The Special Education Process
All children in the U.S. are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, and the parents of students with special needs must be familiar with the process to ensure that their children’s specific educational needs are being met. The special education process is complex, involving an initial evaluation, then the creation, implementation, and ongoing evaluation of each child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). In addition, many times the New York City special education system differs in important respects from systems across the state.
Typically, this process begins when someone notices that a child needs additional support in the educational setting. For example, a parent observes that a child isn’t progressing despite doing homework, or a teacher notes that a student is falling behind, although working hard in the classroom. Either parent or teacher may then contact the Committee on Special Education (CSE), the school district’s taskforce responsible for identifying and monitoring students with special needs.
Within 60 days of receiving such a referral, the CSE must, with parental consent, evaluate the student. The evaluation takes into account the physical, social, psychological, and behavioral development of the student and typically includes classroom observation. Parents should also provide the results of any independent evaluations they have arranged during this period.
Once the evaluation is complete, the CSE is required to meet with parents to determine the student’s eligibility for special education services. If it’s determined that the child has special needs, the district is required to assemble an IEP team, which includes the parents. This team collaborates to develop an instructional plan that takes into account the student’s strengths and weaknesses, optimizing the chances for educational success.
The IEP sets goals for each school year and outlines the plan that the school will use to achieve those goals. A well-crafted IEP may also identify what will be taught in a mainstream classroom and which lessons require a separate, more intensive environment. Generally, American educational policy holds that all students learn best in the least restrictive setting. Parents and school districts collaborate on identifying an appropriate setting. The student’s IEP must be evaluated on a yearly basis, at least, to identify which components are succeeding and which may need to be modified. Additionally, the student’s eligibility for special education services needs must be reevaluated every three years.
Your Child’s Rights
It’s important that parents understand their children’s rights in the event that they disagree with any of the CSE’s findings. Schools are required to notify parents if they plan to evaluate the child or to alter an existing IEP. Parents have the right to be present at all IEP meetings and to request a meeting to discuss potential changes to the IEP. Schools must conduct an annual IEP meeting for each special education student, but parents are entitled to more frequent meetings, if necessary, to ensure that their child is progressing appropriately. Parents have the right to receive a written copy of the IEP. And finally, parents have the right to request an impartial hearing if they feel that they are unable to resolve issues regarding their child’s program with their local school district. Typically, this is when parents turn to a special needs attorney. There is great benefit, however, in consulting a special education advocacy attorney – someone who understands the complexity of New York special education law – throughout the process.
The special education process can be bewildering, especially when first encountered. Our New York special education advocacy attorneys have many years of experience in getting students with special needs the services that they require – whether at CSE meetings, impartial hearings, or through a State Complaint.