LANSING — Today Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D–East Lansing) and Rep. Stephanie Chang (D–Detroit) introduced legislation that would create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) ombudsman within the Michigan Department of Education.

“Parents shouldn’t have to fight tooth and nail when it comes to the development and implementation of their child’s IEP,” Sen. Hertel said. “There are more than 200,000 students with disabilities in Michigan. We want to make it easier for their parents to make the best possible decisions.”

Under the bill, the IEP ombudsman would be tasked with helping parents understand their rights and responsibilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), as well as reviewing and resolving IEP-related questions.

“We’re falling short of where we need to be when it comes to special education in Michigan,” Rep. Chang said. “All students, including those with disabilities, should have equal opportunities to succeed. Giving parents a designated point of contact to help resolve issues with IEPs is critical to ensuring our state upholds the promise of quality education for all children.”

Sen. Hertel and Rep. Chang developed the legislation after constituents raised serious concerns over IDEA’s complexity, access to services and proper implementation of IEPs. One of those constituents, Bambi VanWoert (parent to Benjamin Cook), is a Michigan Disability Rights Coalition board member.

“I have spent countless hours working to ensure my son, Benjamin, receives the quality education he’s entitled to, but it has been a grueling process that impacts the entire family and my ability to provide for them,” VanWoert said. “Having an ally at the state level would have made a huge difference.”

Public schools nationwide are governed by IDEA, which provides a legal framework to ensure children with disabilities receive “free appropriate public education.” That’s where IEPs come in. Under IDEA, children receiving special education services must have an individualized IEP, which is designed to address unique learning needs and goals. However, the development and implementation of each IEP can be a confusing process.

Melody Arabo, named Michigan’s Teacher of the Year in 2015, is a parent and a third-grade teacher in Rep. Chang’s district. “As a teacher and the parent of a child with special needs, I understand how challenging creating and implementing an IEP can be — for teachers and parents,” Arabo said. “This legislation will give us the helping hand we need.”

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