I just requested a special education evaluation – now what?
Updated: August 29, 2023 · 7 Minute Read
Leigh Monichon, Special Education Advocate
- Navigating the special education system can be confusing and challenging. There are a few things you can start to do from the get-go that will set you up for success.
- You are your child’s most important advocate. Be sure to know your rights, keep comprehensive records, and prepare for upcoming meetings.
We’re proud of you for making the first step in securing the educational support that will help your child learn and grow. Navigating the world of IEPs, 504s, IDEA, FERPA, and all those other acronyms can be really confusing and challenging. Now that you’ve requested the special education evaluation, let’s talk about what comes next.
Know your rights
You should know that the evaluation is to determine what support (if any) your child needs to get an equal, standard education. Even if your child has a medical diagnosis for a disability or challenge, the school may disagree with you about what kind of support your child needs. This is where things get a little tricky. Since schools primarily look at what your child needs to meet educational goals (not their medical diagnosis), sometimes disabled kids (especially neurodivergent kids) end up not getting all the support they need. Knowing your rights beforehand will make you a better advocate for your child, and will equip you to tackle these problems with confidence.
After the evaluation
Your special education program will let you know if your child qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This plan will include the services, accommodations, and supports the school will provide in order to meet the goals outlined for your individual child. Remember, this meeting will determine a plan to help with the things related to your child’s education, not their medical diagnosis.
It’s possible that your child won’t qualify for an IEP, or that you’ll disagree with the IEP.
- If your child does not qualify for an IEP, you can ask your school to evaluate your child for a 504 plan. An IEP deals primarily with how your child will be taught and what supports will be given to them, while a 504 plan deals more with what changes can be made to the existing school/classroom environment to make learning easier. This article provides more information about the differences between IEPs and 504s.
- If you think your child needs more or different supports than what the school is offering, you can request an independent educational evaluation (at the school’s expense).
Prepare for your IEP meeting
The school’s evaluation will address supports your child can receive in school. But you can also add things like potty training or other life skills to your child’s plan. Think about what your child struggles with at home, and try to plan for those challenges in school. For example, if your child bangs their head a lot or runs away at home, it’s important to discuss with your child’s IEP team what support for that will look like. (Be sure to ask about the school’s restraint policy).
Consider using an advocate if you feel uncertain about what the school is offering, or think that your child’s needs are not being fully met. Advocates review your IEP and can attend your IEP meetings to ensure you are getting everything you can from your school. You can find a local IEP Advocate by searching for “Special Education Advocates” in the Beaming Directory. Parent resource centers are state-funded and should also have special education advocates on staff to help you navigate this process. You can search for your local parent resource center here.
Continue to review your child’s IEP each year.
It’s required by law for your IEP team to review your child’s IEP at least once a year to evaluate whether your child is meeting the listed goals and to set new goals.
You may also ask for an official IEP meeting at any time during the year if you feel the IEP is not serving your child’s interests. Many parents think they can only meet with their IEP team/ change their IEP once per year. This is NOT true – an IEP can be reviewed and modified as many times as you want during the year.
Keep comprehensive records
You should be given a copy of your child’s IEP each time it is modified; keep those records somewhere safe. You may also want to keep a record of correspondence between yourself and your child’s teacher, as well as logs of phone calls, pick-ups, disciplinary action, and more.
A couple things to look out for:
- Some schools are guilty of “off the books” suspensions for special needs kids, which is against the law. Force the school to issue a disciplinary note or suspension each time they send your child home. If the issue is related to their disability (like meltdowns for autistic kids), you can take action, but only if you’ve got records to back you up.
- Your child shouldn’t be dysregulated in school often. If they are, that means their needs are not being met. You can request a change to your child’s IEP to figure out solutions for this. Don’t allow the school to blame this on your child’s “behavior”. It’s their job to get to the bottom of your child’s challenges and work toward solutions.
You want to keep thorough records of everything relating to your child’s education and IEP, including your own notes from IEP meetings. If your child tells you about an incident that happened at school or something that’s not okay, keep a record of that, too. IEPs and special education can be a minefield sometimes, so equip yourself with information and proof.
Encourage your child to attend future IEP meetings
As your child gets older, they will benefit from attending their own IEP meetings. It also helps everyone on the team remember who the meeting is ultimately about. Being present means your child’s voice can be heard. Until your child is ready to attend in person, it can be helpful to bring a picture of them to the meeting to achieve this effect.
Don’t be afraid to seek out a second opinion, switch schools, or try a different kind of school
Public school is not your child’s only option. If you feel the school hasn’t handled your child’s IEP properly, seek out an independent educational evaluation (which the school must pay for), check out private schools, magnet schools, charter schools, or schools especially for kids with developmental disabilities. Most states have a special needs education grant or scholarship, which can help with tuition or homeschooling costs. If you can swing it, homeschooling, microschooling, or learning pods are a more holistic way for kids to learn.
Don’t hesitate to do what you feel is best for your child. You aren’t overreacting or being dramatic by removing your child from a school that isn’t a good fit and placing them in one that is.
Note: Parents taking the scholarship is often the easy way out for schools who don’t want to provide the (often expensive) support and services children really need. Weigh what’s best for your individual kiddo when deciding if you want to fight the system or take the grant.
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