Your child is struggling in school and you are concerned there may be a disability impeding their ability to learn. What do you do? First, speak with the child's teacher. Express your concerns and seek their input. Keep in mind that working as a team will help your child, so have a respectful conversation, provide some examples pertinent to your concerns, and take notes. If you feel an evaluation for special education services is needed, write a letter.
Here is a generic outline followed by a more specific example:
Special Education Coordinator
Dear (Administrator Names),
I am the parent of (child), who is in (Teacher’s Name) (grade) at (school name) in the (name of school district). I have expressed some concerns about (child) to his/her (teacher’s name) regarding his/her challenges in (specific areas).
I am writing to request an evaluation for special education services. I understand there is a process to follow and would like information about the referral and evaluation process. I am consenting to a full, comprehensive evaluation of my child (name) and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss my concerns with you.
I can be reached at (phone number). I look forward to hearing from you.
Cc: child’s teacher(s)
123 Happy Drive
Pleasanttown, IA 12345
November 5, 2019
321 Rainbow Road
Pleanttown, IA 12345
123 Rainbow Road
Pleasanttown, IA 12345
Dear Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown,
I am the parent of Amazing Child, who is in Sally Smith’s 3rd grade at Pleasanttown Elementary in the Pleasanttown School District. I have expressed some concerns about Amazing to Mrs. Smith regarding her challenges in written expression, math, social skills, and fine motor skills.
I am writing to request an evaluation for special education services. I understand there is a process to follow and would like information about the referral and evaluation process. I am consenting to a full, comprehensive evaluation of Amazing and would appreciate the opportunity to discuss my concerns with you.
I can be reached at 123-456-7890. I look forward to hearing from you.
Cc: Sally Smith
Please keep in mind that a medical diagnosis does not replace an educational evaluation. It is a great starting point, particularly if the challenges you see your child experiencing at school align with common co-occurring conditions for their disability. Familiarize yourself with the signs and keep documentation and examples in a binder for future reference.
The purpose of the initial evaluation is to determine whether or not a child qualifies for an IEP (Individualized Education Program). Once consent is given, the school has 60 days to complete the evaluation. If a school denies your request for an evaluation, they must provide prior written notice. In other words, they must provide their reasoning in writing. This may occur if the school feels there is no evidence your child has a disability. This does not mean the door is completely closed, though. You can discuss it further with administrators overseeing special education, request mediation, or file a due process complaint.
Prior to being evaluated, your child may qualify for a 504 Plan if accommodations are required to access the learning environment and achieve academic success. They must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; or have a record on such an impairment; or be regarded as having such an impairment. 504 Plans to not provide individualized instruction. They provide accommodations to remove barriers and give kids access to learning.
For example, our oldest son has peanut and tree nut allergies. He did not qualify for an IEP because of this disability, but did qualify 504 Plan. He has a physical disability that impedes his ability to speak and breathe if he ingests the allergen. Because of this disability, he had accommodations such as a nut-free classroom, safe space to eat at lunch, all children in class wash hands upon coming to school and after eating lunch. More on this down the road.
One last note on evaluations: The Office of Special Education Programs specifically states RTI (Response to Intervention) and MTSS (Multi-Tier System of Supports) may not be used to delay or deny an evaluation. I repeat: RTI AND MTSS MAY NOT BE USED TO DELAY OR DENY AN EVALUATION.
Ok. You've written your letter, now what? Send it to the appropriate parties via email and/or certified mail. Print off a copy for yourself and place it in a binder. This will become your child's special binder. Keep all notes from conversations and paperwork in this binder and put it in a safe place.
Nice work! More on the next phase soon!