Determining Eligibility for Special Education

Here is a brief overview of the process of determining if a child is eligible to receive special education.

CHILD STUDY

If a parent/guardian requests a Child Study Team meeting, the school has 10 business days to meet to discuss any academic and/or behavioral concerns regarding the child.  The people required to be present at the meeting would be: parent/legal guardian, general classroom teacher, a special education teacher, and an administrator.  Additional participants could include the school psychologist and school social worker.  Intervention teachers the child is working with (i.e., ESL, reading specialist, gifted, etc.) are encouraged to be present as well.

Note: A business day occurs Monday through Friday (no weekends) when the school board office is open (excluding holidays).  If you have the day off from school due to inclement weather, but the school board office is declared open for administrators, this still counts as a business day.

Note: The Child Study Team can go by many different names (i.e., Student Study Team, etc.), so consult your individual school district on what terminology is utilized.

Three outcomes can come from the Child Study Team meeting:

  1. The team feels there is not sufficient evidence to suspect a disability is present; thus, the process stops.

If Option 1 is chosen, and the child begins to struggle later, the process restarts from the beginning.

  1. The team monitors (or continues to monitor) progress and meets back (usually within six weeks) to see if improvements have been made.  Interventions are implemented at this time.

If a child has never received any interventions, the team will likely choose Option 2.  This may be particularly true if this is a child’s first school placement (i.e., preschool or kindergarten) or is a recent transfer to the school.  The Child Study Team may not be willing to perform an evaluation yet as they have not had time to see the child in action.

If academic and/or behavioral concerns are present, the school will most likely implement targeted interventions.  The reason for this is to collect data.  In order for schools to justify referring for a full evaluation to determine special education services, they have to show documentation that they have tried multiple interventions first.  This becomes important later when determining eligibility to prove that specialized instruction is necessary, because other specific strategies have already been attempted.

Children may continue in Option 2 for some time assuming they are making progress with the interventions being implemented.  After meeting a few times to provide data on the interventions’ effectiveness, the Child Study Team may decide to dismiss the child from the special education process if progress is continuous.  If the child is dismissed, and the child begins to struggle later, then the process restarts from the beginning.  If the child makes minimal to no progress after multiple interventions, then the team may go to Option 3.

Note: Option 2 does not necessarily have to occur prior to Option 3; however, with the implementation of multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS)/response to intervention (RtI) in schools, this seems to be the path most schools are taking prior to referring for a full evaluation.

  1. The team suspects a disability, and refers for a full evaluation.

If the team chooses Option 3, the school has 65 business days to complete an evaluation and to meet as the Eligibility Committee to go over the results and determine if the child is eligible to receive special education services.  In addition to the original members of the Child Study Team, the school psychologist and school social worker are required members who will be present for these results.  Other individuals present may include related specialists (i.e. speech/language, occupational therapist, etc.) depending on the concerns being addressed during the evaluation.

During the meeting, all teachers will report updated data on the child, and each individual who conducted assessments with the child will report their results.  The Eligibility Committee will then consider all of the information presented to come to a decision.  They have to also consider exclusionary factors.  This means considering external factors that could be contributing to the child’s needs, but protects the child from being discriminated against due to personal situations (i.e. low socio-economic status, non-native English speaker, etc.).

Note: A special education evaluation cannot be administered until the parent/legal guardian provides written consent.  This is important, because if the parent/legal guardian is not present at the Child Study Team meeting (or participates by phone), and the child is referred for a full evaluation, the 65 business day timeline begins regardless.  Tests cannot be administered until written consent is obtained from the parent/legal guardian, even though the timeline has started.

ELIGIBILITY

After all tests have been administered (multiple means of assessment are required), the parent/legal guardian has a right to a written copy of all tests results 2 business days prior to the Eligibility Committee meeting.

Three outcomes can come from the Eligibility Committee meeting:

  1. A child is found eligible to receive special education services.

If the Eligibility Committee finds a child is eligible to receive special education services, then two different types of services are discussed:

Section 504 Plan = This is a plan outlying environmental accommodations that a child’s general classroom teacher can implement to help them better access the general curriculum.  It does not involve the child receiving specialized instruction from a special education teacher.

Note: Section 504 Plans can be developed for students without a full school evaluation being completed, if proper medical documentation is provided by the parent/legal guardian.  Consult with your local school district on their specific regulations.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) = This is a plan with the same accommodations a Section 504 Plan provides PLUS the child receives specialized instruction from a special education teacher.  This specialized instruction can taken place inside the general education classroom (i.e. inclusion) or outside the general education classroom (i.e. resource).

The school has 30 calendar days to write up the legal document (either Section 504 Plan or IEP) outlining what will be provided to the child at school.  An administrator, special education teacher, general education teacher, and parent/legal guardian must all be present for this meeting.  A child cannot begin to receive services through either document without parent/legal guardian written consent.

