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How Does IDEA Work for School-Aged Children?

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Note: This document is intended to serve as a guide for parents navigating the special education system, in order to know what to expect.  However, it is not the same as specific legal advice, and may not cover every individual situation.  For information about your particular circumstances, contact KIDS LEGAL at (207) 774-8246.

What is Special Education?

Special education is when your child receives specialized instruction in school for his or disability.  There are 13 categories of disability for school-aged children:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disability
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment including Blindness

Note:  For Children ages 0-5, there is a category of disability called "Developmental Delay."

If your child qualified for special education services, he or she will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  The IEP must be "reasonably calculated" to result in educational benefit for your child.  Educational performance is both academic and non-academic skills (including functional and developmental skills).  Your child is entitled to a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE).  Your child's placement must be in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE).   Learn more about these terms and the language of special education.

How will my child become involved in special education?

Identifying children 3 - 20 years old with disabilities

Public school districts must complete a "Child Find" process for children 3- 20 years old who live in or attend school in their district.  Child Find means the school must complete a screening process to locate and identify students with disabilities.  Schools do this during the first 30 days of the school year or during the first 30 days after a child has enrolled.

There is also a referral process.  A parent can make a referral for special education screening at any time.  A parent can also ask that the pre-referral process not happen so that the evaluations can happen immediately.  School staff can also make referrals to the special education office of their district.  Each school district has a policy for how to make a referral.

Children who are referred for special education identification will have an Individualized Education Program Team (IEP Team).   Parents are equal members of the IEP Team.  The IEP Team will decide what evaluations are needed.  The IEP Team must be held within 15 school days of your child's  referral.  You can sign the informed consent for evaluations at the meeting.  Sometimes, the school will not hold an IEP Team meeting but instead send you the informed consent form.  This also has to happen within 15 school days after your child is referred for special education. 

If school staff make a referral, your child will likely receive general education interventions before deciding what evaluations are needed.  If this happens, your child will have a team (including you, teachers and administrators) to monitor his or her progress.  The team will review your child's progress within 60 school days after the formal general education interventions start and every 30 school days after that. At each meeting, the team will review data that is being collected on your child's progress to see if the general education interventions are working or if a referral to special education is needed.  Remember, as a parent making a referral, you can ask that the school not try general education interventions first, and instead go straight to the referral for special education.  If your child is getting general education interventions, you have the right to ask for a special education evaluation at any time. 

If your child attends private school, it is the responsibility of the public school district where the private school is located to assess your child for disabilities.  The child find process has to happen in the same time frame as for public school students.  Home schooling is considered a private school for special education purposes.

I want to know about special education evaluations and reevaluations.

When your child is referred to an IEP Team, he or she will need an initial evaluation to determine if he or she has a disability that requires special education services.  You must get the informed consent forms for evaluations within 15 school days of the referralThe evaluations must be completed within 45 school days after the school gets your informed consent for the evaluation.  The school must make sure that "comprehensive" evaluations are done in all your child's suspected areas of disability.  There must also be a classroom observation of your child.  An IEP Team will meet within 45 school days of when you give informed consent to review the evaluations and make a decision whether your child is a student with a disability in need of special education.  You must get a copy of the evaluations at least 3 calendar days before that IEP Team Meeting.

The typical timeline will not be followed in two situations:

1) If your child transfers from one school to another during the evaluation process, the original school will be given a chance to finish the evaluation.  In this case, the original school, the new school, and you have to agree to a specific time for when the evaluation will be completed, OR

2) If you repeatedly fail or refuse to bring your child for the scheduled evaluation.

If the IEP Team finds your child has a disability and needs special education, he or she must be reevaluated at least once every 3 years.  You and the school can agree this "triennial evaluation" is not needed.  The school cannot evaluate your child more than once a year unless you agree.  When new evaluations are needed, the school has to get your informed consent before a reevaluation can happen. 

