Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities are legally entitled to a free education that is tailored to their needs. That's great news for parents – but getting those individualized services can be a real struggle.
Getting accommodations that support your child's needs starts with an evaluation, and that often comes via a parental request. If the district agrees to evaluate the child, the evaluators will write reports summarizing their findings. When those reports suggest that the child receive special education services, parents and educators should create an IEP (individualized education program) that lays out next steps.
But what happens if the district refuses to evaluate your child, or if you disagree with the evaluators' reports?
Disputing an Evaluation
Start by requesting a meeting with the appropriate decision-makers. That may be your district's special education committee or the school's director of special education; your child's teacher or principal can help you identify the right people. Gather any evidence you have that supports your case, like previous report cards, teacher's notes and doctor's notes that address your child's special needs.
In the meeting, be polite and respectful but firm. These topics are emotional, but the goal is to convince the educators to work with you, not treat them like opponents. State the facts. For example, say "Alex's reading scores have dropped from X to Y and he is falling behind in X and Y despite spending X amount of time on reading practice."
Sometimes this is enough to get a new evaluation. If not, it's time to contact the state's education department to request information about the formal dispute process. Each state has its own policies, but under IDEA you're entitled to due process.
Generally the state education department will require you to file a formal complaint. Next, you may be entitled to have your child evaluated by an independent agency at the school district's cost. If those evaluators say that the child does need special education services, the district should be willing to start the IEP process.
Mediation is another option available to parents. The district pays for this process, which involves parents and district representatives sitting down with an independent mediator to talk over all sides of the dispute. If you can come to an agreement, everyone's happy. If not, the next step is a due process hearing.
The dispute process can take months and be incredibly frustrating, but don't give up hope and never forget: you're legally entitled to fight for your child's right to an education. More tips and resources can be found on the Learning Disabilities of America website.
If your child has learning and/or behavioral problems, we invite you to consider the Brain Balance Program. Contact us today to learn more!