Belmont Law Review


While several court rulings have recognized parental rights over education to varying degrees, the emergence of a common public school agenda has led to an increasing establishment of barriers limiting opportunities for parents to exercise their rights and control over the upbringing of their children via school choice initiatives. Parental rights and the exercise of choice are further complicated and restricted for parents of students with disabilities. Although the right to an education is protected under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), parental choice is recast as parental participation in the educational decisions affecting children with disabilities. In other words, parents of students with disabilities have no meaningful choice and can exercise extremely limited control over the education and upbringing of their children if they want to enjoy the protections afforded under the IDEA. Part I of this note examines the parental rights doctrine emerging from the U.S. Supreme Court and describes the historical perspectives on child development and educational interests that also factor into the discussion about parental rights over education. The limits on parental rights and control are analyzed in Part II, with specific attention on states’ legal efforts—through constitutional and statutory provisions—to replace parental control over education and upbringing with state control. Part III examines the federal disability laws that apply specifically to protect the rights of students with disabilities as well as the rights of their parents or guardians. Part III also addresses the concerns of school choice opponents who assert the need for limits on state-supported choice initiatives given the perceived negative impacts of such programs on public education. Part IV summarizes the promises and perils of special education voucher programs (SVPs), which are often described as an emerging educational reform movement that seeks to expand school choice options for parents of students with disabilities and identifies the need for legislative reform of the IDEA. Finally, the Conclusion offers concluding remarks and recommends expansion of the choice debate in order to reflect a continuum perspective of educational placements that empower parents of students with disabilities to preserve their family’s values and beliefs while also securing a high-quality education for their children.