The Special Education Process

  • Under a federal law, called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities receive special services designed to meet their unique needs. These services can be very important in helping children with disabilities develop, learn, and succeed in the school setting. This page explains what may happen from the time a student is referred for special education evaluation and is identified as having a disability, through the development of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It is meant to provide a basic overview of the special education process.


    What is a Referral?

    • It is the process of bringing a student to the attention of a special education team
    • Parents, school personnel, or others may express a concern
    • Building Student Support Teams typically recommend individualized interventions be tried with students prior to a referral to special education
    • During a referral meeting, the special education team will review information about the student from parents, cumulative school records, agency evaluations, etc and decide whether there is significant information to warrant an evaluation
    • Parent will be informed in writing of the team's decision
    • If there is significant information indicating that a disability may exist, an evaluation plan is developed by a team of individuals
    • The team consists of the student’s parent(s), classroom teacher, special educators, administrator and other appropriate personnel.

    What is an Evaluation?

    • It identifies the student’s strengths and difficulties related to school performance
    • It is a formalized process of gathering information about a student to determine whether he/she demonstrates a special need or disability
    • It may include parent interviews, observations, formal assessment using standardized tests, and/or consultations with specialists
    • Information provided by outside providers such as private psychologists is considered by the team but cannot be used as the sole determiner of eligibility
    • Areas that may be assessed include: 

               - health/physical status
               - sensory status
               - social/emotional/behavioral skill development
               - intellectual functioning
               - academic performance
               - functional/vocational skills
               - communicative skills
               - motor ability

    • A parent or legal guardian must give permission in writing for an initial (first-time) evaluation
    • A written copy of special education procedural safeguards will be given to parents to assist them in understanding the process and their rights
    • The school has 30 school days from the date of parental consent to complete the assessment
    • The results of the assessment, along with parent input, are reviewed by the team to determine whether the student is eligible to receive special education services under federal, state and district guidelines
    • The student must require specially designed instruction in order to be eligible for special education
    • Special education services are not needed if a student requires accommodations or modifications only

    Referral visual What if the student does qualify for special education services?

    • The team begins to plan the student’s special education program using the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), or Individualized Interagency Intervention Plan (IIIP)
    • This discussion may begin at the evaluation-sharing meeting or at another meeting that is typically held within 10 school days after the evaluation meeting
    • Parent participation is very important in this process!

    What if the student does not meet State of Minnesota eligibility criteria?

    • If the student has not been determined to meet State of Minnesota eligibility criteria, educators will make recommendations on how to use the evaluation information to assist the student in the general education classroom in order to help the student overcome his/her educational difficulties
    • General education support services may be recommended
    • If the parent(s) disagree with the results of an evaluation, they can refer to the Parent Rights and Procedural Safeguard brochure for options available       

    What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

    • It is a written plan for the education of a student who has been determined to have a special need or disability
    • It is a legal document
    • The student’s parent(s) and school staff meet to develop an IEP, IFSP or IIIP for the student
    • It describes the student’s present level of educational performance based on the formal and informal evaluation results
    • The team identifies student needs based on this evaluation information and the identified disability
    • It lists special education services the student needs as derived from the disability, including goals the student is expected to achieve in one year and objectives or benchmarks to note progress towards the goals
    • The team determines what services are in the IEP, IFSP, or IIIP, as well as the location where those services are to be delivered
    • The student’s educational placement must be in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) appropriate to the student’s needs
    • The student will be placed in the regular classroom to the greatest extent appropriate, unless the IEP team determines that in order for the student to benefit from specialized instruction, he or she must receive special education services in a special education setting
    • Instruction in a special education setting is individually determined
    • See “Individualized Education Plan” on the left for more information

    When do services begin?

    • Special education services will begin when parents provide their signature on the Notice of Proposed Special Education Services form, indicating their approval of the plan
    • An IEP manager is assigned to coordinate services for the student and communicate with parents, school personnel and others, along with monitoring and reporting the student’s progress towards the annual goals and objectives
    • Parents receive reports on their child’s progress on annual goals at least as often as parents are given reports for children who do not have disabilities
    • The IEP team meets at least annually for review the plan, but parents can request that the IEP team meet if reports show that a student is not making progress and that changes may need to be made in the IEP
    • The student will continue to receive special education services if the team agrees that the student continues to have a disability and that specialized instruction is needed to meet the student’s disability related goals and objectives
    • A re-evaluation is completed at least once every three years to determine if the student continues to have a disability and requires special education services.

    Resolving Differences

    • If a parent disagrees with any proposed changes to an IEP or a new annual IEP, their child will continue to receive the services listed in the previous IEP until the parents and school staff reach agreement
    • Parents should discuss their concerns with the special educators and other school personnel on the IEP team
    • If disagreement continues, there are options available for dispute resolution
    • Parents should contact the Special Education Supervisor assigned to their child’s school building to discuss options available or refer to the Parent Rights and Procedural Safeguard brochure for options available

    Maintaining Records

    • Parents are encouraged to keep copies of all educational records given to them by special education personnel, which can be useful in preparation for IEP meetings or for future reference if the student moves, sees a physician or outside evaluator, or intends on continuing their education after receiving a High School diploma
    • Parents may request copies of educational records maintained by the District for general or special education
    • The District will provide parents with one copy of due process forms related to special education at no cost such as the IEP, evaluation report, Notice of Proposed Special Education Services, etc., which are provided when the IEP, IFSP or IIP is signed, an evaluation report is written or other due process form is given to parents
    • The district may charge parents for additional copies that are requested
    • The district will forward copies of educational records when a student moves to another school district at no cost