In simple terms, special education is specialized instruction and related services that a school district provides to children who qualify as educationally disabled. A child could have a learning disability, an emotional disturbance, an other health impairment, or a number of other “educational disabilities”, and if the team agrees that the student is eligible, then an Individual Education Program (IEP) will be developed. All of this is to be paid for by the school district at no cost to the parent. It is a school district’s obligation to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to children, regardless of a disability, for children 3 to 21 or graduation, whichever comes first.
This sounds like it should be simple, right? But the process is really anything but simple. The special education laws are confusing to even the most seasoned professionals, it seems. It is amazing to think that average families and parents make it through the process unscathed.
So what exactly is this process??? I will go through it briefly here for you. The Parent Information Center has a great document that goes over all the details…find it here……Parent Information Center publication
First off, there is a “child find” process….it is the school district’s responsibility to find kiddos from 3-21 who might have a disability. This is where preschool screenings and kindergarten screenings come into play. The other way a district “finds” a child with a disability is through the REFERRAL process. Anyone who knows the child and thinks that there is an educational disability issue can refer a child to the special education department at the child’s school or district. This referral should be in writing and describe what the problem is and it should request further evaluation. Once the school district receives this referral, it has 15 days to “dispose of the referral”. This means that the special education team gets together to review all existing school information (like report cards, assessments, teacher comments, etc) to see if further evaluation is required. At this point, the school district might say that they don’t feel a full blown special education evaluation is needed and that they will try some other classroom interventions, etc. Or, they might say that they do believe more information is needed to make a decision regarding whether or not special education is needed, and they would then propose an evaluation and ask parents to consent to some further testing.
Once the parent(s) sign(s) consent, the school district has 45 days to complete the EVALUATION. During this time, the school psychologist will most likely complete an intellectual evaluation (IQ test) and some achievement tests to see if the child is doing as well as he could be, or if there are other things going on that are getting in the way of the child’s achievement. Other professionals, such as occupational therapists or speech and language pathologists might do some assessments too, depending on the suspected areas of disability. After the testing is completed, the professionals write reports and recommendations and then an evaluation review meeting is held. Once the results are reviewed, the team can discuss whether or not the child is eligible for special education services based on whether the child is found to have an educational disability or not. Remember, this is all supposed to happen within 45 days in NH…..the school district may request one extension of this time frame, up to an extra 15 days…bringing the total to 60 days.
Important tip: In NH, the days are CALENDAR DAYS….not business days or school days….this is an important distinction, as a school district can not delay due to vacations or holidays, etc. So, if someone refers a child on June 15, the school district can not say that they can’t do anything until the next school year. The school district has to start the special education process, and if they don’t have people in house to do the testing, or whatever, they will need to contract with someone to get it done. A school district should not ask a parent to sign a waiver extending the time frames in order to get through a vacation period.
Check back soon for more about the next steps: determination of eligibility and IEP development!