Child Find: Schools Have a Legal Duty to Evaluate Children Impacted by Disability

A Brief Overview

  • School districts have an affirmative duty to locate, evaluate and potentially serve any infant, toddler or school-aged student impacted by disability under the Child Find Mandate — part of special education law.
  • Adequate marks and “passing from grade to grade” does not erase the school’s responsibility to evaluate under Child Find. School refusal, missing social skills, trouble with emotional regulation and behavior struggles can trigger an evaluation.
  • Each school district has a duty to locate students residing within the district who might need special education. In order to meet its obligation under Child Find, a district has procedures to locate, identify, and evaluate students ages of 3-21 who are suspected of having a disability.
  • If parents at any time believe that a child may need special education and related services, they can contact the school and/or the district office to request an evaluation. A suspected disability that might significantly impact learning meets the standard for evaluation. Data from that evaluation determines eligibility. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has more information.
  • PAVE recommends that parents make a request for evaluation in writing and provides a sample
  • Screening and evaluations are free. Early intervention and special education services through the public-school system also are at no cost to the family.
  • Parents have the right to request an evaluation from the public-school district regardless of whether a child attends public school.
  • Parents who disagree with the results of an evaluation—or a school’s decision to not evaluate—have the right to dispute decisions through a variety of informal and formal processes, described in the Procedural Safeguards.

 

Full Article

Parents, teachers or anyone else can refer a child for an educational evaluation if there is reason to suspect that a disability is impacting that child’s ability to learn. The local school district provides a comprehensive evaluation, free to the family, if there is a known or suspected disability and reason to believe that appropriate early learning or school success requires intervention.

The school district’s duty to seek out, evaluate and potentially serve infants, toddlers or school-aged students is guaranteed through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), as part of the Child Find Mandate. The law says that this obligation to evaluate exists for all children ages 0-21, regardless of whether they:

  • Attend private or public school
  • Are housed in a stable way or are homeless
  • Live with a birth or adopted family or are a ward of the state

Receiving adequate marks and “passing from grade to grade” does not erase the school’s responsibility to evaluate. Impacts to all areas of school and learning are considered. Academic challenges might trigger an evaluation. So can school refusal, communication deficits, missing social skills, trouble with emotional regulation and behavior challenges.

Children in private schools are protected by Child Find

Parents have the right to request an evaluation from the public-school district regardless of whether a child attends public school. If the child is found eligible for services, the local district is responsible for providing those services unless the family doesn’t want them. In some cases, families arrange to have a child attend a private school but receive special-education services through the public school. Private schools do not have to evaluate children or provide special education, but they are responsible to provide equitable services and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. See PAVE’s article about navigating private school.

The IDEA includes 14 categories of disability that might qualify a student for special education services at a public school. PAVE has an article with more detail about the IDEA and additional articles with information about evaluation process.

Request an evaluation in writing

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff recommend that families request evaluation formally—in writing. Specific deadlines apply in the evaluation process. Washington schools have 25 school days to decide whether to evaluate. After parents sign consent, the school has 35 school days to complete the evaluation.

A sample letter to request evaluation is available on PAVE’s website. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides more detail about state requirements. A national agency called Wrightslaw has additional information about Child Find.

The Child Find Mandate requires states to implement programs to locate children who might need more support, particularly those who might need services as infants or toddlers. Child Find is written into the IDEA in “Part C,” which protects children 0-3 with known or suspected disabilities in need of early intervention. However, Child Find applies to all children who might need services—through age 21 or until high-school graduation.

Testing determines whether the child has a disability that is causing learning delays. For very young children, this includes a known or suspected disability that might delay learning. For a child younger than 3 in Washington State, early intervention is provided with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). PAVE’s website includes an article with more information about early intervention services and the transition to school-aged services at age 3.

For a child ages 3-21, an evaluation determines whether specialized instruction is necessary for the student to access learning at school. PAVE’s article about the Individualized Education Program (IEP) provides detail about how special education services are delivered.

Schools use data to determine whether a child is eligible for services

If parents at any time believe that a child may need special education, they can contact the school and/or district office to request an evaluation. A suspected disability that might significantly impact learning meets the standard for an appropriate and comprehensive evaluation. Data from that evaluation determines eligibility. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has more information.

