Guidelines and Referral Instructions

Federal law establishes the right to a free and appropriate public education for all children with disabilities. To ensure that this right is realized for all children, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to ensure the appointment of a legally authorized decision-maker for children with disabilities whose parents are unknown, cannot be located, have had their parental rights legally terminated or are unaccompanied homeless youth. Accordingly, the North East School District (NESD) must recruit, train and assign volunteer surrogate parents to represent these children in the special education process.

NESD must ensure that a qualified individual is assigned, within 30 calendar days, to act as a surrogate parent for a student when no parent or other person legally permitted to act as the child’s IDEA Parent can be identified or NESD, after reasonable efforts, cannot locate such parents. The following procedures are to be followed for determining whether or not a student needs a surrogate parent, and for and assigning a surrogate parent to the student.

When do you need a Surrogate Parent?

  • When the child’s parent or guardian cannot be located and there is documentation that the parent’s whereabouts are unknown or that they are unavailable.
  • When there is a “termination of parental rights.” This means that a court of competent jurisdiction has taken away the parent’s rights to make any decisions concerning the child’s education and/or upbringing.
  • When a child is an unaccompanied homeless youth as defined in section 725(6) of the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. § 11434a(6)). 34 CFR § 300.519(a)(4).

In all cases, a person is to be appointed under the circumstances only when there is no one else to serve in this role automatically such as a foster parent, an individual with whom the child lives who is acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a court–appointment education maker.

You must include one of the following forms of documentation with regard to termination of parental rights or whereabouts of a parent unknown: 

  1. Termination of Parental Rights:  Documentation may include a redacted court order or letter from a County Children and Youth Agency or an agent thereof.
  2. Unknown whereabouts of Biological Parent: the term “unknown or unavailable parent or guardian” means a person whose whereabouts is unknown or has not been in contact with the child and his custodian for a long period of time. You must document “reasonable efforts” to locate the child’s parents. The term “reasonable efforts” includes activities such as documented telephone calls, letters, certified letters with return receipts, and visits to the parents last known address.

You can also contact Rebecca Kelley at 814-725-8671 x3018 or e-mail

When do you not need a Surrogate Parent?

  • When there is a biological or adoptive parent involved and active in the special education decision-making process. 
  • When, in the absence of a biological or adoptive parent, the District determines that there is a foster parent, court –appointed special education decision maker, or person with whom the child lives that is acting as the parent and agrees to automatically step into this role.

Who can be a Surrogate Parent?

Any person who volunteers their service and can you demonstrate the following: 

  • they are of good character 
  • they are at least 18 years of age
  • they possess reasonable abilities to make decisions concerning the child’s educational needs or are willing to participate in a training offered by the districts on the rights and responsibilities of being a surrogate parent for a child with a disability.
  • they are committed to acquainting themselves with a student’s educational needs and the special education system, and
  • they are able and available to attend meetings to discuss the child’s educational program

Who cannot be a Surrogate Parent?

Federal regulations require that a Surrogate Parent NOT be an employee of a public agency which is involved in or provides for the “education or care” of the child. This includes caseworkers, case managers, and social workers as well as employees of the District. This DOES NOT include foster care parents.

Surrogate Parent changes and IDEA-04

  1. Expands definition of parent to include foster parent, grandparents, or person acting as a parent. However, the Local Education Agency (LEA) must make reasonable efforts to locate Biological Parent(s) in order to include and involve them in the student’s educational life unless the right of the biological parent to make educational decisions for the child have been limited or terminated, or the child has been adopted.
  1. For unaccompanied homeless use only, IDEA-04 recommends appointing staff of emergency shelters or street outreach programs as temporary Surrogate Parents until a more permanent Surrogate can be appointed.

You can also contact Brianne Hodges at 814-725-8671 x3018 or e-mail

  • Surrogate Parent A,B,C Forms
  • Surrogate Parent (PDE Overview)

Contact Information

North East School District
Special Education Department
Rebecca Kelley, Special Education Supervisor
(814) 725-8671 x3018