Back to Basic Rights: Initial Eligibility

Does your child need special education services? Maybe his grades have suddenly plummeted, he’s repeatedly seeking to stay home from school for a variety of reasons, or has been struggling with behavioral outbursts at home or in the classroom. Perhaps the pediatrician has suggested that you have an evaluation conducted to assess for possible learning disabilities or other needs that could be impacting your child’s performance in school.

If you are seeking to make a referral for your child to receive special education services, you must do so by contacting your local school district and requesting an evaluation to determine special education eligibility. It is best to make this request in writing. Once the request has been received, the school district has five school days to provide you with an evaluation consent form to begin the evaluation. The school district cannot begin conducting assessments without your written consent.

The school district must complete evaluations within 30 school days of a parent’s signing of the written consent, and within 45 school days a Team meeting must occur to discuss the evaluations, determine eligibility, and complete a formal plan for services (Individual Education Program (IEP)) or accommodation plan (504 Plan) for an eligible student. You have a right to receive the special education evaluation reports two days prior to the Team meeting but must alert the school district that you would like copies to review in advance. The Team will use these evaluations as the basis of its discussion in determining if your child is eligible for special education services. As part of your child’s Team, you are an equal part of this discussion and determination. If your child is found eligible, the Team will use the results of the evaluations to develop an IEP, which will outline specific services and supports believed necessary to enable your child to make measurable progress, which can include academic, social, emotional, and functional progress.

If your child is found not eligible for special education services you will receive a notice from the school district that details the reasons for the denial, as well as a notice that specifies your rights. If you disagree with the decision you have a right to appeal. However, often an effective strategy if you disagree is to first notify the school and schedule an additional meeting with the Team to discuss your concerns regarding your child’s needs and attempt to resolve the disagreement.

Sometimes, students who are not found eligible for an IEP may be found eligible for appropriate accommodations under a 504 Plan. That meeting would be held at a later date and may involve team members different from those who participated in the IEP eligibility meeting.

Meeting with your school district’s special education director, or requesting mediation is another effective way to resolve issues about eligibility. Regardless of the process, you will likely need evidence to resolve a disagreement about eligibility. An independent educational or neuropsychological evaluation is often the most effective strategy to get a “second opinion” about school district evaluations in a way that can be persuasive to the Team.

In the event that you cannot resolve the disagreement informally, you have other options available to you, including:

  • Problem Resolution System (PRS): administered by the office of Program Quality Assurance (PQA) at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Parents can call PQA to ask a question regarding the laws relevant to a specific concern and/or file a written complaint about procedural violations.
  • Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA): an independent agency within the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA) that conducts mediation and due process hearings to resolve disputes between parents and school districts.

* Check back soon to learn more about your child’s eligibility for an IEP or 504 plan and the differences/benefits to each