The referral process includes a review of existing data about a student. Existing data might include information from families, medical providers and anyone who can discuss a child’s performance at public school, preschool, private school, at home or in another setting. Based on this data, the district decides whether to evaluate. Sometimes the decision is discussed at a “referral meeting” with school staff and parents, but a meeting is not required. OSPI has additional information about how the state implements Child Find.

Child Find requires schools to do outreach

School districts operate Child Find programs in a variety of ways. For example, a school might:

  • Train teachers to recognize signs that a student might need to be screened
  • Publish, post and distribute information for parents so they can understand how to request evaluation and why a child might benefit from services
  • Offer workshops or other trainings to parents about evalution, early intervention and special education

When should a parent be concerned?

If parents don’t think their child is growing or developing like other children the same age, they can request an educational evaluation, even if a pediatrician says there is no cause for concern. The national Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR website: ParentCenterHub.org) provides a list of developmental milestones to help parents recognize potential delays. Early intervention can be critical. Parents can contact their local school district or seek more information and assistance from Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT), managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

To determine whether early intervention is needed, an evaluator checks:

  • Physical skills (reaching, crawling, walking, drawing, building)
  • Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, solving problems)
  • Communication skills (talking, listening, understanding others)
  • Self-help or adaptive skills (eating, dressing)
  • Social or emotional skills (playing, interacting with others)
  • Sensory processing skills (handling textures, tastes, sounds, smells)

The evaluator uses natural situations to look at these skills while a child stacks blocks, draws, counts, cuts with scissors, jumps, or performs any other wide variety of activities. Testing time varies, and parents can ask how much time was spent, which settings were reviewed, and who conducted the review.

Parents can decide whether they agree with the results and whether they believe the evaluation was appropriate. “Appropriate evaluation” is protected by special education law, the IDEA, as a primary principle. Parents who disagree with the results of an evaluation—or a school’s decision to not evaluate—have the right to dispute decisions through a variety of informal and formal processes, described in Procedural Safeguards.

If an evaluation determines that a child requires early intervention, then those services are provided through an IFSP. Early intervention services might include speech and language therapy; physical therapy; psychological services; home visits; medical, nursing, or nutrition services; hearing or vision services.

In most cases, services are provided in the home or in a child-care setting. The goal is for services to take place in the child’s “natural environment.” Occasionally a child may visit a provider’s office for specialized services.

What does an older child’s evaluation look like?

Educational evaluations for children 3-21 are conducted in consultation with a team that includes parents, teachers, special education professionals and school district administrators and evaluation specialists who can interpret and explain the results.

The assessments can look like academic tests, questionnaires or informal observations. There are no right or wrong answers, and the evaluators are looking for clues that might show an area of need for different or specialized instruction. A comprehensive evaluation can measure a child’s ability to:

  • Think, reason and problem-solve
  • Understand spoken language
  • Explain ideas and speak clearly
  • Understand facial expressions and body language
  • Use facial expressions and body language to express emotion
  • Remember what they hear and understand different sounds
  • See differences in pictures and designs, remember what they see, and understand those visual images
  • Use body parts with physical skill
  • Get along with other people
  • Read, write, spell and do math
  • Hear and see

Parents can provide a health history and notes and diagnoses from medical providers that contribute outside information to be considered as part of the assessment.

The Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City provides a comprehensive list of commonly used assessments for a variety of disability conditions.

Children ages 3-5 with identified disabilities can receive free special education and related services at preschools run by the local public-school district or through federal Head Start or the state-run Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). Often these preschools are specifically designed for children with disabilities, so inclusion with general education students may be limited.

Once a student enters the local public school for kindergarten, specialized instruction may be provided in general education by special educators who “push in” with support in the classroom. The IDEA requires education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the greatest extent possible with typically developing peers. Special education is a service, not a place.

Some children do not thrive in typical classrooms. The IEP team, including the parent, may determine that a smaller classroom or “pull out” instruction is needed for the student to make meaningful progress. These decisions are documented in the IEP.

“Related services” might include speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, mental health counseling or special transportation to school or extracurricular activities. Training about positive behavior interventions for parents, school staff and children could be provided as a related service.

What happens if a doctor or teacher refers a child for evaluation?

Any adult knowledgeable about a child’s condition can refer that child for evaluation. If a person outside the family makes the referral, parents get a formal written notification about the referral. Parents must sign consent for an evaluation process to begin.

Parents/guardians do not have to give permission. Parents who refuse to give permission have the right to request an evaluation later.

If school staff refer a student for an evaluation and parents do not want their child evaluated, the school district may ask parents to participate in mediation to further discuss the decision. If parents still refuse to sign consent, a school district can begin a legal procedure called Due Process to have the case considered by an administrative law judge. Through this process, a district may be allowed to screen a child for special education without parent consent.

If a student doesn’t qualify for IEP services, a Section 504 Plan might help

A student who is evaluated and determined ineligible for special education might qualify for a Section 504 Plan. Section 504 defines disability much more broadly than the IDEA, and a student can qualify for support if an identified disability significantly impacts a major life activity, such as learning or socializing with peers.

Educational evaluations identify barriers to education, so schools can figure out how to help children make meaningful progress. Sometimes special education is provided to help with access to academic learning, and sometimes it is needed for a child to build functional skills or to develop more skill in the area of Social Emotional Learning. When requesting a full and complete evaluation, parents can ask questions and provide feedback to make sure the school evaluates in all areas of suspected disability and that the tools for evaluation are comprehensive and varied. 

Sometimes a child comes to the attention of the school because of unexpected behaviors that might lead to disciplinary actions. PAVE’s article, What Parents Need to Know when Behavior Impacts Discipline at School, has additional information for families who might be requesting an educational evaluation because of behavior incidents.

Ideas and Resources to Support Your Child’s Behavior at School

A Brief Overview

  • Behavior specialists generally agree that difficult behaviors arise from unmet needs. How adults respond is critical if a child is going to learn new ways to communicate.
  • Humans spend about 80 percent of their brain energy trying to belong. This can explain a lot when a child with a disability feels isolated or unwanted and starts to act out.
  • Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a framework that a growing number of schools nationwide are using to improve school climate, which refers to the way a school feels to students and staff.
  • Members of the U.S. Congress discussed PBIS on February 27, 2019, when a committee heard public testimony regarding a bill that would regulate use of isolation and restraint in public schools. Positive behavior interventions are considered “protective” by behavior experts, and there is evidence that isolation and restraint cause trauma.
  • Read on for questions families can consider when they are trying to understand what’s happening with a child and how to intervene for the best outcomes.

Full Article

Families and teachers often struggle to figure out what to do when a child’s behavior at school is getting in the way of learning.  How adults respond to unexpected behavior can impact whether an incident leads down a path of worsening problems or toward improved learning. Parents can help by understanding as much as possible about what the child might be trying to communicate or overcome.

“Difficult behaviors result from unmet needs,” says David Pitonyak, PhD, an educational consultant, author and public speaker who specializes in behavior supports for children with disabilities. Pitonyak speaks nationally and provides a variety of online tools to help families and educators.

One example is a free, online presentation, “All Behavior is Meaning-full.” In it, Pitonyak includes a list of what might be missing when an unmet need leads to a behavior incident:

  • Meaningful relationships
  • A sense of safety and well-being
  • Power
  • Things to look forward to
  • A sense of value and self-worth
  • Relevant skills and knowledge

“Supporting a person requires us to get to know the person as a complicated human being influenced by a complex personal history,” Pitonyak says. “While it is tempting to look for a quick fix, which usually means attacking the person and his or her behavior, suppressing behavior without understanding something about the life the person is living is disrespectful and counterproductive….

“Our challenge is to find out what the person needs so that we can be more supportive.”

A running theme in Pitonyak’s work is that adults need to strengthen their own social and emotional skills in order to effectively help children. He often quotes another specialist in the field, Jean Clark: “A person’s needs are best met by people whose needs are met.” In other words, parents and teachers need to practice self-care and regulate their own behaviors and emotions to provide the best examples to children. Read on for a check-list that adults can use to develop their own skills while they help children.

A brain’s biggest job is to belong

Pitonyak is among specialists who believe that children act out because they feel misunderstood, devalued, lonely or powerless. Other growing themes are the importance of belonging and the human need to contribute meaningfully to a social group. Neuroscientists have found that humans spend about 80 percent of their brain energy trying to belong. This can explain a lot when a child with a disability feels isolated or unwanted and starts to act out.

Parents can use these concepts in a variety of ways to participate in their child’s educational program. Here are examples of questions to ask in any meeting with a school:

  • Who are the adults at school that my child trusts?
  • Does my child have special jobs or responsibilities, so he/she feels important at school?
  • Is someone regularly checking in with my child to see what’s going on?
  • How are positive behavior skills being taught and reinforced?

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a framework that a growing number of schools nationwide are using to improve “school climate,” which refers to the way a school feels to its students and staff.

Schools that embrace PBIS generally create programs to help all students participate in well-being and then offer more targeted social, emotional and behavioral help to students who struggle the most. These different levels of intervention are called Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). According to the federal PBIS website, “PBIS improves social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups.”

Information about federal guidelines and programs related to PBIS and MTSS are available online from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). PAVE provides an article about PBIS, written by Kelcey Schmitz, from the Center for Strong Schools at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

PBIS is a protective strategy

The United States Congressional Committee on Education and Labor received training about PBIS on February 27, 2019, when they heard public testimony (YouTube video): Classrooms in Crisis: Examining the Inappropriate Use of Seclusion and Restraint Practices. Congress is considering legislation that would create a federal standard on accepted practice, accountability and training for teachers who might use isolation or restraint in an emergency.

The State of Washington allows isolation and restraint by trained school staff if a student’s behavior poses an imminent threat of serious bodily harm. PAVE’s comprehensive article about discipline at school includes more information and resources about isolation and restraint, which is described by state law as an emergency response and not a form of disciplinary action.

Among those who provided public testimony for the U.S. Congress was George Sugai, PhD, professor of special education at the University of Connecticut who was a key developer of the PBIS framework. At the public hearing, Sugai spoke about the reduction in trauma among schools who embrace PBIS. He said teachers report more positive feelings toward their work and that students show more progress toward specific educational goals. “PBIS is a protective strategy,” he said.

The behavior itself holds the clues about what to do next

Sugai, who holds a Master of Arts and a PhD in special education from the University of Washington, spoke about understanding a child’s unmet needs. “We have to understand what children are communicating through their behavior,” he said. “The behavior itself holds the clues about what to do next.”

Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which oversees the state’s school districts, has a variety of programs underway to address school climate and improve staff training in Social Emotional Learning, equity in student discipline and development of Compassionate Schools. The state encourages use of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), which promotes positive support and skill-building for expected school behavior. The plan is to prevent the need for disciplinary action or emergency response. A BIP is developed with data collected through a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA), which is a best-practice tool for schools to figure out what help a student with challenging behavior might need. OSPI’s website includes examples of the FBA and BIP in its Model Forms.

A state workgroup to study Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in October 2016 proposed a set of Standards and Benchmarks to help school staff identify how best to help children who struggle with their behavior, social skills and emotional regulation. The group established six standards with specific benchmarks. A report from that workgroup includes a chart of the standards (Page 3). Families can share this information with schools when trying to identify what’s happening with a child and what interventions might help.

Below is a brief overview of those SEL standards and a few questions parents can bring to the table. In each target area, parents can ask what school staff are doing to help. This check-list also can be a good starting-point for adults who want to work on their own emotional regulation and coping strategies.

1. Self-Awareness

  • Can the student identify and understand emotions?
  • What is the student good at or interested in?
  • How are family, school and community agencies helping as a team?

2.Self-Management

  • Can the student express emotions and manage stress constructively?
  • What problem-solving skills are in place or need to be learned?

3. Self-Efficacy (self-motivated/seeing self as capable)

  • Can the student understand and work toward a goal?
  • Can the student show problem-solving skills?
  • Can the student request what he/she needs?

4. Social Awareness

  • Can the student recognize another person’s emotions?
  • Can the student show respect for others who are different?
  • Can the student accept another cultural perspective?

5. Social Management

  • Does the student have ways to communicate?
  • Can the student take steps to resolve conflicts with other people?
  • Does the student have constructive relationships with a variety of people?

6. Social Engagement

  • Does the student feel responsibility as part of a community?
  • Can the student work with others to achieve a goal?
  • Does the student contribute productively and recognize his/her contribution?

Additional Resources

PAVE provides a series of three articles with more information and resources about Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

Many parents struggle in their communications with the school when a child’s specific disability and its impact on behavior is not well understood. A place to research specific disabilities related to mental health, such as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is the Child Mind Institute.

A resource for better understanding how children might behave in response to trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is the Children’s Health Foundation.

An agency called GoZen offers an online article about Eight Ways a Child’s Anxiety Shows up at Something Else. Included in the list: difficulty sleeping, anger, defiance, lack of focus, avoidance, negativity, over-planning and “chandeliering,” which refers to a full-blown tantrum that seemingly comes out of nowhere. In addition to its free online articles, GoZen provides fee-based programs on resilience.

Parents as Team Partners: Options When You Don’t Agree with the School

A Brief Overview

  • Not every meeting with the school ends in agreement. This article provides information about what parents can do when they disagree with decisions made by the school.
  • When parents disagree with a school’s recommendation, they may need more information and time to organize ideas and priorities to prepare for a meeting. Read on for ideas about how to find common ground and resolve conflicts.
  • Read PAVE’s companion article, Get Ready for Your Meeting with a Handout for the Team.
  • Support for Washington State parents is available from PAVE and the Three O’s: OSPI, OEO, OCR. Read on to know what the O’s can do for you and for links to information from these important agencies.
  • Read on to learn more about these dispute resolution options: Facilitated IEP, Mediation, Resolution Meeting, Due Process and Citizen Complaint.

Full Article

Parents partner with schools when they work together on a team to design and support an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The federal law that governs special education describes parent participation as a primary principle. However, not every meeting feels collaborative to every family. This article provides information about what parents can do when they disagree with decisions made by the school.

NOTE: PAVE has an article about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that describes key features in more detail.

Federal law has protected children in special education since 1975. Since the beginning families have been included as important school partners, with formal and informal options for disputing school decisions. When teamwork gets challenging, parents have options that are described in the “Procedural Safeguards,” an IDEA requirement.

Do your homework to be truly prepared for a meeting

What are the options when a parent disagrees with a teacher, evaluator, specialist, school district representative, or principal? Parents can start by understanding that their right to participate is protected by federal law, as described above.

Still, deciding when to challenge a school’s recommendation can feel overwhelming. Clearly, parents want the very best for their children. It can help to remember that schools want the best for children also. Seeking common ground at an IEP team meeting is the place to begin. Asking questions instead of aiming accusations can radically impact the direction of a conversation. Here are a few open-ended question starters:

  • Help me understand…
  • I’m wondering if you could explain to me…
  • Here’s the problem from my point of view. What would you suggest…
  • Is there another way to look at this problem?

The IEP team meets at least once a year to review progress and set goals for the next year, but parents or school staff have the right to request an IEP meeting any time they have concerns that the program isn’t working.

Being fully prepared for a meeting can help parents move the team toward outcomes they seek. See PAVE’s companion article about how to prepare a handout for a meeting.

Define the problem and set a goal

To problem-solve as a team member, it helps to first define the problem and consider what outcomes are most important. Parents can get overwhelmed by emotion. Contemplating that energy and time are limited can help parents set priorities and spend their resources on what matters most—usually a child’s health and success!

Preparing for a meeting with the school might require some research:

  • Is there a federal or state requirement that you need to understand? PAVE’s website might have an answer, so look around in our Learning and School section.
  • Is there a policy you need to read? Ask for copies of any relevant school or district policies or reports.
  • Do you have the most recent copies of your child’s educational evaluation and/or the IEP document? Get copies and understand what’s in those documents. For example, if the child has an unmet need, it’s possible that a new evaluation is needed in order to set a new goal and establish skill-building with specialized instruction.
  • Do you need better understanding of your child’s needs? Talk to providers and other experts and have them provide letters for the school. You can help the school team better understand your child’s needs in light of the circumstances of a unique disability.
  • Learn to be an advocate AND help your child learn to self-advocate! Asking your child for input can help direct you and school staff toward what matters most.

Find resources and allies

PAVE’s team of Parent Resource Coordinators (PRCs) are available to help you prepare for a meeting with the school. Click Get Help on our website.

In addition to PAVE, support for parents is available from the Three O’s:

  • OSPI–The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction provides guidance about state policies
  • OEO–The Office of the Educational Ombuds provides online resources and 1:1 support when issues are not resolved through collaboration
  • OCR–The Office for Civil Rights can help with questions about equity and access

Preparing for a meeting with the school can include asking someone to attend with you. Having a trusted friend, provider, family member or another ally can help you track the conversation and keep your emotions in check. Ask that person to take notes for you.

At an IEP meeting the team can agree to adjust supports and goals, request additional evaluations, and work together with the student to improve outcomes and access. Going into that meeting with a clear plan and agenda can help parents direct the conversation.

Seek common ground

Even with good teamwork and great intentions, there will be times of disagreement. In moments where collaboration feels impossible, it can help to return the conversation to common ground. For example, a parent can remind the team that the student is skilled at something and look for ways to build on that skill to improve another area of need.

Parents can ask questions that are respectful and genuine. For example, “Given the expertise at the table, can someone help me understand a best-practice strategy to address this problem?”

Another idea is to return to the key issue—the child’s success or struggle. If a conversation gets off track and argumentative, a parent can redirect the conversation by asking, “Can we circle back to the most important issue, which is figuring out how best to help NAME successfully [do something specific]?”

Read your Procedural Safeguards manual and learn about your options

At official meetings with the school, parents are offered a copy of their Procedural Safeguards.  This manual describes the rights of special education students and the process of delivery. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction provides a downloadable copy.

A national resource for information about parent rights is the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE). CADRE provides a resource that describes resolution options in a side-by-side comparison chart.

Here is a brief description of the different types of resolution meetings. Each title is a link to a resource with more information:  

IEP Facilitation

An impartial person assists the IEP team with communication and problem-solving by leading the work-group, which is focused on improving the Individualized Education Program and writing changes into the IEP document. The facilitator asks the team to clarify where they agree and where they disagree. IEP facilitation is provided at no cost to the parent, and the IEP team still makes all official decisions. The facilitator doesn’t have any influence and cannot make recommendations. The third-party facilitator is there to help the group clarify issues to see if they can agree on a program. The goal is to build common agreements and understanding.

Mediation

This voluntary process brings parents and school staff together with a third-party trained in mediation, which is an intervention to help individuals find common ground and problem-solve. A mediator may have knowledge of special-education laws and services. The meeting is confidential: What happens in the room stays in the room and cannot be used later as evidence in a legal proceeding. However, the group may choose to sign a legally enforceable agreement that could be admissible in court. Sometimes families and districts agree to try mediation after a Due Process complaint is filed to attempt to resolve a conflict informally. Mediation is available at no cost to the parent, individual, or school unless a party chooses to pay for legal counsel.  Mediation is not guaranteed to resolve disagreements.

Resolution Meeting

A Resolution Meeting can be held during another dispute process and may solve the problem informally so that the other process is suspended. A resolution meeting is required within 15 days after a parent files a Due Process Complaint, which is a way to request a formal, legal hearing. If the school district does not hold the Resolution Meeting on time, a parent may ask the hearing officer or administrative law judge to start the hearing timeline. If held, the Resolution Meeting provides a chance for parents and schools to agree before decision-making authority transfers to an administrative law judge. Attorneys may attend, but schools cannot bring an attorney unless the family also brings a lawyer. If the family and school reach agreement, they can sign a legally enforceable document. The parties have up to 30 calendar days to work on a resolution before a hearing.

Due Process Complaint (Request for Hearing)

A Due Process Complaint initiates a legal process and is a way for a parent, student or public agency, such as a school district, to request a formal hearing before an administrative law judge. Due Process is the most adversarial of all the dispute engagement options and can impact a family’s ongoing relationship with the school.

This formal, legal process can address disagreements in many areas of special education. Here are some examples: identification, evaluation, educational placement or service provision. Schools are required to initiate Due Process if a parent formally requests an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) because of a dispute related to the school’s own evaluation or a refusal to evaluate, and the school refuses to pay for the IEE.

In most cases, a Due Process dispute in special education determines whether the school district is providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to a child who needs or is suspected of needing special education and related services.

The two sides are referred to as “the parties.” To request a Due Process hearing, one party submits very specific information, in writing, to OSPI and to the opposing party.

The due process hearing request includes:

  • The full name of the student
  • The address of the student’s residence
  • The name of the student’s school
  • If the student is a homeless child or youth, the student’s contact information
  • A description of the nature of the problem, including facts relating to the problem
  • A proposed resolution of the problem, to the extent known and available

Required forms and process are outlined in the Procedural Safeguards, and the school offers a copy to families at the beginning of this process. Until a Due Process decision is final, the child remains in the current educational placement. This provision is called “pendency” or “stay put.”

A written decision with findings of fact and orders is made by an administrative law judge and can be appealed to a higher court. The Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA), requires that Due Process complaints be filed within two years of the date when a party knew or should have known of the problem. The written decision is issued within 45 calendar days from the end of the resolution period, unless a party requests a specific extension. The decision is legally binding. However, if a decision is appealed the resolution may be put on hold until the appeal is final.

Public funds pay for the hearing, the hearing officer/administrative law judge, and use of any facilities. Each party pays any fees due to attorneys or witnesses.

Expedited Hearing Request & Resolution Meeting

An Expedited Hearing follows the rules of Due Process but is used when parents disagree with:

  1. a school district’s discipline-related decision that affects a child’s placement
  2. a decision from a Manifestation Determination review, which is a meeting to decide whether a child’s behavior is related to his or her disability

Faster timelines require a Resolution Meeting within seven calendar days, unless the parties agree in writing to skip the meeting or use Mediation instead. The hearing schedule proceeds if the issue is not resolved within 15 calendar days. The hearing must be held within 20 school days of the date the request was filed. The decision is due 10 school days after the hearing.

Citizen Complaint

Any individual or organization can file a complaint with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to allege that a Washington school district or another public agency violated federal or state law related to special education. Regulations governing the development and content of an IEP are contained in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, Public Law 108-446), and in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A).

Citizen complaints are investigated by OSPI. Citizen complaints must be filed within one year of the alleged violation. OSPI issues a written decision within 60 calendar days of receipt with findings, conclusions, and reasons for the final decision. The response includes actions required to address the needs of the child or children related to the complaint.

The response may include timelines that specify calendar days or school days. Please note that “school days” will exclude weekends, holidays or any other days when school is not in session. Timelines for “calendar days” include all days, including weekends.

Good luck in your journey toward resolution!

Each of these options is available any time a parent or student disagrees with an action taken by the school. Getting well-informed and organized is key in any process. Start by clarifying how to direct energy and what the desired outcome will look like.

To get help and ask questions, parents can contact PAVE or one of the “Three O’s” listed above: OSPI, OEO, OCR.

 

Get Ready for Your Meeting with a Handout for the Team

Parents and students who go to meetings prepared and organized are more likely to come away feeling heard and with a good action plan. This article can help you and your student prepare a one-page handout to share with the school or another service provider. Most important is to highlight the student as the most important person at the meeting—even if he/she isn’t ready to attend in person!

If a young person is ready to lead all or part of a meeting, PAVE encourages this! Understanding the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and facilitating an IEP meeting is a great way to build lifelong skills and confidence. See PAVE’s article: Attention Teens: You Can Lead Your IEP Meeting.

For a student who isn’t ready or able to attend the IEP meeting, helping to prepare a document can be a great way to participate. Note that this form can be adapted for any service delivery meeting at school or in a childcare or medical setting.

Keep your handout short to highlight your most important points. This handout brings your child and your concerns to the attention of the group and sets a tone for the meeting that is child- and family-centered.

Note: You can send your handout to the school before the meeting, so team members have a chance to read it in advance. If there isn’t time to distribute it before the meeting, you can take a moment when you arrive at the meeting to hand out your one-pager and encourage everyone to take a few moments to read it.

The top of your handout should include your contact information and other basics about the meeting. Your handout will become part of the official meeting record, so get formal and include all of this:

  • Parent Name: Jane Hearmenow
  • Phone/email: 555-555-5555/memail@thisplace.com
  • Meeting Date/Time: XX/XX/XXXX, 3-5 pm
  • Location: Anywhere Elementary  
  • Topic: IEP Review, Evaluation Review, Section 504 Plan, Re-entry after Discipline, Medical provider appointment, etc.

Next you want to highlight what makes your child awesome. This is also a place where your child can voice his/her own opinions and “self-advocate” for accommodations or help. Here are sentence starters that might help you create bullet points or a paragraph about your child:

  • NAME enjoys…
  • He is motivated when… 
  • She’s interested in…
  • He wants more help in the area of…
  • She said she likes school the most when …
  • He says teachers are helpful when they…
  • She says she wants to learn more about …

Include a Photograph!

A photograph of your child shows the Very Important Person (VIP) and can make everyone smile as the meeting starts.

The final section of your handout describes your concerns. You may need to start on scratch paper with a longer list and then edit to prioritize your key points. Remember that you want the team members to be able to read your handout quickly. You also want this list to help track your priorities at the meeting. If it gets too long, you won’t be able to use it as a handy reference.

Here is a sample short paragraph to get you started, and your introductory paragraph can be followed by key bullet points:

My son/daughter’s disability in the area of [briefly describe the condition] makes school difficult because… My biggest concern is that …

My primary topics for today’s meeting include:

  • A need that isn’t being met
  • A communication or behavior challenge
  • Something you want to change because it isn’t working
  • A goal that isn’t being met
  • Something working well that needs further development
  • Anything else concerning

If you or a support person takes notes at the meeting, it’s great to conclude by making a list of Action Items. Make a simple chart to list:

  • The agreement/action
  • Name of person responsible
  • Deadline
  • Communication plan, so you have follow-through

If your meeting is part of a formal special education process, such as an IEP meeting, the school provides parents with a letter called a Prior Written Notice (PWN) to reflect agreements and discussion at the meeting. Your handout and notes provide checks and balances with the school’s PWN and guarantees that your concerns and those of your student are part of that formal meeting record.

The website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides information about PWN requirements for schools in Washington. According to OSPI, “Prior Written Notice is a document outlining important school district decisions about your student’s special education program. It is not a meeting invitation. School districts must provide you with Prior Written Notice after a decision has been made regarding matters affecting your student’s IEP or eligibility for special education, but before any decision is implemented or changes to your student’s program take place.

“Prior Written Notice must be provided in your native language or other mode of communication that you understand.”

PAVE provides a variety of articles on core topics related to special education, including the IEP process, goal tracking, evaluation and Section 504 Plans.

The Parent Input Form for a Meeting with the School  is here for easy download. If a download is not possible, all the information is above. If you need any support with this form, please email PAVE

When Having a Medical Action Plan is Mentioned, Do You Think of your Child?

When is a Medical Action Plan necessary and do I need more than one?

In a school setting a medical action plan is required if your child has a life-threatening illness or a condition (Asthma, cardiac, seizure disorders, food allergies) and/or require giving out medication and medical monitoring (Diabetes, complex on going medical needs, mental/behavioral health). Many school districts have asthma, epi pen, food allergy, and seizure disorder specific medical action templates and a general one for all other needs. It is important to contact your school nurse before the school year starts to see where you can get the templates and to see what documentation you need. Some districts also require a Doctors input or signature, especially if medication is involved. It is good to schedule a doctor’s visit in late July or August to help fill out the action plan so that you can get any input and signatures you may need.

It is good to meet with the school nurse and the staff working with your child to go through the action steps of an emergency if your child has an active, life threatening condition such as cardiac, seizure, severe asthma, or anaphylactic shock allergic reactions. In middle school and high school, it is important to have the student be a part of this meeting so that they can express what their triggers may be and what it looks like when they have an episode. Often it is not stated when to call 911 so be sure to be clear about stating the circumstances that require the 911 call and make sure it is written into the action plan. Many specialists and pediatrician also have premade action plan that they can run off and you can attach to the district templates so be sure and ask your child’s provider.

Please note, a Medical Action plan is not a 504 plan.  Click here to learn more about what a 504 plan is all about

Below are links to guide you:

Diabetes Management Plan

Asthma Action Plan

Emergency Care Plans

Five Action Plans Templates for Schools

A second medical action plan is the one you have for home and travel. This action plan pulls all of the medical information together in a file or note book for your child or youth. Inside of this you will put the diagnosis, the medications, emergency contacts, and other pertinent information. It should also contain information on what an emergency looks like and what steps to take to deal with it. This will reflect your medical action plan at school but should talk about the steps taken at home, other people’s house, or in the community. An “information at a glance” sheet is a good piece to put on your fridge for first responders to grab in an emergency. This sheet can also be used when you or your child are out in the community