Eligibility for Services
Each child has the right to a free and appropriate public school education in the United States. Certain rights are federally mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), amended in 2004, which includes specific rights for parents or legal guardians of children with disabilities.
- States are obligated to help children who are experiencing a developmental delay in one or more areas.
- Through the Child Find system that states operate, developmental screenings and developmental evaluations are usually provided free of charge to families. There is a Child Find system in every area.
- Early intervention services, meant for children under the age of three, are provided to eligible families free of charge or on a sliding payment scale that is determined by family income.
- Special education services are meant for children over the age of three, and are provided to eligible children free of charge through the public school system.
- If a child’s third birthday has passed and there are concerns about a developmental delay or disability, contact the local school (even if child isn't enrolled there) and ask how and where to have a child evaluated under IDEA.
- Teachers or other professionals can recommend that a child be evaluated, but the school must get written consent from parents (or legal guardians) before an evaluation is started.
- Parents have a right to request in writing that a child be evaluated to determine eligibility for special education and related services. Parents can request testing, even if the school committee does not recommend testing.
- If the public school system refuses to evaluate a child, they must explain in writing the reasons for refusal, and must also provide information about how the decision can be challenged.
- There should be initial educational interventions attempted before a student is referred for a special education evaluation. These interventions should be decided upon by a committee (with parents included) and must include regular data collection to support findings.
- If interventions are not successful, a full evaluation may be recommended.
- If a public school agrees that a child may have a disability and may need specially designed instruction, the school must evaluate the child at no cost to the parent.
- An evaluation is more than just a single test, and the school must gather information from parent, teacher(s) and any other individuals.
- An evaluation must be conducted in all areas that may be affected by the suspected disability. There are 14 disability categories in which a student may be eligible for special education services.
- An evaluation must be conducted in a child's native language.
- A child’s evaluation should be completed within a specific timeframe. Some states have set a limit.
The evaluation process cannot discriminate due to a child not being a native English speaker, having a disability, or being from a different racial or cultural background.
- A team of qualified professionals and parents will review the results of an evaluation and determine if a child is eligible for special education services.
- After testing is complete, an eligibility committee (including parents) will gather to go over the testing and to determine if the student meets eligibility criteria for special education.
- Limited English Proficiency and lack of instruction in reading or math must be ruled out before a child can be determined eligible for special education services.
- A parent has the right to a copy of all evaluation reports and paperwork.
- A parent has the right to obtain an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) from a qualified professional (not affiliated with the school system), in order to challenge findings of a school evaluation team.
- If a child is not eligible, parents will be appropriately notified and the eligibility process stops.
- Parents have a right to disagree with the results of the evaluation or the eligibility decision.
- A 504 Plan is used when a student with a disability does not require special educational services, but could still benefit from classroom accommodations within regular education settings.