The process by which a child is determined eligible for special education and relates services may seem intimidating or overwhelming, as there is a wealth of information that any parent of a child with disabilities needs to understand. In this latest series of school law articles, we are presenting an overview of just what happens once a child is identified as potentially eligible, and this post specifically focuses on the evaluation process.
An initial evaluation occurs right after a child’s referral for special education, which the planning and placement team (PPT) uses to determine “your child’s specific learning strengths and weaknesses and needs, and to determine whether or not your child is eligible for special education services.” You have the right to participate in the PPT, and thus have the valuable opportunity to provide all relevant information related to your child’s abilities, needs, and skills. Other information that the PPT considers is that collected by the school district and its employees: “informal and formal observations, a review of homework, standardized tests and other school records and information.” However, the process must be conducted in a nondiscriminatory manner (consider the disproportionate placement of minority students in special education, discussed here), and you have the right to refuse consent or revoke it at any point.
When the evaluation is complete, you will meet with the rest of the PPT to interpret the data collected ruing the study. The purpose of this meeting is to determine:
- Whether your child has a disability (as enumerated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA)
- Whether that disability has an adverse impact on your child’s education
- Whether your child needs special education and related services to fulfill free appropriate public education (FAPE) requirements.
However, what happens if you don’t agree with the results of this evaluation? You may consult with a qualified examiner now employed by the school district to conduct an independent educational evaluation (IEE). Determining who pays for this boils down to two situations:
- The school district simply agrees to pay for the IEE. The evaluation criteria of the IEE must be the same as that used by the school in its own evaluation.
- The school district asserts that its evaluation was proper or the IEE criterion is insufficient. It may elect to pay for the IEE or hold a due process hearing, at which the hearing officer determines the appropriateness of the school’s evaluation. If the officer finds in their favor, you may still obtain an IEE, but you are responsible for paying for it.
The results of an IEE must be considered by the school district. “However, the school district is not required to agree with or implement any or all of the results or recommendations of the independent educational evaluation.”
Placement in special education and your child’s IEP are not concrete. Indeed, reevaluations are made to determine several things:
- Whether or not your child still has a qualifying disability
- Your child’s present level of academic achievement as well as related developmental needs
- Whether or not your child still needs special education and related services
- Whether or not your child’s IEP requires modification
In essence, the PPT looks at the information regarding your child, and you may ask the school district to conduct additional assessments if you believe more information is necessary for making these determinations. The reevaluation process must occur at least once every three years, though the PPT may perform it more frequently. However, your written consent is required, though special circumstances permit the reevaluation without it.
If you are the parent of a child that has a disability, it is imperative that you participate in this process so as to help maximize your child’s educational opportunities. Should you have any questions about special education or education law in general, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.