As a parent advocate, I often hear this kind of frustration from the families I work with. As a mother, I understand it too. When our children are struggling, we want to get them the help they need as soon as possible!
School districts have to follow specific guidelines for moving the evaluation process along. These guidelines are spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to the law, once a parent has granted permission to conduct a formal evaluation, the district has 60 days to complete that evaluation.
However, the 60-day clock doesn’t start ticking until you’ve given your consent. Often, there are a few things that need to happen before the district asks for your consent.
To jump-start the process, either you or the school needs to request an evaluation for special education services. If you’re making the request, be sure to do it in writing.
It’s not unusual for the school to respond by using informal evaluations and interventions to see if it agrees that a formal evaluation is needed. You may like the idea of delaying an evaluation and seeing how your child does with targeted help such as response to intervention (RTI). However, the federal government has made it clear that RTI cannot be used to delay or deny an evaluation for eligibility under IDEA.
If you think the school is moving too slowly, the first (and least formal) way to resolve the issue is to communicate with the school. Provide gentle pressure by writing an email or a letter. Mention when you made your initial request for an evaluation. Ask when the school will decide whether to conduct the evaluation.
Be persistent. Send more letters asking for detailed information from the school about its decision-making process.
It’s important to document all of your efforts. Keep a communications log as part of your child’s records. Write down the dates, times and other details for every email, phone call or face-to-face conversation.
If you’re not making progress through these informal strategies, there are several formal ways of resolving problems that parents have the right to use. It’s a good idea to read up on your dispute-resolution options. You may also want to start exploring what steps you can take if the school denies your request for an evaluation.