Safeguard, Noun: A measure taken to protect someone or something, or to prevent an undesirable outcome (Thanks, Google!)
I'm hoping, praying, and crossing my fingers that this isn't the first time you've encountered the term "procedural safeguards." Why? Because procedural safeguards are the foundation upon which collaborative relationships among IEP team members are built.
Let's start with the basics:
"Procedural Safeguards" are the rights that parents/guardians have with regard to the education of their a child who has a disability. These safeguards exist to protect students with disabilities from discrimination, to ensure these students have access to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and to outline the steps that families can take to resolve conflicts over their child's educational program.
I.D.E.A. requires that schools offer parents a copy of these rights at least once a year. Commonly, a copy of the Procedural Safeguards is offered at the beginning of every IEP meeting. These suckers are long (cause you have a lot of rights)! Typically given in a handbook format or on a CD, the Procedural Safeguards can be 40+ pages of legalese and vocabulary seemingly meant for those with a PhD. Here's why you need to read them anyway (and not just once):
Timelines: The Procedural Safeguards outline when certain actions must be completed. Did you know that certain evaluations must be done at least once every 3 years? That parents have a number of days to sign an IEP before it goes into effect without a signature (surprise! You do NOT need to sign an IEP at the end of a meeting!)? The Procedural Safeguards also describe how to "count" this time, whether in calendar or school days.
Access to Educational Records: The Procedural Safeguards outline your right to "inspect and review" any educational records that relate to your child. This includes progress reports, evaluations, discipline referrals, etc. And guess what? There is a timeline by which the school must allow you to do this.
Evaluations: Familiarize yourself with the acronym I.E.E. This stands for "independent educational evaluation," and the Safeguards entitle you to ask for one (no more than once a year) if you disagree with an evaluation that was completed by the school (psychoeducational/eligibility, assistive technology, functional behavior analysis, and more). And you don't have to pay for it. This is a great way to get a more comprehensive evaluation or an evaluation done by someone who is more objective than a school team member.
Consent: This is pretty straight forward-- the Safeguards outline what you must give consent for, the reach of that consent (i.e., giving consent for an evaluation does not automatically give consent for special education services to be provided if the evaluation shows eligibility), and the right to withdraw consent at any time.
Conflict Resolution: Administrative complaints, due process hearings, mediation...your Procedural Safeguards handbook provides steps for resolving disputes with the IEP team. While I hope you never have to use these tools, they exist for your benefit to ensure that your child is getting what they need from the IEP process (which, incidentally, is also my goal). There is a time and place for them.
These are only a handful of the important rights that the Procedural Safeguards ensure. Do me a favor and read through the full booklet, write down any questions to ask in your next meeting (or to bring to a lawyer), make notes of the items that you may need to go back and reference, and feel empowered to reference these Safeguards when necessary. They exist to protect you, but they're only useful if you know how to use them. And as a reminder, I'm not a lawyer. If you are concerned your rights have been violated or want more information about these rights, please engage the services of an attorney to assist you.
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