How To Get Free School Speech Services – Q & A


students with speech or language impairments must be helped by schools

Last Updated on April 22, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Students can receive free school speech services (also know as “related services”), but it isn’t as easy as just asking the school secretary. First, the student has to qualify for special education.

A Student Can Qualify for Special Education if They Have a Speech and Language Impairment

Special education qualification can be based solely on communication issues, called speech and language impairments. These issues may appear when a student is very young or later in life. Student speech impairments can manifest in many ways, such as being unable to understand the student, dropping letters or sounds, or even in social communication with peers (aka pragmatic language).

To remedy these issues, students may be entitled to speech services from their public school at no expense. To understand how to qualify for school speech services, a parent needs to be familiar with the relevant laws.

school speech services are important
School speech services are important for learning and social interaction

What is the definition of a speech and language impairment (aka language disorder) under federal law?

Per Code of Federal Regulations, volume 34, section 300.8(c)(11):

Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

What if the student has minor issues which don’t impact their education?

Per California Education Code 56333 the student’s speech and language disorder must negatively impact their education to be qualified for special education:

“A pupil shall be assessed as having a language or speech disorder which makes him or her eligible for special education and related services when he or she demonstrates difficulty understanding or using spoken language to such an extent that it adversely affects his or her educational performance and cannot be corrected without special education and related services.”

Who assesses a speech and language disorder?

Per 56333, a “language, speech, and hearing specialist,” which is a specially trained individual, qualified to test the student and evaluate the results, and recommend school speech services or other related services within their specialty.

speech and language impairments can be addressed by school if a student is qualified
Students can be qualified for a speech or language impairment via their schools.

What types of issues must a speech and language specialist find to qualify a student under California law? 

Per California law, Education Code 56333:

(a) Articulation disorders, such that the pupil’s production of speech significantly interferes with communication and attracts adverse attention.

(b) Abnormal voice, characterized by persistent, defective voice quality, pitch, or loudness…  

(c) Fluency difficulties which result in an abnormal flow of verbal expression to such a degree that these difficulties adversely affect communication between the pupil and listener.

(d) Inappropriate or inadequate acquisition, comprehension, or expression of spoken language such that the pupil’s language performance level is found to be significantly below the language performance level of his or her peers.

(e) Hearing loss which results in a language or speech disorder and significantly affects educational performance.

speech impairments can impact school
Delaying speech services may mean a delay in student learning

Are there other requirements to receive speech services in school?

California Code of Regulations, Title 5, section 3030(b)(11) specifies that students must also “meet one or more of the following criteria:”

(A) Articulation disorder.1. The pupil displays reduced intelligibility or an inability to use the speech mechanism which significantly interferes with communication and attracts adverse attention… and which adversely affects educational performance…

(B) Abnormal Voice...characterized by persistent, defective voice quality, pitch, or loudness.

(C) Fluency Disorders...when the flow of verbal expression including rate and rhythm adversely affects communication between the pupil and listener.

(D) Language Disorder. The pupil has an expressive or receptive language disorder when he or she meets one of the following criteria:

1. The pupil scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below the mean, or below the 7th percentile… in… the areas of language development: morphology, syntax, semantics, or pragmatics… or

2. The pupil scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below the mean or the score is below the 7th percentile… and displays inappropriate or inadequate usage of expressive or receptive language…”

A parent writes a request for an outside assessment after qualification for special education as speech or language impaired was denied
Parents can take action to try to overturn a denial of speech or language impairment by seeking an IEE

What if a speech assessment says a student does not have a speech or language impairment?

A parent can request an outside independent assessment (aka IEE, or Independent Education Evaluation) at school district expense, or pay for an outside assessment on their own. The IEE can evaluate the speech and language impairment, and make recommendations for school speech or related services for the student.

What related services may be available if a student qualifies?

Usually a student can receive one-on-one or group speech and language services, and school accommodations, which would be implemented via the student’s special education plan (IEP document).

There may also be times when a speech and language therapist provides speech support during lunchtime or other times throughout the school day.