Is Special Education Right For Your Child?

Is Your Child Struggling in School or With Homework? Is Your School District Providing the Right Type and Amount of Support? 


California general education teachers are some of the best trained teachers in the country. They have extensive training working with children of varying cultural backgrounds and learning abilities. Unfortunately, they typically do not have the time or in class resources to focus on every child’s unique needs.

For most students the presentation of information in the regular educational setting is appropriate however, some students inevitably require small group or individual attention in certain subjects.

Unfortunately many school districts fail to offer, or take years, wasting precious early intervention time, before offering a struggling student the appropriate support he/she needs to be successful in the classroom.

The burden ultimately falls on parents to make sure their child is receiving the appropriate educational supports and services from their school district. If your child is struggling in school there are numerous resources available to help them.

It is important for parents to know that Special education is not only for the severely disabled. It is not a bad thing and should not hold a negative connotation.

Special education is a service that allows a school district and parents to design an individual education program (IEP) designed to meet your child’s unique needs. If your child is struggling in reading or math the IEP may provide for extra help in these areas. This may include 1:1 teacher support in or outside of the classroom.

If your child is struggling in school, having a hard time with homework or falling behind his/her peers they may require extra help during school. School districts have many wonderful resources available to help students receive a benefit from their education. It is your job as parents to request these services. Below are the steps and procedures you should take if your child is struggling in the classroom.

Step One: Classroom Intervention

The first step a school district will take when a student is struggling with their education is to begin the Response to Intervention (RTI) process. 

  • If your school district has not started this process, you must request it in writing. A quick email to the principal will suffice.

Generally, the teacher and or grade level team will discuss the needs of their “low” kids and come up with in class interventions to bring these students up to grade level. This may include among other things, longer time on tests, modified homework etc.

For some students, these interventions work well. If a child is really struggling and having obvious difficulty keeping up with his/her peers the District should assess the child for special education and related services. 

Unfortunately, many children are never assessed for additional services and end up struggling each year. Additionally, because students change teachers every year it is easy for them to get lost in the mix and for the RTI process to start all over again with each grade level. 

Step Two: Request an Assessment for Special Education

If a student does not start to improve after a few months of the RTI process, parents must request in writing an assessment for special education and related services. 

  • The school district is legally responsible for providing an appropriate education designed to meet your child’s unique needs.

DO NOT wait until your school district recommends assessing… it may take years or they may never assess, even as your child continues to struggle. Too often the district’s reasoning for not recommending assessments for special education and related services assessing is once a child becomes eligible to receive services strict federal and state laws apply to protect the rights of the student and parents.

Additionally, the school district will be spending more money and resources to meet your child’s needs.

When the District agrees to assess for special education they will provide parents with an assessment plan. The assessment plan identifies what areas will be assessed and who will perform the assessment.

It is important for parents to carefully review the assessment plan to make sure all areas of suspected disability will be evaluated. Upon signing and returning the assessment plan the school district has sixty (60) days to complete their assessment and hold an individualized education program (IEP) meeting with the parents to review the assessment results.

At this meeting the school district will determine

  1. If your child has a qualifying disability to receive special education and related services
  2. By reason thereof does your child require special education and related services.

There are thirteen (13) eligibility categories for the receipt of special education and each one has multiple subcategories.

Step Three: IEP Meeting 

Once the assessment(s) are completed the school district will schedule an IEP meeting to review the results.

  • The district will send you an IEP notice which will give you the time and location of the meeting and who will be in attendance.

It is important to request in advance of the meeting a copy of all assessments the district will be reviewing at the IEP meeting. This will allow you to review the assessments beforehand and write down any questions you may have. Additionally, parents should highlight all areas of need mentioned in the assessment reports and make sure every area gets addressed at the IEP meeting.

Your child’s IEP team must include following participants: 


  1. Parents of the child,
  2. Regular education teacher (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment),
  3. Special education teacher(s) of the child,
  4. District administrator who
    1. Is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
    2. Is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
    3. Is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency,
  1. A person who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may also be a member of the team described above.