After a Section 504 Plan or IEP is created and agreed upon by all stakeholders, these documents are updated at least once a calendar year.  However, the school or parent/legal guardian can request a meeting at any point to update either document as necessary (i.e., a change of educational setting or a new accommodation needs to be added).

Note: A calendar day is any day of the week on the calendar, regardless of weekends, holidays or if the school board office is open.

Note: A Section 504 Plan can still provide related services (i.e. speech/language, physical therapy, occupational therapy).  Check with your individual school district’s policies.

  1. A child is found not eligible and all stakeholders agree with the results.

If this occurs, then the child is likely referred back to the Child Study Team for Option 2, which would be to continue to implement interventions and meet regularly to monitor progress.

Note: A stakeholder other than the parent/legal guardian (i.e., school psychologist, administrator, etc.) may disagree with the child being found eligible.  If this occurs, the dissenting stakeholder(s) is encouraged to write up a summary as to why they disagree with the Eligibility Committee’s decision.  However, the child would still receive special education services once written consent is provided by the parent/legal guardian.

  1. A child is found not eligible and the parent/legal guardian disagrees with the results.

Assuming an outside evaluation (more on this below) was not already provided by the parent/legal guardian, then they have the right to disagree with the results and request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).  This is the right for a parent/legal guardian to seek out an outside evaluation by an objective provider (i.e. doctor, psychologist, clinic, etc.), but it is paid for by the school district.  The school may provide a list of possible outside evaluation providers.  The parent/legal guardian may choose any provider they wish, even if they are not present on the list, as long as they are licensed to perform cognitive and achievement assessments.  Once the results of the IEE are available, the Eligibility Committee will meet at the school and determine if the child is eligible to receive special education services in the form of a Section 504 Plan or IEP.

Note: Although the school district’s pays for the IEE, it is the parent/legal guardian’s responsibility to contact the outsider provider and complete the evaluation themselves in a timely manner.  Discuss with your individual school district about what constitutes a “timely manner.”

Note: If a child is found eligible, and a parent/legal guardian initially signs that they agree with the results, this does not eliminate the possibility of an IEE.  The parent/legal guardian could come back later to the school, disagree, and request the IEE, if it has occurred within a reasonable timeframe.  Check with your local school district about what constitutes a “reasonable timeframe.”

PRIVATE EVALUATIONS

There are thirteen different disability categories.  Some are more straight-forward in terms of criteria (i.e., deaf, blind), while others are more subjective (i.e., specific learning disability, other health impairment).  With other health impairment (OHI), school districts will most likely require an outside medical diagnosis from a doctor or clinic (such as ADHD, Epilepsy, Tourette’s Syndrome, etc.).

A parent/legal guardian can have the child privately evaluated outside of the school without the school completing their own evaluation.  If a parent/legal guardian chooses to do this, they would request a Child Study Team meeting, who would then refer them to the Eligibility Committee to determine eligibility for special education services.

Note: In my professional opinion, it would be beneficial for a parent/legal guardian to provide a copy of the results from the outside evaluation to the school at least one week prior to meeting with the Eligibility Committee.  This gives time for the school personnel who will be present at the meeting to review the information.

Three outcomes can come from a parent/legal guardian providing an outside evaluation to the school:

  1. The school accepts the outside results and uses it to determine if the child is eligible to receive special education services.

At this point, the Eligibility Committee will meet to discuss the results of the evaluation.  If the child is found eligible, then the process of creating a Section 504 Plan or IEP will commence.  If the child is found not eligible, then the child will likely return to the Child Study Team for further interventions to be implemented and progress monitoring to continue.

  1. They can reject the results, stating they disagree. 

I have never personally seen this ever happen as most schools are willing to at least consider the results of the outside evaluation, particularly as it saves them time and money from having to complete their own evaluation.

  1. They can choose to do further testing on their own (assuming they have not yet).

If a school chooses to do further testing on their own, they would have 65 business days to conduct their own evaluation and then reconvene the Eligibility Committee to discuss all of the results of both evaluations and determine eligibility for special education services.

TRIENNALS

The Eligibility Committee is required to reconvene at least once every three years since the previous eligibility meeting.  This is called a triennial eligibility review.  However, the school or parent/legal guardian can request an eligibility review prior to the three year mark.

Note: Meeting prior to the three year mark, does not necessarily restart the timeline for the three year triennial review.  For example, if a child is receiving services under a specific learning disability (SLD) and speech/language impairment (SLI), and the speech/language pathologist requests an eligibility review at the year two mark to dismiss the child from SLI services, the school would still need to meet the following year at the year three mark to discuss eligibility about SLD.

HOWEVER, if during the eligibility meeting when SLI services were dismissed, and SLD services were continued with no testing update, then the three year timeline restarts again.  So in theory (if this were to occur), it would be five years from the initial eligibility before a child would get reevaluated if the school or parent/legal guardian never requested an updated evaluation before then.  Look at my example below:

2010 = Initial Eligibility = Child is found eligible for SLD and SLI.

2012 = Speech/language pathologist dismisses SLI and the Eligibility Committee continues SLD services without an updated evaluation.

