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Frequently Asked Questions
Why can't staff members of the school, county, or the care facility where the child lives be responsible for representing the child on educational matters?
There are a number of reasons:
- Both the school and agency may have restrictions that conflict with meeting the child's individual needs
- Neither the school nor the agency can act as a totally neutral party to advocate without conflict of interest
How can a volunteer surrogate parent gain the confidence needed to participate fully in planning the child's educational program?
It is difficult for a volunteer to become as familiar with the child as a parent or foster parent. However, because the important first step has been made--agreeing to take on the role of surrogate parent--the rest is just taking the time to become acquainted with the child and his or her educational background. By following the suggestions in this training, talking with professionals and other parents, and reading about the child's educational background, a volunteer can gain the confidence that comes through knowing. As time goes on and your experience and your knowledge increase, so will confidence.
How much does a surrogate parent need to know about the child's disability and where can this information be found?
To be an effective surrogate parent, it is helpful to acquire some information about the child's disability. The child's teacher, many state and national organizations, and the local library may have helpful information. PACER Center has a resource list of disability organizations, see our Recommended Organizations by Category listing.
Do all foster children need surrogate parents?
No. Only when the natural or adoptive parents’ authority to make educational decisions on the child’s behalf has been extinguished under state law, might a foster child need representation by a foster or surrogate parent at school.
What is the difference between a surrogate parent and a foster parent?
Sometimes the foster parent IS considered to be the "parent." If the foster parent meets all the requirements of the definition of parent, the foster parent is the parent and no surrogate need be appointed.
Can surrogates parents receive a stipend?
There is no requirement in Minnesota that a surrogate parent receive compensation; however, the school may choose to cover the expenses, such as mileage, of the surrogate parent or offer payment for expenses.
Rights and records
Do surrogate parents have rights to the child's educational records?
Surrogate parents have all the rights guaranteed to parents under special education laws and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Surrogate parents can see, correct, obtain copies of, and approve or disapprove the right of other to see the child's educational records. If an agency other than the school has records that the surrogate parent thinks are relevant to special education planning, the surrogate would call that agency to discuss release of records to the school for educational planning.
Can a surrogate parent be assigned to represent a student over the age of 18?
In Minnesota students ages 18 through 21 are viewed as serving as their own parents. Therefore, if the student is able to make their own decisions, a surrogate would not be necessary.
Do surrogate parents have a choice in the selection of the child?
Yes. For example, surrogates may request assignment to a child with a certain disability or in a certain age group.
What happens if a surrogate is trained but the school does not assign a child to the surrogate parent?
There are several reasons why a surrogate may not be immediately assigned a child. No children may currently be in need of a surrogate parent or more volunteers may be available than needed. The surrogate should let the school know of continued interest, even if not assigned right away. If the surrogate wonders if there is a specific reason why he or she was not assigned a child, he or she should contact the person in charge of surrogate appointments or the Minnesota Department of Education Division Compliance and Assistance (651-582-8689) to discuss the concerns.
Can a surrogate parent resign?
A surrogate parent wishing to resign can contact the person in charge of surrogate parent appointments within the school district or special education cooperative and discuss the decision. All copies of records must be returned.
Why might a school terminate a surrogate parent's appointment?
The surrogate should be informed about the reason for termination and has the right to be heard at a school board meeting to appeal the termination. A complaint can also be filed with the Division of Compliance and Assistance if the termination appears to be inappropriate. There are several reasons why the school might discontinue an assignment such as:
- The child changes school districts because of a change in living arrangements or residential needs.
- An "unavailable parent" becomes available again.
- The child reaches the age of 18 and no longer needs a surrogate parent.
- The child's status as a special education student changes (the surrogate would be involved in decision-making regarding these changes).
- The school thinks the surrogate parent has not fulfilled the responsibilities of a surrogate parent.
If the child no longer needs a surrogate parent, can a surrogate be reassigned?
The surrogate can write or call the person in charge of surrogate parent appointments in the school district or special education cooperative to request an appointment to represent another child.
