Communication Log

Maintaining a clear record of who said what and when is simplified with a school communication log. This tool streamlines the organization and retrieval of your notes pertaining to phone calls, letters, face-to-face meetings, emails exchanged with your child’s teachers, and any other interactions involving the school.

For parents of children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), meticulous record-keeping of all communication with the school or IEP team is particularly crucial. Insert this chart at the forefront of the “Communication” section in your IEP binder. Utilize it to promptly log specifics following discussions or when
engaging in written communication.

Use the printable log to track your conversations with members of the IEP team, as you see in the sample below.

Sample of a filled out communications log, It includes the date, name of contact, role or position  summary of conversation, whether the issue is resolved and next steps and follow up dates. Also include what kind of means was used for communicating, such as email, call, etc.

Example of an empty Communications log.

Sample of an empty  communications log, It includes the date, name of contact, role or position  summary of conversation, whether the issue is resolved and next steps and follow up dates. Also include what kind of means was used for communicating, such as email, call, etc.

For more information, read these Tips for Communicating as an IEP Team.

This article also forms part of the 3-5 Transition Toolkit

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Part 2: How Does EFMP Benefit Military Families?

A Brief Overview

  • This is part of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues from Part 1: What Makes a Military Family Exceptional?
  • EFMP consists of three parts that work together for identification and enrollment, assignment coordination, and family support.
  • An off-site centralized office within the branch of service determines eligibility for EFMP and level of need.
  • Enrollment should be updated when there is new medical or educational information, and at least every three years.
  • EFMP enrollment ensures the family member’s needs are considered in the assignment process, although the military requirements take priority.
  • EFMP Family Support provides nonmedical case management, information, resources, and support.
  • Beginning in 2023, eligible families may access 20-32 hours of EFMP respite care per month through their branch of service, depending on level of need and availability of services.
  • Get the most from EFMP by contacting the installation’s Family Support office for information, resources, and support.

Full Article

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is a mandatory program for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces that helps military dependents with special medical or educational needs. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force each have an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). The Coast Guard, which operates under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, has a similar program called the Special Needs Program (SNP).

EFMP is made up of three parts that work together to provide:

  1. Identification and Enrollment
  2. Assignment Coordination
  3. Family Support

Identification and Enrollment 

This is the entry point for EFMP. When the service member turns in the enrollment forms, they are sent for processing to an off-site centralized office within the branch that will determine eligibility and the level of need. The decisions are made by medical document reviewers who do not meet or speak with the dependents. Upon completion, the servicemember will receive a letter of verification from the EFMP program for their branch of service.

The same office will determine eligibility for TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) supplemental medical insurance plan.

EFMP enrollment should be updated anytime the family member has new medical or educational information, and at least every three years.

Assignment Coordination

Once a family member is enrolled in the program, personnel and medical departments coordinate future duty assignments with consideration of the family member’s medical or educational needs. Although the family member’s needs are considered in the assignment process, military requirements take priority for assignment decisions. Orders that accommodate the family member’s needs may include:

  • Accompanied assignment only to locations that have services and resources to support the family member’s medical or educational needs.
  • Unaccompanied assignment, in which the servicemember relocates to the new duty station without the dependents, for a shorter duration than standard duty rotations.

If a service member disagrees with the availability or lack of availability of services at their next duty station, Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 1315.19 (issued June 2023) provides them up to 14 calendar days from the date of the original assignment notification to request a second review and submit updated medical or educational information. A service being “available” does not mean the family won’t encounter a waiting list for these services, providers who are no longer taking clients or patients, or other interruptions in services.

Families enrolled in EFMP should ensure their paperwork is complete and current before assignment and permanent change of station (PCS) to a new duty station. Get ahead of assignment coordination and allow time for updates to be processed by updating the enrollment forms before the servicemember’s window opens for selecting orders.

Enrollment in EFMP does not prevent the service member from deploying or taking an assignment on unaccompanied orders.

Family Support

This is the department that directly serves families with nonmedical case management and support, including:

  • Information about local military and community programs, services, and supports.
  • Partnering with the School Liaison to provide information about early intervention services, special education, and school-based supports for students with disabilities.
  • Assistance with navigating DoD medical, educational, and counseling systems.
  • Local programs and activities for the benefit of families enrolled in EFMP, such as support groups, classes, and regional or installation events.
  • Warm handoffs to EFMP programs and School Liaisons at the next duty station.

Beginning in 2023, EFMP family support providers are required to personally contact each family assigned to their caseload and every family using the respective service’s respite care program at least once annually.

Find your EFMP enrollment or family support. In the drop-down menu for “Program or service”, select “EFMP Family Support” or “EFMP Enrollment”. Then, select your location from the drop-down menu labeled “Location based on”.

Respite Care

Eligibility requirements for EFMP respite care differ by branch of service and availability of services varies by location. The 2023 DoD Instruction 1315.19 standardized the respite care hours to 20-32 hours per month, across all branches of service, depending upon level of need of the eligible family member. It also extended coverage to include adult dependents and added the opportunity for eligible families to request additional services based on exceptional circumstances.

EFMP respite care is not an entitlement program, but a benefit available only to those who qualify. However, families who are ineligible for EFMP respite care may be able to access community-based respite care programs. EFMP respite care is also separate from TRICARE’s ECHO respite and ECHO Home Health Care (EHHC) respite programs, both with their own eligibility requirements.

Getting the most benefit from EFMP

Families enrolled in EFMP can get the most benefit from EFMP by contacting their installation’s Family Support office to:

  • Connect with the Family Support office at the new duty station to facilitate services and supports prior to a PCS
  • Locate resources at the state and local levels, such as civilian respite programs and disability-specific events
  • Identify state and federal benefits for which the enrolled family member may be eligible, such as Medicaid waivers, Vocational Rehabilitation, and scholarships for individuals with disabilities

The DoD developed the EFMP Family Support Feedback Tool as a method for families who have accessed their installation’s EFMP Family Support to provide feedback about their experiences. This information applies to the DoD’s Office of Special Needs’ policy development and program improvements for all branches of services.

Download the EFMP Enrollment Checklist.

Learn More about EFMP

This is part of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues from Part 1: What Makes a Military Family Exceptional?

STOMP (Specialized Training of Military Parents) provides information and resources to military families, individuals with disabilities, and both military and civilian professionals serving military families enrolled in EFMP. Register for upcoming STOMP workshops and webinars to learn more about the lifespan of benefits available to military families under federal law and military programs.

Military OneSource is an official DoD website and a information hub for all aspects of military life. EFMP & Me, a companion website managed by Military OneSource, organizes hands-on tools, federal and state information, military and civilian services and resources, and related supports and programs in one place.

Additional Resources

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Part 1: What Makes a Military Family Exceptional?

A Brief Overview

  • This is part one of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues in Part 2: How Does EFMP Benefit Military Families?
  • Every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces is required to have a program for dependents of active-duty service members (ADSMs) with special medical or educational needs called the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).
  • The Coast Guard is the only branch of service that uses a different name for their program – the Special Needs Program (SNP).
  • Enrollment is mandatory for all dependents of active-duty service members who have a special medical or educational need, regardless of the dependent’s age.
  • The two standardized enrollment forms are available on Military OneSource and, where available, on branch-specific websites.
  • Enrollment support is available on installation at family support centers.

Full Article

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is a mandatory program for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces that helps military dependents with special medical or educational needs. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force each have an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). The Coast Guard, which operates under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, has a similar program called the Special Needs Program (SNP).

Purpose and Intent

The purpose of the EFMP is to –

  • identify dependents of servicemembers with special education or medical needs,
  • make sure the family’s needs are considered during the assignment process,
  • connect families with resources and assistance wherever they are assigned, and
  • assist with questions, concerns, and resources.

Although the purpose of EFMP and SNP are the same across all branches of service, there are some differences with names, procedures, and forms. There are also differences by installation, such as the availability of respite care providers and services provided by EFMP Family Support.

Eligibility

Enrollment in EFMP is mandatory for eligible dependents of active-duty service members (ASDMs). It is not an age-limited or age-specific program; dependent children and adults, including spouses, incapacitated adults (unmarried adult children with disabilities, parents and parents-in-law, and other adult dependents), must be enrolled in EFMP if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have special medical needs, including chronic and/or mental health conditions, that require ongoing treatment from medical specialists.
  • Have significant behavioral health concerns.
  • Are eligible for or receive early intervention services (EIS) through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for infants and toddlers (ages 0-3).
  • Are eligible for or receive special education services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students aged 3 through 21.

National Guard and Reserve personnel with family members who have special medical or educational needs may be eligible during the time period when the service member is called for active-duty orders under Title 10 (10 U.S.C.).

Enrollment

Enrollment in EFMP or SNP begins with two enrollment forms that are available for download from Military OneSource:

  • DD Form 2792, “Family Member Medical Summary”: This form must be completed by the family member’s TRICARE-authorized primary care provider. This can be either the primary care manager or a specialty care provider.
  • DD Form 2792-1, “Special Education/Early Intervention Summary”: The instructions state that the child’s IFSP or IEP must also be provided with this form. If the child has an IFSP, is not yet enrolled in school, or is home-schooled, the parents may complete and sign the fields reserved for the educational authority.

Medical providers often require a separate appointment for completing the EFMP paperwork. Ask about the provider’s policy for completing paperwork and how to submit the forms before the visit while scheduling the appointment. The family member’s TRICARE plan and how the provider bills the appointment will determine whether there will be a copay for the visit.

Although all branches of service use the same standardized forms, some of the services have developed website platforms for families to submit the forms electronically.

Save time in the future by keeping a copy of the completed enrollment forms and IFSP or IEP in your home records system. Never give away your last copy!

Help with Enrollment

If this is the first time the family has submitted the EFMP forms, it is a good idea to first take them to the branch-specific military and family support centers on installations for review, including:

Reserve components also have branch-specific military and family support centers.  Learn more about what these programs offer and links to the branch-specific Reserve programs in this article from Military OneSource.

Find your EFMP enrollment or family support. In the drop-down menu for “Program or service”, select “EFMP Family Support” or “EFMP Enrollment”. Then, select your location from the drop-down menu labeled “Location based on”.

Download the EFMP Enrollment Checklist

Learn More about EFMP

This is part of a two-part series on this topic of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). This article continues in Part 2: How Does EFMP Benefit Military Families?

Additional Resources

Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), Part 2: Supporting Appropriate Placement and Inclusion of Military Families 

A Brief Overview 

  • This is part of a three-part series on this topic of MIC3, which continues from Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), Part 1: The Impact of MIC3 on Military Families. The third part of the series is Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), Part 3: How MIC3 Protects Academic Progress toward Graduation.  
  • MIC3 allows military parents to hand-carry “unofficial” (temporary) school records from the sending school to give to the receiving school for enrollment. 
  • The sending school must provide official records within ten business days of the receiving school’s request. 
  • If students have not been immunized, they have 30 days from enrollment to get the required shots or receive the first shot in a series. 
  • If a child was enrolled and attending kindergarten at the sending school, they must be allowed to enroll and continue at the receiving school, regardless of the school’s age requirement.  
  • A military child can keep going to the school in the school or district they have been attending, even if the person they are living with is in a different school district. 
  • MIC3 allows flexibility concerning extracurricular activities to include military children even if they can’t meet an application deadline. 

Full Article 

The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3, pronounced “mick three”) is the more commonly used name for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. MIC3’s rules provide consistent guidelines for how public schools address the most common challenges military-connected students experience during a PCS (permanent change of station, the military’s term for “relocation”). Washington codified MIC3 into state policy as RCW 28A.705.010.  

Enrollment 

MIC3 seeks to prevent students from losing academic time with enrollment provisions that address: 

  • Unofficial or hand-carried records. 
  • Official records and transcripts. 
  • Immunization requirements. 
  • Kindergarten and first-grade entrance ages. 

Unofficial or Hand-Carried Records 

MIC3 allows military parents to hand-carry photocopied or “unofficial” (temporary) school records from the sending school to give to the receiving school. Waiting for the original official transcripts can be time-consuming and not beneficial to the student since receiving official documentation from another state or overseas can take weeks. Under MIC3, the receiving school must use the unofficial records for the child’s enrollment. The unofficial records must include attendance records, academic information, and grade placement (part of the primary documents package). 

Official Records and Transcripts 

It is the receiving school’s responsibility to immediately request an official set of records (transcripts) from the sending school. The sending school must send out the official records within ten business days, with extensions allowed for school breaks. After school staff return from a break, the official records must be provided within ten business days.  

Immunization Requirements 

If a child hasn’t already had the immunizations (shots to protect against certain diseases) the receiving school requires, the student has 30 days from enrollment to get the shots. If the child needs a series of shots to be immunized, they must get the first shot within 30 days. The school may require a negative test for tuberculosis, which is not an immunization and, therefore, not covered by MIC3. 

Kindergarten and First Grade Entrance Ages 

When enrolling a child in school, MIC3 enables them to enter the grade they were in at the sending school. Suppose a child was enrolled and already attending kindergarten at their previous school. In that case, the new school must allow the child to enroll in kindergarten even if the age requirement differs. Suppose the child should be starting first grade. In that case, MIC3 says that if the child completed the previous grade in the sending school (including kindergarten), they could enroll in the next grade at the receiving school, even if the age requirements differ. The letter or transcript from the sending school must show the child’s attendance in kindergarten if the concerns is about kindergarten eligibility. 

Eligibility 

Regarding eligibility, MIC3 provides guidance on the issues of: 

  • Special power of attorney with guardianship. 
  • Extracurricular activities. 

Special Power of Attorney with Guardianship 

During deployments and other military mobilizations, children of servicemembers may live with another family member, non-custodial parent, or guardian through a Military Family Care Plan. Under MIC3, a military child can keep going to the school in the school or district they have been attending, even if the person they are living with is in a different school district. The school district cannot charge local tuition for living outside the district under these circumstances, except for optional programs offered by the school or district. The person taking care of the child will be responsible for transporting the student to the school while the child resides out-of-district. At enrollment, if not given to the school earlier, the parent or guardian must be provided with the Military Family Care Plan, Special Powers of Attorney, and/or custody orders. 

Extracurricular Activities 

States and local schools can be flexible so military children can be in sports and extracurricular activities, even if the child can’t meet an application deadline, including tryouts, seasonal conditioning, and other prerequisites instituted by the district or team supervisor. The child will still have to meet the eligibility standards for the activity, such as auditioning for sports or a music program. MIC3 requires that school and district programs make “reasonable efforts” to allow military children to participate in extracurricular activities, but this does not include holding open or creating additional spaces. MIC3 does not apply to state athletic associations, like travel teams or sportsman clubs, which are not a part of state or district education systems. 

Support with MIC3-Related Issues 

Parents can use this Step-by-Step Checklist to resolve issues that fall under the provisions of MIC3. For additional support, parents may contact their School Liaison, Parent Center, or MIC3 State Commissioner. As the parent center of Washington State, PAVE provides training to military-connected families, individuals with disabilities, and professionals through the STOMP program. Parents seeking individualized support may contact PAVE through the Get Help Form

Learn More about MIC3 

This article is part of a three-part series on the topic of MIC3. Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, Part 1: The Impact of MIC3 on Military Families introduces the scope and purpose of MIC3. This article outlines MIC3’s guidelines for how public schools address challenges related to enrollment and eligibility. Part 3: How MIC3 Protects Academic Progress toward Graduation explores MIC3’s placement, attendance, and graduation provisions. 

Additional Information 

Back To School Checklist!

Late summer is the time to gather school supplies, find out what time the school bus will pick up and drop off, and prepare to find new classrooms and meet new teachers. Parents of students with disabilities have some additional things to check off the list to be ready for the year ahead. As August is National Immunization Month, we are adding updated immunizations and flu and covid boosters to the reminders. These are fully covered medical expenses whether you have insurance or not and can go a long way to keeping your child and your family healthy as we move into the fall and winter months. There are multiple events across our state where families can go to for immunizations.  

Super important: As school begins, make sure you know what’s included in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, and/or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). For more, see PAVE’s article: Tips to Help Parents Plan for the Upcoming School Year

If you are new to Washington State, perhaps because of military service, you also may want to review some basic information about how education and special education are structured and delivered here. PAVE provides an article: Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State. 

