The Special Education Process
The special education process is complex and can be difficult to navigate. After an initial evaluation, a team of teachers and school representatives help parents to develop a detailed, Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child. Later, if the child is eligible, meetings and reevaluations the team will monitor the child’s progress. Through hearings and legal action, parents can challenge decisions if they disagree.
Over the course of the special education process, families will need to make many challenging decisions that will impact their child’s success and happiness for years to come.
Children with special needs and their parents often need a strong advocate to protect their legal rights. Our special education attorneys and advocates can advise and represent students and their parents through every part of the process.
Your Child’s Rights
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), students with special needs have the right to a free and appropriate public education to be provided in the least restrictive environment possible. In practical terms, this means that whenever possible, students with special needs should receive special education services alongside their non-disabled peers, including the extra support necessary to help the student learn in that environment. Generally, the services a student will receive are documented in an IEP, which is designed for the individual student. Some students are eligible only for accommodations under a section 504 plan.
Sometimes, parents will disagree or find fault with the Committee on Special Education’s (CSE’s) decisions for their child. Fortunately, parents are highly involved in the process, and they have many opportunities to voice concerns. Parents have the right to attend all IEP meetings and they can request one themselves if they wish — either to discuss changes or to check on progress more frequently than the school district otherwise would. If a family cannot resolve their issues through the child’s school district, they can file to an impartial hearing request for objective consideration.
A Personal Approach
Special education is designed to meet the unique needs of each child with special needs. Your child’s learning structure may take many forms, including supports within a general education classroom, special classes, special programs, home instruction or residential placements. Special education services may include supplementary aids and services, assistive technology, testing accommodations and transition services.
In order for children to receive special education services, they must be referred by a parent or school official. Usually, a parent or teacher notices academic or emotional struggles first. The parent or teacher then reaches out to the CSE.
Next, parents must consent to an evaluation of their child. This evaluation will be carried out within 60 days of parental consent. The CSE will evaluate the full spectrum of abilities and development that affects a child’s learning experience, including social, psychological and physical factors. A classroom observation of the child must be part of this step.
If a child is found to be eligible for special education services, then an IEP will be developed by a team that includes the parents, teachers and other school representatives. The IEP is a comprehensive document that describes the student’s needs and the services to be provided. After it is developed, placement and services can commence.
If parents disagree with the outcome of the evaluation, the development of the IEP or the special education services their child receives, they have the right to pursue an impartial hearing on the matter.
At least once a year, a CSE meeting must occur. The child’s parents, teachers and school officials will attend such a meeting. CSE meetings might focus on either an initial evaluation or a reevaluation for continuing eligibility for special education services or continued eligibility.
At least once a year, parents should prepare to evaluate the current strengths and weaknesses of the IEP and request any needed changes. Every three years, the CSE will reevaluate the child to determine appropriate special education services or continued eligibility.
Legal Support for Families
There are many points in this process where our special education attorneys and advocates can assist parents. Legal professionals can explain and discuss the process in detail, and they can help parents prepare for evaluations, IEP meetings or file for an impartial hearing thoroughly. Our advocates can help you navigate the system to ensure that your child has access to the best special education resources available.