At a glance
If there’s no evidence your child has a disability, the school can deny your special education evaluation request.
However, if a school suspects or should suspect a disability, it must evaluate.
The school must provide you with a written explanation of why it’s denying your request.
You made a written request for a special education evaluation of your child, but the school denied it. Can the school really say no to your request? And what reasons must the school have?
Learn below about why your child’s school can deny your evaluation request.
The School’s Child Find Obligation
But IDEA requires more. Schools must look for, find and evaluate any kids who may qualify under the law. If a school suspects or should suspect a child has a disability, it must evaluate that child. This is known as Child Find.
When you request an evaluation, you’re asking the school to fulfill this responsibility. Because of Child Find, there’s only one valid reason the school can deny your request: The school must reasonably believe there’s no evidence your child has a disability.
An Explanation of the Denial
If the school decides not to evaluate, it must tell you in writing. And it has to explain its reasoning. IDEA refers to this as prior written notice.
The school should typically give an explanation for why it believes there’s no evidence your child has a disability. Keep in mind these are unique to each request. What might be a reason to deny an evaluation to one child might not apply to another.
Below are some of the most common explanations schools give:
Your child was evaluated recently. If the school already conducted an evaluation a few months ago and found your child didn’t qualify, it will probably deny a new request. You may need new data and information to get the school to agree to an evaluation. Or you can request an independent educational evaluation if you disagree with the previous evaluation.
Your child just started grade school. In early grades, kids may struggle because of differences in meeting developmental milestones. For instance, if your child is in kindergarten, and is a little behind in reading, school staff may believe your child will catch up. For the school to agree to an evaluation, there needs to be some evidence that a child’s struggles could be due to an underlying issue.
Your child is performing at grade level or above. If your child is older and isn’t struggling academically, the school may also cite this as a reason. However, this may not apply to all kids, like those who are twice exceptional. (IDEA specifically says that kids who are passing grade to grade may still need to be evaluated for services.)
Your child is struggling, but it’s due to willful behavior. If your child acts up in class, fools around, or is otherwise unengaged, the school may say your child is struggling because of intentional bad behavior. The school may think there’s no underlying issue. While this is a common explanation, in many cases behavior problems should give the school reason to suspect a qualifying disability like ADHD.
The school is offering help, and your child’s grades are improving. Many schools offer academic help as soon as a child is struggling. Response to intervention (RTI) is one approach that does this. If your child is getting help and is learning, the school may say this shows there’s no issue. Although a school can’t use RTI an excuse to delay an evaluation, data from RTI could show a child doesn’t need special education.
Your child is an English language learner. Kids who are just beginning to learn English may fall behind academically. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disability—some do, some don’t. The school may think the child needs more language instruction, not special education.
Again, it’s important to know that these explanations depend on the child. A child might be performing at grade level and still have a right to an evaluation. The same goes for English language learners, or kids who were recently evaluated. The key is that the school can deny a request to evaluation only if there’s no evidence of disability. And it must explain its decision.
Unwritten Evaluation Requests and Soft Denials
One pitfall to watch out for is an unwritten request. Sometimes, parents who are new to the special education process may say in a school meeting that they’d like an evaluation. But the request gets lost in the shuffle, and the school simply never responds. As a result, there’s never a formal denial or even an answer to the request.
You can avoid this pitfall by making your evaluation request in writing. Here’s a sample request letter you can use.
When requesting an evaluation, it’s important to do so in writing.
There are many explanations schools may offer for why they believe there’s no evidence your child has a disability.
If the school denies your request, you have options and can challenge the decision.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Melody Musgrove, EdD served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.