Be sure to visit our Eligibility webpage for more resources on this topic. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Search the bigger A-Z list or contact us.

Does my child need special education services?

Some children have difficulty learning. If a child (birth through age 25) is suspected of having a disability, the school or the parent/guardian can request an initial evaluation to see if they qualify for special education services. 

Special education supports and services are written into a yearly plan called the Individualized Education Program (IEP). As a parent, you are an expert on your child and it’s important that your voice is heard during this process.

What is the first step?

Evaluation is the beginning step in the special education process. Before a child can receive services, a full initial evaluation must be conducted. Informed parental consent must be given before the evaluation can be started. Evaluations are provided at no cost to the parent. All areas of suspected disability should be assessed.

What does an evaluation mean for my child?

Evaluations are very important. The information and data from these assessments determines if your child is eligible for services. Their school program will be based on evaluations. The evaluation describes a child’s strengths and needs. If the evaluation is not accurate, the IEP may not meet your child’s needs.

How do I start the evaluation process?

Write a letter requesting a comprehensive evaluation for special education eligibility. Here are two sample letters you can refer to (Disability Rights Michigan Sample Letter or Parent Center Hub Sample Letter). Keep a copy for your records. If your child is already in school, send a copy of this letter to your child’s teacher and the building principal.  

Parents with younger children can start the evaluation process through these organizations:

If a request is made verbally, the school district must support the parent in documenting this request. This is part of the district’s Child Find obligation to identify, locate, and evaluate all children (birth to age 26) who may be entitled to special education services.

If a student already has an IEP but is not making progress or there are new needs, refer to this sample letter Requesting a Reevaluation of a Student with an IEP.

How long should a special education evaluation take?

Michigan has set timelines for evaluations. Within thirty school days after parental consent is given, the IEP team meets to determine eligibility and write the initial IEP. To extend the timeline, the school must have a valid reason and obtain your permission.

Can the school deny an evaluation request?

Districts have a Child Find responsibility to identify, locate, and evaluate all children who may be entitled to special education services.

If the school refuses to evaluate, you have to be notified in writing. After receiving Notice, parents have the option to dispute the decision via a State Complaint.

The school wants to look at existing information.  What does this mean?

A Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED) is the process of looking at what information is already available (this includes things like developmental history, discipline records, report cards, standard state and district testing) and determining what additional data is needed before making a decision.

Can a child with passing grades be eligible?

A student does not have to fail to be eligible for special education. When a student is getting good grades, the school might be hesitant to evaluate. Academics aren’t the only thing to consider. A special education evaluation can look at behavior concerns, undiagnosed learning disabilities, mental health concerns, or poor executive function skills. Any child with a suspected disability must be given comprehensive evaluation.

The school wants to try Response to Intervention (RTI) first.  What does that mean?

RTI/MTSS  is an early intervention strategy within general education and is also one way to identify students who need special education services. RTI cannot be used to delay or deny an evaluation.

What happens when the evaluations are done?

When the evaluations are done, the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) holds a meeting to look at the data/results, and determine if the child meets the eligibility requirements. The MET team will make a recommendation for eligibility. The MET report then will be presented to the IEP team. This can happen at the same meeting or it may be a separate meeting.

What are the requirements for eligibility?

Michigan has 13 educational labels with specific eligibility requirements. A team can consider more than one category. The specific requirements are part of the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE) our state rules for special education. Once a child is determined to be eligible for services, all of their needs have to be addressed. It’s most important for the IEP to have a full picture of a student, that’s why a comprehensive evaluation is important. IEP services are not tied to a label. 

What if I disagree with the results of the school’s evaluation?

If you disagree with the results, you have a right to have someone outside of the school evaluate your child. This is called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).

What if there is a need for additional assessments?

Sometimes a child has needs are not addressed by the current IEP. This may be because that area of need was not identified in an evaluation. If something is missing in the IEP, it is important to look at the PLAAFP statement to see if that specific area of need was actually identified and evaluated.

Parents can request additional evaluations be done if there are concerns that areas of need are not being identified and addressed. The same timelines apply.

I have private evaluations completed. Can we use these reports to determine eligibility?

School districts are required to complete an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services. The availability of privately completed assessments does not excuse the school from this requirement (The Difference Between School Identification and Clinical Diagnosis from Understood.org). Parents can bring additional reports/evaluations to share with the evaluation team, but the school evaluations/assessments still need to take place.

My child is eligible to receive special education services. What’s next?

Through the development of an IEP, parents and the school will come to an agreement on what services and supports the child needs.

My child is not eligible to receive special education services.  Now what?

You may consider a Section 504 plan, this is a written plan for students who require accommodations to be successful in the classroom. It is not specialized instruction. 

Parents also have the right to file a State Complaint or request a Due Process hearing.

What about signing the IEP?

Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education does not require that parents sign the IEP, except for the first one (called “initial”). If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, there are tools available to resolve the disagreement.

Did the pandemic changed the evaluation process?

No federal laws or state rules changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Schools must evaluate children in a timely manner if there is a suspected disability. 

How is social maladjustment considered in the evaluation process?

When considering eligibility for a student who has challenging behaviors, questions often arise regarding the presence of a social maladjustment or characteristics of a social maladjustment. Evaluation teams need to first consider whether a student meets the criteria of an emotional disturbance/impairment. If the student meets emotional impairment criteria, any perceived evidence of social maladjustment does not impact the eligibility determination.

My child has an IEP and is due for a three year re-eval. Do the same rules apply?

For students who receive special education services, eligibility status is reviewed every three years. Reevaluation is required unless the parent and the district agree that re-evaluation is not necessary. This process of re-determining eligibility includes a Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED) to decide what evaluations should be done. The same timelines for completing the evaluation apply, as well as the right to an IEE. The Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) will determine if the child still meets eligibility criteria.

Even if no additional data is needed to decide that the child is still eligible, there may be a need for more evaluation data and recommendations on the details of the child’s educational needs and services.

What are the implications of changing my child’s eligibility label?

Once a child is determined to be eligible for services, all of their needs have to be addressed. It’s most important for the IEP to have a full picture of a student, that’s why a comprehensive evaluation is important. IEP services are not tied to a label. An IEP label should not be changed to reduce or remove the services a student needs to be successful.

Parents can ask questions like:

  • Why is the evaluation necessary? For example: has the child’s service needs, achievement, or performance changed?
  • What is the evaluation plan?
  • What evaluations will be completed and by who?
  • What is the child’s present level of academic achievement and related developmental needs?

My child goes to private school, does this change things?

A child enrolled in a non-public school can obtain an evaluation.

What if English isn’t our native language?

Often it is difficult to distinguish students with learning disabilities from students who struggle because of language barriers. It’s important to first assess the instructional program.

What about children/youth in foster care?

Children/youth experiencing foster care can face extra hurdles when seeking an evaluation, especially when understanding the “Parental Consent” requirement. IDEA defines “parent” as:

  • A biological or adoptive parent
  • A foster parent
  • A guardian
  • A person acting as a parent (such as a caregiver relative who is legally responsible for the child’s welfare)
  • A surrogate parent who has been appointed by the school

In situations involving foster parents, the biological parent is presumed to be the parent with the authority to consent to evaluations unless the court has assigned the authority to someone else.

Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE) has added an additional rule that includes a student/youth with a disability who has reached 18 years old, if a legal guardian has not been appointed by the court.

There are protections in IDEA that ensure the rights of children who are eligible or suspected to be eligible for special education services when a: 

  • parent can’t be identified
  • the school cannot locate parent
  • a child is the ward of the state
  • the child is an unaccompanied homeless youth (which means a youth not in physical custody of a parent or guardian and lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence)- In the situation of an unaccompanied homeless youth, a surrogate parent must be appointed

How would a young adult with a disability get an evaluation?

Adult learners with disabilities, ages 18 to 26, retain their right to special education if they have not received a regular high school diploma. This includes young adults who are enrolled in adult education, alternative education, and transition programs. Initial evaluations to determine an adult learner’s eligibility for special education programs and services are the same as for younger students. In establishing the initial evaluation process, districts have flexibility as they adapt to the unique needs of adults. The process should place an emphasis on providing the adult learner with information about disability, the evaluation process, special education supports, community supports, educational options, and self-determination so the individual can make an informed decision.

What if I have more questions?

Contact us at 1-800-552-4821 or info@michiganallianceforfamilies.org


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