Special Education Referral Process

State and federal legislation define a process for determining if a child has a life-long disability that warrants special education. Districts have an obligation to provide instruction that meets a students learning needs whether they are in special education or not. If a child is not achieving like same-age peers, the district provides instruction to try to fill those gaps. If specific efforts to remediate instructional gaps are not successful, or if it appears that the child will need ongoing individualized, specialized instruction to make educational progress due to a possible lifelong disability, then the district evaluates the student to determine if the educational needs meet the state-defined eligibility requirements.

1. Instructional Interventions

Schools have an obligation to provide ALL students with a Free & Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Before a student can be evaluated for a lifelong disability, schools need to provide the student with instruction to match their learning needs to ensure that there is not an instructional gap that needs to be filled before labeling the student as disabled. Under federal law, the school must document at least two instructional interventions to address a learning gap before considering if the gap is related to a lifelong disability, with few exceptions. In most cases, access to the core curriculum in the general education classroom and instructional interventions to address gaps as they occur is the most effective way to help students make progress in the educational environment.

2. Referral to Child Study Team

If the response to these instructional interventions indicates that the child may have a lifelong disability, the child is referred to the building Child Study Team (CST). This team determines what areas need to be evaluated based on the educational needs addressed through interventions, and it is determined which educational professionals need to be involved in the evaluation process. This results in an Evaluation Plan that is provided to the parents for review and input. Parents have to give their permission for the district to initially proceed with an evaluation.

3. Evaluation

Once the school receives parent permission, the evaluation has to be completed within 30 school days (45 calendar days from referral for students birth through 2 years). An evaluation meeting is scheduled with the parent to review the results of the evaluation and determine if the student has a disability that meets the state-defined eligibility requirements. For students already determined to be eligible for special education, a re-evaluation process has to occur at least every 3 years to determine ongoing eligibility and clarify educational needs.

4. Individual Education Plan (IEP)

If the students educational needs are determined to meet the state-defined eligibility requirements, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed that clarifies the student’s educational needs, instructional goals, and educational services warranted to appropriately meet those needs in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). This means that the student needs to access instruction as close as is appropriate to typically developing peers. The intent is not to enable students or lower expectations. The intent is to clarify the instruction they receive, which might be quite similar to the instructional strategies they accessed before becoming eligible for special education. Special education does not involve “magic bullet” instructional strategies that have been reserved only for students with IEP’s, but it does involve specific due process (legal) requirements to document that instruction and student progress.