Getting an initial evaluation is a critical step in the process of obtaining special education services. Parents often feel a mix of relief and anxiety at this stage, because this evaluation has a significant impact on whether the school decides students are eligible for an individualized education plan (IEP).
The school will make the decision regarding the IEP at the eligibility meeting. So, how can parents prepare for this next step?
Three steps to take before the eligibility meeting
Like other aspects of their child’s education, parents can play an active role in the evaluation process as well as the meeting. It helps if parents:
- Understand the evaluation: If parents know what the evaluation entails, they can better prepare for the eligibility meeting. In general, the school’s evaluation often involves testing the child’s academic skills, observing them in the classroom and analyzing their schoolwork. The professionals who evaluate the child should compile a final report of their findings, and parents have a right to review this report.
- Know what to expect: The purpose of this meeting is to determine the child’s eligibility for an IEP. That might seem like a simple goal, but many factors influence that decision. It often helps if parents get informed about these meetings and perhaps consult experienced advocates to help prepare themselves. Parents should also make sure they understand the procedural safeguards as well as what the law states about these meetings.
- Collect the information you need: The team at the meeting will review the report and information from the evaluation to decide if the child is eligible for an IEP. However, parents can also bring other relevant information, such as their own observations or medical information, to the meeting.
It is critical to note that at this meeting, the team must find that the child has a disability covered under the categories in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, that disability must also interfere with the child’s learning or function at school. If the team does not find evidence of one or both of these factors, they might determine the child is ineligible.
Remember: You have the right to obtain an IEE
If parents disagree with the school’s evaluation or decision, they can obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE). This is a private evaluation outside of the school system. Even if the school files a due process complaint and does not pay for the IEE, families still have a right to obtain one.
The school does not always have the final say regarding whether students are eligible to receive special education services. Parents and students must be aware of their rights and options in these cases.