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Educational Supports for Children and Youth


Education Decision Makers

Decisions affecting the education of children, youth and young adults are extremely important as they can have a lasting impact on the development and future opportunities available to the child. In most cases these decisions are made by the birth parents, but when the birth parents are deceased, cannot be identified or located, or the rights of the birth parents have been terminated by the Court, someone other than the birth parents must fill this role. This page attempts to clarify the following questions:

  • Who can be an education decision maker?
  • What is the process for identifying or appointing an education decision maker?
  • Who can make education decisions for students with a disability who need special education services?
  • What is the process for identifying or appointing an education decision maker for a student with a disability who needs special education services?
Who can be an education decision maker?
  • The education decision-maker is assumed to be the birth parents, unless the birth parents are deceased, cannot be identified or located, or the rights of the birth parents have been terminated by the Court. In the event that one of these scenarios applies, the following persons can be an education decision maker:

    • Foster or adoptive parent
    • Legal guardian
    • Family member that the child lives with or who is caring for the child
    • Individual appointed by a Children’s Court judge
     
What is the process for identifying or appointing an education decision maker?
  • Identification

    When there is no court involvement, it is sufficient to identify the person acting as the education decision maker. The education decision maker can also be identified as a result of collaboration between the school district the child attends and the individual(s) caring for the child about who is best qualified to be the education decision maker when communicating with school officials or coordinating education services for the child.

    Appointment

    When there is no court involvement and no person has been identified as the education decision maker, the school district should appoint an education decision maker. When there is court involvement, a Children’s Court judge can appoint an education decision maker on his own or on the request of the child’s caseworker, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or someone involved in the care of the child. A Children’s Court judge can also settle disputes regarding who is best qualified to act as the general education decision-maker.
Who can make education decisions for students with a disability who need special education services?

Under the federal law Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) only a "parent" can act on behalf of a student with a disability who needs special education services. The following persons qualify as a parent under IDEA:

  • Birth or adoptive parent – the birth parent is assumed to be the education decision-maker unless the birth parents are deceased, cannot be identified or located, the rights of the birth parents have been terminated by the Court, or the birth parent is not “attempting to act” on the child’s behalf.
  • Foster parent
  • Legal guardian 
  •  Family member that the child lives with or who is caring for the child
  • Surrogate Parent – this term is comes from the IDEA law and only applies when there is no birth or adoptive parent, foster parent, legal guardian, or family member who can act as the education decision maker. According to IDEA, the following individuals qualify to serve as a Surrogate Parent:
     
    • Adult relatives
    • Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)
    • Child’s attorney or Guardian ad Litem (GAL)
    • Another adult who knows the child (perhaps a church member or a responsible family friend)
What is the process for identifying or appointing an education decision maker for a student with a disability who needs special education services?
  • Identification

    When there is no court involvement and one of the first four types of parent under IDEA is available to act as the education decision maker (i.e. birth or adoptive parent, foster parent, legal guardian or family member that the child lives with or who is caring for the child) it is sufficient to identify the person acting as the education decision-maker when communicating with school officials or coordinating education services for the child.

    Appointment

    • When there is no court involvement and one of the first four types of parent under IDEA is available to act as the education decision maker (i.e. birth or adoptive parent, foster parent, legal guardian or family member that the child lives with or who is caring for the child) the school district should appoint an education decision maker.
    • When there is no court involvement and none of the first four types of parent under IDEA is available to act as the education decision maker the school district should appoint a Surrogate Parent to serve as the education decision maker. In this situation, the school district has 30 days to appoint a Surrogate Parent.
    • When there is court involvement and one of the first four types of parent under IDEA is available to act as the education decision maker a Children’s Court judge can appoint an education decision maker.
    • When there is court involvement and none of the first four types of parent under IDEA is available to act as the education decision maker a Children’s Court judge can appoint a Surrogate Parent to serve as the child’s education decision maker. A Surrogate Parent appointed by a Children’s Court judge preempts all other education decision makers including the one appointed by the school district.
    • Any party involved in the care of the child can request that the Children’s Court judge appoint a special education decision maker, including a family member, caseworker, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or probation officer.
     PDF Icon More information about who can make special education decisions for kids in out of home care  
Important Contacts

KidsVoice
Effective January 31, 2012, KidsVoice attorneys are serving as the education decision maker for many court-active youth for whom they already serve as the Guardian ad Litem (GAL). If you are caring for a court-active youth and you do not know who the education decision maker is, you can find out by calling KidsVoice at 412-391-3100.

Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Office of Conflict Counsel – Dependency Division
For cases in which the Office of Conflict Counsel serves as the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for a court-active youth, they may be appointed to serve as the education decision maker as well. The Office of Conflict Counsel – Dependency Division can be reached at 412-350-4850.

Training

The Role of Education/Special Education Decision Makers
PowerPoint
The Role of Education/Special Education Decision Makers
PDF Icon The Role of Education/Special Education Decision Makers  

An overview of what role a special education/education decision maker plays, who can act in this role, and how to determine if one needs to be appointed to a child in care. The following will be covered:

  • What laws govern education decision makers
  • Role as an education decision maker, who they are, and what they do
  • When does a court or school district appoint an education decision maker

Supporting documents  

 For more related trainings 

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