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Special Education

The Basic Special Education Process

The Basic Special Education Process Under IDEA


The writing of each student’s IEP takes place within the larger picture of the special education process under 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 and related 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, public school districts conduct “Child Find” activities. Parents may be asked if the school district can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the public school district 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 other 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 45 school working days after the parent gives consent.


Step 2. Child is evaluated. The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child.


Step 3. Eligibility is decided. A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child’s evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision if they disagree with it.


Step 4. Child is found eligible for services. If the child is found to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services, and the IEP team will write an IEP for the child. Once the student has been found eligible for services, the IEP must be written. The two steps below summarize what is involved in writing the IEP.


Detailed information on the IEP process is available on the ESE Web site


Step 5. IEP meeting is scheduled. The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must:

„ contact the participants, including the parents;

„ notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend;

„ schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school;

„ tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;

„ tell the parents who will be attending; and

„ tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.


Step 6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written. The IEP team gathers to talk about the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. If the child’s placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well.

Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting. If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. i

If there is still disagreement, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available. Here is a brief summary of what happens after the IEP is written.


Step 7. Services are provided. The school makes sure that the child’s IEP is being carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child’s teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.


Step 8. Progress is measured and reported to parents. The child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. His or her parents are regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children’s progress.


Step 9. IEP is reviewed. The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement. If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.


Step 10. Child is reevaluated. At least every three years the child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is often called a “triennial.” Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a reevaluation.



A Parent’s Guide to Special Education

IEP Process Guide:

Disability Definitions:

Parent’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards


Due Process:

Special Education Grievance Procedures:

Parents have the right to disagree with the school’s decisions concerning your child.  This includes decisions about:

• Your child’s eligibility for special education;

• Your child’s special education evaluation;

• The special education and related services that the school provides to your child; or

• Your child’s educational placement.


Parents have several options.  The first option is to meet with the principal and/or the special education administrator at your school and try to reach an agreement about your child’s needs and services.


The law provides for a Problem Resolution System at the state level. In Massachusetts, the Problem Resolution System is administered by the office of Program Quality Assurance (PQA) at the Department of Education.  Parents can call PQA to ask a question regarding the laws and regulations pertaining to a specific concern.  In order to have a complaint formally reviewed by PQA staff, a complaint must be filed in writing. 


The PQA education specialist will review your complaint to determine if education laws and regulations are being followed.  At the completion of the review, a letter explaining the results of the review and the actions taken to resolve the issue(s) is sent to the parents.


Parents may contact PQA (as described above) or the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) about any matter concerning the identification, evaluation services, or placement of their child.  The BSEA is an independent organization located with the Massachusetts Department of Education.  It is notified by the school system of all signed rejected IEPs.


The BSEA offers several dispute resolution options.  These options include:

  • Mediation:  a voluntary and informal process where you and the school meet with an impartial mediator to talk openly about the areas where you disagree and to try to reach an agreement.
  • Advisory Opinion:  a process where you and the school agree to each present information in a limited amount of time to an impartial Hearing Officer, who will give an opinion as to how the law would apply to the situation as presented.
  • Hearing:  a process where you and the district each present your case to an impartial Hearing Officer for a written binding decision on the best outcome for the student.  A hearing is a fairly complex legal proceeding and averages three to five days in length.


Contact Information:

Program Quality Assurance System

Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education

75 Pleasant Street

Malden, MA 02148



Bureau of Special Education Appeals

One Congress Street, 11th Floor

Boston, MA  02115   617-626-7250       

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