How do I get my child identified to receive special education services?

If you suspect your child may need special education services, it isn’t always easy to figure out how to get the school to provide special education services. In many ways, the process is simple: an evaluation is requested, an evaluation is conducted, the evaluation is reviewed and a team decides if the child is eligible, and then, if the child is eligible, the team develops an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). At the same time, the process can be pretty complex and daunting, especially for parents who are new to it.

So, let’s start at the beginning. The first step to obtaining services is getting your child evaluated, and that starts with a referral for special education services. Connecticut regulations require that children who have been suspended repeatedly or whose attendance or progress in school is unsatisfactory or at a marginal level of acceptance be referred for special education.

The school has a legal obligation to make those referrals, but they don’t’ always do that. Parents can make their own referral by writing to a school administrator and requesting that their child be evaluated to determine if he or she needs special education services. Once the written request is made, the school is required to schedule a Planning and Placement Team (PPT), or IEP Team, meeting. This meeting must include at least the parent, a representative of the public agency (usually a school administrator), a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, and a person qualified to interpret evaluation results. Parents can invite anyone they want to participate in the team meeting. When the team meets for the PPT, the team decides if evaluation is warranted. During this process, remember that passing grades alone do not exclude a child from eligibility for special education services. The team decides what evaluations should be completed. The federal law sets requirements for how evaluations should be conducted. Evaluations must use technically sound instruments, be administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel, and include all areas of suspected disability.

Once a child is evaluated, the PPT must meet again to review evaluations and determine eligibility. A child is eligible for special education services when (1) the child has a disability, (2) that disability adversely affects educational performance, and (3) the child requires special education and related services as a result. Each prong of this test requires an assessment of the facts by the PPT, and parents are part of the PPT. It is wise to ask for a copy of the evaluations before the PPT meeting and to prepare for your PPT meeting by thinking about what facts support the need for special education services. If you’ve requested and been denied special education services in the past, it would be a good idea to consult with an attorney or skilled advocate in advance of any PPT meetings.

If the PPT determines that your child is eligible for special education, the PPT must develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) designed to ensure that your child receives a free appropriate public education (FAPE). What that looks like depends on the individual needs of your child. For example, some children need to start late and have 1 period of resource support. Others need to be in a specialized school setting. Ultimately, the PPT decides what goes into the IEP and what accommodations, modifications, supports, and services your child needs.

If the parent disagrees with the eligibility determination or the IEP, the parent has a right to have a due process hearing or use other dispute resolution mechanisms.

So that’s the basic process. If you have questions about getting your child identified as a student in need of special education services, you should contact an attorney.