Welcome to the second edition of Rivers Law, Inc.’s quarterly newsletter! We hope you enjoyed your summer and are looking forward to the new school year.
In this edition, we are kicking off the new school year with a discussion of special education assessments – how to request them, when a school district must conduct them, and what they must include. If you are interested in requesting assessments for your child to start the year, consider this your guide on the basics of this topic.
Please note that this newsletter is intended to provide general information regarding special education law, and should not be construed as providing legal advice. Every student and case is unique. If you are concerned about special education issues affecting your child, please call our office to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our attorneys.
When do Districts have to assess a student for special education?
This question is best answered by explaining the important concept known as Child Find. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts (and charter schools) are required to systematically identify, locate, and assess all children with disabilities who require special education and related services. This obligation is known as “Child Find.” This means that every school district, school site, and charter school is required to have a system in place to identify when a child is in need of special education and refer that student for assessments.
This obligation applies to students “who are suspected of being a child with a disability… and in need of special education, even though they are advancing from grade to grade.” In other words, the student does not need to have any diagnosis or proof that they will qualify for special education, but only a suspicion that they could for the District to be required to to complete assessments.
Note that Districts have to refer students for assessments under this requirement, even if their parent does not request them. However, it is always a good idea to be proactive and to make a request in order to get your child assessed as soon as possible. Always make requests to the school or District office in writing including the date submitted, and keep a copy for your records.
Once the request is made, the District must respond within 15 calendar days, either denying the assessment and explaining why, or providing the parent an assessment plan listing the assessments to be completed. Once the parent signs and returns the assessment plan, the District then must complete them and hold an IEP meeting to review them within 60 calendar days, not including school breaks of more than 5 days (such as winter or summer breaks).
What assessments to Districts need to conduct?
The IDEA requires Districts to assess students in all areas of suspected need. Here also, the law does not require any diagnosis or proof that a student has a particular disability, but only a suspicion that they have delays in an area of need to be assessed in that area. Further, the law requires assessments in all areas of suspected need to be completed prior to the student’s initial placement in special education, and prior to any significant change in placement. For example, if a student has deficits in speech and language, the District must conduct a speech and language assessment prior to that student’s initial IEP meeting.
What do assessments need to include?
The IDEA requires assessments to meet certain criteria to ensure that they are complete and valid. The law says that assessments must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including gathering information from the parent or others who know the child, and observing the child in instructional and social situations.
Notice that parent input is required in assessments by law, as well as input from others who know the student. Additionally, observations of the student in classroom or social settings are also required. Assessments cannot rely only on one test or source of information, but must include a variety of information including from different people who know the student. Because children can have different behaviors or needs in different settings and with different people, this is a very important part of the law regarding assessments.
Once the assessments are complete, the District must prepare written reports for the IEP team, including the parent, to review. It is always a good idea to request copies of the reports ahead of the IEP meeting so you can review early and come prepared.
Next time, we will be discussing how to prepare for and what to expect during an IEP meeting. Stay tuned for the next edition, coming in early December 2019!
“This newsletter is not to be construed as providing legal advice, representation or agreement by Rivers Law, Inc.”