Last Updated on August 28, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Too often parents report that a request for special education assessment was ignored or denied by a school. How does a parent get a school to assess a student who may qualify for special education, as they may have autism, speech delay, traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other qualifying condition?
Make Assessment Request In Writing
The first thing to remember, is that a request for assessment should be put in writing. This could mean an email with a follow up letter, a hand-delivered communication, or other form of written communication.
It is also critical that the request, when sent, have the current date on it.
Does an email count as something in writing? Maybe, but with such an important request, it may be good to also mail a copy.
Verbal Requests for Assessment
Often parents make verbal requests that a student be assessed for special education. If a verbal request is made, the school must offer to help put the request in writing. If school staff don’t offer to put an assessment request in writing, parents can ask them to do it or just send their own written request.
Practically, it is often faster and simpler to send in a written request rather than to make a verbal request, and try to get staff to communicate the assessment request properly.
Follow Up on Request
A parent needs to make sure the assessment request was actually received by the school or school district and that they have proof it was received.
Have Fifteen Days Passed Since Request?
After a school receives a written request for assessment, the school has fifteen calendar days to provide the parent with an assessment plan. Parents should wait this time period out.
Assessment is Legally Mandated
After a parent requests a special education assessment, the school or school district must provide that assessment.
Many school districts attempt to not provide an assessment, despite their legal mandates, and instead will offer a SST (Student Study Team) meeting. Failing to assess upon request is not appropriate and breaches the school district’s legal obligations, regardless of any SST offered.
SST Does Not Negate Obligation to Assess
Determining whether a student is a child with a disability is encompassed by a school districts “child find” obligations (“child find” is basically the duty to locate and assess students who may qualify for special education).
Any school district that fails to assess upon request, instead moving the parent to an SST or other alternative, is breaching their legal obligations to assess and its duties under child find.
In Student v. Berkeley Unified School District (2014), the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), found that the school district’s practice of pushing students to an SST rather than special education assessment breached their legal obligations. The hearing officer stated (page 47):
Berkeley’s preferred manner of addressing student needs was to first convene a student study team meeting, before initiating a special education referral. Adherence to this protocol of steering families towards the student study team process, and Berkeley’s offer of such a meeting, did not discharge its child find duty…
Did the School Offer An Alternative the Parent Wants to Try First?
If the school wishes to try something other than assessment first, they may seek a parent’s consent to try this alternative and delay assessment. If the parent wants to, they can agree and consent to a delay in special education assessment. However, the parent does not have to agree, and if they do not, the assessment must proceed.
If the parent agrees to try an alternative, the parent should still be able to move forward with assessment any time they wish, unless they sign some kind of waiver disallowing this.
Did the School Reply With Complete Denial of Assessment?
If a school denies the parent-requested assessment, maybe via sending a formal looking letter stating they don’t believe the student qualifies, this does not excuse their legal obligation to assess. It is very inappropriate for a school district to opine that a student does not seem like a student with a disability BEFORE assessing them, isn’t it?
The parent should not lose hope if this happens, but may need to go to higher levels within the school district, get outside help and/or seek other options to move the assessment forward.
Outside Agencies May Be Used to Force Assessment
Parents may file a “compliance complaint” with the California Department of Education (CDE) if a school district refuses to issue an assessment plan or to assess a student. Or, a parent may choose to file with the Office of Administrative Hearings.
Michelle Ball is an attorney for students who has assisted with special education matters since 1995. As a lawyer in Sacramento California she is able to help students across California, in Santa Cruz, Rio Vista, Napa, Sonora, Elk Grove and many other locations.