How Far is Far Enough Behind?

North Carolina families frequently report that their request for a special education evaluation is denied because, “They say my child isn’t far enough behind.” How far is “far enough” behind? How far behind does a student have to be for it to impact their learning and self-esteem? How far behind does a student have to be for it to hinder their productivity and participation in the classroom?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes the mandate known as Child Find, which states that “All children with disabilities residing in the State...regardless of the severity of their disability, and who are in need of special education and related services,” are to be, “identified, located, and evaluated.”

IDEA section 300.111 (d) goes on to state that children do NOT need to be “labeled” or classified by their disability to receive special education services, while section 300.101 (c)clarifies that, “Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade. It is spelled out further in this U.S. Department of Education Letter from 2004.

To summarize, a child’s disability does not have to reach a certain level of severity, they do not have to be failing, and they do not need to be “labeled” with a disability to be protected under Child Find and FAPE mandates. If there is any evidence or suspicion, or if a possible disability should be suspected, then it is the school’s duty to evaluate further to determine if the child has a disability and requires specialized instruction.

Therefore, the more data and evidence you are able to provide in your letter requesting a special education evaluation, the better. This is the time to list out all of your concerns!

There are many types of evidence you may share:
1. Report card grades and/or narrative feedback sections
2. Samples of spelling tests or written work from school or home
3. A log showing extensive time required to complete homework or the amount of support needed
4. mCLASS, i-Ready, STAR, NC Check In, or other school assessment data
5. School reading comprehension assessments
6. Outside(private) evaluations or therapy reports (This is NOT required!)
7. Note family history of language, reading, and/or writing challenges
8. Note any anxiety, fears, or behavior changes around going to school

After the school receives your request with listed areas of concern, you will meet with the special education team for a referral meeting. This is where it will be decided if the school agrees to move forward with an evaluation for possible special education services. You are part of the team, so again, bring samples and evidence to support your concerns and discuss them with the staff.

If the school decides not to move forward with an evaluation, IDEA law requires that they provide you with Prior Written Notice, which must include, “A description of the action proposed or refused by the agency; an explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action; a description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action.” You must be given an explanation of WHY you were denied and what they used to support this decision.

These federal mandates are further documented in North Carolina’s Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities and Parent Rights & Responsibilities Handbook. A denial does NOT mean that you are out of options. Your next steps may include making another request with additional supporting data, requesting an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation), requesting Mediation, or filing a State or Due Process complaint. Information about all of these options can be found in the Parent Rights & Responsibilities Handbook and Duke Law’s Parent Guide to Special Education.

Emily J. Mora, M.Ed., CCC-SLP