Here’s a checklist to help you get organized:

  1. Create a one-pager about your child to share with school staff
    • Include a picture
    • List child’s talents and strengths—your bragging points
    • Describe behavioral strategies that motivate your child
    • Mention any needs related to allergy, diet, or sensory
    • Highlight important accommodations, interventions, and supports from the 504 Plan, IEP, or BIP
  2. Make a list of questions for your next meeting to discuss the IEP, BIP, or 504 Plan
    • Do you understand the goals and what skills your child is working on?
    • Do the present levels of performance match your child’s current development?
    • Do accommodations and modifications sound likely to work?
    • Do you understand the target and replacement behaviors being tracked and taught by a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)?
    • Will the child’s transportation needs be met?
  3. Mark your calendar for about a week before school starts to visit school and/or send an email to teachers, the IEP case manager, and/or your child’s counselor
    • Share the one-pager you built!
    • Ask school staff how they prefer to communicate—email, phone, a notebook sent back and forth between home and school?
    • Get clear about what you want and need, and collaborate to arrange a communication plan that will work for everyone
    • A communication plan between home and school can be listed as an accommodation on an IEP or 504 Plan; plan to ask for your communication plan to be written into the document at the next formal meeting
  4. Design a communication log book
    • Can be a physical or digital notebook
    • Plan to write notes every time you speak with someone about your child’s needs or services. Include the date, the person’s full name and title, and information about the discussion
    • Log every communication, whether it happens in the hallway, on the phone, through text, via email, or something else
    • After every communication, plan to send an email thanking the person for their input and reviewing what was discussed and any promised actions—now that conversation is “in writing”
    • Print emails to include in your physical log book or copy/paste to include in a digital file
    • Having everything in writing will help you confirm what did/didn’t happen as promised: “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”
  5. Consider if you want to request more information about the credentials of teachers or providers working with your child. Here are some things you can ask about:
    • Who is providing which services and supports?
    • Who is designing the specially designed instruction (SDI)? (SDI helps a child make progress toward IEP goals)
    • What training did these staff receive, or are there training needs for the district to consider?
  6. Ask  the special education teacher or 504 case manager how you can share information about your child, such as a one-pager, with school team members. This includes paraprofessionals or aids and other members of the school team.
    • Parents have important information that benefit all school team members. Ask who has access to your child’s IEP or 504 Plan and how you can support ensuring team members receive information
  7. Have thank you notes ready to write and share!
    • Keep in mind that showing someone you appreciate their efforts can reinforce good work
  8. Celebrate your child’s return to school
    • Do the bus dance on the first morning back to school!
    • Be ready to welcome your child home with love and encouragement. You can ask questions and/or read notes from your child’s teachers that help your loved one reflect on their day and share about the new friends and helpers they met at school

Below is an infographic of the above information.

Tip! you can click on the image and access an accessible PDF to print and keep handy.

Back to School Checklist click to find the accessible PDF

Click to access an accessible PDF of the infographic above

Transition Triangle

The transition triangle talks about the relationship between the High School and Beyond Plan , the IEP transition plan and Agency supports from DDA, DVR and DSB. within that triangle of support is the student asking themselves: Who they are, what is their future and their goals.

The planning process to support a student with disabilities toward their adult life plans requires coordination and organization. This graphic provides a visual overview of the work and who is responsible to help.

The center upside down triangle describes key questions for a student as they move through school and toward adulthood:

  1. Who am I? Answers include what the student is interested in, what they are good at, what they struggle with, and how they see themselves.
  2. What’s my future? Students can begin to imagine where they might work, whether higher education will be part of their future, and how they might live.
  3. How do I reach my goals? The answers are a long-term project. A good planning process ensures that work done today is moving the student toward their vision for adult life.

The three colored triangles on the corners of the graphic represent three tools that help students ask and answer these questions.

The purple triangle on the bottom left represents the High School and Beyond Plan. Washington State requires schools to begin supporting all students with a High School and Beyond Plan before they leave middle school. The plan includes questions to help the student think about where they might work someday and how much education they will need to get that job. The plan is designed to make sure time spent in school is moving the student toward adult goals. The High School and Beyond Plan addresses the same questions that are listed in the center of our triangle and is often managed by staff in a school’s counseling center.

The blue triangle on the bottom right represents the transition plan, which is required in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) by the school year when they turn 16. Goals in the IEP Transition Plan include further education/training, employment, and independent living as parts of a student’s program. A student with disabilities has the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until they earn a diploma or turn 21. The IEP includes a target graduation date, determined by the IEP team. The state requires the IEP Transition Plan to align with the High School and Beyond Plan. School staff and the family collaborate to make sure these two tools match up to best support a student’s progress.

The teal triangle on top of the pyramid represents agencies that might provide Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) has a variety of school-to-work programs for eligible students: A DDA case manager can provide information about options. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for students still in school as well as vocational rehabilitation services for adults with disabilities. As they transition out of school, members of some Native American tribes may access Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR) services. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) is a separate agency providing Pre-ETS for youth and vocational rehabilitation services for individuals who are blind or low vision. Staff from these agencies may work with an IEP team and counselors at school to make sure everyone is working together to support the student in the center.

Ideally a student with disabilities has people supporting all of the features on this transition triangle. Best practice is for all agencies and supporters to collaborate as they help a student move toward a successful adult life.

PAVE has made a fillable worksheet to help you answer these questions.

In addition, PAVE has a college readiness workbook ready for you to use. For direct assistance from PAVE, click Get Help. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides information about graduation requirements for a student in Washington State

How to Decide on a Post-Secondary Program Worksheet

The following information is part of the college readiness workbook. You can download this and other parts of this workbook for your personal use. Each document is fillable.

Fill in your answers to the questions.

Talk With Each Other

  • What are my abilities?
  • What are my strengths?
  • How does my disability affect my learning and ability to show what I know on tests?
  • What accommodations do I need to be successful?
  • What postsecondary education or training programs do my teachers and school counselors recommend for my areas of interest?

Talk Together About Your Concerns With Student Support Services

  • Where is the school located and does that school setting (urban, suburban, or rural) meet my needs?
  • If I cannot live independently, what is the distance from home?
  • Does the student/instructor ratio ensure I can access office hours with my instructor(s) as needed?

Not all programs provide the same accommodations, and colleges do not make modifications to alter academic requirements.

  1. Does the program offer the accommodations I need to be successful?
  2. Are the housing options accessible for my individual needs?

Do I require someone to assist with:

  1. Self-help (like bathing)?
  2. Managing my medications and medical treatments?
  3. Nutrition and hygiene needs (laundry, washing dishes, cooking?)
  4. Do I have a service animal?

Disclaimer: All content is for informational purposes only. The information on this page is not a substitute for legal advice. When it comes to the law and policy matter, please consult an attorney or advocate on your child’s behalf.

Five Tips for a Smooth PCS

Military families are likely to switch schools more often than other families. This can require learning new rules and finding new resources. To help plan, here are four valuable tips for a smooth PCS (permanent change of station, which is the military language for “relocation”) with a special educational or medical needs child.

Tip 1: Organize your files.

Records are critical for planning and stability. Accessing records once you have left a duty station is far more complex than getting copies to take with you. Keeping track of your child’s records can make the transition to a new assignment far easier. With your child’s information and records organized and up to date, you can quickly find any new trends, needs, or program changes to consider when you PCS.

  • Save copies of evaluations, educational plans and programs, work samples, and behavior plans.
  • Monitor regression by comparing student work samples and grades before, during, and after your PCS.
  • Note what has worked to support your student through previous transitions and share these successes with the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), Individualized Education Program (IEP), or Section 504 team.

If your student comes from a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school, you may also have records and evaluations from a Student Support Team (SST) or Case Study Committee (CSC).

Tip 2: Know your resources.

When you are moving to a new place, it is important to know who can help you. Contact the School Liaison and Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) family service office as soon as possible. They have useful information about things that can support your child’s health, well-being, and quality of life, like assignment locations, schools, housing, and other essentials. In your new state, you can also reach out to the Family Voices program. They can help you apply for public benefits such as extra money (SSI) and healthcare (Medicaid). It is also good to know your child’s rights as a military student when switching schools between states. Learn about the protections under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children and use this Step-by-Step Checklist for resolving school issues with the Interstate Compact.

Tip 3: Keep open lines of communication.

Building strong communication links with your child’s teachers and other school officials can be critical. Remember to keep track of notes, emails, texts, and conversations. Always follow up on agreements with a note summarizing what was agreed to and any timelines. Building a solid relationship with your child’s teachers will help you address potential difficulties while they are minor issues and build trust among all team members. Discuss all the efforts that are helping your child. Keep communication lines open by responding promptly and respectfully, and reach out to school staff with positive feedback, as well as for problem-solving concerns.

Tip 4: Ask questions.

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and Individualized Education Program (IEP), or Section 504 Accommodations Plan, are the heart of how your child will receive services, accommodations, and modifications tailored to their unique needs. Never feel that you shouldn’t ask questions. Terms can change from place to place, but what the service includes will follow strict guidelines set up through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since you will be the single consistent factor in your child’s educational career, the more you know, the better you can collaborate and plan within the IEP or 504 teams. Locate and contact the Parent Training and Information (PTI) center in your new state to assist you in navigating this process. Students and families in Washington State may contact PAVE for one-on-one support, information, and training through our Get Help request form.

