Special Education (SPED)
It is never easy for any parent to hear that their child Is struggling in school academically. It is very normal for our first feelings to be those of guilt, hopelessness, frustration, and confusion. What follows are a lot of questions. We may ask ourselves, “What do I need to do to support my child? Who do I talk to first? What services are available to me?”
Then, we start to hear unfamiliar terms that relate to our children: present levels, accommodations, reading interventions, executive functions deficits…and so many more.
What will ultimately determine how well your child is supported by their school, depends on the school district you live in and the accessibility to different support systems. It is a reality that basic support is sometimes very difficult, or impossible to get. Why? IEPs cost the school systems a lot of money per child, which causes them to be very reticent about granting services, making qualifying very difficult.
Your first step is to understand your rights as a parent and the rights of your child. All students in the United States –who are identified as having a disability– are guaranteed, by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Act, a right to Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).
The following steps will help to guide you through the emotional process of ensuring your child gets the support they need:
- As the parents, YOU have the right to request testing through your schools at NO cost to you. Your request should be in writing to your child’s principal, coordinator of special education and the school’s district director.
PLEASE NOTE: Every time you send an email or letter to anyone at your child’s school, be sure to your child’s student ID in the subject line or letterhead. Including your child’s student number ensures your correspondence will be placed in your child’s file and incorporated in their academic record. After every phone call, ALWAYS follow up with an email recapping the conversation. YOU MUST KEEP A PAPER TRAIL.
2. Immediately after sending written correspondence from the school district, request your child’s academic record. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) affords you the right as a parent to access and copy your child’s entire academic record
3. Your child will be evaluated by specialists appropriate to their specific needs. These may include, but are not limited to: a school psychologist, an educational diagnostician, a speech and language pathologist and/or an occupational therapist. After the evaluation, you should be given the opportunity to review all data prior to the IEP eligibility meeting.
CAUTION: Be on the look out for the phrase: “Below Normal within Normative Ranges” This is a creative way for the county to not approve supportive services. They will use this phrase to recognize your child has a disability, but disqualify them because their score isn’t low enough for the county to immediately intervene
4. If this should happen, you may feel overwhelmed, defeated and helpless. You are not. Send a Dissenting Opinion to everyone at the meeting stating why you disagree with this decision
Note: Be proactive. Write a dissenting opinion before your meeting and have your Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) request ready to be given to each person in your meeting. Add your child’s student identification number to each document and instruct the team to place all documents in your child’s record
5. The IEE: Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) schools are required to PAY for an IEE in certain situations. An IEE at the public’s expense is not the same as a private evaluation. Most counties will have a list of acceptable specialists who will perform an evaluation
NOTE: Do your research on the different facilities. If you do not feel good about any on the list, you can lobby the school administration to pay for an evaluator of your choice that is not on the list.
6. Once your IEE is completed you will go back to the table to discuss the new testing, compare it to the county testing and battle it out for services for your child. Sometimes this is enough to get an IEP or even a 504, sometimes it’s not. There are still options if your child is denied services
7. Submit a Dissenting Opinion again. Have it ready in advance and bring it with you to give to them in person. This will show that you are not backing down. Always be a step or three ahead and plan for the worst outcome
8. Admin Review/Mediation: An entirely new team may be brought in to evaluate all testing and documentation and to discuss your child’s data. This is supposed to be a “neutral” opinion. If you are still not granted services, this is not the end. Reapply the next year. Reorganize and collect more data
Instead of going through the Admin Review process, you may request mediation with the county. At this point, it is highly recommended that you consult an advocate or attorney
9. Getting Organized: create IEP binder of everything and divide it into sections:
- Report cards
- Assessments: MAP, PALS, SOLs, county testing, private testing
- IEP eligibility meeting information, dissenting opinions, IEE, Admin Review
- Tutoring data: if you have your child in tutoring get a statement
- Sample work of your child’s performance
- School and staff correspondence (printed out)
You are building a case for your child’s academic success:
School systems do not expect families to understand the process of IEP eligibility and they make very little effort to help navigate these waters because Special Education funding is always being cut.
It is highly recommended that you hire an advocate or an educational attorney (or at least consult with one) at the very beginning of your journey. If you cannot hire one fulltime, many will serve as a consultant, empowering you to interpret the data and understand the law as it pertains to special education.
Early identification of academic struggles combined with an early intervention plan, will result in a greater chance of closing your child’s educational gaps .
This will not be an easy journey. Find a community of support amongst families who are going through, or have already gone through the process. Share experiences. These parents will become your source of strength when you need it most. Always remember why you are going through this–your child deserves the same chances of success in school as any other child. There is nothing wrong with your child. Their beautiful little brains are just wired differently. Knowing that and helping your child to understand that they are capable of succeeding is half the battle.