2013 = This would have been the original triennial eligibility had the 2012 meeting never occurred.

2015 = This is the new triennial eligibility date based on the 2012 meeting; thus, five years since the initial eligibility before an updated evaluation occurs.

Realize this example is more likely an anomaly than the norm that would occur in most school districts.

Three outcomes can come from the Triennial:

  1.  The Eligibility Committee determines the child is still eligible to receive special education services, and no updated assessments are necessary.
  2. The Eligibility Committee performs an updated evaluation and determines the child continues to be eligible to receive special education services.
  3. The Eligibility Committee performs an updated evaluation and determines the child is no longer eligible to receive special education services.

Although schools are not legally required to update assessments every three years, the parent/legal guardian is encouraged to request them.  This is particularly true for students being served under the category of specific learning disability (SLD).

If assessments are not updated at the three year mark, best practice dictates an updated assessment should occur at six years and/or when a child is transitioning school buildings (i.e., elementary to middle or middle to high).

If updated assessments are administered, the school district is allowed 65 business days to complete the updated evaluation and reconvene to discuss the results; however, this must be completed prior to the three year mark.

If the child is being served under more than one disability category (i.e., OHI & SLI), and Option 3 occurs, the Eligibility Committee could dismiss the child from just SLI (i.e., speech services), but continue services under OHI or dismiss the child from all services.

Note: A child should NEVER be dismissed from all special education services without an updated evaluation being administered!

THINGS TO REMEMBER

  1. Schools have legal “red tape” they must follow in order to identify a child eligible for special education services. Just because they decline an evaluation, the school does want to help the child to succeed.
    1. If the Child Study Team decides to continue to monitor, then the parent/legal guardian is encouraged to request a copy of what interventions are being administered by the school, how often they are being administered, how they are progress monitoring data for the child, and if progress is being made.

 

  1. The special education timeline is long, but thorough. If all timelines are exhausted, it can take up to 105 days from start to finish.  This is a lot considering schools are only in session for approximately 180 days per year.
    1. No single test may be used by itself to determine a child’s eligibility for special education services. Multiple measures must be administered.

 

  1. A school CANNOT tell you they are no longer accepting referrals to Child Study or allowing evaluations for the rest of the school year. This tends to happen around mid-March/early April, because the 65 business day timeline would push the Eligibility Committee meeting to the summer when school is not in session.
    1. Be aware that if an evaluation is completed during the summer months, then the people who know the child best, may not necessarily be a part of the Eligibility Committee if schools have already been released for summer vacation.
    2. Schools are required to have a school psychologist, school social worker, general education teacher, special education teacher, school administrator, and the parent/legal guardian present at eligibility.
    3. However, anyone employed by the school district who has this license can be asked to participate. This means that any individual holding general education teacher licensure can sit in as the “general education teacher” (i.e., a fifth grade teacher from school A could sit in for a meeting on a first grade child who attends school B).  The same goes for any of the other individuals necessary.  Realize that the people determining eligibility may not have done the testing or have ever met the child, and are making decisions solely based on written documentation of the evaluation data.  (This is why schools try to prevent referrals after mid-March/early April, because if they get to 65 business days, the above scenario could occur.)

 

  1. If a child is not found eligible to receive special education services:
    1. A parent/legal guardian should never be pressured or coerced to sign any document.
    2. They have the right to disagree with the results and request an IEE.

 

  1. If a child is found eligible to receive special education services:
    1. Section 504 Plans and IEPs are required to be updated at least once a year.
    2. The Eligibility Committee must meet every three years to determine if a child is still eligible to receive special education services.
    3. A school CANNOT evaluate for special education services or implement a Section 504 Plan or IEP without written consent from the parent/legal guardian.
    4. A child should never be dismissed from special education services without an updated evaluation being administered!
  2. Parents/legal guardians are contributing members to all meetings, and should be respected and valued for their knowledge and input.

The following links may also be helpful:

The first explains what I stated above in more depth to provide an understanding of what steps the schools are required to perform when determining eligibility for special education services:

http://www.doe.virginia.gov/special_ed/parents/parents_guide.pdf

2. The second explains the rights of parents/guardians of a child with a disability:

http://www.doe.virginia.gov/special_ed/regulations/state/procedural_safeguards/english_procedural_safeguards.pdf

(Note that these two resources are specific to the state of Virginia.  Contact your individual state’s department of education for relevant information.)

Jared holds Virginia state licensure in Special Education General Curriculum, English as a Second Language, and History and Social Sciences.  He earned a Master of Arts degree in Teaching and Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, and is currently completing a Master of Education degree in Equity and Cultural Diversity, all from James Madison University.  Jared previous taught elementary special education in the Shenandoah Valley, and currently is an educational consultant conducting achievement assessments at the Shenandoah Valley Child Development Clinic.  His areas of interest include: educating parents on their rights, universal preschool, dyslexia, cultural competency in teacher education, and psycho-educational assessment for English Language Learners (ELLs).

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