Tip 5: Include your student.

All people need the ability to understand and communicate their needs and wants. The ultimate goal for our children is to help them become self-advocates to the best extent they are capable and comfortable. Providing them with tools early and on an ongoing basis will help them plan for their future. In the long run, it will help them to be the driver of services they need and want.

These are just a few tips on navigating the special education and medical systems when PCS’ing. If you want to learn more, register for an upcoming STOMP workshop or webinar.

Evaluations Part 1: Where to Start When a Student Needs Special Help at School

A Brief Overview

  • Special Education is provided through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a student with a qualifying disability. The first step is to determine eligibility through evaluation. This article describes that process and provides information and resources related to each eligibility category.
  • Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is the “special” in special education. The evaluation determines whether SDI is needed to help a student overcome barriers of disability to appropriately access education. Learning to ask questions about SDI can help families participate in IEP development. To learn more, watch PAVE’s three-part video series: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504, and More.
  • Washington law requires evaluation referrals in writing. The state provides a form for referrals, downloadable from a website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. The person making the referral can use the form or any other format for their written request.
  • PAVE provides a Sample Letter to Request Evaluation.

Full Article

If a student is having a hard time at school and has a known or suspected disability, the school evaluates to see if the student qualifies for special education. A child is protected in their right to be evaluated by the Child Find Mandate, which is part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

If eligible, the student receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Information collected during the evaluation is critical for building the IEP.

The school follows specific deadlines for an evaluation process. They have 25 school days to respond to the referral in writing. If they proceed with the evaluation they have 35 schools days to complete the assessment. For an eligible student, an IEP must be developed within 30 calendar days.

If parents disagree with the school’s evaluation, they can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) in writing. The school must either pay for the IEE or defend its evaluation and their IEE denial through Due Process. PAVE provides an article, Evaluations Part 2, with more information and a sample letter for requesting an IEE.

Complaint options and family/student rights are described in the Procedural Safeguards, downloadable in multiple languages on the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

When a written referral is submitted to the school district: The IEP Services begin ASAP with the signed consent of the parent.  The school district has 30 calendar days to develop the IEP and 35 school days to complete the evaluation.

Evaluation is a 3-part process

Not every student who has a disability and receives an evaluation will qualify for an IEP. The school district’s evaluation asks 3 primary questions in each area of learning that is evaluated:

  1. Does the student have a disability?
  2. Does the disability adversely impact education?
  3. Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

If the answer to all three questions is Yes, the student qualifies for an IEP. After the evaluation is reviewed, the IEP team meets to talk about how to build a program to meet the needs that were identified in the evaluation. A summary of the most important findings is listed in the Adverse Educational Impact Statement on the IEP. Additional findings become part of the present levels statements, which are matched with IEP goal-setting and progress monitoring.

TIP: Read the Adverse Educational Impact Statement carefully to make sure it captures the most important concerns. The rest of the IEP is responsible to serve the needs identified in this statement. Families can request changes to this statement at IEP meetings. PAVE’s article, Advocacy Tips for Parents, provides information to help families prepare for and participate in meetings.

Don’t wait to evaluate because of provider wait lists

Depending on a student’s suspected areas of disability (see categories listed below), the district may need medical information. However, the school cannot delay the evaluation while requiring parents to get that medical information. If medical information is necessary for an eligibility determination, the district must pay for the outside evaluation. OSPI includes more detail about these requirements in a Technical Assistance Paper (TAP No. 5).

What areas can be evaluated?

When a parent signs consent for an evaluation, looking through the list of areas the school intends to evaluate is important to ensure that all concerning areas are included. Families can request additional areas to include in the evaluation, including a Functional Behavioral Assessment, for example.

Listed below are examples of skill areas that are commonly evaluated:

  • Functional: Functional skills are necessary for everyday living, and deficits might show up with tasks such as eating, handling common classroom tools or using the restroom.
  • Academic: Testing in specific academic areas can seek information about whether the student might have a Specific Learning Disability, such as dyslexia.
  • Cognitive: Testing to determine intelligence quotient (IQ) scores: verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full-scale IQ. These tests provide important data about a student’s strengths and weaknesses and can be important for IEP teams making decisions about how to adapt materials to ensure accessibility.
  • OT and Speech: Occupational Therapy and Speech/Language can be included as specific areas for evaluation, if there is reason to suspect that deficits are impacting education.
  • Social-Emotional Learning: Many evaluations collect data in an area of education called Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which can highlight disabilities related to behavior, social interactions, mental health or emotional regulation. It’s common for parents to fill out an at-home survey as part of an SEL evaluation process.
  • Autism Spectrum: Testing can look for disability related to autism spectrum issues, such as sensory processing or social difficulties. Testing in this area can be done regardless of whether there is a medical diagnosis.
  • Adaptive: How a student transitions from class-to-class or organizes materials are examples of adaptive skills that might impact learning.

TIP: Keep in mind that strengths are measured alongside challenges and can provide important details. An IEP should always include statements about what the student does well, and the IEP team uses this information to reinforce and build on strengths throughout the program.

Below is an infographic showing this: See this infographic in PDF form

An infographic of what areas can be evaluated.

Eligibility Categories of Disability

Areas of evaluation are associated with 14 eligibility categories. These are broad categories, and sometimes there is discussion about which is the best fit to capture information about a student’s unique situation. Please note that there is no such thing as a “behavior IEP” or an “academic IEP.” After a student qualifies, the school is responsible to address all areas of need and design programming, services and a placement to meet those needs. An IEP is an individualized program, built to support a unique person and is not a cut-and-paste project based on the category of disability.

Below is a list of the 14 eligibility categories, including some information about places to get further information or specific resources.

  • Autism: A student does not need a medical diagnosis to be evaluated by the school. If features of autism may significantly impact access to learning, then the school can assess those features to determine eligibility and special education needs. See PAVE’s article about Autism Spectrum Disorder for information and resources.
  • Emotional Disturbance: Psychological or psychiatric disorders (anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress, etc.) can fall under this category, which Washington State refers to as Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD). Please note that all eligibility categories are intended to identify the needs of students and are not intended to label children in ways that might contribute to stigma or discrimination. PAVE provides a Behavioral Health Toolkit for Navigating Crisis, School-Based Services, Medical Services, Family Support Networks, and More.
  • Specific Learning Disability: Issues related to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or other learning deficits can be educationally assessed. A formal diagnosis is not required for a student to qualify under this category. The school might find, for example, that a student has a reading disability “with the characteristics of dyslexia,” although the school may not be willing to name the condition using formal diagnostic terms. Washington requires schools to screen primary school children for dyslexia. The Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) has information about state requirements. PAVE provides an article, Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources, and a video,Supporting literacy: Text-to-Speech and IEP goal setting for students with learning disabilities.
  • Other Health Impairment: ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and other medical diagnoses are captured within this broad category, often shorted to OHI or Health-Impaired on the IEP document. Sometimes a Related Service is needed to assess a student because school staff do not have the expertise to properly understand a disability condition in order to make service recommendations. “Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes” are written into federal law (IDEA Section 1432) as something schools provide at no cost to the family, if necessary as part of special education process.
  • Speech/Language Impairment: This category can include expressive and/or receptive language disorders in addition to issues related to diction (how a student is able to produce sounds that are understood as words). Social communication deficits also might qualify a student for speech services. The Washington Speech Language Hearing Association (wslha.org) provides Consumer Information on its website and published a downloadable resource, Guidelines for Evaluation and Identification of Students with Communication Disorders.
  • Multiple Disabilities: Students with complex medical and learning needs can meet criteria in this category. Depending on their impairments, a student eligible in this category might receive services in a range of ways that overlap with other disability categories. Washington Sensory Disabilities Services (WSDS.wa.gov) may have information and resources to support families and schools in these complex situations.
  • Intellectual Disability: A student with Down Syndrome or another genetic or cognitive disorder might meet criteria in this category. Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services manages the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). DDA’s Informing Families website and newsletter is a place for information and resources. A child with a disability related to I/DD may be identified early and receive Birth-3 services through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). PAVE provides an Early Learning Toolkit.
  • Orthopedic Impairment: OI refers to physical disabilities that impact access to education. PAVE provides an article about Related Services to help families understand services provided through school versus the medical system.  
  • Hearing Impairment: Whether permanent or fluctuating, a hearing impairment may adversely affect a child’s educational performance. The Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (cdhy.wa.gov) provides information and resources for families and schools. Another place for information is Washington Sensory Disabilities Services (WSDS.wa.gov).
  • Deafness: A student unable to process linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, may be eligible for services under this category. The Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (cdhy.wa.gov) provides information and resources for families and schools.
  • Deaf blindness: A combination of hearing and visual impairments establishes a unique set of special education service needs. The Washington DeafBlind Program (deafblindprogram.wa.gov) provides information about seeking educational support and connecting with other families.
  • Visual Impairment/Blindness: Partial sight and blindness may fit this category when, even with correction, eyesight adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Washington State’s Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) is an agency that provides youth and adult services for individuals who are blind or low vision. Other places to seek resources and information are Washington Sensory Disabilities Services (WSDS.wa.gov) and Outreach services from the Washington State School for the Blind (wssb.wa.gov/services/outreach).
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: The state provides resources related to TBI, including guidance about Returning to School After Traumatic Brain Injury. Another place for resources and support is the Brain Injury Alliance of WA.
  • Developmental Delay (ages 0-9): This category can qualify a child for early learning (Birth-3) services in addition to IEP services through age 9. By age 10, a new evaluation may determine eligibility in another category for IEP services to continue. PAVE’s Early Learning Toolkit includes information to support families of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and children in early elementary school.

