Beginning the Process
Beginning the Process: Writing the Assessment Request Letter
Your advocacy for your child begins with the assessment process. Before receiving special education services from a school district your child must be assessed comprehensively in all areas of suspected disability by the school district.
What If My Child Already Has A Diagnosis?
Although you may have already obtained a diagnosis for your child from the regional center or a developmental pediatrician this diagnosis does not guarantee that your child will receive services from the school district. The school district must perform its own assessment. The district can use the previous assessment in considering whether to qualify your child for special education services. However, a diagnosis by an outside professional is not a guarantee that you will receive special educations services from your school district.
Who Can Request An Assessment?
Referrals for assessments can be made by parents, teachers, caregivers and district personnel. However, only the child’s education rights holder can consent to an assessment.
If the school district is the body referring your child for special education than it is still necessary to write your own written request for evaluation. This will clearly delineate when the timeline begins for procedural safeguards. Once you make a written request for an assessment the school district has 15 calendar days (excluding major school holidays) to provide you with a Proposed Assessment Plan.
Does The School District Have A Duty To Evaluate?
The school district has an affirmative duty to locate and evaluate all children with suspected disabilities. This duty is called “Child Find” and is a mandate under the Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Child Find requires that “all children with disabilities residing in the State…who are in need of special education services are identified, located, and evaluated…” This obligation extends to children with disabilities who are homeless, wards of the state, and/or attending private schools from birth to their 22nd birthday.
What Should Be Included In The Request For Assessment Letter?
Your request for assessment should be written and faxed (keep the receipt for your records) or hand delivered to your child’s principal or to the special education administrative office. The letter should contain the following:
Your child’s name, school, grade level and teacher
A request that your child be evaluated
Reasons why you believe your child should be evaluated for a suspected disability
How your child’s education is being impacted by the suspected disability.
Copy of assessments indicating diagnosis (if available)
It is imperative that you indicate how the suspected disability is impacting your child’s education (see sample letter provided below). Under the IDEA the school district is required to provide services only if the child has a disability and that disability is adversely affecting educational performance. Both criteria must be met. A child can have a disability but still not qualify for special education services under the IDEA. The relevant language is:
Child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with §§300.304 through 300.311 as having [one of the disabilities listed above] and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) provides an extremely detailed sample evaluation request letter. It can be easily tailored to the needs of most families seeking an evaluation. A somewhat less specific template can be used effectively, as well.
Following your written request, anticipate either:
A request for consent to evaluate in the form of a Proposed Assessment Plan; or
A Prior Written Notice (PWN) which is a written explanation regarding “why” the school district does not feel compelled to evaluate.
Depending on the school district's response, you may need to hire an advocate or attorney. An attorney that has experience with special education will be able to review the proposed assessment plan for appropriateness or help you explore other options should the district refuse to assess.