Introduction to Special Education Law



  1. Initial Evaluation: If the educational agency wants to evaluate a child for the first time, they must send the parents written notice informing them what types of evaluations are being recommended; parents’ right to review the child’s school records and parents’ right to give or refuse consent to the proposed evaluation. If the parents refuse to provide consent in writing to the first evaluation, the evaluation cannot be done unless the educational agency requests a hearing and obtains an order from a special education hearing officer.

  2. How is an Evaluation Report ("ER") Developed?   Decisions regarding the educational evaluation of thought to be exceptional students are made by educational teams. The evaluation is done by a group of qualified professionals, usually referred to as the multidisciplinary team (“MDT”) or, in New Jersey, a Child Study Team ("CST"). The parents are also members of the MDT or CST. The MDT or CST does not need to meet, but it must obtain the opinions of each member on whether the evaluation is appropriate. Each student should have a comprehensive evaluation report which includes observations in the student’s classroom; input from the parents and a variety of professionals that identifies the student’s learning style, levels of achievement, levels of retention and acquisition of information as more fully described in 22 Pa. Code § 14-123. The MDT or CST must have sufficient information to make recommendations about programming to the IEP team who will devise an educational program from the results of the ER.

  3.  What is the Function of the ER? The critical functions of the ER are: 

    (a) to make recommendations to the IEP team concerning regular education modifications for integration, or for a Chapter 15 service plan if the child is not found eligible for special education; (b) to make recommendations to the IEP team concerning the type of placement that may be required to deliver the specially designed instruction ("SDI") identified in the ER; (c) to make recommendations to the IEP team concerning whether related services are required for the child to access or benefit from the SDI or to be in school; (d) to make recommendations to the IEP team as to whether the child needs SDI and what type of instruction is needed; and (e)To determine if the student meets one or more of the disability definitions and to recommend to the IEP team whether it should find that the student is eligible.

  4. What Questions Should the ER Answer?

    1. What types of related services are needed (such as transportation, speech, physical, occupational or counseling services)?

    2. If the student has behavior problems, when do these problems occur? How can problems be avoided, and what should happen when problems do occur?

    3. If the student is already in special education, has he or she made progress in skill and behavior levels since the last evaluation? If not, the ER should explain why progress has not been made.

    4. What kind of help will the student need to make progress in the general curriculum?

    5. What are the student’s long-term goals and priorities?

    6. How is the student presently functioning in all areas of development?

    7. What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses? Focusing on present educa-tional levels requires specific determinations of strengths and weaknesses. For example, “She is on grade level in math” is not as meaningful as the statement that her “scores on individual standardized math achievement tests place her in the average range, which is consistent with measured potential and her classroom performance.”

    8. In what activities does the student succeed?

    9. Who has observed the student and what have they observed?

    10. What are the observations that have been or can be made – instructional levels, behaviors, areas of question or concern?

    11. In which skill and behavior areas does the student have problems?

    12. What are the student’s current skill levels?

    13. Does the student qualify for special education?

    14. Why was the student referred, and what is suspected?

    15. Evaluations must be sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.

    16. Interpreting Test Results: The ER should identify the tests administered by the evaluator, include and interpret the results. In interpreting test results, the statements should be made as understandable to the parents as possible. Percentiles and grade equivalency scores, if reported, should include an explanation of what is meant by them.

  5. An appropriate ER should answer the following questions:

  6. Reevaluation


    1. State: Students with disabilities who are identified as mentally retarded shall be reevaluated at least once every two years. 22 Pa. Code § 14.124(c). The state regulations are silent with respect to other disabilities, but incorporate by reference the federal regulations requiring at least triennial evaluations. The state regulations require that infants and toddlers be evaluated at least every two years. 22 Pa. Code § 14.153(4)(iii).

    2. Federal: The implementing regulations for the IDEA state that each public agency shall ensure that the IEP of each child with a disability is reviewed in accordance with applicable regulations, and that a reevaluation of each child, in accordance with applicable sections, is conducted if conditions warrant a reevaluation, or if the child’s parent or teacher requests an evaluation, but at least once every three years.

    3. Notice Requirements: School districts are required to provide written notice to parents of their intent to reevaluate the student and the reasons for the reevaluation, together with a form requesting permission to reevaluate the student to determine continued eligibility. School districts are required to assess continued eligibility if the parents request a reevaluation.

    4. Parent Consent: School districts must obtain “informed parent consent” prior to conducting a reevaluation. However, if the school district has taken “reasonable measures” to obtain consent and the parent has not responded, school districts may proceed without parent consent.

  7. Timelines for Completing the ER:

    1. Pre-School Students: Initial evaluations or reevaluations shall be completed and a copy of the report presented to the parents no later than 60 calendar days after the early intervention agency receives written parental consent. 22 Pa. Code § 14.153(4)(i).

    2. School-Age Students: A school district has 60 calendar days (excluding the summer months) from the date the parent signs the Permission to Evaluate (“PTE”) consent form to evaluate the student and issue an ER. If a parent writes a letter to the school requesting an evaluation, the school district must then make the PTE –Consent Form “readily available.” If the parent orally requests an evaluation, the school must provide the parent with a form to put her request in writing within 10 calendar days of the oral request.

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