Put everything in writing
The first thing parents should do, if they either suspect their child has a disability or or their child has already been diagnosed by a doctor, is to write an assessment letter to the school district’s special-education director or the appropriate person asking that their student be evaluated. The district has 15 school calendar days to respond to the letter.
Once the district has agreed to evaluate a child, they have 60 school calendar days to complete the assessment and have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting. In the IEP meeting, parents, teachers, administrators and others who have worked on the assessment will discuss if the child qualifies for special education and what kind of services they need.
IEP meetings are one of the most important aspects of getting a special-needs child a good education. The team examines the child’s current level of functioning, the appropriate environment for the child to be educated in, goals and support services the student may need.
If the family is denied services, the parents can challenge.
Often, parents of disabled students have to be patient!
“It’s not like a flat tire that can get fixed immediately,” Some of the complexity is due to the nature of the disabilities. They take time and energy to sort out and figure out what’s right for your child.”
Working effectively with the IEP team is very important. You need to believe these people have good intentions for your child so you can work well with them.
Special education families have to deal with a lot of transitions that can make their lives very difficult. For example, oftentimes a service a child needs isn’t available in their school district, and they have to travel to another school or county program where it is available.
And the lack of state and federal funding for special education programs makes things even more complex.
When things go wrong
It’s not often that parents of disabled students must file a formal complaint. Only about 1 percent of all families with children in special education must take their cases to due process.
They usually always try to encourage families to solve their problem at a local level with the district before filing a formal complaint. Writing a letter to the special education official in the district is always a good way to start. It always falls on the family to bring it to someone’s attention.”
Some typical complaints may include district officials not following the student’s IEP, disagreements over an appropriate plan for the student, disputes over a student’s eligibility for special education services or discrimination against a disabled student.
Here is the steps you need to take to get your child special education services.
• Request an assessment. If you suspect your child needs special education services, write a letter to the appropriate district official asking that your student be evaluated. The district has 15 school calendar days to come up with an assessment plan for your consent. You have another 15 days to ask questions.
• Completing the assessment. The school district has 60 school calendar days to evaluate your child. He or she may be evaluated by teachers, psychologists, therapists or nurses.
• Individualized Education Plan. Within those 60 days, the district is also required to hold an IEP meeting with parents, teachers, administrators and any others involved in the assessment process. The IEP team will discuss the student’s current level of functioning, goals and objectives, and services and instruction. They will measure the child’s success and the go over the process for reporting progress to the parents. These meetings are usually held annually. Parents should request all documents.
• Implementation of the plan. Once the IEP is approved by the team, the school district is required by law to implement it.
Here’s a glossary of terms and laws you should know when navigating the special education system.
• No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A federal education law for all students with a focus on traditionally under-served students. It calls for school accountability to increase student performance and outcomes.
• Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). A federal education privacy law for all students giving anyone the right to inspect and review any records school districts keep. It also allows anyone to request that records be corrected if they are inaccurate or misleading.
• Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A federal anti-discrimination law protecting people with disabilities that impair one or more major life activity. It prohibits discrimination in any program that receives federal money and removes barriers to learning and opportunities.
• Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A federal education law that says students with at least one of 13 qualifying categories of disability must be provided with a special-education plan which includes specialized instruction and related supportive services.
• Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). A legal term describing to what special education students are entitled.
• Request for Assessment. Letter parents write to the school district’s special-education director, or others if needed, asking that their child be assessed to determine the need for special-education services. The district has 15 days to provide an assessment plan for parents’ consent. Parents can take 15 more days to ask questions. Upon parents’ consent, the district has 60 calendar days to evaluate the child and hold an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.
• Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). If a parent disagrees with the district’s assessment they can file an IEE. The district must agree to either pay for the IEE or file for a due process hearing to show assessment was appropriate.
• Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is the student’s educational plan which examines their current levels of educational performance, goals and objectives, services and instruction that are needed, and student progress. IEP meetings with parents, teachers, administrators and students are held regularly to discuss the plan.
• Present Levels of Performance (PLOP). This looks at how the disability affects the student’s involvement and progress in the general curriculum.
• Related Services Professionals. This includes any related services special-education students may need to help them with their educational plans. It may include counseling, medical services, occupational therapy, speech/language pathology services or transportation.
• Testing Variations. When a student needs either “accommodations” or “modifications” to take state and district standardized tests. Accommodations remove barriers but do not alter what is being tested. Examples would be frequent breaks or math problems being read aloud. Modifications alter what is being tested. For example, a student needing modifications could use a calculator.
• Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The extent to which a student will or will not learn and participate in regular classes with non-disabled students and why.
• Prior Written Notice (PWN). A school district is required to provide prior written notice when it proposes or refuses to do something that involves a special education child’s identification, assessments, placement or Free and Appropriate Education. It must include a description of the action, why it plans to do this, any supporting documents the district used in making its decision, a copy of the parent’s rights to challenge this action, sources of advocacy assistance for parents, other options the district considered and why they were rejected, and any other reasons for the district’s decision.
• Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). An informal way to resolve special-education disputes. It usually involves parents writing a letter to the school district about their “compliance complaint.” Sometimes a free trained mediator from the state may get involved.
• Civil Rights Discrimination Complaint. Filed with the Office for Civil Rights, this complaint alleges an education institution receiving federal funding has discriminated against a student on the basis of their disability. It must be filed within six months of the alleged violation.
• IDEA Compliance Complaint. Filed with the California Department of Education, this complaint alleges that a school district failed to carry out a student’s IEP and/or violated procedural safeguards in IDEA law. It must be filed within one year of alleged non-compliance.
• IDEA Due Process Complaint. Filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings, this usually involves big disputes between school district and parents, such as eligibility for special education services or whether services offered provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education. It must be filed within two years of the alleged complaint.