Improving Your Child’s IEP Month by Month
A monthly article series by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
In talking to parents of children with disabilities, I’ve realized that answering the question, “where do I begin?” is sometimes the hardest part. Navigating special education can feel like drowning in a sea of acronyms (IEP, RR, PTRE, NOREP, LEA . . .) or climbing an endless mountain of paperwork, or both! For those of you who have a resolution to make 2017 a more organized, successful, and peaceful year, this article series is for you! Month by month, I’ll discuss a way to improve your child’s IEP and give action items to focus your journey. It will still be a mountain, but I hope these tips will provide some trail markers along the way.
What to Do if You Need More Information
Last month, you created your “punch list” of the areas you believe should be addressed or improved in your child’s IEP. However, in reviewing your data, you may have noticed that you are lacking information or measurements in certain areas. If you feel unable to assess how your child is doing in school, you may want to consider obtaining further evaluations. There are several options for how to obtain further evaluations with or without the school’s assistance which may be helpful to consider.
- (1) Reevaluations by the School District or Charter School
If you feel the school district or charter school did not appropriately evaluate your child, you may want to consider simply asking for a reevaluation or for additional testing as an addendum to your last reevaluation. Parents are free to request an evaluation at any time. The request should be made in writing and dated and provided to your IEP case manager or the director of special education. You should keep a copy and have a way to demonstrate when it was sent and received. Sending the request via e-mail to your child’s IEP case manager is typically the fastest and neatest option. If the school district or charter school does not agree to your request, it should issue a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (“NOREP”) advising you of the disagreement. If the school district or charter school does agree, you should receive a Permission to Reevaluate (“PTRE”) which you should promptly sign and return to start the evaluation timeline. In the event that you disagree with the new evaluation when it is received, you may still request an Independent Educational Evaluation (“IEE”) at public expense (more on this below), but you may not request it until after you have the new evaluation results.
Pros: sometimes faster than the other options (recall, the evaluation timeline is 60
calendar days, but summer does not count)
Cons: not an independent opinion
Best for: when you agree with the bulk of a prior evaluation, but would like additional
testing in a certain area
- (2) Private Evaluations at the Family’s Expense
Families are always free to obtain an IEE at private expense. However, there are a few factors which will need to be considered. First, if your child was recently evaluated, you will need to let the new evaluator know and share the old evaluation results. This is important because certain assessments are invalid if they are repeated too closely in time (e.g. if your child was just assessed with one achievement test the new evaluator may need to choose another test to measure the same skills).
Second, you should be sure to obtain an opinion from an evaluator with the right expertise. If you are looking for updated psychoeducational testing, for example, you should look for a certified school psychologist who practices in your state. You will want to ensure that the evaluator has experience and credentials to make recommendations about your child’s educational program. Many families spend substantial time and resources obtaining medical opinions only to find that they really need an opinion from someone with experience in recommending special education placements. Medical professionals may not be well-versed in placements and the IEP team may reject the recommendations for that reason. Similarly, for speech or occupational therapy evaluations, families should ensure that the evaluating therapist is appropriately credentialed and has experience in making recommendations to IEP teams.
Third, you should be aware that school district or charter schools only have to consider the results of an independent evaluation. It is not mandatory that they adopt every recommendation.
Pros: independent opinion, no approval from school necessary
Cons: expense, many are not covered by insurance
Best for: families that are seeking an independent opinion to review all aspects of the program and placement
- (3) Private Evaluations at the School District or Charter School’s Expense
If you disagree with your child’s last evaluation or reevaluation from a school district or charter school, you may request an IEE at public expense. Once a parent requests an IEE at public expense, the school has two choices: (1) agree to the requested evaluation, or (2) file a due process complaint to defend the appropriateness of the school’s original evaluation. By allowing IEEs at public expense, the law gives parents the opportunity to bring in an expert of their choosing, who can review the program, administer assessments, and make recommendations. If the school chooses to file for due process, it bears the burden to show that the evaluation was appropriate. That said, due process hearings are complicated proceedings and families should consider whether to be represented by counsel.
Pros: independent opinion at no charge to family
Cons: requires school approval and may lead to a due process hearing, slower than other options
Best for: families that are seeking an outside opinion to review all aspects of the program and placement
March Action Items:
- Consider whether additional evaluations are necessary
- Consider which type of evaluation best fits your situation
- If you are requesting a reevaluation:
- E-mail the IEP case manager or director of special education and keep a copy of the e-mail
- Make sure you receive a PTRE or a NOREP promptly afterward
- If you are obtaining a private evaluation:
- Research evaluator credentials and qualifications
- Reach out to evaluators to set up appointments
- Share your child’s last evaluations with the new evaluator
- Ask whether there will be a school observation
- If you are requesting an IEE at public expense
- Make the request in writing or consult an attorney to request the IEE on your behalf
- Make sure that you receive either approval for the IEE or that the school files for due process if there is no agreement
by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.