In the episode, the local public school told the parents of Max, the character diagnosed with Aspberger’s Syndrome, not to return to school. They had to find him an appropriate private school, apply for admission and obtain the financial resources to send their son. At the end of the episode, Max is admitted to a private school, and everyone is happy. But I had a nagging question about how special education is portrayed. The public school administrators in the episode showed a lack of empathy and did not appear to provide any guidance or assistance to the parents. It looked like they could just expel Max without regard for his future or educational rights.
If I were a parent of a special needs child watching this episode, I might assume that I had no legal rights if my child were asked to leave public school. In this TV show, Max’s parents were able to pay for his private school education. Parents watching at home might assume that- had Max’s parents been unable to pay- their child would be denied an education.
I’m an elected member of my local School Board, and the experience has given me insight into the legal process regarding special needs placements. Federal law requires that special education students be provided with an education that is appropriate for them. Many states has additional protections for special education students as well. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is a federal law that protects the rights of students who qualify for special education services.
If you or someone you know is in this situation, don’t allow anyone to force you into giving up your rights to a public education. Get familiar with the IDEA law. There are many online resources available. FamilyEducation.com has a good basic guide on Special Education and the Law. Most states also have a guide to special education rights. Many parents receive advice from special education advocates or get referrals from the ACLU’s education specialists.
I want parents to know that they aren’t alone. NBC’s Parenthood showed a broken educational system which gave up on a family in need. I do not doubt that many parents have experienced such callous behavior, but it does not have to be this way. Please reach out for support if you are in this situation. There are people willing to help you and who will advocate for your child’s educational rights.
Photo Credit: Max Burkholder as Max Braverman — NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth