Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’ to Your Request

A Variety of Choices:

Parents have a variety of choices if the school denies an initial request to evaluate a student for special education. Here are some options:

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

For more information about evaluations, IDEA laws or actions available to you, please contact PAVE or visit the following websites:

Parent Center Hub – Categories of Disability under IDEA

OSPI Special Education Information

Sound Options Group


Assistive Technology

Assistive technology (AT) can dramatically affect the success of your special needs family member.

AT can give students equal access to curriculum, the work environment, or any other environment that use government funding.  Assistive Technology includes devices that are used by individuals in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible.

The AT can compensate for the impairments of the disability, increase classroom participation, foster independence, improve learning and working, assist in communication, and help the individual become successful in multiple aspect of life. In the school environment, assistive technology accomplishes these goals by allowing students with many types of disabilities to see, hear, read, write, and communicate.  In fact, assistive technology often provides the student with the only access to the general curriculum.

People who use AT products and services may have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, breathing, etc.  Everyone uses assistive technology.  We may not think that the things we use on a daily basis to make our life a little bit easier, like alarm clocks, planners, computers, talk to text software, canes, automatic windows and doors, lined paper, stools or chairs, the list could go on and on.  An individual with special needs may rely on AT devices to perform tasks and be more independent, enriching their life.

AT devices are protected under the law. This means that if there is need for an individual, then the use of the devices cannot be denied.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA is the federal special education law that addresses services for children with disabilities, set into law in 1975. IDEA requires that states provide a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities, including related services. This law requires schools to provide necessary assistive technology devices and services to help children with disabilities receive an appropriate education. To that end, every child with a disability must be considered for assistive technology.

Section 504 of the rehab act protects qualified individuals with a disability in the US from discrimination in any program or activity receiving FEDERAL FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE—for instance: government offices, banks, educational institutions, hospitals and clinics, etc. So, if money can be traced back to the federal government through grants, loans, tax breaks, and the like. then this law is applicable.

When selecting AT devices, evaluating the product or device is critical.  The goal is to help or improve function, access or ability, not hinder or impede it.  Following the steps below can help us narrow in on the selection process.

Consider: Look at what tools are available and how they may restrict or support skills by doing a skills assessment. With an assessment, we are looking at the easiest or simplest way to solve the problem without distracting others or causing more difficulty for the individual, teachers, or other students.

Consult: After the needs are figured out, ask other people about the AT devices they use. Don’t be afraid to seek out professionals for advice.  Check out websites, blogs, and forums for advice on different devices.  Ask for examples of how the device helps, the limitations one might encounter, and pros and cons of the device.

Conclude:  Once a decision has been made about what is appropriate and what will meet the needs, it then is necessary to purchase, make, or obtain the AT and begin using it.  When we make a decision on AT devices, we must keep in mind that the needs may change, a person’s ability may outgrow the device, or that we might need to reevaluate.

Building in some flexibility when selecting the device can save time and money in the future.  For instance, if a person struggles to turn pages of a book, then an e-reader would be more appropriate.  However, if the person is unable to use a mouse and keyboard as well, then selecting a device that is internet capable may be a better option.  Before you purchase the device, try it out.  Each state has a National Assistive Technology center. Often, families can try out devices or other AT items prior to purchasing.  Below are a few links:

History of Quality Indicators for Assistive Tehcnology

State Tech ACT Projects

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

National Center for Technology Innovation

Things to remember about Assistive Technology:

  • AT levels the playing field by providing access
  • Each person requires different types of AT
  • One size does not fit all
  • AT does not have to be expensive
  • AT can change based on the needs, development, and milestones reached by the individual
  • AT is protected by law

“Working Together with Military Families of Individuals with DisAbilities!”


Navigating Special Education in Private School

Laws & Policies are Different:

When a family chooses a private school for a student with a disability, the laws and policies for special education are a bit different than they are in a full-time public-school placement.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates individualized programming for eligible students with disabilities that provide meaningful access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The law also mandates that public schools seek out and serve children with disabilities through a process called Child Find. In some cases, a public school chooses to place a child in a private special education school as part of the individualized programming. In this case, the entitlements of IDEA are upheld by the public school that manages the IEP.

However, when parents choose a private school placement, the school is not bound by IDEA to provide special education services. Private schools are, however, required to provide accommodations to children who qualify for them under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Private schools are usually willing to provide certain modifications and accommodations, such as a ramp for a child in a wheelchair.

If your child qualifies for special education, the local public-school district is required to provide a full range of special education services. In the private school placement, your child may be eligible for “equitable services,” public funds that are set aside specifically for students with disabilities whose parents place them in private school. This funding is limited and its use is largely up to the discretion of the local public-school district.

The public-school writes what is called a “service plan,” (sometimes called an Individual Services Plan—ISP). This written plan resembles an IEP but is generally less comprehensive and not bound by IDEA.

Here are highlighted points to remember when choosing a private school placement:

Private schools must uphold the anti-discrimination accommodations provided through Section 504 the ADA.

Private schools are not bound by IDEA and therefore do not have to provide a full range of special education services.

Children in private schools are not guaranteed access to the same services they would receive in public school.

The public-school district, where the student’s private school is located, is responsible for providing evaluations and re-evaluations.

A child enrolled in a private school may have a non-binding Service Plan rather than an IEP.

Here are some resource links to more information:

US Department of Education booklet for parents choosing private school: https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/speced/privateschools/idea.pdf

Understood.org describes the difference between IEPs and Service Plans: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/special-education-basics/the-difference-between-ieps-and-service-plans

Understood.org on the evaluation process: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/your-childs-rights/evaluation-rights/are-private-schools-required-to-evaluate-for-special-education

Understood.org about private school choice: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/choosing-starting-school/finding-right-school/6-things-to-know-about-private-schools-and-special-education

IDEA: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/

Wrightslaw article on IDEA and private schools: http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/idea-2004-and-private-schools/

ADA.gov: https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm

Ramps: ADA specifications for wheelchair ramps 

OSPI: www.k12.wa.us


Q & A Transportation and Private Schools

I have enrolled my child in a private school in our town.

Q: She is also receiving special education services at our local district. We have been discussing if the District is responsible for providing transportation from my home to the private school. What are your thoughts?

A: We have Washington Administrative Codes (WAC 392-172A-04045: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=392-172A-04045) that address that particular issue.

If it is necessary for the student to benefit from or participate in the services provided by a parentally placed private school, students eligible for special education services must be provided transportation.

This includes:

From the student’s private school or the student’s home to a site OTHER than the private school.

From the district school to the private school or the students’ home, depending on the time of the service.  For instance, if the student received the special education service at the end of the school day then transportation would be provided home.

Districts are not required to provide transportation from the student’s home to the private school.

Hope this helps!


Q&A – Should the Whole Team be Present for an IEP?

Amending the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Q: My son’s special education teacher informed me she wants to have a meeting to amend his Individualized Education Program (IEP). It is not time for his annual review, but he has met some goals and objectives and she would like to change them. Do you think this is a good idea, and can we do this without the whole team?

A: Absolutely!  If you and the district agree with the changes and write an amendment that would be perfectly acceptable.  Again, both parties must agree and the full IEP Team should be informed – even if they’re not present.  Make sure you get a copy for your records and congratulations on your son’s progress.