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Getting Started in Special Education: First Steps

This first published in May 2010. It was Diana Glick’s 2nd article for us and it’s a terrific reminder right now – before regular session school starts – to start educating ourselves about the basics. If you get a chance read all of Diana’s articles from the start. Especially helpful is the one about what your legal team will need from you; should you ever have the need for one..

On a personal note, about Diana. She contacted me from my personal blog Kidneys and Eyes after I’d posted something about my son’s IEP. It was just a little advice; something to keep him mind. I wrote her back, thanked her and promptly asked her if she’d be willing to contribute to the site and she agreed without hesitation. Why? Why would a busy attorney want to write for a site like ours? Pure desire to educate parents navigating the maze of special education.

Thank you Diana!


By Diana Glick

If you have decided to seek special education services for your child, you have likely traveled a long and often difficult journey already. Your child may have a longstanding medical diagnosis, or you may have been concerned about her performance in school and tried other interventions before getting to this point.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that I discussed in my introductory column has two major categories of services for disabled children: Part B and Part C. Part B will encompass the majority of our discussion of the legal perspective as it applies to school-age children; however, if you are the parent of a very young child with an already diagnosed disability, you should know that services are available to children aged 0-3 under Part C.

Early Intervention

Part C, also referred to as Early Intervention, is available to children with developmental and other disabilities from 0-36 months of age, and includes assessments and services. The services under Part C are provided in accordance with an Individualized Family Service Plan. Part C programs are available in all 50 states, but eligibility criteria vary significantly. If you are interested in seeking out programs for a child under three, the best place to start is at the website for the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. This website contains information about what is available under Part C and provides Early Intervention contact information for each state.

After Early Intervention

Part B of the IDEA encompasses special education services for children ages 3 through 21, which are administered by local school districts. If you suspect that your child needs special education services, the first step is to request an assessment. It is best to make this request of the school principal and to do so in writing. Each state has different timelines for assessment. For example, in California, once the school receives a request for assessment, they have 15 days to provide parents with a written assessment plan. This is not the case in Ohio, where the school has up to 30 days to respond to a request for assessment. Federal law provides that the District must obtain your written consent to proceed with testing, which is typically done with an “assessment plan.” Once you have signed and returned the assessment plan, the District has 60 calendar days to conduct the assessments and convene and IEP meeting to discuss their findings, unless state law provides a different timeline.

Getting a response

What should you do if you make a written request and get no response? As an attorney, I often hear stories of difficult communication with schools and school district personnel. The last thing you want to do is get off on a bad foot with people who are there to help your child. On the other hand, it is frustrating to be ignored. If you are not getting a response from your child’s teachers or the school principal, the next step is to contact the school district’s special education director. This person is sometimes housed in the Student Services or the Special Services department. It is also important to conduct communication in writing and to start a binder with your child’s special education documentation. A well-organized binder helps you track your child’s course through special education and safeguard important documents. If you are having difficulty getting a response from the District to requests for an assessment, I recommend keeping a copy of all of your communications and having a school secretary or administrative assistant initial and date your copy to confirm the date of receipt.

In my next column, I will discuss the various eligibility categories and what parents can do when there is a disagreement about eligibility among the members of the IEP team. In future columns, I will also discuss alternatives to an IEP, such as 504 plans.

We are also interested in hearing from you! Feel free to suggest topics for further discussion; just keep in mind that I cannot provide legal advice for your specific situation.

This column reflects the views of Diana B. Glick in her individual capacity. It does not necessarily represent the views of her law firm or her clients, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them. The purpose of this column is to assist in dissemination of information about federal special education law, but no representation is made about the accuracy of the information. The information contained in this column is provided only as general information for education purposes, and topics may or may not be updated subsequent to their initial posting.
By using this column you understand that this information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to constitute legal advice. This blog site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. This column is not intended to be advertising and Diana B. Glick does not seek to represent anyone desiring representation based upon viewing this blog site in a state where this blog site fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state.

Note: To support the site we make money on some products, product categories and services that we talk about on this website through affiliate relationships with the merchants in question. We get a small commission on sales of those products.That in no way affects our opinions of those products and services.

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