The IEP team may also include other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel, as appropriate and the child with the disability.

Generally, the initial IEP meeting will be facilitated by the district psychologist who performed the multidisciplinary assessment or a low level district administrator such as a program/case manager. Upon beginning the meeting and after introductions you will be given a copy of your procedural rights which you should either review at the IEP meeting or at home.

Next, the district psychologist and others will review their assessments and will go over in detail the findings and results. If your child is determined to have a qualifying condition the next step is to identify the educational needs of your child.

It is important to remember that parents are equal members of the IEP team. Parent input and concerns are invaluable to the IEP team and need to be discussed in detail. It is essential that you write down all of your concerns and list all of your child’s perceived areas of deficit. During the IEP meeting you must make sure for every area of deficit/need identified in the assessment(s) a goal is developed addressing that area of need.

Goals Drive Services

The more goals your child has in his/her IEP the more services will be required for your child to meet those goals. For example, if your child has four (4) reading comprehension goals he/she may require more than 30 minutes per week of group reading support from the resource specialist teacher.

After the IEP team has identified each area of concern and is satisfied with the goals the district will make its offer of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This is the district’s offer of special education and related services it believes are appropriate to meet your child’s unique needs. It is important to remember the district has an incentive to save costs. Therefore, it typically will start low when making its offer of special education services. You should always counter offer and request more services.

The offer of a FAPE is a complicated issue. Below is a quick breakdown of the school district’s responsibility:

  1. Free: The services must be provided at “no cost” to parents.
  2. Appropriate: the education must be designed to meet your child’s unique needs, allowing him/her to access and benefit from their education. However, it does not require the school district to maximize your child’s potential or offer the best available program. The District’s burden is low. As long as the offered program and support services allow your child to receive some benefit, the district will have met its burden.
  3. Public Education: All school districts including charter schools are responsible to provide students who qualify for special education and related services with an education from 3 up to 22 years old, in California.

Never Sign the IEP Document at the Meeting

It is the best practice to always take the IEP document home to review before signing. After careful review and if you have no additional questions you can return a signed copy to the district within a couple of days.

Invariably you will have questions after the IEP meeting which you may want to have answered before signing the IEP document.  After you have signed and returned the IEP document the District must within a reasonable time implement the services it will offer. Parents can also consent in part to the IEP. That is, you can consent to some services and reject others.

Thereafter, the District will schedule annual IEP meetings to review your child’s progress and to make its offer of FAPE for the following school year. Additionally, the District must reassess your child’s needs at least every three years.

Step Four: Independent Assessment(s)

If the school district does not qualify your child for special education and related services or if the services offered are not adequate you have the right to disagree with the district’s assessment(s) and request that the district fund, at no cost to you, an independent educational evaluation (IEE).

If you wish to request an IEE you must either make your request at the IEP meeting or in writing. The District has only two choices when it responds to your request for an IEE. It can either agree to fund the IEE or file a court action (due process request) to prove that its assessment(s) are appropriate.

If the district agrees to fund the IEE it will typically give you a list of proposed assessors to use.  However, you are not limited to this list and can use any qualified expert to assess your child’s education needs.

When the assessment is done you will request another IEP meeting to review the assessment and its results. The IEP team must consider the new information and make a renewed offer of FAPE. The district however, is not obligated to adopt the recommendations in the independent assessment.

Therefore, if you still disagree with the district’s offer of services your next option is to take some form of legal action against the district such as filing a due process request with the Office of Administrative Hearings. It is advisable to seek legal representation at this point.

IEP Checklist 

  1. Make a list of all the areas of need from your own observations and the assessments
  2. At the IEP meeting discuss every area of deficit or concern on your list
  3. Make sure there are goals addressing every area of deficit or concern (Remember goals drive services)
  4. Request more services, if appropriate
  5. Request IEEs, if appropriate
  6. Take the IEP home, review it and return a signed copy if you are satisfied.
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