Parents have a variety of choices if the school denies an initial request to evaluate a student for special education. Here are some options:
1. Consider whether disability is a factor. Your child’s struggles at school will not provide a qualifying basis for special education unless a disability is determined to have an impact. The general rule is that a school must evaluate your child if there is reason to suspect a disability. When considering why you suspect a disability, it’s helpful to review the qualifying categories outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):
Autism, Deafness, Deaf-Blindness, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disabilities, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Serious Emotional Disturbance, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment (including Blindness).
For more detailed information about these 13 categories, please visit the Parent Center Hub.
2. Make sure your request was in writing. If your request was made during a casual conversation, you will want to try again with a formal written request. You can send your formal request by email, certified mail or in person. If you hand deliver your letter, make sure to have your copy date and time stamped so you have a receipt. The school has 25 school days (not counting weekends and holidays) to respond. Address your letter to the district’s special education director or program coordinator, and make sure that your request includes the following details:
- Your child’s full name and birthdate.
- A clear statement of request, such as “I am requesting a full and individual evaluation for my son/daughter, [name and DOB].”
- A statement that “all areas of suspected disability” should be evaluated.
- A complete description of your concerns, which can include details about homework struggles, meltdowns, grades, failed or incomplete assignments and any other mitigating factors.
- Attached letters from doctors, therapists or any other providers who have relevant information, insights or diagnoses.
- Your complete contact information and a statement that you will provide consent for the evaluation upon notification.
3. Ask for the decision in writing. The school is required by law to provide you with “prior written notice.” This means that you must receive, in writing, an explanation of the school’s decision. If you don’t understand why the school doesn’t think your child has a qualifying disability, ask for more details. School evaluators cannot refuse to evaluate your child because of budgetary constraints. They also cannot refuse because they want to try different instructional methods. School staff might use the term Response to Intervention (RTI). Although it might be useful for the school to research its teaching methods, this cannot be the basis for refusing to evaluate your child for a suspected disability.
4. Request a meeting. Discussing your child’s difficulties in a face-to-face meeting can help school staff understand your level of concern. You may want to invite a district representative, such as a director of special education, who might help create more understanding about the school’s options. You can also invite a friend or an advocate to help you take notes and track the conversation.
5. Request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). If the school district refuses to evaluate a student, parents or guardians can request an IEE, which can offer additional information that supports the need for specially designed instruction and services. You should make this formal request in writing. Please refer to the bulleted suggestions earlier in this article for details about composing your request. The district must respond to the IEE request, in writing, within 15 calendar days. The school will provide a list of independent evaluators. You can call each one, if you wish, before choosing who will evaluate your child. The school must consider the results of the IEE when deciding whether your child qualifies for special education programming.
6. Contact a parent center! There are nearly 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTI) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRC) in the United States and its territories. In Washington, PAVE is the PTI and Open Doors is our CPRC serving multicultural families with loved ones with an intellectual/developmental (I/DD) in King County. PAVE’s PTI is statewide – no matter the disability or the county or the issue, we’re here to help! The Parent Resource Coordinators of PAVE’s PTI can help you with free information and guidance as you navigate the special education process. For example, the PAVE Resource Coordinators can help you review or compare evaluations and prepare for meetings. We also have templates for letters, including one for requesting evaluation. To request help from a Parent Resource Coordinator, in English or Spanish online form or Call: 800-572-7368, ext. 115
7. Consider whether to file a Citizen’s Complaint. If you believe that the school district has violated the laws that govern special education, you can file a formal complaint with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
8. Consider Mediation. A neutral, third-party mediator can help families and schools resolve differences, at no cost to the family. The process is voluntary and generally requires a one-day commitment for conversation and problem-solving. For more information about mediation, you can look up “mediation” on the OSPI website or you can check out a firm called Sound Options for outside services for Mediation.
9. Consider Due Process. Any time you feel out of options and suspect that the school district might be violating the law, you have the right to file a formal grievance. You may want to hire an attorney to assist you with a Due Process request. You have the right to present and question witnesses and to submit or challenge documents regarding the issue. Your request must be filed within two years of the alleged violations. The OSPI website listed below has more information about Due Process.
For more information about evaluations, IDEA laws or actions available to you, please contact PAVE or visit the following websites: