|How the process works
The process usually starts when a parent is dissatisfied with the progress
their child is making, or when there are attentional or behavioral problems in
school, or when the child exhibits unusual behavior such as
depression, anxiety, headaches, or other symptoms related to being in school.
The parent requests testing to determine what is going on. Sometimes the
process may start with the school recommending an evaluation and/or
special services due to their own concerns.
Regardless of who initiates the process, the first step is the meeting of the Team, which
consists of school personnel, the parents, the child if old enough, and outside
specialists if called in to consult. The Team attempts to work by
consensus to determine eligibility for special services, and if eligible to
define those special services and specify them in an individualized education
plan (IEP). The parents have specific legal rights, and may challenge
determination of eligibility and/or the IEP. This process is discussed in
detail in the IEP
Process Guide available on the Massachusetts Department of Education Special
Education web site,
It is important to note that if the parents disagree with the results of a
school evaluation, they may ask for an outside evaluation, which may
be partially or wholly funded by the schools. However, depending on
exactly how the school evaluation is conducted, there may be problems obtaining
a comprehensive outside evaluation. For example, schools rarely have a
neuropsychologist on staff, yet a neuropsychological evaluation by a skilled,
experienced clinician is often the best way to determine a child's full range of
learning strengths and weaknesses. If the school has not performed such an
evaluation, they may not be obligated to pay for one by an independent
Some of the tests given by the school during a partial evaluation -
such as the Wechsler (WISC-IV) cannot be repeated in less than six
months. This is a problem since any competent clinician needs to
integrate the results of this important test with other test data to
obtain a full diagnostic profile. Comparable measures of
intelligence often are less helpful, such as, for example, the Stanford
If you think an outside evaluation is something you may want to consider,
we strongly recommend that you consult with the
prospective evaluator before the school conducts any testing.
The most common result is a consensus agreement amongst the Team members
resulting in an IEP that the parents can sign. However, if the Team cannot
come to consensus, the next step is mediation. Few parents will want to go
to mediation without the assistance of one or more advocates, which may be an
educational advocate, a psychologist, an attorney, or a combination. In
the last 20 years, we have had more than 150 cases go to mediation.
It should be noted that, when an out of district placement is appropriate, it
is rare for the schools to agree prior to mediation. Out of district
placement is expensive. Private tuition is expensive enough, but the cost
of transportation can exceed the tuition. We have successfully recommended
out of district placement in a number of cases, but in the majority we have been
able to obtain adequate services within the schools.
If mediation is not successful, the next step is a hearing before an
administrative hearing officer. The hearing officer has broad power to
determine what is in the best interests of the child, and to order appropriate
measures to be taken, up to and including out of district placement with all
costs including transportation and attorney's fees to be paid by the schools.
In the last 20 years, we have had about two dozen cases go to hearing.
If either side remains dissatisfied after the hearing, they have the legal
right to appeal to superior court. Of the cases we have had go to hearing,
only one is being appealed, by a school district which says they are acting "on
principle," even though the program being offered did not meet the educational
and emotional needs of the child. Meanwhile, the child remains in a
specialized educational setting, where he is making excellent progress.
Timing is an important consideration in the process. Many private
schools have filled their classes for the fall by January or February of each
year. Admissions past that date are usually on a space available basis,
and any spaces that open up are generally because expected returning students do
not turn up or unexpectedly move out of state.
We urge parents who are considering taking action to do so early in the fall,
because they may need all the lead time they can get. We can usually be
responsive to requests for supporting services, but the number of requests for
evaluations and for classroom observations rapidly fills up each March through
June. We can generally work something out, but we can do so much more
easily from July through February of each year.