Special education process

The Basic Special Education Process under IDEA

The following outline was modeled from the U.S. Department of Education Website
For the full outline detail & additional information regarding IDEA, please click here

The writing of each student’s IEP takes place within the larger picture of the special education process under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Before taking a detailed look at the IEP, it may be helpful to look briefly at how a student is identified as having a disability and needing special education and related services and, thus, an IEP.

Step 1. Child is identified as possibly needing special education services

“Child Find.” The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct “Child Find” activities. A child may be identified by “Child Find,” and parents may be asked if the “Child Find” system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the “Child Find” system and ask that their child be evaluated. Or–

Referral or request for evaluation. A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child’s teacher or another school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.

Step 2. Child is evaluated

The Initial evaluation must be conducted within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation, or each State determines a timeframe within which the evaluation must be conducted. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if the child qualifies as a child with a disability under IDEA and if so, to determine the educational needs of that child.

The evaluation will use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental and academic information, including information provided by parents.
No one measurement or assessment will be the sole criterion for determining the status of a child.
Each local agency must ensure that no assessment materials are selected that would be deemed discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis, and they must be administered in a language and form that the child and parent can understand so that it will yield accurate information.
The assessment must be administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel.
The child must be assessed in all areas of suspected disability.

Step 3. Child needs an IEP

Writing the IEP

To help decide what special education and related services the student needs, generally the IEP team will begin by looking at the child’s evaluation results, such as classroom tests, individual tests are given to establish the student’s eligibility, and observations by teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, related service providers, administrators, and others. This information will help the team describe the student’s “present levels of educational performance”, in other words, how the student is currently doing in school. Knowing how the student is currently performing in school will help the team develop annual goals to address those areas where the student has an identified educational need.

The IEP team must also discuss specific information about the child. This includes:

  • The child’s strengths
  • The parents’ ideas for enhancing their child’s education
  • The results of the initial or most recent evaluation of the child
  • The academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child

In addition, the IEP team must consider the “special factors” described below.

Special Factors to Consider

Depending on the needs of the child, the IEP team needs to consider what the law calls special factors. These include:

  • If the child’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or the learning of others, the IEP team will consider strategies and supports to address the child’s behavior.
  • Consider whether the child needs assistive technology devices and services.
  • In the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for appropriate instruction
  • In the case of a child with limited English proficiency, consider the language needs of the child as those needs relate to the child’s IEP
  • Consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child’s language and communication needs

Related Services

A child may require any of the following related services in order to benefit from special education. Related services, as listed under IDEA, include (but are not limited to)….

  • Transportation
  • Developmental, corrective, and other supportive services (including speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, school nurse services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education as described in the individualized education program of the child, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services, except that such medical services shall be for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only) as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children.

Deciding Placement

In addition, the child’s placement (where the IEP will be carried out) must be decided. The placement decision is made by a group of people, including the parents and others who know about the child, what the evaluation results mean, and what types of placements are appropriate. In some states, the IEP team serves as the group making the placement decision. In other states, this decision may be made by another group of people. In all cases, the parents have the right to be members of the group that decides the educational placement of the child.

Step 4. Implementing the IEP

Once the IEP is written, it is time to carry it out – in other words, to provide the student with the special education and related services as listed in the IEP. This includes all supplementary aids and services and program modifications that the IEP team has identified as necessary for the student to advance appropriately toward his or her IEP goals, to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum, and participate in other school activities. While it is beyond the scope of this guide to discuss in detail the many issues involved in implementing a student’s IEP, certain suggestions can be offered

Step 5. Reviewing/Revising the IEP

The IEP team must review the child’s IEP at least once a year. One purpose of this review is to see whether the child is achieving his or her annual goals. The team must revise the child’s individualized education program, if necessary, to address:

  • The child’s progress or lack of expected progress toward the annual goals and in the general curriculum
  • The results of any reevaluations
  • New information about the child provided to, or by, the parents
  • The child’s anticipated needs

Look at Those Factors Again!

When the IEP team is meeting to conduct a review of the child’s IEP and, as necessary, to revise it, members must again consider all of the factors discussed in the section “Writing the IEP.”

What If Parents Don’t Agree With the IEP?

There are times when parents may not agree with the school’s recommendations about their child’s education. Under the law, parents have the right to challenge decisions about their child’s eligibility, evaluation, placement, and the services that the school provides to the child. If parents disagree with the school’s actions -or refusal to take action- in these matters, they have the right to pursue a number of options. They may do the following:

  • Try to reach an agreement. Parents can talk with school officials about their concerns and try to reach an agreement. Sometimes the agreement can be temporary. For example, the parents and school can agree to try a plan of instruction or a placement for a certain period of time and see how the student does.
  • Ask for mediation. During mediation, the parents and school sit down with someone who is not involved in the disagreement and try to reach an agreement. The school may offer mediation if it is available as an option for resolving disputes prior to due process.
  • Ask for due process. During a due process hearing, the parents and school personnel appear before an impartial hearing officer and present their sides of the story. The hearing officer decides how to solve the problem. (Note: Mediation must be available at least at the time a due process hearing is requested.)
  • File a complaint with the state education agency. To file a complaint, generally, parents write directly to the SEA and say what part of IDEA they believe the school has violated. The agency must resolve the complaint within 60 calendar days. An extension of that time limit is permitted only if exceptional circumstances exist with respect to the complaint.


  1. Transportation: special equipment, assistance to and from vehicle, school aide/nurse on vehicle
  2. Accessibility: building, exits, elevators
  3. Therapy: occupational, physical, speech therapists
  4. Medications: seizure action plan, a copy of recent prescriptions and any other documentation the school district requires training whoever administers them (nurse, paraprofessional, etc…), potential side effects, and logistics in storage?
  5. Stamina
  6. Positioning
  7. Self-Help Skills- toileting, feeding, dressing, diaper change
  8. Special Medical Needs while in school/ Supplies and Equipment
  9. Back-up Medical Support- Emergency Plan, who will be notified? What will happen if emergencies arise? Rescue meds (seizure action plan), Call to 911
  10. Curriculum Materials- specially prepared
  11. Program Modifications- PE, Art, Music
  12. Assistance for Mobility: Regular Aide and backup person
  13. Fire and Emergency Plans- who will be responsible for my child?
  14. Field Trips- Accessibility, Aide, Medications?
  15. Homebound Programming if child is out for extended periods
  16. Evaluations: OT, PT, Speech, Vision, Augmentative Communication, Educational
  17. Behavior/Social Skills
  18. Communication systems
  19. Visual Aids/ Mobility and Orientation
  20. Transitions to different grades, programs or from school to adulthood