A complaint I’ve been hearing from parents lately is how long it takes to get their children initial evaluations for special education services. Often they wait months or even years for the evaluation while their children suffer. The District may offer excuses such as: “We don’t have enough resources to do all these evaluations” or “We’re working on it.” What can parents do?

While I certainly understand the constraints that school districts may have, both financial and staff, they still have to abide by the law. And the law states that the Committee on Special Education (CSE) must complete the initial evaluation within 60 days of receiving the parent’s consent to evaluate. And in New York, that’s 60 calendar days, not school days. And No, they don’t get summers off. And if the student qualifies for services, an appropriate special education program must be implemented within that same 60 days. But before we discuss what to do when CSEs delay evaluations, we need to briefly discuss how the initial evaluation works.

It all starts with the Referral. When a Parent suspects her child has a disability, she must make a written request to the Chairperson of the CSE or the child’s principal. The District must “promptly” request parental consent to evaluate the child for eligibility for a special education program and services if the student has not made adequate progress in a Response to Intervention (RTI) program (more on RTI in a future post). People other than the Parent can also request a referral for an initial evaluation.

The initial evaluation must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the student to determine whether the student is a student with a disability and the content of the Individualized Education Program (IEP), should she qualify.

Now what happens if the District does not evaluate the student within the 60 days? If a District fails to meet this deadline, the Parent may be able to obtain an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at District expense. That means being able to pick the private evaluator of your choice. And if the student is ultimately found eligible for special education, the Parent may be able to seek compensatory education. For instance, if it takes the CSE fourteen months to complete the initial evaluation, the District may have to pay for makeup services (Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy, etc.) that the child would have received during this impermissible delay; in this case, the prior twelve months (fourteen months minus 60 days). These remedies are due to the District’s “Child Find” obligation. More on that in a future post.

The moral of the story: You must be your child’s best advocate. Do not accept your District’s excuses to delay.

If you have questions or concerns about how long your child’s evaluation is taking, please contact me.