What to do if you disagree

The IDEA requires schools to use “technically sound” instruments in evaluation. Generally, that means the tests are evidence-based as valid and reliable, and the school recruits qualified personnel to administer the tests. The IDEA is clear that a singular measure, such as an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test, does not meet the standard for an appropriate evaluation.

Parents can take action if they disagree with the way testing was done or the way it was interpreted.

Parents can always ask school staff to describe their decisions in writing, and parents have rights guaranteed by the IDEA to informally or formally dispute any decision made by the school. The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) offers a variety of guidebooks that describe these options. In Washington State, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides state-specific guidelines for dispute resolution.

A student may qualify for a Section 504 Plan, if not an IEP

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Civil Rights law protects individuals with disabilities that severely impact “major life activities,” such as learning, breathing, walking, paying attention, making friends… The law is intentionally broad to capture a wide range of disability conditions and how they might impact a person’s life circumstances.

A student with an IEP has protections from Section 504; those protections are included in the IEP.

Sometimes students who don’t qualify for the IEP will qualify for accommodations and other support through a Section 504 Plan. PAVE has an article about Section 504, which provides an individual with protections throughout the lifespan.

Protections against bullying and discriminatory discipline are aspects of Section 504. Watch PAVE’s video, Behavioral Health and School: Key Information for Families.

Help from PAVE

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) team provides 1:1 support and additional resources. Click Get Help or Call 1-800-5PARENT (572-7368) and select extension 115, English or Spanish available, to leave a dedicated message.

Advocacy Tips for Parents

When a child has a disability, parents often learn that getting their child’s needs met requires persistence, organization, and advocacy. Advocacy is an action. A person is an advocate when they organize the work and press onward until a goal is achieved. Laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities also protect parents as legal advocates for their children.

This article includes tips for parent advocates working with the school. For more about parent rights, read PAVE’s article, Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.

Before a meeting…

  • Invite someone to attend with you. A friend or family member can help you take notes, ask questions, and keep track of your agenda.
  • Make sure you understand the purpose of the meeting. Is it to talk about an evaluation, review the Individualized Education Program (IEP), write a Section 504 Plan, consider a behavior support plan, discuss placement, or something else? If you want a certain outcome, make sure it’s within the scope of the meeting. If not, you may need more than one meeting.
  • Make sure you know who will be at your meeting. An IEP team has required attendees. PAVE provides more detail about IEP team requirements in an article that includes a Sample Letter to Request an IEP Meeting.
  • Consider anyone else you want to attend. Parents have the right to invite vocational specialists, related service providers, behavioral health providers, peer support specialists—anyone with knowledge of the student and their needs.
  • Get copies of important documents (evaluation, IEP, 504 Plan, behavior plan, etc.). Read them carefully so you can use these documents to organize your concerns and questions. Keep in mind that a services program/plan is a draft until after you meet.
  • If the school doesn’t provide documents with enough time for you to prepare, consider rescheduling.
  • Mark up a Draft IEP with your suggestions and questions:
    • Read the educational impact statement carefully. Consider if it accurately summarizes your student’s strengths and needs. If not, makes notes about what you want to add or change.
    • Note any changes you want under Medical/Physical or Parent Concerns.
    • If a goal is too hard or too easy, make a note to ask about adjusting it.
    • If a goal is written with jargon and impossible to understand, ask for an explanation and maybe a rewrite
    • Prepare to ask how teachers are using Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) to help your student reach IEP goals.
    • Read the services table, sometimes referred to as a “services grid” or “services matrix” to understand how often and where your student is being served.
    • Consider any questions you have about placement or access to general education settings. If you believe your student could be successful in general education for more of their day, consider what supports would make that possible.
    • Write down any questions about how the classroom or curriculum are adapted to be accessible. You might ask if the teachers are using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies to support multiple types of learners.
    • Write down your questions about progress and how it’s being tracked.
  • For an IEP or 504 Plan, read the accommodations carefully and make notes to ensure they are individualized and implemented to truly support your student.
  • Highlight anything in the behavior plan that sounds like bias or prejudice and consider how it might be rewritten. PAVE provides examples in a video training about development of a Behavior Intervention Plan.
  • To help you organize your questions and concerns, PAVE provides: Get Ready for Your Meeting with a Handout for the Team.
  • Learn about student and family rights and practice the vocabulary that empowers your advocacy. PAVE provides a three-part video training to help: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.

At your meeting…

  • Do your best to arrive on time to make sure there is time to address concerns. If you notice there may not be enough time to do this, request to schedule another meeting.
  • Make sure the meeting begins with introductions and that you know everyone’s job and what role they serve on the IEP team. If it’s important to you, when you introduce yourself you can ask team members to use your name instead of mom, dad, gramma, or something else other than your name when they refer to you.
  • Ask school staff to explain acronyms or jargon while they are talking because you want to understand what everyone says.
  • If an IEP team member is absent (WAC 392-172A-03095), parents must sign consent for the absence. If someone is missing and you don’t think it’s appropriate to continue, ask to reschedule. If key members need to leave before the meeting is over, consider ending the meeting and schedule an alternative day/time.
  • Keep focus on your student’s needs. Here are a few positive sentence starters: I expect, I understand, My child needs….
  • If you notice the conversation steering into past grievances, the district’s lack of funds, or what “all the other children” are doing, bring focus back to your child and their current needs. Try stating, “I want to focus on [name].”
  • Use facts and information to back up your positions and avoid letting emotion take over. Ask for a break if you need time for some regulated breathing or to review documents or notes.
  • Notice other team members’ contributions that support your child’s needs. Here are a few phrases to consider:
    • “I think what you said is a good idea. I also think it could help to…”
    • “I think you are right, and I would like to add…”
    • “I hear what you are saying, and…”
  • If you don’t understand something, ask questions until the answer is clear.
  • If you disagree about something and your comments aren’t changing anyone’s mind, explain that you want your position included in the Prior Written Notice (PWN), which is the document the school is required to send immediately after an IEP meeting.
  • If you hear something confusing, ask the school to put their position and rationale in writing so you can follow up.
  • Request to end the meeting if it stops being productive. Tell the other team members that you would like to continue working with them and ask to schedule another meeting. This might include adding people to the team to help resolve issues.

After a meeting…

  • Review your notes and highlight or circle places where there is an action or something that needs follow through. Transfer relevant information into your calendar.
  • When the Prior Written Notice (PWN) arrives (usually within a few days), compare it to your notes. Make sure all key agreements, actions, and IEP/504 amendments match what you understood to be the plan when you left the meeting.
  • If you want something changed in the PWN, ask for those changes in writing.
  • If you disagree with the outcome of the meeting, review your Procedural Safeguards (downloadable in multiple languages) and consider your dispute resolution options.
  • If you consider filing a Community Complaint, PAVE provides a video training to walk you through that option.
  • Consider contacting school district special education staff if they didn’t participate in the meeting and you think your team needs more support.
  • Consider asking for another meeting, Mediation, or a Facilitated IEP meeting, if issues are unresolved.

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program can help family caregivers organize their concerns and options. Click Get Help for individualized assistance.

Behavioral Health and School: Key Information for Families

When a student struggles to maintain well-being, achievement at school can be a challenge. This video provides key information for families to seek school-based services for behavioral health needs. Included are two advocacy statements that this information might empower you to say in a meeting with the school:

  1. “I want to make sure my student’s rights are upheld.”
  2. “I’m providing information and resources to help the school follow the law and educational best practices.”

