School Aged (3-21 years)

Special Education Rights

School districts are responsible for the education of a child with autism from the age of 3 to 21 if appropriate. They are also responsible for any related services the child may need to benefit from their special education.

Special education rights in New Jersey are derived from the federal law commonly known as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The New Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC) 6A:14 is based on IDEA. Download or request a copy from your school district or from the New Jersey Department of Education’s Offices of Special Education Policies and Procedures (OSEPP) at 609.376.9060.

NJAC 6A:14 explains the rights of the children determined eligible for special education and related services as well as policies and procedures the school districts must follow to comply with the law. Additionally, it describes procedural safeguards in case a school district and parent do not agree on an issue.


Children with autism have the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  Concerned parents can contact the local school district’s Special Services department and request an evaluation to determine eligibility for Special Education services. A meeting may be held to determine if an evaluation is warranted as well as which evaluations would need to be conducted.

The essence of FAPE is an “appropriate” education.  Although the term “appropriate” is different for every child and is based upon his or her unique circumstances, schools must provide an ambitious and challenging educational program (see Endrew Case article) to students with disabilities.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The IEP is a legal document that lists all the services that are to be provided to the child receiving special education.

The IEP must:

  • Describe the child's special education program in detail.

  • Describe how the child currently performs and his or her specific instructional needs.

  • Include measurable annual goals and short-term objectives or benchmarks.

  • Be reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of their individual circumstances.

School districts must follow the evaluation timelines and procedures required by special education law.

A Parent’s Role and Rights in the IEP Process

The IEP is a legal and binding contract between the school district and the parents, and is developed at the IEP meeting. The New Jersey Administrative Code states that parents are a part of the IEP team. As members of the IEP team, parents may provide input into the development and implementation of the IEP as well as placement decisions.

School districts must provide parents with a copy of Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE), which includes forms and instructions on requesting complaint investigations, mediation, due process hearings, and emergent relief. This booklet must be provided by the school district one time per year, such as when a child is referred for an initial evaluation, when a reevaluation is conducted, and when a request for a due process hearing is submitted to the Department of Education. At other instances, the school district must provide parents with a statement explaining that parents have rights under the special education law, how parents can obtain a copy of PRISE, and sources they may contact for assistance.

Resolving Disputes

When parents disagree with school districts over the identification, evaluation, classification, educational placement or the provision of a free, appropriate public education, they have the right to request a facilitated IEP meeting, mediation to resolve the dispute or, if not resolved, a due process hearing.

In August 2019, the Department of Education issued guidance on revised procedures for conducting special education resolution meetings. For more information regarding these procedures, please contact the Office of Special Education Policy and Dispute Resolution at 609.376.9060.

Special Education Timeline

At diagnosis or 2½ years old:

Contact the Child Study Team (CST) in your local school district in writing to refer your child for eligibility for special education services.

Age 3 or upon eligibility determination:

Develop your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) and determine appropriate educational placement.

Age 5 and every 3 years:

Re-evaluation: Contact your CST case manager to talk about any evaluations that need to be completed and to change your child’s disability classification (at age 5).

Ages 14-16:

In the year that a child turns 14 years old, the IEP team should begin to discuss transition plans. See Transition Planning for more information.

Every Year:

The IEP will be reviewed, and a new IEP will be developed. Parents have the opportunity to provide significant input into the new IEP by providing information to be included in the “Parental Concerns” section of the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP). Additionally, parents may also contribute to the development of goals and objectives designed to address the areas of concern presented in the PLAAFP.