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Frequently Asked Questions About Special Education:

The information contained on the following pages comes from several sources, including, but not limited to: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) and “Special Education Rights: A Handbook for Maryland Families and Professionals,” published by Disability Rights Maryland.

Q. Who is eligible for special education?

A. Children with disabilities from birth through 21 years of age may be eligible. Children may receive services through the Infants and Toddlers Program through the school year in which they turn four. Children with the following disabilities may be eligible: mental retardation/intellectual disability; hearing impairments (including deafness); speech or language impairments; visual impairments (including blindness); serious emotional disturbance; physical or orthopedic impairments; autism; traumatic brain injury; multiple disabilities; other health impairments (ADHD); or specific learning disabilities.

Q. Who decides if your child is eligible for special education?

A. A multidisciplinary group called an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines eligibility for special education. The following individuals MUST be members of the child’s IEP team: parent or guardian; a general education teacher (if appropriate); a special education teacher; and a representative of the school system, who knows about special education, the general curriculum, and the availability of services. The following individuals are optional members of the child’s IEP team: school psychologist; social worker; occupational therapist; speech/language therapist; physical therapist; and/or the student (if appropriate).

Q. What is the process for determining eligibility for special education?

A. The evaluation process leading up to a determination of eligibility usually consists of three parts: the screening (by school professionals); an evaluation (a battery of assessments); and a review of the assessments.

Q. What is a screening?

A. A screening is the process of reviewing a child’s situation to see if (s)he may be disabled and in need of special education and related services. Children may be referred for screening by their parents or guardians, teachers, doctors, or other professionals (e.g., Kennedy Krieger staff). The individual making the referral for the child should do so in writing and keep a copy of the signed and dated letter for their records. The letter should be sent to the principal of the school and/or The Office of Special Education for the local educational agency.

Q. What happens after the screening?

A. If the team decides that your child may have a disability and need special education, the team may recommend evaluations (e.g., cognitive, educational, psychological, or psychosocial) to determine if your child has a disability and, if so, whether your child needs special education services. The evaluations must be conducted in ALL areas of suspected disability.

Q. What rights do parents or guardians have during the evaluation stage?

A. The IEP team must complete the initial screening, evaluations, and review of the evaluations within 90-calendar days of receiving the written referral; parents or guardians must consent to the evaluations; parents or guardians are entitled to written notice of the IEP meeting; and the parents or guardians do not have to pay for the evaluations recommended by the IEP team.

Q. What can parents or guardians do if they disagree with the evaluations conducted by the local educational agency?

A. Parents have the right to an independent evaluation paid for by the school system. Parents or guardians must ask for independent evaluations from the principal or the Director of Special Education. If the school system refuses to pay for the independent evaluation, the school system must state their reasons in writing and file for a due process hearing. If the administrative law judge decides in favor of the school system, the parent or guardian will have to pay for the independent evaluation.

Q. Does the local educational agency have to use the results of the independent evaluation?

A. The IEP team MUST consider, but does not have to accept, the findings of an independent evaluation. If the IEP team does accept the findings of the independent evaluation, the parent or guardian may request reimbursement from the local educational agency (if the parent or guardian paid for the evaluation).

Q. What services must the school provide?

A. Every student with a disability is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that can meet the student’s needs.

Q. What is an IEP?

A. An IEP, an "Individualized Education Program," is an individually tailored document that describes the special education and related services that your child needs. The IEP is developed and written at an IEP meeting. The child’s parent or guardian must participate in the development of the IEP. The child’s IEP must be developed prior to determining the child’s placement. If the parent or guardian does not agree with the IEP, then the parent or guardian should not sign the IEP.

Q. What is the meaning of the term “related services”?

A. Under IDEA 2004, “related services” means transportation, and developmental, corrective, and other supportive services, including: speech-language pathology and audiology services; interpreting services; psychological services; physical and occupational therapy; recreation, including therapeutic recreation; social work services; school nurse services; counseling services; and medical services (for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only).

Q. What is the meaning of the term “transition services”?

A. Under IDEA 2004, “transition services” means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

Q. What happens if the local educational agency cannot meet the child’s needs in the public school system?

A.The school system must place your child in a nonpublic placement. The school system must pay for the nonpublic education, as well as transportation to and from the nonpublic school. The Maryland State Department of Education has a list of approved nonpublic schools.

Q. What happens if the parent or guardian and the local educational agency cannot agree on the delivery of special education and related services?

A. A parent or guardian may request mediation, a resolution session, a due process hearing, or file a complaint with the Maryland State Department of Education for violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004.

Special Education Sample Letters:

Complaint Forms:

Related Materials and Information:

Additional Resources: