Eligibility How Is It Determined?
As you sit at the IEP Table, the Team is discussing your child and the school says that your child needs to be evaluated and then the Team will meet to discuss his/her “eligibility.” Then, if your child is eligible, an IEP will be written and special education and related services will begin. For me, that was almost a “given” as our daughter is legally blind. Sounded simple, but that’s not always the case.
I didn’t understand the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) law, so I did not understand the need for evaluations and eligibility in the school setting. Only after speaking with the IEP Coach from the (then) parent training center (Central FL Parent Center) did I have that “a-ha” moment”! Your child may have a “medical” diagnosis but he/ she will need to be evaluated in all areas in the school setting (a medical diagnosis is not needed for evaluations for special ed services). The evaluations done by the school/district will help the IEP Team decide if your child is eligible for special education & related services and decide what your child needs educationally.1 Under IDEA, parents are included in the IEP Team that decides a child’s eligibility for special education services.2
The district must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about your child that may assist in determining whether the child is a child with a disability and the educational needs of the child. This will include parental input. There are two questions to answer:
– Does your son or daughter have a disability?
– Does your child “by reason thereof, need special education and related services”?3
According to IDEA, the disability must affect the child’s educational performance. The challenge of eligibility comes down to a question of whether the child has a disability that fits in one of IDEA’s 13 categories and whether that disability affects how the child does in school. That is to say, the disability must cause the child to need special education and related services.4
If the Team decides that your child is NOT eligible under the IDEA law, they must provide parents this in writing and explain why your child has been found “not eligible.” You must also be given information about what you can do if you disagree with this decision.5 Your child might be eligible for a 504 Plan. Under Section 504, FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) consists of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met.6
Lots of technical jargon ….. so what exactly does this mean for your child? Your child will need to be evaluated through various instruments/methods by the school. The whole IEP Team needs to agree to the evaluations and to what evaluations are to be performed. Parents should also be interviewed – not only info on your pregnancy and your child’s history to date, but also for your input regarding your concerns for your child. Parents can request a copy of each evaluation report so that you can review them prior to the meeting. The team will discuss each evaluation and answer the 2 questions above (does your child have a disability under one of the 13 IDEA categories? Does your child need special education & related services?). Your child’s strengths and weaknesses will be also reviewed as well as how he/she “compares” to their nondisabled peers. This is necessary to see what your child will need with his/her disability in their LRE (Least Restrictive Environment), which is generally the general education class. The full IEP Team must agree about eligibility and the category your child qualifies under. The IEP must be developed and written, and parents must sign consent within 30 days.7 If your child is not eligible for special education, he/ she may qualify for a 504 Plan.
The bottom line is that you are your child’s advocate and must speak for your child. Ask questions if you don’t understand what is being discussed at the meetings … come with an advocate … write your concerns/ questions down and bring your “documentation” to the meeting … follow up if items are not being provided from the IEP … You know your child best and must be proactive so that they will receive the Free Appropriate Public Education they are entitled to under the law!
Doreen Franklin is a Wellness Educator with Young Living Essential Oils and a Special Education Advocate. Doreen & her husband adopted two daughters; both are special needs. Doreen homeschooled her older daughter (who has ADHD).
FREE DOWNLOAD: Pre- IEP Worksheet
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2018 Magazine