The Special Education Process

<< >> The first question that people tend to ask me is; Does Special Education really have a process? Absolutely, it does. Everything is based on deadlines, time lines, meetings and conferences. The system is set up to enable and protect the parents and children that it caters for. It is also set up to pull all the possible resources together to ensure the success of the child.

The Referral

The process begins when the school receives a referral. This is counted as DAY 1. The referral is made to a designated school official who is usually knowledgeable about special education and contacts the parents of the child concerned (in writing) and informs them of the need for a meeting. This letter should document the date and time of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting and should also provide the parents details of their rights in the special education process.

The meeting usually has what is known as an IEP (Individualized Education Program) team and this team may consist of the teachers, a representative from the special education department, the parents, the child. Many parents who know nothing about special education at this point, may feel intimidated or completely lost during this meeting. This is perfectly understandable if you go into this meeting not having done any research. Professionals will use acronyms, terms and words that you have never heard and most certainly do not understand. Parents have complained that these meetings often seem disorganized or that professionals seem to make things up as they go along.

My advise is that you do as much research as possible. Find out how things work in your school district. Ask to be put in touch with parents who have been through an IEP meeting, know what to expect and at all times remember, nobody knows your child's abilities the way that you do. Be prepared to ask questions, whether they will make people feel uncomfortable or not. At this meeting, it is determined whether a comprehensive evaluation is needed, if not the parent is informed in writing. The parent, may in turn request mediation or what is known as 'due process hearing' (the right and opportunity to question any educational decision that affects their child).

Determination of Eligibility

This is the next step in the process. This cannot go ahead without your "informed written consent", so make sure that you are well informed before you give your consent! The IEP should at this stage decide on what is going to be evaluated and how (by what methods). This always varies from state to state, but the general guidelines are that whatever is decided, must be sensitive to the child's age, grade level and culture. It must also be appropriate to any behavioral difficulties that the child may have. If the child was not detected in elementary school and has now progressed to middle or high school, a child study must be conducted.

Conduct Evaluation

Once the decision has been made, the next step is to conduct the evaluations. As mentioned they will vary from state to state and with the age of the child. Do your home work to better understand how the test should be adminstered and ensure that your child is prepared with a good night's rest the night beforeeach evaluation.

Provide Notice of Proposed Meeting

The parents will then be informed of the need for another meeting.


This must happen by DAY 60. The purpose of meeting will be for the IEP team (including the parents) to together, determine whether the child is infact disabled and whether the child has special educational needs. If the conclusion is that the child is not disabled and does not have special educational needs, a formal letter (notice of decision) will be sent to the parents. The letter will include a copy of the eligibility report as well as the evaluation report. If the parents disagree at this point, they have the right to request mediation and or due process hearing - methods that allow the parents to state their case and request the services that they believe the child will need. This is where an advocate may be needed. If you feel you may have need of an advocate, please click here.

Provide Parents With A Copy of Eligibility Report & Informed written Consent For Placement

If the IEP agrees that the child is disabled and requires special education , the parents will be provided with a copy of the eligibility report including the evaluation report. If the parent attended the meeting, they are usually requested to provide informed written consent for the child to be placed in a special educational environment for all or some subjects (depending on the circumstances). Again, be informed and understand what you sign.

Implement The IEP

The implementation of the IEP must begin within 30 days of the day that eligibility was determined. This usually speeds up the need for a decision

FYI "What is An IEP"?

As mentioned above, an IEP is an Individualized Educational Program. This is a description of services planned for students with disabilities as a requirment under the law that covers these situations (IDEA). It is reviewed annually and should be driven by the needs of the student and not by availability. In essence, whatever is written in that IEP will be paid for by the school district where you are located.The three key components of the IEP are (1) details of the present levels of the child's educational performance, (2) measurable annual goals for the student and (3) short term objectives and bench marks. These three elements act as a foundation that will direct the learning of a student.

Learn about the process from A High School Head of Special Education

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