FAQ: School Evaluations and Independent Evaluations

These FAQ’s are an attempt to simplify the law and respond to questions that parents often express or need to know.   Parents should be mindful that this publication is intended to provide broad, general information about the law and is not intended to provide legal advice.  Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, parents are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

My child is struggling in school.  How do I find out if he is eligible for special education services?

Is the school required by law to provide an evaluation any time a parent requests one?

How do I know if my child is entitled to an evaluation?

If the school agrees to evaluate, how long should this process take?

What can I do if the school performs an evaluation and I am not satisfied with the results?

How does the independent evaluator get paid?

My child is struggling in school.  How do I find out if he is eligible for special education services?
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the first step in qualifying your child for special education is having his school complete a multi-factored evaluation to assess him in all areas of functioning. You can request an evaluation by delivering a written request to your special education director, principal, or other school official, by hand or by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Is the school required by law to provide an evaluation any time a parent requests one?
No.  The school must evaluate only if it suspects a disability.  If it suspects a disability, it will obtain your written consent for an evaluation.  If your school is not going to honor your request for an evaluation, it must give you a legal document called a “prior written notice” explaining why it is not going to evaluate your child, and it must give you a copy of the booklet, “Whose Idea Is This?”

How do I know if my child is entitled to an evaluation?
Under IDEA, schools are required to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities who may need special education.  Many schools will deny evaluations to struggling children because they first want to do “interventions” to determine whether additional services will improve the child’s performance without special education.  The effectiveness of these approaches depends upon the circumstances, but generally, parents should carefully consider interventions that are not based upon thorough evaluations of their child.

If the school agrees to evaluate, how long should this process take?
The school must obtain written parental consent within 30 days of a parent’s request.  It has an additional 60 days to complete the evaluation.  

What can I do if the school performs an evaluation and I am not satisfied with the results?
If you disagree with evaluation, you may request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).  An IEE is one of the most important procedural safeguards available to parents under the IDEA because it provides an independent view of the child at school district expense. 

You must inform the school district in writing that you disagree with its evaluation (though you are not required to explain why), and request an IEE.  If the school does not want to provide you with an IEE, it must promptly initiate due process proceedings to prove that its own evaluation is appropriate (which rarely occurs). 

Assuming the school does not initiate and win due process, you are entitled to an IEE.  You should ask the school for its IEE policies and a list of recommended independent evaluators, but you may select your own independent evaluator, whether or not this person is on the school’s list.  Some schools have policies that limit IEEs according to the independent evaluator’s location or qualifications, but these policies are valid only if they do not interfere with the child’s right to an IEE.  Only one IEE is permitted per school evaluation.

How does the independent evaluator get paid?
The school district will either assume up-front responsibility for payment and will issue a purchase order, or the parent may obtain the IEE, cover the costs initially, and present proof of payment to the school district for reimbursement.  In situations where school districts refuse the cost of the IEE, parents can consider meeting with their superintendent, filing a complaint with the Ohio Department of Education, or, if necessary, consulting an advocate or attorney about taking further steps.   

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