Your Right to an Assessment
Federal law (the “IDEA”) gives parents a right to a school IEP evaluation. That right did not change during COVID. Even if your child is in distance learning 100% of the time, they still have a right to be assessed if they have (or may have) a disability. When the assessment is complete, the results may show that your child is entitled to an IEP (Individual Education Plan). An IEP gives your child special education rights under the IDEA.
If you suspect
your child has a disability in any of these areas: Autism, Hearing Impairment, Visual Impairment, Emotional Disturbance, Intellectual Disability, Other Health Impairment (including ADHD), or Specific Learning Disability, you have a right to request an evaluation for an IEP. Also, if you think your child may need therapy for speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, you can also request an assessment. It’s important to know that the school district can not refuse your request without giving you a written explanation of the refusal, called a Prior Written Notice. For more detail, go to this post.
Your Request Must be in Writing
Your request for a school IEP assessment must be in writing and delivered to your school district. The best idea is to deliver it to the district’s special education director or someone else high up in the special ed department. Like all things in special education, keep a copy of your request. Here’s a sample request form from the Disability Rights of California. I recommend that for most disabilities you check the box on the form for “psychoeducation.” That ensures that your child will be evaluated by a school psychologist. Your can deliver the form in any way, but I recommend by email because then you have a record of it. If you don’t get a response in a week or so, follow-up with another email, and every week until you get a response.
What Happens Next?
In CA you’re entitled to receive an assessment plan within 15 days of their receipt of your request. Once you sign that school assessment plan, the district has 60 days to complete the evaluation and schedule a meeting to review the results. All special ed deadlines still stands during COVID, by the way. It’s at that meeting, when the school district determines whether your child qualifies for an IEP and/or therapies. That meeting is very important and you should attend it with a family member, friend or advocate because these meetings can be intimidating. You have a right to get a copy of the evaluation before the meeting so you can review it in advance, and you have a right to question the results. If you disagree with the results, you can request an Independent Education Evaluation (“IEE”) at public expense. I did a webinar on IEEs for the Learning Rights Law Center which you can access here.
Assessments During COVID
COVID has added complexity to the already difficult issue of school IEP evaluations. Some school districts say that they will do an evaluation during COVID only in-person. Other districts are saying that they will do assessments, but only virtually. Some parents are uncomfortable with in-person evaluations during COVID. California permits IEP assessments during COVID and most county public health departments have given guidance to make in-person evaluations safe. That means that the evaluators must meet certain strict health protocols, like sterilization and wearing masks, before they can assess your child. If you are not comfortable with in-person evaluations, you can request virtual assessments of your child. The problem is that evaluators often can not get an accurate picture of your child virtually. Some children with disabilities don’t engage well with the computer, and that can make the evaluation invalid. You could do some of the IEP assessments virtually and others in-person. The bottom line is that you have rights and options.