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MY CHILD HAS A DISABILITY – NOW WHAT?

A Roadmap to the Special Education Referral and Evaluation Process
By Michelle Krone

Every child with a disability, between the ages of 3 and 21, has a right to a free appropriate public education as ensured by The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). IDEA includes a “child find” mandate. This requires each school district to identify, locate, and evaluate all children who are suspected of having a disability and may qualify for special education services.

First Step: The Referral Process

A referral is a request for an initial evaluation to determine whether your student has a disability that makes him/her eligible for special education and related services. If any parent or school professional is concerned with their child’s progress they have the right to make a referral to the Child Study Team (CST) for evaluation. A referral may be necessary when interventions in the general education class were not successful and more extensive interventions are needed. School personnel, which include teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. as well as parents/guardians and state agencies concerned with the student’s welfare may refer the student to the CST. A parent request for referral must be made in a written letter to the Director of Special Services in the district your child is domiciled. If a child is in private school the request for referral must be made to the Director of Special Services in the district where the private school is located.

The case manager assigned to the student will contact you regarding the planning/identification meeting that must be conducted within 20 calendar days, excluding school holidays, from receipt of referral. The meeting will consist of the CST, which includes a school psychologist, a learning disabilities teacher-consultant, and a school social worker, as well as a parent, and one of your child’s regular education teachers. If a language disorder is suspected the speech-language specialist will participate in the meeting as well. The date and time of this meeting should be mutually agreeable, but if necessary parents can participate via conference call. You should receive the procedural safeguards notice, Parental Rights is Special Education (PRISE), which provides you with an explanation of your many rights as a parent. At the meeting there will be a discussion of all existing data including classroom assessments, observations, health information and any additional information about the student. If you have additional student evaluations and information you can bring them to discuss at the meeting. The CST will determine whether an evaluation is necessary at the planning meeting. You should also receive a copy of the New Jersey Administrative Code, Title 6A, Chapter 14, Special Education, which includes the state’s laws and regulations.

What’s Next? The Initial Evaluation Process

During the planning meeting, the CST will provide a list of the types of evaluations they propose to conduct at no cost to you. An evaluation is the process of determining whether your child is eligible for special education and/or related services. It is a multi-factored evaluation that will evaluate all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. This may include reviewing data as well as conducting interviews, observations and standardized testing. A minimum of two standardized assessments are required; however additional evaluations may be necessary. Evaluations that are commonly conducted include:

  • Psychological evaluation: measures the child’s intelligence (IQ)
  • Educational evaluation: measures academic achievement
  • Social history: the school social worker interviews the parents regarding the child’s development, medical history, family background, child’s educational history, parental concerns, etc.
  • Health/medical: the school nurse will provide information from the child’s physical as well as auditory and visual testing.

If an evaluation has been conducted with your child in the past year outside of the school, the CST may accept and use that assessment for the initial evaluation. Prior to any evaluations being conducted you as the parent must consent in writing. You have up to 15 calendar days to consent to the evaluations, but of course you can consent earlier. If the team determines an evaluation is not warranted you can request a mediation or due process hearing. The CST should provide recommendations regarding interventions and services that can be provided for your child in the general education class.

The CST has 90 calendar days from your initial consent in writing to evaluate and determine eligibility. You must make every effort to have your child available for evaluations as to not delay the process.

Eligibility

Within the 90 day initial evaluation period, an eligibility meeting will be set up to review the evaluations and determine if your child is eligible for special education and related services. 10 days prior to this meeting you should receive the completed evaluation reports for your review. During the eligibility meeting the evaluation reports will be discussed and an opportunity to ask questions will be provided. The CST will consider 3 factors to determine eligibility:

  1. The child has a disability and fits into the criteria for one of the 14 disability categories of the New Jersey Administrative Code, AND
  2. The disability adversely affects the child’s education, AND
  3. The child requires special education and/or related services

If your child is found eligible for special education and related services and you agree the next step is to develop an appropriate Individual Education Plan (IEP). The development of the child’s initial IEP will usually take place immediately following the eligibility meeting. Remember, parents are part of the CST and as your child’s advocate you have equal say in the decisions regarding your child’s education. Once you agree to the IEP and provide written consent the district must implement the IEP immediately.

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