Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting IDEA Services Takes Time

Josh K
Several parents have asked us recently how long it will take to get their child special education services from their public school district. The law is clear as to the timelines that apply to this process; however, when these timelines are not followed, it can be frustrating for families whose child is about to begin a new school year or is struggling during an ongoing year.

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which sets the federal standards for special education services, links the time frame for providing services to the evaluation of the student and provides a deadline for students who are undergoing an initial evaluation. It states that the evaluation process must be undertaken "within 60 days after receiving parental consent for the evaluation," but allows states to determine their own time limits.

New York law requires that the evaluation of a student be conducted and (if the student is found to be eligible for special education services) that "appropriate special education programs and services ... be provided to the student with a disability within 60 school days of the receipt of consent to evaluate." The same time frame applies to re-evaluation. And what are school days? The New York regulations define them as "any day, including a partial day, that students are in attendance at school for instructional purposes... except that, during the months of July and August, school day means every day except Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays."

New Jersey allows for 90 days between the initial referral for special education and the implementation of services, which is illustrated in this linked chart. Connecticut moves more quickly, requiring that services be implemented within 45 days after receiving a referral form.

Even families who have obtained Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) such as those conducted by practices like The Yellin Center need to consent to the evaluation process to get the ball rolling for their child. The school district must consider the IEE but will almost always want to assess the student themselves in specific areas. We generally advise families not to waste time arguing with their school about this. Let them conduct their own assessment if they wish to, but make sure they are aware of the IEE, since some test instruments can only be given at certain intervals or will be invalid. There are numerous test instruments available, so another one can be selected.

We know from experience that the deadlines that states set for evaluation and implementation of services aren't always followed. Especially here in New York City, there can be significant backlogs in school district evaluations and getting anything done in the summer is quite difficult in some districts. However, legal recourse also takes time and parents often have no practical solution but to be persistent in making sure that the process of getting services is moving along according to legally mandated timetables.We wish we had an easy answer, but at this point can only urge parents to move ahead promptly when they are seeking special education services for their child, since the process can be a slow one.

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