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Navigating Special Education in the Schools

Special Education is a federally mandated program that serves children (ages 3 to 21 years) with disabilities. If a student has an educational need for specially designed instruction, they may be eligible for special education services. Special education provides individualized education supports and services by creating and implementing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Approximately 13 percent of the total school enrollment population receives special education services. The areas of eligibility are:

  • Autism

  • Deaf or hard of hearing (ages birth through 21)

  • Deaf-blindness (ages birth through 21)

  • Emotional disturbance

  • Intellectual disability

  • Multiple disabilities

  • Noncategorical early childhood (ages three through five)

  • Orthopedic impairment

  • Other health impairment

  • Specific learning disability

  • Speech or language impairment

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Visual impairment (ages birth through 21)

School teams and parents can request an evaluation to determine if a student has a disability and an educational need for special education. The school psychologist or educational diagnostician will complete assessments, record reviews, interviews, and collect information from the school (i.e., attendance, discipline reports, standardized assessments) and parents (i.e., previous evaluations, developmental history, etc.) to complete a Full and Individualized Evaluation (FIE). This evaluation requires parental consent and it is federally and state mandated to be completed within 45 school days. The meeting to review the evaluation and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must occur within 30 calendar days after the evaluation is completed. The IEP will include goals, strategies, and the amount of time the interventions will be provided. This plan can include academic and behavioral aspects to help support the child at school. In Texas, the special education team is called the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee and includes parents, general education teacher/s, special education teacher/s, and school administration.

The ARD committee will meet at least once a school year to update goals and services in the IEP. Every three years, the school psychologist will review the existing data and the ARD committee determines if additional/updated assessments are needed. Parents are an active member of the ARD committee, participate in each ARD meeting, and consent to their child’s participation in special education and any evaluations.

In some circumstances, you may not agree with the findings from the school-based report. Some possible reasons include:

  • You do not believe the results are accurate – that the evaluation did not capture your child’s strengths and weaknesses

  • You do not believe that the school evaluator had adequate training and/or expertise to conduct the evaluation

  • You disagree with the eligibility determination (i.e., whether or not your child was found eligible for special education services)

  • You disagree with the education placement, services, and/or accommodations that were recommended

If you disagree with the results of an evaluation conducted in the public school, you have the right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at public’s expense. IEEs are not limited to your child’s cognitive and academic achievement, but may evaluate any skill related to your child’s educational needs. For example, evaluations of neuropsychological functioning, adapted physical education, and sensory needs are but a few examples of the types of IEEs covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA). You may obtain an IEE for virtually any purpose if it impacts the child’s education. In order to obtain an IEE, you should write a letter to the Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee or school administration stating that you disagree with the school district’s assessment and are requesting an IEE (For sample IEE request letters, see At which point, the district will determine if they will provide the IEE or opt to file for Due Process. Regardless of whether the district opts for a Due Process hearing or agrees to provide an IEE, the school district must provide you with information about where an independent evaluation can be obtained.

Special Education Resources:

If you are seeking evaluation or support with navigating these services, please reach out to schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists to discuss a comprehensive assessment or IEE request.

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