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Navigating through the Special Education Process

Updated: Aug 14, 2019



In our last blog we outlined the disabilities that qualify for special education services according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This week we will discuss the evaluation process. There is a formal comprehensive evaluation and a functional assessment. A formal evaluation is used to measure linguistic skills, academic skills and emotional status to determine if your child qualifies for special education services. Whereas, a functional assessment is used to determine why your child is behaving inappropriately. A functional assessment does not determine eligibility for special education services but may a part of the formal evaluation that does.


The steps to a functional assessment involve first, defining the behavior. It is very important to be as specific as possible when describing the behavior in question. Next information is collected, compared and analyzed. At this stage the team may be interviewing people and or reviewing records to determine patterns. An A-B-C- approach is typically used at this stage; Antecedent what happens before the incident, Behavior-what is the action or reaction, and Consequence-what happens as a result of. Once this is completed the team then hypothesizes about reasons for the behavior and develops a plan, known as the behavior intervention plan (IBP). The IBP is put into place to try and reinforce positive behavior. Before this is done the team has to determine that the child understands the expectations. This is usually where the Individual Education Plan/Program (IEP) comes into play.


Once your child has been evaluated, the next step is an initial IEP meeting to determine how to move forward. Your presence is required and needed as an advocate for your child. If for whatever reason you are not present the meeting can go forward without you. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also requires that the following professionals be in attendance:

A general education teacher. This should be your child’s current teacher but in the event your child doesn’t have a general education teacher, then one who teaches the same age will be assigned to attend. (You may not have a general education teacher if your child is home schooled, going to a new school or attending a private school and their teacher cannot attend.)

A school administrator, one who is abreast of general and special education services. This administrator should also have an understanding of the school resources and the power to make decisions regarding said resources.

The evaluator. The professional(s) who administered the evaluation. In the absence of the original person who administered the evaluation, another professional who can interpret the evaluation needs to be present.

Some of the other professionals who might be present include; school psychologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech-language therapist. The school or district may also invite anyone who has information on your child that can help in the process.


This meeting can be quite overwhelming, especially if this diagnosis is new for your child and family. As an added measure you should have someone attend the meeting with you. A special education advocate or an educational therapist who can help you navigate through the process would be ideal. Contact your local disability office or some local non-profits that support children with disabilities for assistance with finding and choosing an advocate. However, if that is not an option, you should have a friend or relative attend with you. Someone who can listen and take notes for you.


The goal of this meeting is to determine eligibility for special education services for your child. No decisions should be made prior to this meeting. It is the responsibility of the team to work together to determine eligibility. If you have any outside or third-party evaluations, you would like the team to take into consideration bring them to the meeting with you.


There are 2 main requirements that the team must take into consideration when determining eligibility:

  1. Does the child have 1 or more of the 13 disabilities identified by IDEA?

  2. Does the disability have an "adverse effect" on his or her education?

Some cases are very distinguishable and clearly defined under IDEA but then there’s others that are a little more difficult to classify. This is where a parent might really need to get help navigating through the process. The eligibility requirement questions then become more challenging and expand in scope. For example:

  1. What category of disability does your child's issues best fit in?

  2. What does an "adverse effect" look like in real life?

If your child is found not eligible for special education services, make sure that you understand the reasons why. If you are not in agreement with the decision, you have options. They may include retaining an educational advocate, file due process or seek a mediation. Nonetheless, know that you have options besides just taking the ineligible status as the final answer.


If your child is eligible for special education services, the next step is to create an individual education plan. This is where the professionals get together and design a plan for how to help your child become successful. The IEP turns into a plan of action that outlines the resources that the school and/or district will provide to your child. As a parent you are your child’s biggest advocate, it is imperative that you understand the needs of your child and that they are being met. The IEP is reviewed every year. Make sure that you are present. The same people who were at the eligibility meeting will likely be present as well as any new team members who play role in the plan. The IEP is your contract with the school to make sure that your child is being provided all of the services they need to be successful in school.

This article was written by Dr. James Gray as a public service announcement. Dr. James Gray is the School Services Director at Limai Academy and has been in education for over 15 years.

If you want to learn more about our school, contact us at Limai Academy in Gardena (424) 329-0471 / info@limaieducation.com / www.limaieducation.com

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