Included in the video is information about truancy and a new state law that schools must excuse absences for behavioral health reasons. Also included is information from the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which provided new guidance in summer 2022 about school responsibility to help instead of discipline students with behavioral health needs.  

PAVE staff cannot provide advocacy or advice. We share information to empower family members and young people who do have legal advocacy rights. You can learn this information and keep in handy when you aren’t sure whether the school is following the law or educational best practices. Please be patient with yourself while you are learning this information. It can feel like a lot! As you learn a little bit at a time, you can see how your increasing knowledge shifts options and outcomes for your student.

Here are resources from this training, listed in video order:

Tips to Help Parents Plan for the Upcoming School Year

A Brief Overview

  • By getting organized, you can plan ahead for fall and beyond. This article includes tips, resources, and information to help you get ready for a new school year. 
  • Keep in mind that schools are required to engage with families. PAVE provides an article about parent participation in special education process.
  • If you are tight on time and new to special education, here’s a place to do some basic training, with three short videos: Student Rights, IEP, Section 504 and More.
  • If you feel lost in the dark about how any of this works, here’s an article designed for military transplants and helpful to anyone who needs an overview of disability service systems: Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State.

Full Article

Summer provides an opportunity to reset for the school year ahead. If your child has a disability, you may want to think about what went well or what could have gone better last year. By getting organized, you can plan ahead for fall and beyond. This article includes resources and information to help you get ready for a new school year. 

Locate and organize documents

Now is a good time to re-read important documents, such as your student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, or Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). Organize a place to store the most current copies. Whether you choose an electronic file or a physical folder, label everything with the school year and renewal dates so you can easily notice when something is due for an update.

Use a highlighter or choose another way to make notes as you read through these documents. PAVE provides an article to help: Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP.

Do you have concerns about anything that’s included or missing from your student’s program or plan? Write down your concerns and plan to use these notes to organize your top priorities. When you have an organized list of your top concerns, save this list to share with the school so these points will be included in your next meeting’s agenda.

Keep in mind that you can request a meeting anytime you have concerns. During summer you may be able to meet with district staff even if school staff are unavailable. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a resource directory with special educational staff at the state, regional, and district levels.

Many parents want to meet with teachers and other school staff a few weeks into a new school year to see how things are going and make sure services are on track to support good outcomes. Plan to schedule your meeting as soon as school staff are back in the building for the best chance to get a day/time that works well for you and the rest of the team.

Keep in mind that the school is required to support your participation in your student’s special education services program development and implementation. PAVE provides an article about the parent participation requirements of special education process.

Here are questions to consider as you review your child’s IEP, 504 Plan, or BIP

  1. Do the Present Levels of Performance describe your child in ways that are current and accurate? If no, you may want to request a new evaluation. PAVE provides a Sample Letter and information to help families seeking an evaluation.
  2. If your child has a 504 Plan but has never been formally evaluated, consider requesting a formal special education evaluation to make well-informed decisions about service needs. OSPI provides family-friendly guidance, downloadable in multiple languages, about Section 504 protections, plan development, and civil rights complaint options.
  3. Do IEP goals sound SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time appropriate), given the annual renewal date listed on the IEP’s cover page? PAVE provides an article to help families participate in goal-setting and progress monitoring.
  4. Does the Adverse Impact Statement list all the major ways that the student’s disability affects how they do in school? If not, does that important statement need to be rewritten? Is there enough evaluation data to write an accurate statement? If not, additional evaluations may be needed.
  5. Make sure the highlighted needs and the services match! Each area of need highlighted in the Adverse Impact Statement must be addressed through the services and accommodations being provided by the school.
  6. Is the program clearly written to show what skills the student is working on to support progress? For example, if a reading disability makes it hard for the student to keep up with their grade-level reading, does the program clearly describe the services and goal-setting/progress monitoring to make sure the student is getting better at reading?  
  7. Will each accommodation or modification work in real time to make sure the student has the support they need to access the classroom and curriculum? Keep in mind that accommodations and modifications are intended to meet the needs of each specific student in an individualized way. Cut-and-paste, generic accommodations are not best practice. See OSPI’s Model Forms for Section 504 Plan or for IEP. If the accommodations need work, make notes and plan to request a meeting.
  8. If there is a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), take a careful look at the target behaviors and replacement behaviors to decide whether you agree that the plan is built to support the student’s learning and skill-building. PAVE provides a video to help: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.
  9. Consider how behavior is going this summer and any insights you may wish to share. PAVE provides an article with Tips to Help Parents Reinforce Positive Behaviors at Home.

Mark your calendar with important dates

While you are checking deadlines, get out your calendar to mark any important dates. For example, the cover page of an IEP includes an annual renewal date. The IEP team, including you, needs to meet before that date to review the IEP and make any necessary changes. Make a note on the date and also about a month before that date to make sure you and the team plan your meeting with plenty of advance notice to meet everyone’s scheduling needs.

If something happens and you cannot attend before the deadline, keep in mind that your participation is a higher priority than the deadline. Your student’s IEP will not “lapse” or “expire” because of a meeting delay. That deadline is there to hold the school accountable, not to punish families if they need to delay a meeting.

If you want to request an additional meeting, mark your calendar to reach out to the district and school as soon as teachers are back at work to get your meeting on everyone’s calendar.

The cover page of an IEP lists the date of the most recent evaluation. A new evaluation is required every three years to guarantee ongoing eligibility and to ensure that services meet current needs. Note those dates on your calendar.

You can request a new evaluation anytime you have concerns about an unmet need that isn’t fully documented or understood. You also have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) from a provider outside the school district if you don’t agree with the school’s evaluation.

PAVE provides more information and a sample letter for requesting an IEE. As you review your student’s documents, consider whether requesting an evaluation is part of what you want to do. Evaluation requests must always be in writing, and schools are responsible to provide forms to support written requests.

Review the school’s calendar and make a note of parent conferences and other important dates. If your student will be a graduating senior, plan ahead for senior year activities and make sure to allow plenty of time to request any accommodations. You might mark your calendar in early January, for example, to call the school and ask about Commencement, the Senior Party, etc., and talk through what will need to happen for those events to be accessible to your student. More information to support families of transition-age youth is available from PAVE: School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work.

Be sure to use a calendar that you check regularly to keep track of this important information!

Consider whether behaviors need to be addressed

A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) often needs to be rewritten in a new school year because of changes in staffing and environment. Consider whether you want to request a fresh Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) early in the new school year to ensure your child gets a fresh start on the year with supports designed to match current needs.

See PAVE’s training video: Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process. Mark your calendar to send an FBA request letter right away if that is something you want to happen when schools reopen in the fall. 

If your child has experienced discipline and/or isolation and restraint in previous school years, summer is a good time to review state and district policies related to discipline. PAVE provides an article: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.

Ask for a copy of the district’s student handbook so you clearly understand what the codes of conduct are for expected student behavior and what might be grounds for a suspension or expulsion. Plan to review the rules with your child in a developmentally appropriate way, and do your best to check for understanding. If there are rules you don’t think your child will be able to understand or follow, plan to discuss those challenges with school staff.

Keep in mind that if your student is sent home from school because of behavior, they are being suspended. The school is required to file paperwork with the state and share that paperwork with you. PAVE provides an on demand training: Behavior and Discipline in Special Education: What to do if the School Calls Because of a Behavior Incident.

Make notes about summer regression to talk about ESY for next year

If you notice that your child’s emerging skills are lagging during the break from school, write down details about what you observe. When school resumes, pay attention to how quickly or if those skills return. This data is important as part of a discussion with the school about Extended School Year (ESY), which is a special education service provided outside of regular school hours for eligible students. See PAVE’s article for more information: ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE.

Consider how your child with disabilities is included with non-disabled peers

Special education laws require education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate to meet the needs of each student. LRE requires that students with disabilities get the supplementary aids and supports they need so their inclusion is equitable. Keep in mind that equity doesn’t mean equal: It means people get the support they need to have the same opportunities.

Washington State leaders are well aware that our state is underperforming in its ability to include students with disabilities in general education. To support more inclusive schools in Washington, the State Legislature provided OSPI with $25 million for the 2019-21 biennium and $12 million for the 2021-23 biennium to provide educators with professional development opportunities in support of inclusionary practices across the state. Families can learn more about the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project on OSPI’s website.

Parents can support their child’s inclusion by considering how services might be delivered in the general education setting. Bringing specific ideas into an IEP meeting might generate discussion for significant shifts toward more meaningful and consistent inclusion. Here are some resources you can review to prepare for those discussions with the school:

Write an informal letter to your student’s teachers

Before the new school year gets going, consider what you most want your child’s teachers to understand or remember.

