Special Education

Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. What is special education?

In a nutshell, special education is instruction (how and what is taught) and related services (e.g., occupational therapy) that is designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Special education looks different for different children depending on their needs. The following are some examples of what special education services might be:

  • The child spends most of the day with their general education peers and meets once or twice a week with a specialist (e.g., a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, mental health therapist) for a short period of time (e.g., 30 minutes).

  • The child spends most of the day with their general education peers and goes to the resource/special education classroom 1 or 2 periods a day for instruction in a specific subject they struggle with.

  • The child has more needs and spends more time in the special education classroom because they need all of their academic instruction to be taught in a specialized way and at a level that is significantly different than their peers.

  1. My child has a disability, isn't she/he/they automatically eligible for special education services?

No. Children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services when they meet the federal (IDEA) and state laws' definition of a “child with a disability.” Just having a disability does not mean that the child needs specially designed instruction or services.

  1. My child does not have a diagnosis of a disability from a doctor but I think he/she/they might have a disability (e.g., learning disability) or health condition (e.g., ADHD or mental health disorder) that is making it hard for him/her/them to learn and make progress at school, what do I do?

The first step is to always talk to your child's teacher about your concerns. The teacher can let you know if your child is struggling or having difficulties beyond what is normal for his/her/their age or grade. If the student is struggling more than what is typical the teacher may suggest having a Student Study Team (SST) meeting.

A SST meeting involves the parent, teacher, principal, and other staff members as appropriate (e.g., school psychologist, speech pathologist). The team discusses the concerns and talks about potential interventions to help the child. Usually the interventions are put in place, the child is monitored, and the team meets again to review progress. If the team feels the child may have a disability and the disability may be causing significant learning, emotional, or social difficulties then they may recommend an evaluation to see if the child qualifies for special education services.

As a parent you can also write a letter to the district requesting an evaluation of your child to see if he/she/they have a disability and are eligible for special education services. The district has 15 calendar days to respond to the letter. Usually a SST meeting is held to discuss the letter, concerns, and then a decision is made about whether the child needs to be evaluated.

  1. What is an evaluation for special education?

The term evaluation describes a process. The process can look different depending on the reasons and concerns for the evaluation. The goal is to gather as much information as possible to determine if the child meets or does not meet the criteria to be eligible for special education services. An evaluation may include some of the following:

  • Observations of the child in his/her/their classroom or other activities at school (e.g., recess, lunch)

  • Reviews of the child's records including prior report cards, grades, attendance and enrollment history, discipline records, etc

  • Medical information such as developmental history, current medical conditions, prior hospitalizations, etc

  • Hearing and vision screenings

  • Interviews with the parent, student, teacher

  • Direct assessment with a specialist (e.g., a school psychologist, speech pathologist)

  • Rating scales completed by the teacher, parent, and/or student

  1. How long does an evaluation take?

California law gives the school district 60 calendar days (not including school breaks that are longer than 5 days like winter break) to complete an evaluation. The school team must meet with the parent before the end of the 60 days to review the findings of the evaluation and to determine if the child is eligible based on those findings.

  1. Will my child miss class because of an evaluation?

Maybe. If your child needs direct assessment by a specialist then the specialist will take the child out of class to complete the assessments. The specialists try their best to make sure the child does not miss a lot of class and will typically do assessments over several days. Typically the child does not miss recess because of testing and your child will not miss lunch.

  1. How long does an assessment with a specialist take?

It depends on several things. It depends on the child, the child's behavior, their age, their skill level, and the specialist's availability. It also depends on how many different assessments need to be given to collect the information that is needed. Some assessments take 20-30 minutes, others might take 60-90 minutes. Sometimes a child is given one assessment and other times they are given 2 or more assessments. Some children only need direct assessments from one specialist while others need direct assessments from multiple specialists.

  1. What is an assessment?

An assessment usually refers to a "standardized assessment"/test. Typically the assessment is a "test" where the student works one-on-one with the specialist. The specialist may show the student pictures and ask questions, have the student listen to things and answer questions, have items for them to work with, and/or have them read and answer questions or complete tasks. A standardized assessment means that all test takers are required to answer the same questions and all answers are scored in the same, predetermined way. This lets us compare how a child did to what all their other peers of the same age or grade were able to do. Then we can see if the child performed the same as, above, or below their peers.

  1. What does the school do with these evaluation results?

The information gathered from the evaluation will be used to make important decisions about your child’s education. The specialists take all the information and write it into reports. Parents are given copies of these reports prior to or at the eligibility meeting. All of the information about your child will be used:

  • to decide if your child is eligible for special education and related services; and

  • to help you and the school decide what your child needs educationally.

  1. What happens if my child is not eligible for special education?

The district has to provide you, in writing, the results of the evaluation and why the child is not eligible. If a student is struggling in an area (academic, social, or emotional) but is not eligible for special education services, the school team will discuss other interventions or ideas as to how to support that student.

Parents have the right to disagree with the district. Please refer to the Parent Rights (Procedural Safeguards) documents on the Special Education Forms page for further information on what steps to take if you disagree with the district's decision about eligibility.

  1. My child was found eligible for special education, what happens next?

After the child is found eligible the school district has 30 calendar days to write and meet to discuss the IEP (individualized education plan). Some districts hold the eligibility and IEP meeting on the same day. At the meeting they present a draft IEP and review what the student's services are and what goals the student will be working on. Please see the All Things IEP page for further information on the IEP.

  1. My child was found eligible for special education but I don't want him/her/them to receive special education services or be in special education, what can I do?

As a parent you have the right to decline any and all services at any time. You will have to decline in writing and provide your signature declining services. The district cannot provide services or make changes to the IEP without parents' consent.

For further information on frequently asked questions about special education, please refer to the following resources: