A child becomes eligible for special education when the IEP team identifies the child as having a disability and in need of specially designed instruction. The disability must have educational impact.
Students, aged 3 to 21, are eligible to receive special education, and must be evaluated and determined eligible based upon one of the following categories under IDEA:
- Hearing Impairment, including deafness
- Developmental Delay
- Emotional Disturbance
- Hearing Impairment
- Intellectual Disability
- Mental Retardation
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
- Multiple Disability
A disability category does not determine the amount or type of service. This is determined by the IEP team, including the parents, and is based on the unique individualized strengths and needs of the child.
How are students identified for special education services?
The first step in identifying a student for special education services is referral. If you suspect your child has a disability and may need special education, you may submit a written referral for a special education evaluation. School personnel may also submit such a request. The referral should be addressed to the teacher, the principal or the school system's director of education.
The second step is evaluation and eligibility. To determine eligibility for special education services, special education laws require the child to have an initial evaluation in the areas of concern. An evaluation is a careful look at a child's abilities, strengths and weaknesses, by a team including the child's parents, teachers and specialists. An evaluation is based on a review of assessment data, information from parents, observations by teachers, classroom-based, local and State assessments. This is to determine whether a child has a disability and requires special education instruction and related services.
The evaluation may include individual assessments, observations, and an interview with the child. The evaluation also guides the IEP team in identifying the disability, developing an IEP and determining the nature and extent of the special education and related services that your child may need. Remember, the disability needs to have an educational impact.
You must give your consent in writing before the school conducts assessment procedures. All decisions about special education are made through the IEP team process. The IEP team includes:
- The parent(s)
- Not less than one special education teacher.
- Not less than one general education teacher.
- A representative of the local school or local school system.
- An individual who can interpret evaluation results.
- Other individuals, at the discretion of the parent or local school system, who have knowledge or expertise.
- The student, if appropriate.
There is a difference between an evaluation and an assessment. Evaluation is the process of determining if a child has a disability. As is stated in the Understanding the Evaluation, Eligibility, and Individualized Education Program (IEP) Process in Maryland document, "Evaluation is a process used in accordance with federal and State regulations concerning procedures for evaluation and determination of eligibility, to determine whether a child has a disability and the educational needs of the child. A full and individualized evaluation is conducted before the initial provision of special education and related services to a student with a disability under the IDEA. An evaluation occurs at a meeting of the IEP team."
Assessments are individualized for each student. These can include observations, information from parents, and standardized tests. A public agency may use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather sufficient relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child. This information may assist in determining if the child is a student with a disability and the content of the child's IEP, including information related to progress in the general curriculum, or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities. Assessments include printed tests, observations, information from parents, and other sources of information.
Once a child is identified with a disability, the IEP team, including the parents, develops an IEP for the child. The IEP is a written plan that describes the special education and related service support needed for a child with a disability. The IEP defines the type and amount of services needed and where the services will be delivered. School staff is responsible for the implementation of the IEP.
The IEP is:
- A written, individualized plan that supports and directs your child's education through a team driven process.
- A written document that outlines the "who" "what" "when" "why" "where" and "how" of instruction and related services that are provided for students with disabilities.
- A document and a PROCESS.
Parents should ask for a draft copy of the IEP to prepare for their child's IEP team meeting.
- Annual Review - The IEP team meets to develop, review, and revise, as appropriate, your child's IEP periodically, but not less than annually.
- IEP Team Meeting – an IEP team meeting can occur at any time throughout the year. A family or the school can request an IEP meeting any time during the school year. Remember to put your request in writing.
- Reevaluation - At least every three years, or earlier at the request of the parent, the IEP team must re-evaluate your child to determine whether your child continues to be eligible as a child with a disability and in need of special education and related services. You must give your consent before the school conducts individualized assessments of your child that will be reviewed as part of the evaluation.
- Dismissal - The school must conduct evaluation procedures before determining that a child is no longer a child with a disability. If the IEP team finds your child to no longer need special education and related services, then your child may be dismissed from special education and related services. Upon dismissal, your child will no longer have an IEP.
The MSDE Guide, Understanding the Evaluation, Eligibility, and Individualized Education Program (IEP) Process in Maryland was updated in August of 2008 and will provide additional information about eligibility.
What timelines must be followed in the special education process?
- Individualized Education Program (IEP) Notice - 10 days in advance of an IEP meeting, you should be provided a written notice inviting you to participate in the meeting and any decisions made regarding your child's special education identification, evaluation, educational placement, provision of FAPE and/or disciplinary actions.
- Procedural Safeguards - You will receive a copy of procedural safeguards once per year. You will also receive a copy of procedural safeguards upon initial referral and any request you make for special education evaluation, filing a first State complaint or due process complaint.
- Initial Evaluation - The IEP team shall complete an initial evaluation to determine whether your child is a child with a disability and to determine the educational needs of your child within 60 (calendar) days of receiving your consent for assessments and within 90 (calendar) days of receiving a written referral.
- IEP Development - Your child's IEP will be developed within 30 (calendar) days of the date that they are determined eligible and in need of special education and related services.
- IEP Implementation - Your child's IEP is implemented as soon as possible after it is developed, except if the meeting is held over the summer or a vacation period. There may be a short delay when there are circumstances that require extra time such as arranging transportation. Your child's IEP should be in effect at the beginning of each school year.
- Extended School Year (ESY) - At least annually, the IEP team shall determine whether your child requires the provision of extended school year services. ESY is the extension of specific special education and related services beyond the school year at no cost to parents. ESY services are only necessary when the benefits a disabled child gains during the regular school year will be significantly jeopardized if the child is not provided with services. The meeting to determine a child's need for ESY services should be conducted early enough in the school year to provide the parent the opportunity to request mediation of file a due process complaint.
- IEP Annual Review-The IEP team shall meet to develop, review, and revise, as appropriate, your child's IEP periodically, but not less than annually.
- Reevaluation - The IEP team shall conduct a reevaluation of your child's need for special education and related services at least once every three years. If the IEP team determines the need for additional data, they shall conduct assessment procedures within 90 (calendar) days of the IEP team meeting.
Is my child, who attends a private or parochial school, entitled to special education services?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) provisions relating to parentally placed private school children with disabilities apply to all parentally placed children with disabilities attending private elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools. With the enactment of IDEA 2004, the responsibility for implementing the requirements for parentally placed private school students with disabilities changed from the school district where the student lives to the school district where the student's private school is located. Each local school system must conduct "child find" activities to locate, identify, and evaluate all children with disabilities, including those attending private schools. The school district where the private elementary schools and secondary schools are located are responsible for conducting "child find" activities. These include:
- annual consultation with private school representatives and representatives of parents of private school students with disabilities about the child find process;
- the determination of the proportionate share of IDEA funds that will be expended;
- conducting evaluations of students suspected of having a disability and determining the child's eligibility for special education;
- how, where, and by whom special education services will be provided, including the types of services and mechanisms for delivering services (school districts may provide the services at private schools to the extent consistent with law, but they are not required to do so); and,
- preparation of an Individual Service Plan (ISP) rather than an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if the child will remain in the private school and receive services.
Children with disabilities enrolled in private schools by their parents have no individual entitlement to receive some or all of the special education and related services they would receive if enrolled in a public school. After an evaluation of a student and determining eligibility for special education, the school district where the private school is located will explain to you what services are available if the student remains in the private school and inform you that the school district where the child lives is responsible for providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) if the child leaves the private school and enrolls in public school. Contact your local Special Education Child Find Office to refer your child and inquire about the process and service availability.