Questions after the appointment
After the appointment, where can a surrogate parent obtain answers to questions?
First, contact the child's special education teacher, principal, or other school person who works with the child. Other sources of information are PACER Center, Minnesota's statewide parent training and information center; other parents of children with disabilities; and disability support groups. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to ask PACER staff a surrogate parent question.
Can the child receive special services if the surrogate parent refuses to sign the IEP?
The school cannot place the child into a special education program for the first time without the consent of the surrogate. If it is not an initial placement, the school can make proposed changes and will proceed unless the surrogate parent objects in writing within 14 days of receiving the proposal.
What if the surrogate parent does not understand what is written in the child's IEP?
If there is special education terminology or language that the surrogate parent does not understand, it is the responsibility of the surrogate parent to ask questions of school staff involved or contact PACER Center.
What should or should not a surrogate parent sign?
Surrogate parents will be asked to sign all the forms relating to the child's special education, including evaluation and the IEP. Consent should not be given to any proposal that seems inappropriate for the child's needs. (See Resolving differences with the school.) Permission for all other types of activities is given by the child's county caseworker, residential care provider, or other person responsible for his or her care.
Do professionals resent a surrogate parent's full participation at an IEP meeting?
Special education law gives you a right to full participation. Your role is to represent the child's interests. Anyone responds better to a positive, assertive attitude. If the surrogate parent is prepared, interested, listens, and is concerned, the professionals are more likely to see the surrogate parent as an equal and valuable participant.
If, during an IEP meeting, the emphasis is on academic skills while the surrogate parent believes that it should be on building independence, what can the surrogate parent do?
The surrogate parent should not be reluctant to express concern over the emphasis on academics if, based on the surrogate parent's observations of the child or evaluation data, building independence is as important or perhaps more important than academics.
What happens if the surrogate parent requests a particular service for the child that the school says they cannot provide because of lack of money?
Money cannot be used as a reason for not providing appropriate and needed services. If the IEP team determines a service is necessary to meet the needs of a child, the team can look at alternative ways to provide the service. Does a neighboring school district or agency in the community have the service? Whatever the team decides to do should be put in writing. The surrogate parent can monitor the progress to prevent undue delay in the provision of a needed service.
What if the school will not listen to the surrogate parent's concerns about the child's educational needs?
School staff should respect your role of parent on behalf of the child. The first step is always reasonable discussion with school personnel, beginning with the IEP case manager. The surrogate parent can also contact an advocacy organization such as PACER for assistance in deciding the best options and what steps could be taken.
Are a surrogate parent's activities evaluated?
Schools are responsible for monitoring the activities of each surrogate parent to make sure that he or she is fulfilling the duties as set forth by state and federal rules.
Visiting the classroom
How often can a surrogate visit the child's classroom?
A surrogate parent may visit the child's classroom as often as necessary to get to know the child and begin a profile of his or her needs and abilities as well as to monitor how the program is working. Check with the school about the procedures for visiting the classroom by contacting the teacher or principal. Make separate arrangements with any of the school's other staff who may be serving your child. Do not interrupt the teacher while you are observing.
Involvement outside of school
Can a surrogate become more involved with the child, beyond participating in his or her school program?
Some volunteer surrogate parents choose to become more involved by visiting the child at home or taking him or her on outings, for example. This decision is make jointly between the surrogate and persons where the child is living. The surrogate can be effective even if not involved outside of the area of education.
As a volunteer, what is the surrogate parent's role at the child's place of residence?
The surrogate only has the authority to make decisions about the child's special educational needs. However, it is important to talk to other people involved with the child, especially in his or her home environment, in order to get a complete picture of the child's needs. Make sure that the social workers and others at the residence understand the surrogate's role to gain their cooperation in securing information necessary to help in making decisions about the child's special educational program.
Can a surrogate be held liable for making a wrong decision?
In Minnesota there is no legislation that specifically protects any parent, including surrogate parents, from being held liable. However, there has never been a situation in which a surrogate parent was held liable for his or her decisions.