Informed Consent

The school must get your informed consent before doing any evaluations of your child.  This means you have the right to ask specific questions about what kinds of evaluations are being recommended.  You can also ask what is involved in each evaluation.  You have the right to say no to certain types of evaluations or certain parts of an evaluation.  In that case, you would limit what you are consenting to.  You do not have the right to insist on a specific evaluator.

Independent Educational Evaluation  

If you disagree with the results of the school's evaluation or you think it is not a complete and thorough evaluation, you have the right to ask for an independent educational evaluation at public expense. This mean the school pays for it.  You can choose your own qualified evaluator in Maine.  If you ask for an independent educational evaluation of your child at public expense the school must, within 30 days, either:

(a) File a due process hearing request for a hearing to show that its evaluation of your child is appropriate, or

(b) approve your request

Outside Evaluations

You have the right to give any outside evaluations that have been done on your child to the IEP Team.  If you do that, the IEP must consider that evaluation as part of its decision-making process.  The school cannot make you give them an evaluation that your child has had by an outside provider.  It is up to you if you want to share the evaluation.

I want to learn about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and IEP Teams.

The IEP Team makes the following decisions about your child:

  • what evaluations are needed
  • does your child have a disability, and if so, which one
  • what special education services does your child need
  • where will your child get those services
  • what modifications does your child need in school

This means the IEP decides if your child is disabled.  If your child has a disability, the IEP Team needs to write the IEP within 30 calendar days of that decision.  The school must give you a copy of the IEP within 21 school days of the IEP Team meeting.  The services must be provided to your child within 30 calendar days of developing the IEP.  If the school cannot hire or contract with the professional who needs to provide a service in your child's IEP,  the IEP Team must meet.  The meeting must be within 30 calendar days of when the services have not happened.  The IEP Team must decide on how to get your child those services and how to make up for the services your child did not get.

The school must invite you to every IEP Team meeting.  You are an equal member of the team.  The school must send you notice at least 7 days before the meeting, to make sure that you have an opportunity to attend.  The IEP Team meeting must be held at a mutually agreed-on time.   That means you can ask that the meeting be rescheduled if the date and time do not work for you.  Decisions at an IEP Team meeting are made by consensus. This means everyone must agree.  If everyone does not agree, the final decision will be made by the school administrator who is at the meeting.  If you disagree, you have a right to use the dispute resolution procedures.

At least once a year, the IEP Team must review your child's IEP.  The purpose of the meeting is to see if your child is meeting his or her annual goals.  You or the school can ask for an IEP Team meeting at any time. Your child must have a current IEP in place at the start of each school year.

The school must give you written notice 7 days before it: 

1. Proposes to start or change your child's identification, evaluation, or educational placement, or

2. Refuses to start or change your child's identification, evaluation, or educational placement

Special Note: Abbreviated School Day

An abbreviated school day is when your child does not go to school for the same amount of time as students without disabilities.  It is not based on "instructional time."  It is based on the total number of minutes in a school day at your school district.

Only the IEP Team can decide to put your child on an abbreviated school day for more than 10 school days.  The IEP Team should only decide this if it is appropriate and necessary for your child's individual educational needs.  If your child's IEP Team placed your child on an abbreviated school day, the IEP must have a re-entry plan for your child to return to a full-time school day within a reasonable period of time, which cannot be longer than 45 calendar days.  If your child does not return to a full-time school day within 45 calendar days, the IEP Team must meet every 20 school days to:

• review your chld's progress toward returning to full-time school day

• review your child's progress in the educational setting, and

• if your child is not progressing, decide what setting will allow your child to progress

If the IEP Team decides that an abbreviated school day is appropriate and necessary because of your child's individual medical needs, the IEP Team must meet every 90 calendar days.  It can be longer if your child's medical providers recommend a longer time.  At these meetings, the IEP Team must review your child's progress and modify the IEP as appropriate. When your child is medically able to increase his/her school day, the IEP Team will meet to revise the IEP. 

Learn more about Special Education Timelines.

Learn more about Discipline and Due Process for Students with Disabilities.

Updated May 2013
PTLA #136