Did you ever wonder how a school district determines if a student qualifies for special education services or wonder how to access an IEP for your child? There are a lot of uncertainties and misconceptions about how a school district determines if a student qualifies for special education services. It sometimes seems unfair to parents when the outcome of an eligibility meeting is not what the parents felt was best for their child. What is surprising to some parents is that eligibility for special education services is not based on who would best benefit from the services. To qualify for special education services, a student must meet very specific criteria for one of the disability categories that have been defined by the federal government in IDEIA 2004.
If a student is struggling in school, a committee should convene to develop interventions. If the interventions are unsuccessful and a disability is suspected, a referral is made for a special education evaluation. The referral can only begin with signed consent from the parent. Once the parent has signed the form for the special education evaluation, the school has a certain number of days to complete the assessment. States vary on the specific number of days.
A school district collects data during the special education evaluation. The school will complete specific evaluations pertinent to the suspected disability. Additionally, medical records, classroom observations, and parent and teacher input will be considered. Once the data has been reviewed, the eligibility committee will look at all the disability categories outlined in IDEIA 2004 and decide which categories to look at in depth. The school district will use specific criteria to determine if a student has a disability and qualifies for special education services under one or more categories. It is illegal for a school district to find a student eligible for special education that does not meet criteria, even if everyone feels it is in the best interest of the child. The school district could be considered noncompliant for not following the criteria.
If you are a parent of a student who was found ineligible for special education services, please recognize that you are not alone and the school still has a responsibility to educate your child. When a student does not qualify for special education services, they can still receive remediation through various regular education programs.
If the student was found eligible for special education services, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be completed in a timely manner. Parents, teachers, administrators, and sometimes other specific school personnel will be involved in the development of the IEP. The IEP will contain services for the student, accommodations, goals, and objectives.