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I think my child needs special education classes. What is the process?

Getting special education for a child requires a team effort by parents or guardians ("caregivers"), teachers and the school district. Both public and charter schools must provide special education to students with disabilities who need help learning in school.   A caregiver should take the following steps when seeking special education services:

1. Ask for an Evaluation

If you think a child needs special education, write a letter to the principal asking to figure out if the child has a disability. Write the date and explain the child's problems in school with learning, paying attention or acting out. Keep a copy of the letter. If the child has a medical condition, think about including a letter or document from the child's doctor. The school has 30 days to answer a caregiver's letter in writing and say whether or not it will test the child.

2. School Agrees to Test Your Child

If the school district agrees a child may have a disability, they will ask the caregiver to sign a consent form. The evaluation may only start after the school receives the signed forms and permission to test. The school must finish the testing within 60 days of consent. After the evaluation is done, the school must meet with the caregiver to talk about the testing and decide if the child needs special education.

3. School Will Note Test Your Child

If the school tells a caregiver that the child will not be tested, and the caregiver disagrees with the decision, s/he has options to appeal. It is a good idea to ask for help with an appeal. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is able to help in some of these cases.

4. Individual Education Plans (IEPs)

Children found to need special education services will have an IEP with the school. The IEP services can include things like help with math or reading, plans for addressing behavior problems, speech, language, or occupational therapy, and other services to help children learn. The services are free to families, and can be provided in school or in the home.

5. Signing Forms

If at any time the school asks a caregiver to sign a document and the person does not agree with the document, either (1) do not sign it or (2) write on the document to indicate disagreement.

Additional information about special education is available from the Ohio Department of Education at: 614-466-2650 or 877-644-6338 (toll free). If you need help with a special education problem, please call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to find out if you are eligible for assistance.

This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer Kolie Erokwu and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.

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