A child becomes eligible for special education when the IEP team identifies the child as having a disability and in need of specially designed instruction. The disability must have educational impact. Students age 3 years to 21 years are eligible to receive special education, and must be evaluated and determined eligible based upon one of the following categories under IDEA:
A disability category does not determine the amount or type of service. This is determined by the IEP team, including the parents, and is based on the unique individualized strengths and needs of the child.
The first step in identifying a student for special education services is referral. If you suspect your child has a disability and may need special education, you may submit a written referral for a special education evaluation. School personnel may also submit such a request. The referral should be addressed to the teacher, the principal, or the local school system’s Director of Special Education.
The second step is evaluation and eligibility. To determine eligibility for special education services, special education laws require the child to have an initial evaluation in the areas of concern. An evaluation is a careful look at a child’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses, by a team including the child’s parents, teachers, and specialists. An evaluation is based on a review of assessment data, information from parents, observations by teachers, classroom-based, local and State assessments. This is to determine whether a child has a disability and requires special education instruction and related services.
The evaluation may include individual assessments, observations, and an interview with the child. The evaluation also guides the IEP team in identifying the disability, developing an IEP and determining the nature and extent of the special education and related services that your child may need. Remember, the disability needs to have an educational impact. Parents must provide consent in writing before the school conducts assessment procedures. All decisions about special education are made through the IEP team process. The IEP team includes:
There is a difference between an evaluation and an assessment. Evaluation is the process of determining if a child has a disability. A full and individualized evaluation is conducted before the initial provision of special education and related services to a student with a disability under the IDEA. An evaluation occurs at a meeting of the IEP team.
Assessments are individualized for each student. These can include observations, information from parents, and standardized tests. A public agency may use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather sufficient relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child. This information may assist in determining if the child is a student with a disability and the content of the child’s IEP, including information related to progress in the general curriculum, or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities. Assessments include printed tests, observations, information from parents, and other sources of information.
Once a child is identified with a disability, the IEP team, including the parents, develops an IEP for the child. The IEP is a written program that describes the special education and related service support needed for a child with a disability. The IEP defines the type and amount of services needed and where the services will be delivered. School staff is responsible for the implementation of the IEP. The IEP is a written, individualized program that supports and directs your child’s education through a team-driven process by outlining the “who, what, when, why, where, and how” of instruction and related services that are provided for students with disabilities. It is more than just a document; it is a process.
The IEP team meets to develop, review, and revise, as appropriate, your child’s IEP periodically, but not less than annually. However, an IEP team meeting can occur at any time throughout the year. A family or the school can request an IEP meeting any time during the school year. Remember to put your request in writing. At least every three years, or earlier at the request of the parent, the IEP team must re-evaluate your child to determine whether your child continues to be eligible as a child with a disability and in need of special education and related services. Parents must provide consent before the school conducts individualized assessments of your child that will be reviewed as part of the evaluation.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) provisions relating to parentally placed private school children with disabilities apply to all parentally placed children with disabilities attending private elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools. With the enactment of IDEA 2004, the responsibility for implementing the requirements for parentally placed private school students with disabilities changed from the school district where the student lives to the school district where the student’s private school is located.
Each local school system must conduct child find activities to locate, identify, and evaluate all children with disabilities, including those attending private schools. The school district where the private elementary schools and secondary schools are located are responsible for conducting child find activities. These include:
Children with disabilities enrolled in private schools by their parents have no individual entitlement to receive some or all of the special education and related services they would receive if enrolled in a public school. After an evaluation of a student and determining eligibility for special education, the school district where the private school is located will explain to you what services are available if the student remains in the private school and inform you that the school district where the child lives is responsible for providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) if the child leaves the private school and enrolls in public school. Contact your local school system’s Special Education Child Find Office to refer your child and inquire about the process and service availability.