  • Is there something you say at home to help your child stay calm or refocus?
  • Is there a behavioral intervention that’s working well this summer?
  • Is there something unique about your child that isn’t obvious until you get to know them better?
  • What do you most want to share to help teachers understand and support your child?
  • Are there really important points in the IEP, 504 Plan, or Behavior Intervention Plan that you want to call out?

All of these points can be included in a short letter or email you share with teachers at the start of the school year. If you’re not comfortable writing, consider making a short video to share.

Enjoy time with your children

Summer can fly by, especially in the Northwest. Getting ready for fall is important, but so is enjoying the sunshine, swimming pools, hiking trails, camping, games, or whatever makes summer special for your family. Relish time to do something that everyone enjoys and notice how you feel. If something feels challenging next year, you can tap back into the feelings you found during a special summer moment to remember what can go well. Teachers want to know those highlights too!

PAVE provides an article, with links to self-care videos: Self-Care is Critical for Caregivers with Unique Challenges.

PAVE works all year and is happy to help. If you click Get Help and fill out a request for individualized assistance, we will contact you by phone and/or email and schedule time to discuss your specific questions.

More homework for extra credit!

PAVE provides a variety of on demand training videos and articles to support parents in better understanding special education rights, process, and family involvement. Here is some additional summer homework to support your learning:

Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • In Washington State, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-ETS and VR services. To seek support for a student still working toward a diploma, contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map: Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). Each TVR agency operates independently. Contact information is listed on a TVR website page, within DVR’s website.
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR, TVR, or DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process begins in middle school, when all Washington State students work with counseling staff to begin their High School and Beyond Plan.

For students with disabilities, that lengthy planning process is enhanced when the Individualized Education Program (IEP) adds a Transition Plan, required by the school year when a student turns 16.

Vocational rehabilitation agencies can be part of that process and support a warm hand-off into the world of work. PAVE provides an infographic Transition Triangle with more about the way these services can wrap around a student as they move through school and beyond.

Vocational Rehabilitation services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs.

Section 504 is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protects a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan. Students with IEPs also have Section 504 protections.

In other words, the accommodations from a student’s 504 Plan or IEP travel with them into higher education, work, and more. Section 504 and the ADA protect an individual with disabilities throughout their life. Denial of accommodation is considered discrimination under these civil rights laws.

In Washington State, vocational rehabilitation services are provided by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). TVR agencies operate with sovereignty; contact information is included within DVR’s website, on a TVR website page.

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).

Pre-ETS help students look ahead to their job options after graduation

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training.

Summer programs are available in some areas. To find the forms to enroll in Pre-ETS and for information about programs and regional counselors in your area, visit DVR’s website page called High School Transition.

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

DVR operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized.

When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Resources for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

Glossary of Key Terms for Life After High School Planning

ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act. Prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all public and private places open to the general public.

Adult Services: Programs available to support individuals after they become legal adults at 18.

Age of Majority: In Washington, 18. An adult is responsible for educational, vocational, financial, and other decisions unless other arrangements are made through legal means.

Aging Out: The process of ending the school year in which a student turns 21 and is no longer eligible for special education (IEP) services.

Compensatory Services: Extra educational services provided because an IEP team or another agency with authority determines that a student with a disability did not receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

DDA: Developmental Disabilities Administration. A state agency that provides a variety of employment, personal care, supportive housing, and other services based on eligibility. Transition-age youth may be eligible for a school-to-work program if one is available in their region.

DSB: Department of Services for the Blind. A state agency that provides vocational services and orientation and mobility training for individuals with visual impairments.

DVR: Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. A state agency that provides employment services to individuals with a wide range of disability circumstances. Students still enrolled in school might receive Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), and young adults also might apply for 1:1 support with an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). The agency has a wait list, called Order of Selection, for 1:1 IPE support but not for Pre-ETS.

Educational Evaluation: Used to determine eligibility for school-based services. A wide variety of assessments, questionnaires, and other tools determine how disability impacts a student’s ability to access academic and non-academic areas of education and whether specially designed instruction is needed to access FAPE.

Equity: A quality of fairness that is present when someone with a disability has appropriate, individualized help to enable the same access to opportunities that are available to individuals without disabilities.

ESSA: Every Student Succeeds Act. A 2015 law that reauthorized the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s education law that provides equal opportunity for all students.

FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education. Learning that is equitable, accessible, and meaningful. FAPE is what a student with a disability is entitled to receive from the school, based on documented, individualized needs.

High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP): a future planning tool that is required for all Washington State students, beginning no later than 8th grade.

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Federal law that grants funding to states to support educational programming for eligible students with disabilities. IDEA Part B supports children 3-21, and Part C supports children Birth-3.

IEP: Individualized Education Program. A unique school services plan for a student who is eligible based on disability circumstances, managed and documented by a team that includes family members and professionals.

IEP Transition Plan: A component of the IEP that is required by age 16 but can be added any time the student and IEP team are ready to discuss future goals and incorporate them into the student’s program, with goals and progress monitoring that consider life plans.

Inclusion: An environment where individuals with disabilities and without disabilities are learning or working together. The IDEA requires schools to deliver FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment to encourage the inclusion of all students in general education spaces.

Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE): A service plan with support from a vocational rehabilitation agency.

Kevin’s Law: A Washington State law stating that a student receiving special education services has the right to participate in commencement ceremonies with same-age peers, regardless of when a diploma is earned.

LRE: Least Restrictive Environment. IDEA requirement that students receive special education services in general education settings to the maximum extent appropriate. Schools document why a student is unable to access FAPE within LRE (general education) before placing a student in a restrictive setting.

OCR: Office for Civil Rights. An enforcement agency that manages formal complaints and provides information about civil rights that protect individuals from discrimination based on race, gender, disability, and other factors. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is a federal agency with the responsibility of ensuring equal access to education through the enforcement of civil rights.

OEO: WA Governor’s Office of the Educational Ombuds: State agency that provides free online resources and 1:1 support for families navigating educational systems. 

OSEP: Office of Special Education Programs. Federal agency within the US Department of Education that is responsible to administer the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

OSERS: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. US Department of Education program with a mission “to provide leadership to achieve full integration and participation in society of people with disabilities by ensuring equal opportunity and access to, and excellence in, education, employment and community living.”

OSPI: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Washington’s educational agency that partners with the state’s nine Educational Service Districts (ESDs) to provide guidance to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) that include 295 districts and 6 state-tribal education compact schools.

PAVE: Partnerships for Action, Voices for Empowerment. A non-profit agency that supports Washington families impacted by disability. A PAVE program is Parent Training and Information (PTI), which provides information, training, resources, and technical assistance to help family caregivers, students and professionals understand rights and responsibilities within education systems.

Person Centered Planning (PCP) : A method for helping an individual explore and celebrate life goals while building specific action steps and gathering people to offer support.

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS): Provided for groups of students by a vocational rehabilitation agency. In Washington DVR provides Pre-ETS for many disabilities, and DSB provides Pre-ETS for students with visual impairment. Included are job exploration, work-based learning experiences, counseling about educational opportunities, workplace readiness training, and instruction in self-advocacy.

Prior Written Notice (PWN): A required document that schools provide families after formal meetings. The PWN summarizes what was discussed and any agreements, disagreements, action items, or amendments to a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). A family/school communication plan can be designed at a meeting and documented in the PWN.

Procedural Safeguards: Written description of special education process, student/family rights, and options for dispute resolution.

Recovery Services: Additional educational opportunities considered to support students significantly impacted by the national health emergency caused by COVID-19.

School-to-Work: Programs available in many counties for students eligible for support from the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA).

Secondary Transition: Planning for and progressing through the change from high school to adult life.

Section 504: Part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Provides anti-discrimination protections for individuals with disabilities throughout the lifespan.

Self-Advocacy: Ability to share thoughts and feelings, understand rights and responsibilities, make independent choices, and ask for help when needed.

SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant goals set within a specific span of Time.

Synchronous/Asynchronous Instruction: Educational methods during distance learning. Synchronous instruction is provided when school staff directly interact with students in “real time,” whereas asynchronous instruction is recorded, independent, or parent-supported learning without school staff directly present.

Transition Services: Programming uniquely designed to support a student in preparation for adult life. Needs,  strengths, preferences, and interests are considered for development of specially designed instruction, related services, community experiences, employment and other postschool adult living objectives. If appropriate, services include acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.

