to students if the AT is needed for the student to benefit from the educational program. Students in special education services have the greatest access to AT in schools.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This prohibits discrimination in regular and special education against students with disabilities. AT may be required as a “reasonable accommodation” under a 504 plan. A reasonable accommodation is when a school makes changes to their buildings or their rules so that a student with a disability can have equal access to education and space.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). School districts have to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities and provide devices and services, so a student can communicate. These are things like: interpreters, closed captioning, or large print materials.
A student with a disability that greatly impacts a major life activity may be eligible for a 504 plan even if they don’t qualify for special education.
Schools have to make reasonable accommodations for all students with disabilities when the disability greatly impacts one or more major life activity. These are things like, caring for oneself, doing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working. A 504 Plan may include AT devices and services.
Schools districts also have to provide AT as a reasonable accommodation if the student needs it to have access to educational programs or physical space.
Note: The rest of this fact sheet is information for students who are eligible for special education services. If your child is not eligible for special education but you think (s)he may be eligible for a 504 plan, talk to an advocate or contact the MN Disability Law Center for more information or help.
Before a student can get special education services, there has to be an evaluation to determine if the student is eligible. The evaluation also identifies the student’s educational needs.
The evaluation is done by a team from the school district. Parents or guardians and the student are part of the team. The team creates an Individual Education Program (IEP). For students under age 3, the IEP is called an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IEP lists the special needs of the student, goals and objectives that will help the student make progress, accommodations, related services, and supplementary aids and services.
For any student in special education, the IEP team must consider if the student needs AT devices and services.
The IEP team decides what AT the student needs. If the team has questions about what AT is needed, they can do another evaluation. An evaluation for AT can be done at the time of the initial evaluation for special education services or can be done later if the student’s needs change. The team decides who will do the evaluation. If a school district does not have qualified staff to do it, the district must contract with an experienced person from another public or private organization. It can’t be any cost to the parent.
Yes. A student already using AT must be able to use that AT during evaluation or testing. For example, a student who uses a communication device or a pencil grip must have access to those devices during any testing.
If you do not agree with an evaluation done by the school district, you can ask for an outside evaluation. The school district has to pay for it. This request should be made in writing to the case manager or district representative on the team. If the school district refuses to do an outside assessment, they have to start a hearing to prove the evaluation was appropriate and complete.
Parents can pay for an evaluation by an outside independent person. The IEP team must consider the recommendations from the outside evaluation. But the school district doesn’t have to follow those recommendations unless the IEP teams agrees and puts them in the IEP.
If AT is needed for a student to benefit from special education, the school must provide it at no cost to the student or family. School districts may charge a fee to students with disabilities if it is a fee charged to ALL students, like a lab fee for computers.
School districts can use other sources of funding as long as there is no cost to the student or family. Other funding sources are:
the student’s private health plan
Vocational Rehabilitation Services
State Services for the Blind
private community resources and foundations
Schools have to ask parents for permission to access a health plan (health insurance).
Note: Using a private health plan could cause an increase in premiums or count against the family cap, which would be an indirect cost. Parents can refuse to let a school district go through a health plan.
If the school district buys a device using the student’s Medical Assistance or private health plan, the student owns the device. The IEP team decides how the device is used at school. But the student can take the device home after school and on weekends, holidays, and summer vacations.
As much as possible, students in special education have to be educated with students who do not have disabilities. If AT can be used to help the student learn in the regular classroom, the school must provide the AT in the regular classroom.
The school district must follow the IEP. The IEP should state where and when the student has access to the AT. Schools can’t deny or restrict access to devices that help students function.
If a school has to take away a device, like walkers, wheelchairs, hearing aids, and communication boards to prevent harm to a person or the device, it must be returned to the student as soon as possible.
If the school district owns the device and a student with a disability changes school districts, the new school district may buy the device from the old school district. A school district doesn’t have to sell it though, if the device can be used by other students.
If the student is transitioning to a work environment or a postsecondary educational program, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) can buy the device from the school district. The student must be getting vocational rehabilitation services from DEED and the device must be identical to the one in the rehabilitation plan the student made with DEED.
If you do not agree with proposed IEP or evaluation or if the school district refuses to provide needed AT devices or services, you should first informally discuss the issue with the IEP team or other school staff. If you still disagree, you can ask for any of these things:
an independent evaluation (see page 3)
a conciliation conference
a facilitated IEP meeting, or
a due process hearing
You can also file a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
You have the right to meet with school district staff if you disagree with the proposed IEP. School districts must offer a conciliation conference if a parent objects to the proposed IEP.
You can also ask for one by giving a written request to the case manager or district representative on the team. The conciliation conference must be scheduled within 10 days at a place and time agreed to by both the parents and the school district.
Within 5 days of the final conciliation conference, the school district must give you a written memorandum and a proposed IEP says what the school district is going to do.
You can ask for mediation through the Minnesota Special Education Mediation Services. This is at no cost to the parent. A trained mediator tries to help the family and school district work out the problems and reach a good decision for the student.
Both you and the school district must agree to mediation. The mediation process has to be completed within 30 calendar days. Contact the local special education director to ask for mediation.
If you have questions about mediation, call the Alternative Dispute Resolution Services coordinator at MDE: (651) 582-8518.
A facilitated IEP meeting is an IEP team meeting with a neutral person (facilitator) who tries to help the team talk it over and develop an IEP. The facilitator is not a decision maker. You or the school district can ask for a facilitated IEP meeting.
The meeting has to be at a time and place agreed to by everyone. You can bring advocates or other people to the meeting.
If you have questions about a facilitated IEP meeting, call the Alternative Dispute Resolution Services coordinator at MDE: 651-582-8518.
Minnesota Department of Education
Special Education Dispute Resolution Supervisor
Division of Compliance and Assistance
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, MN 55113
You must send a copy of the complaint to the school district or public education agency serving the child at the same time you file the complaint with MDE.
Due Process Hearings
A due process hearing helps resolve disputes about the identification, evaluation, placement, services, or provision of FAPE, including disputes over AT.
It is a chance for you to present evidence and cross-examine school officials. It is led by an independent hearing officer. The officer must issue written findings of fact and a decision. A due process hearing is a formal legal process.
You don’t have to find a lawyer, but it is a good idea to talk to one before asking for a due process hearing.
This publication was made possible by Grant Number 90AG0003-01-00 from the Administration for Community Living to the Minnesota STAR Program. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Health and Human Services or the Administration for Community Living.