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The Referral Process: First Step to Special Education

The Referral Process: First Step to Special Education

Committee on Special Education Referrals

You notice that your child is not developing skills at the same rate as other children or is struggling in certain areas in school.  You should, of course, first talk to his or her teacher. Many school districts include useful services within  their regular educational offerings.  These may include psychological services, speech and language services, program and instructional aides and modifications, academic intervention services and counseling.  If you feel that your child is still not making progress, it may be time to request a referral to the Committee on Special Education (CSE).

There are both federal and state laws that require a school district to take certain actions when a parent or guardian makes a request for special education services.  In order to ensure that your concerns are addressed properly, there are certain steps you should take when requesting that the school district evaluate your child.  It is also important to know that in addition to parents, school officials, teachers, judicial officers and many others can make a referral to the CSE.  In fact, the school district has an affirmative obligation to locate and evaluate children whom they suspect have disabilities.

Once a referral to the CSE is made, it is important to note that the school district is required to perform the necessary assessments to determine if a child needs special education services, at no cost to parents.  When making a request for a referral to the Committee on Special Education, you should thoroughly describe your concerns with your child’s educational performance, his or her skills, abilities, and needs.  Your request should include as much detail as possible, including any private evaluations or recommendations from your doctor or professionals working with your child.  Your input and reference information is imperative to a successful outcome.

In response to your request for a referral, the school district must obtain consent to perform the evaluations necessary to determine whether the child is in need of special education services.  Remember that the school district, upon receipt of a referral, may request a meeting with a parent or guardian to determine whether additional general education services can be used as an alternative to special education services. The district is required, however,  to complete all necessary evaluations within 60 days of receiving necessary consent.  Required evaluations include:

  • a physical examination (If your child has recently completed such an exam with his/her regular doctor, you may supply those results to the CSE.),
  • an individual psychological evaluation if determined necessary,
  • a social history,
  • observation of your child in his/her learning environment (classroom or preschool program, for instance), and
  • other assessments or evaluations, including a functional behavioral assessment for a student whose behavior is preventing him/her from learning.

Please note that if you believe other assessments and/or evaluations are necessary, you should advise the school district that additional testing should be conducted to appropriately evaluate your child’s need for special education services.  Examples of additional evaluations include:

  • speech and language evaluations,
  • occupational or physical therapy evaluation,
  • psychiatric evaluation if there are emotional issues, and
  • assistive technology evaluations.

Once the evaluations have been completed, you will be invited to a CSE meeting to review all findings and to determine your child’s eligibility for special education services.  You should prepare for the CSE meeting by obtaining copies of all the reports that will be reviewed and, if possible, by speaking to all evaluators about your concerns prior to the meeting.  The reports may not be easy to understand, so be sure to go over them carefully and be prepared to ask questions about the findings.  These evaluations, along with any other information that you bring to the CSE meeting, will be the basis for determining your child’s eligibility for services, so it’s essential that you prepare to actively participate in the discussion.

Parents and guardians are members of the CSE, and must be afforded participation under the law. If the CSE determines that a child is in need of special education services, those services must be implemented within 60 days of the referral of the child to the Committee on Special Education.

It is also important to note that if a child is deemed ineligible for special education services, you do have options to address the situation.  The school district may have to offer appropriate support services to the student outside of special education.  You have the right to request further independent evaluations if you disagree with the findings of the CSE, and/or you have the right to request a due process hearing to challenge the determination.  The school district is required to send parents the procedural safeguards, which outline parents’ rights, at least once a year.  It is imperative for you to read the procedures so that you are aware of the remedies available.  You may also download a copy of the safeguards and other important information on special education by visiting the New York State Department of Education website at www.nysed.gov.

Remember, too, that Littman Krooks LLP has many years of experience negotiating appropriate educational services for children with special needs-whether at CSE meetings, impartial hearings, or through a State Complaint.