TVR: Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation. TVR is available for people with tribal affiliations in some areas of the state. Each TVR program operates independently. Contact each agency, listed on DVR’s website, for complete information about program access, service area, and eligibility.

You can download this information below:

Sample Letter to Request Evaluation

A Brief Overview

  • Washington State requires special education referrals to be in writing (WAC 392-172A-03005). Anyone with knowledge of a student can write a referral.
  • The state provides a form for making a special education referral, downloadable from a website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. The form is not required—any written request is valid.
  • Schools are responsible to provide families with a referral form in their native language and to provide qualified interpreters so families can participate in all meetings to discuss their student’s special education eligibility and services.
  • Another option is to write a referral using the sample letter at the end of this article.
  • Evaluation process and family/student rights are described in the special education Procedural Safeguards, updated in 2022.

Full Article

When a student is struggling in school and there is reason to suspect the challenges are disability related, anyone can refer the student for an educational evaluation. If the evaluation shows that the student is eligible, services are provided through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Washington State requires special education referrals to be in writing (WAC 392-172A-03005).

 If someone who knows the student asks for an evaluation, the school is responsible to:

  • Document the request
  • Record the date the referral was made
  • Provide a referral form in the person’s native language
  • Respond to the request within 25 school days

If the person asking for the evaluation cannot write, the school is responsible to support them to complete the referral.

The school must provide a referral form in the native language of the person making the request. Schools are required to provide qualified interpreters to support parent participation in the referral process and for all meetings where a student’s eligibility and/or educational services are discussed. See Parent Rights Information Sheets, downloadable in many languages.

Here’s a summary of evaluation timelines:

  • The school has 25 school days to respond to a referral.
  • After a parent/caregiver signs consent, the school has 35 school days to evaluate the student.
  • If eligibility is found, the school has 30 calendar days to write an IEP and seek parent/caregiver consent for services to begin.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the guidance agency for Washington State. OSPI provides a form for making a special education referral, downloadable from a website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. Families may use OSPI’s form, a form provided by their school, or their own choice of format to write their request for a student to be evaluated. PAVE’s sample letter at the end of this article is an option.

A non-discriminatory evaluation is part of the protections for a student with a known or suspected disability that may significantly impact their access to education (Child Find Mandate). Child Find protections are part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Child Find applies whether there are academic and/or non-academic school impacts.

PAVE provides more detail about IEP eligibility and evaluation process: Evaluations Part 1: Where to Start When a Student Needs Special Help at School.

The clock starts ticking when a request is made

The school has 25 school days after the initial request date to decide whether to evaluate the student who was referred. School days are days when students attend school. The school district lets the family know their decision through a formal letter called Prior Written Notice (PWN), which is described in the Washington Administrative Codes (WAC 392-172A-05010).

Often the school and family meet to discuss the referral and how the student is doing. If all agree to proceed with an evaluation, parents sign consent for the testing to begin. The family can ask questions about what the evaluation will include. Evaluating all areas of suspected disability and educational impact is important to learn as much as possible about the student’s strengths and needs. Information from the evaluation is used to build the services program if the student is found eligible for an IEP.

If the school says no to the evaluation and the family disagrees, they have dispute resolution options that are described in special education Procedural Safeguards, updated in 2022.

Parent consent is required

When the school agrees to evaluate the student, staff must promptly seek parent consent to begin the evaluation process (WAC 392-172A-03005).

Generally, parents sign a form that lists what the school will include in its evaluation. Parents can ask for additional areas to be evaluated to make sure the school gets data for all areas of concern. Families can ask for more information about what the evaluation will look like, where it will take place, how long it will take, and who will participate. The school and family can creatively plan the evaluation process if accommodations are needed. For example, if a student isn’t able to attend in-person school, the evaluation can be done in alternative locations.

After a parent signs consent, the school has 35 school days to finish the evaluation and meet with the family to talk about the results. The deadline may be extended if the family agrees, particularly to accommodate needs of the family or student.

The 35-day deadline does not apply if the student is unavailable for the evaluation or enrolls in another school district before the evaluation is finished (WAC 392-172A-03005).

For students found eligible for services, the school develops an IEP within 30 calendar days and requests parent consent for services to begin. The school and family meet to review a DRAFT version of the IEP and write a final version together before consent is signed. School staff provide a Prior Written Notice (PWN) with a summary of the meeting, agreements, and timelines before services start. PWN requirements are described in WAC 392-172A-05010.

Special Education is a service, not a location within the school

A request for a special education evaluation is NOT a recommendation to remove a student from the regular classroom and move them into an exclusive learning environment. Federal and state laws require that students receive education and services in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent possible to meet their needs.

Decisions about placement are made by the IEP team, which includes the family. The IEP team is responsible to consider the child’s circumstances and capacities as its top priority—not pre-built programs or district resources.

Special Education is a service, while LRE refers to placement. PAVE’s article provides further information: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place. Another article provides detail about parent participation in special education process: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.

Parents can appeal decisions and/or seek a 504 plan

If a student is evaluated and found not eligible for an IEP (or if the school refuses to do an evaluation), the family has the right to dispute the decision using Procedural Safeguards.

If they disagree with the district’s evaluation or its findings, the family may seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), which is done by an agency outside of the school district. The district must pay for an IEE or deny the request using Due Process. See PAVE’s article: Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’ to Your Request. The article includes a sample letter to request an IEE.

Another option if a student doesn’t get an IEP is to develop a Section 504 Plan, which accommodates a person with a disability that impacts a major life activity (learning, walking, speaking, writing, socializing…). Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities against discrimination throughout their lives. See PAVE’s article about Section 504 rights, which also protect students who qualify for an IEP: Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations.

Sample letter for a special education referral

Below is a sample letter to write a request for a special education evaluation. You can copy and paste the text of this sample letter into your word processor to build your own letter.

The state provides an alternative form, downloadable from OSPI’s website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. Your school district is responsible to provide a form, in your language, for you to submit your written request. These formats are your choice—any written request is valid. If you cannot write, you can ask for an evaluation by telling the school and they can write the request with you.

Submit your written request through email, by mail, or by hand delivery, to the special education/special services manager at your school’s district office. You may submit additional copies to school administrators and/or a school psychologist—the person who manages evaluations for your school. Be sure to keep copies of all of your communications with the school in an organized, safe place.

Your Name
Your relationship to the student
Your phone number
Your email address

The date you submit the request

To: [name of person and/or district],

I am requesting a full and individual evaluation for NAME, (birth date: 00-00-0000), for assessment as a special education student as stipulated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA, Public Law 108-446), and in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A). My child is being evaluated for the first time [or include information if student was previously evaluated or received IEP or Section 504 services].

My student attends [name of school] and is currently in [grade level]. We speak [language] in our home, and we need a qualified interpreter for all meetings where our child’s eligibility and services are discussed.

I have concerns that (NAME) is not receiving full educational benefit from school because of their struggles with [brief summary of biggest disability-related concern].

I understand that the evaluation is to be in all areas of suspected disability, and that the school district is to provide this evaluation at no charge to me. My reasons for requesting this evaluation are: [be as specific as you can/note that OSPI’s form suggests possible academic and physical/behavioral concerns]

  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.

Here are some areas where [name] is struggling:

  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.

Based on what I know about my student, here are some supports that I think are needed:

  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.

[Name] has been medically diagnosed with [Diagnoses, if available… Or you might write: Name is awaiting a medical evaluation for … Note that a medical diagnosis is not required for schools to conduct an educational evaluation and to find a student eligible for services].

I have attached documentation from [list any outside providers who provided letters or reports]. Please take note that [Dr. NAME] recommends [highlight any specific recommendations from those attached documents] because [reason].

I understand that I am an equal member of the team for development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and that I will be involved in any meetings related to evaluation, identification of disability, provision of services, placement, or other decisions regarding my child’s access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). I would appreciate meeting with each person who will be doing an evaluation before [NAME] is tested so that I might share information and history. I will expect a copy of the written report generated by each evaluator so that I might review it before the team meeting.

I understand you must have my written permission for these tests to be administered, and I will be happy to provide that upon receipt of the proper forms.

I appreciate your help in behalf of [NAME].

Sincerely,

Your Name

CC: (Names and titles of other people you give copies to)

Please Note: PAVE is a nonprofit organization that provides information, training, individual assistance, and resources. PAVE is not a legal firm or legal service agency, and the information contained in this handout is provided for informing the reviewer and should not be considered as a means of taking the place of legal advice that must be obtained through an attorney. PAVE may be able to assist you in identifying an attorney in your area but cannot provide direct referrals. The contents of this handout were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education. The contents do not represent the policy of the US Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Government.