Welcome to Part III in our series of articles on educating parents in the process of requesting Special Education. In Part I we discussed the initial steps a parent or caregiver should take if they suspect their child may require specialized educational services or accommodations. In Part II we delved deeper into the process of requesting an Full Independent Evaluation (FIE) and what the legal requirements are for the school to respond to those requests.
In Part III we will look at the timelines of the process. These timelines are set forth by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) they are legal date markers that all schools must comply with.
But first, a word about acronyms...
FIE? RTI? ARD? ...WTF???
Every organization has them. They are marvelous shorthand for those in the organization or in that particular industry... but they are a baffling mystery for everyone else. We're just as guilty of using these acronyms so here's some definitions before we delve into this final section on Special Education:
FIE: Full Individual Evaluation - This is an educational evaluation of a student performed by the school at the request of the parent.
RTI: Response to Intervention - This describes scientifically-proven strategies that a school may implement to address areas of educational concern that have been identified.
ARD: Admission, Review and Dismissal Committee - This is a committee of educators and school administrators who make educational decisions about the student. The purpose of the ARD meeting is to provide an opportunity for parents and educators to discuss and develop an educational program for the student.
WTF: Uhh, you may want to Google that one if you don't already know
Only Count School Days
Most of the timeline requirements for responding to requests for testing and completing testing, are in school days, which is different from calendar days. This means that only days when school is open count towards the target date. For example, if you dropped off your report on December 16, 2016 the school has 15 school days to respond in writing. This means they would have until January 24, 2017 to respond. While that is 39 calendar days, there is no school from Dec 17 - Jan 2, 2017 and Jan 16th is a holiday. So, 15 school days from the date you dropped off the report would be January 24, 2017.
If school doesn't provide written response within 15 days parents can call the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Parent Information Line at 1-800-252-9668. For more details please read this excellent article from www.DisabilityRightsTX.org on Requesting Special Education in Texas. As mentioned earlier, the school must respond in writing. It's imperative you ensure that you send and receive any correspondences in writing. If the school calls you on the phone and states their position, it is not acceptable. You should request the response in writing, which they are legally obligated to provide.
In most cases, upon receiving a report performed by an outside clinician (like myself), the school will perform their own evaluation in an effort to confirm, or refute, the conclusions of the report. The school has 45 school-days to complete their evaluation from the time they receive signed consent form from the parent.
After the evaluation is completed, the school then has 30 calendar days (yes, calendar days) to hold an Admission, Review & Dismissal (ARD) meeting. This is the one exception to the "school days" rule.
Those Timelines, In Reality
In short, all these target dates can result in several months of delay between when you initially request an FIE and when special education services are implemented for your child. Of course our goal, as an outside clinician, is to speed up the process by providing the school with a completed evaluation which can (but not always) expedite things.
If a parent provided a school with a written request for an FIE on December 16th, 2016, the school would have until January 24th, 2017 to issue their written response. Let's assume that the parent then provides the school with the signed consent to testing by the end of that same week (January 27th). The school would then have 45 school days, or until April 11th, to complete their evaluation. After that, the school has another 30 calendar days to hold an ARD Meeting which takes us to May 11th. During this meeting the committee would develop the interventions; which might take several weeks, or months, to implement.
So, even if everything goes smoothly, it's possible for 6 months to pass before any real action is taken. Of course, this isn't always the case but we feel it's important to provide parents with realistic expectations for this process.
Appeals and Alternatives
Parents must remember that the school has the right to refuse to perform an FIE. This is very unusual in the case where the parent provides a completed evaluation from an outside neuropsychologist like myself. This is because the school must refute my diagnosis in order to refuse to provide Special Education Services to the student. If the school refuses to perform an FIE there are several avenues available to the parent.
Independent Education Evaluation (IEE)
If the school district refuses to conduct an FIE, or if they did perform an FIE but you disagree with the results, you may be entitled to an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) at the school district's expense.
An IEE is a 'second opinion' that is paid for by the school district by a mutually agreed-upon clinician. It's important to note that the school cannot ignore a request for an IEE. The school must respond in writing within 5 school days of receipt of a request for IEE.
This article doesn't delve into the details of the IEE, but the following is a link to an excellent article from www.DisabilityRightsTX.org on the process for Requesting an Independent Education Evaluation.
Mediation, Due Process, and State Complaint
Other options for recourse are to request Mediation, file a request for Due Process, or file a State Complaint.
Mediation is where both parties meet with an impartial 3rd party mediator in an attempt to negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome. Mediators cannot impose a decision. They seek to find the middle ground in order to get the disagreeing parties (parents & schools) to leave with an agreement. Mediation can result in no agreement at all if one, or both, parties refuses to change their position.
In contrast, Due Process is where a Hearing Officer listens to both sides and makes a judgement that is binding on both parties. This is different from Mediation because a mediator attempts to broker an agreement between the two parties but they can't force an agreement. Due Process, on the other hand, can force an agreement. This is similar to a judge in a court of law; the Hearing Officer listens to both sides and makes a decision that is final and binding. The down-side is that Due Process takes a very long time before the case is seen by the Hearing Officer. Also note, there is no appeal process if you disagree with the decision of the Due Process.
Finally, the last option is to file a State Complaint. TEA Lists all these options under their Special Education Complaints webpage.
Knowledge is Power
It's been often said that Knowledge is Power. This is true especially when it comes to seeking specialized services from your school district.
The reality is that there are school districts which use the parents' ignorance of the laws and processes to delay providing services to a child who may need them. Thankfully those districts, and their administrators, represent a minuscule portion among the over 1000 public school districts around Texas whom tirelessly strive every day to provide their students, all their students, with the best education and services they can.
We hope this series of articles provides parents and caregivers with a better understanding of the process and gives them power to seek out the services they feel their child needs. The entire Special Education process can be daunting and overwhelming, but if parents and caregivers enter the process with some knowledge and some support they will certainly be successful in seeing their child achieve. And, of course, we stand ready to assist.
Always do everything in writing
Always send letters/reports by Registered Mail
Keep copies of all reports, letters, documents, emails, etc.
Always indicate in your letters that you know the school's legal obligations
Example: "I'm requesting a Full Independent Evaluation of my son, Johnny Smith. Per Texas law I understand that <school name> is required to respond to this request, in writing, within 15 school days of receipt of this request which was sent by Registered Mail."
Know your timelines, 15 - 45 - 30
15 School Days - The school has 15 school days to respond, in writing, to your written request for an Full Individual Evaluation (FIE)
45 School Days - The school has 45 school days to perform the FIE after receiving your signed consent form
30 Calendar Days - The school has 30 calendar days (yes, calendar days) to hold the Admission, Review & Dismissal (ARD) meeting after the completion of the FIE.