By Tom Blessing
Special Education Attorney with Hollingsworth & Zivitz
Is your child struggling in school? If you suspect your child may have
a learning disability or behavior problem, it’s a good idea to have
him evaluated by a psychologist who specializes in educational evaluations.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there are
generally three basic types of educational evaluations: an initial evaluation
to determine a child's eligibility for special education, a re-evaluation
of a child who has already undergone an initial evaluation and an independent
If your child attends public school, his school falls under what is known
as the "Child Find" mandate of the IDEA. This federal law requires
school districts to identify, locate and evaluate students with disabilities
which adversely affect their education. Although in theory this duty falls
on the school district, I advise parents to ask the school for an initial
educational evaluation if they think their child may have a disability
instead of waiting for the school to suggest one. It's fine to ask
but always put your request in writing. Even if you talk to the teacher in person or on the phone and she agrees
to set it up, I have parents send an email to the teacher and copy 2-3
other school employees, such as the special education director and a counselor
or principal, simply confirming the conversation—or just put the
request in an email to begin with. This makes it harder for the school
to claim that it "never received" your request for an evaluation
and is good evidence documenting your request.
The school generally has to provide the evaluation at no cost to the parent,
but there are a couple of conditions. First, the parent has to consent
to the school psychologist conducting the evaluation. If you request an
evaluation and the school agrees to provide it, the school does not have
to perform it until you sign a consent form allowing it to do so. This
is an exception to the general advice I give parents:
Don’t sign anything. Your child will not be eligible for special education until he has been
evaluated, so signing the consent to have the school psychologist evaluate
him is an important step toward getting the services he needs. Sign it!
Second, the school has 50 school days after you sign the consent to complete
the evaluation and meet with you to discuss the results. If you wait until
the end of the school year to sign the consent, the 50 days do not begin
to run until school starts—your request is on “hold”
all summer. For this reason, it's best to sign the consent as early
in the school year as possible. If you ask the school for an evaluation
and it refuses or you disagree with the school’s evaluation, contact
me and I’ll be happy to advise you on your options.
A re-evaluation may be appropriate for a child who hasn't been evaluated
recently, especially if his condition changes or he develops a new diagnosis.
Under the law, a school only has to "consider" re-evaluation
every three years—basically a meaningless requirement. All a school
has to do is say "OK--we 'considered' re-evaluating Johnny,
so we've complied with the law." This another reason it’s
a good idea for parents to ask for an evaluation or re-evaluation.
Another option is an independent educational evaluation, or IEE. This is
performed by a private psychologist who is not affiliated with the school
district. I prefer these evaluations over school evaluations because the
psychologist is not biased in favor of the school and will recommend services
based on the child's needs as opposed to the cost to the school district.
If you choose an IEE, it’s important to see a psychologist experienced
with educational evaluations. The two situations where I generally recommend
parents get an IEE are when the child needs an evaluation done sooner
than the 50 school days or if the parent disagrees with the school's
evaluation. There are certain procedures to follow if you want the school
to pay for an IEE, so it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer familiar
with special education law before pursuing this.
If you think your child may need an educational evaluation, feel free to
call (317/569-2200) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a free consultation. I’ll be happy to answer your questions,
review documents and refer you to a qualified private psychologist.