A school district is required to assess students in all areas of suspected disability, but rarely does this occur in a timely fashion for an initial assessment for many students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the California Education Code (Cal Ed. Code) set forth specific guidelines for the assessments that must be done and the timelines they must be conducted in.
Often, however, Parents find themselves waiting months, or even years for the school district to fulfill these initial assessments because their students are doing “okay”. Sure, students referred from the regional center, or who have clear diagnoses of a disability will generally receive their initial assessments in a timely manner – but what happens for students where it isn’t clear or certain?
Students who appear to function as a typical student often fall through the cracks and are not assessed soon enough. In these instances, the parents of these students do not know they should ask for assessments – where the school district’s “child find” obligation is supposed to kick in, but doesn’t.” Other times, a parent does ask but a school district doesn’t listen, or act in a timely manner.
In the state of California, once a student is referred for an initial special education assessment, the school district must present the parent with an assessment plan within 15 days, conduct an assessment within 30 days of the date of consent to the assessment plan, and hold an IEP meeting to review the assessment 30 days thereafter.
Questions to Consider:
What is considered a “referral” – a referral can be in the form of a request or question by anyone associated with the student with knowledge of the students’ needs (i.e. a parent, teacher, therapist, aid, doctor, service provider, etc.).
What is a “suspected disability” – an area of suspected disability can be any area of need of a student that has an impact on the student’s ability to learn or function in school. Typical areas of need include: behavior, language, communication, social and emotional, academics, cognitive ability, development, gross or fine motor, sensory regulation, vision or hearing, physical limitations, and the list goes on – anything that can have an effect on a student’s ability to make meaningful progress in school. This is not limited to academics – and often can still exist even if the student is passing from grade to grade.
How to Ask where a district will Listen:
Many parents do ask for an initial assessment, but the school district fails to act. How can you ensure that they do? Here are some simple tips:
- Put all requests in writing (email, physical letter, etc. so long as you can prove delivery);
- Specifically note that you are “requesting special education assessments in all areas of suspected disability including …..” (and note specific areas you are concerned with);
- Send your request to any and all school/district personnel you have contact information for – your students’ teacher, the principal of the school they attend, and the director of special education from the district are important places to start. If you have any other contact information from members of an SST or 504 team, or you can find additional contact information on a district’s website, they are good backups as well;
- Once you send your request, you should receive a response within 15 days – mark that date on your calendar, and if you do not get a response by then, follow up with a phone call to the district and a follow up letter;