Linda Talbert has a private practice as a non-attorney parent advocate and researcher for special education law firms.
Getting the process started can be as simple as having a conversation with a teacher or administrator in which you specifically request an evaluation for special education. If you make the request verbally, make sure you follow up with a written request. For example, a letter to the principal or your school district’s director of special education can be as succinct as, “My 13-year-old daughter is having difficulty in reading and math. I am requesting testing to see if she has a learning disability that requires special education.” Date it, sign it, keep a copy for yourself, and make sure that your letter was received.
Can the letter be longer? Yes. Hand-written? Absolutely. But whatever the format, using the phrase, “request evaluation for special education” makes clear that your intention is to start the clock set up by federal and state law to ensure that your daughter, who you suspect has LD, obtains a free and appropriate education. The challenge may be in finding consensus about what “appropriate” actually means in practice for your child.
Your letter requesting an evaluation will trigger an official response from the school district. The special education evaluation process varies by state. In your state, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website contains a flow-chart entitled “Special Education Evaluation/IEP Process,” which explains how special education works there; other states may use a slightly different process. The point is that navigating the website of your state’s department of education can uncover information to help you be an informed participant.
The school team may agree to your request for an evaluation, propose alternatives, do both, or take the position that no action is required. But whatever their decision, they must inform you of their decision in writing and provide you with a notice of your rights, often referred to as “procedural safeguards,” which includes information about how to appeal a decision with which you do not agree.
Finally, beginning with the initial communication, keep all correspondence from the school in one place (including envelopes!); and if your school communicates by email, print that out as well.
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