The Ten (10) Basic Steps in Special Education

Children can have all sorts of difficulties growing up. Sometimes problems are obvious right from the start; and sometimes they do not appear until a child is in school. Some children have trouble learning to read or write while others have a hard time remembering new information. Still others may have trouble with their behavior. For some children, growing up can be very hard to do!

When a child is having trouble in school, it’s important to find out why. The child may have a disability. By law, schools must provide special help to eligible children with disabilities. This help is called Special Education and Related Services.  There’s a lot to know about the process by which children are identified as having a disability and in need of special education and related services.

This brief overview is an excellent place to start!


Step 1.  Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.

There are two primary ways in which children are identified as possibly needing special education and related services: the system known as Child Find and by referral of a parent or school personnel.

  1. Child Find.  Each state is required by IDEA to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct what are known as Child Find activities.  Click here for the OPC’s Child Find page!
  2. Referral or request for evaluation.  A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child’s teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal, but it’s best to put it in writing.  Click here for a sample letter!

Parental Consent is needed before a child may be evaluated.   You should only sign the consent if you wish to have your child evaluated in all areas where he or she may have a disability.  This includes health, vision, hearing, social-emotional, general intelligence, academic performance, communication, and physical abilities.

What is Parental Consent?

Per the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Special Education Handbook:

Parental Consent is written approval given by a parent and/or adult student who has been fully informed of and understands all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought. The request for consent describes the activity for which consent is sought and lists the records, if any, that will be released and to whom. All information must be provided in the native language or mode of communication of the parent and/or adult student, unless not feasible. The parent and/or adult student must be informed that the approval is voluntary and may be revoked at any time prior to the action. Consent is indicated by the parent’s/adult student’s signature.

Once the school receives signed parental consent, under the federal IDEA regulations, evaluation needs to be completed within 60 days after the parent gives consent.

However, the state guideline in Oklahoma is 45 school days after parent signs for consent.  The timeline for conducting the initial evaluation starts upon receipt of written parental consent to conduct the evaluation, and ends with the determination of eligibility for special education services.  Please note that this is “school days” not calendar days.


Step 2. Child is evaluated.

Evaluation is an essential early step in the special education process for a child. It’s intended to answer these questions:

  • Does the child have a disability that requires special education and related services?
  • What are the child’s specific educational needs?
  • What special education services and related services, then, are appropriate for addressing those needs?

By law, the initial evaluation of the child must be “full and individual”—which is to say, focused on that child and that child alone. The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. This evaluation is provided by the school at NO COST to parents.

During the evaluation process, the student is assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, which may include the following, but not limited to:

  • Health
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Social and emotional status
  • General intelligence
  • Academic performance
  • Communicative status
  • Motor abilities
  • Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)
  • Assistive Technology (AT)

The evaluation results are used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). They can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.

If the parent obtains an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at private expense, the results of the evaluation must be considered by the public agency in any decision made with respect to the provision of FAPE. However, this does not mean that the school district must accept the findings or recommendations in the independent evaluation. It means that the IEP team must review the independent evaluation and discuss it as appropriate.


Step 3. Eligibility is decided.

A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child’s evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA.  Click here for a list of the IDEA categories of disabilities!

The IDEA’s disability terms and definitions guide how States in their own turn define disability and who is eligible for a free appropriate public education under special education law.  Note, in order to fully meet the definition (and eligibility for special education and related services) as a “child with a disability,” a child’s educational performance must be adversely affected due to the disability.

If the parents do not agree with the eligibility decision, they may seek dispute resolution options to challenge the decision.   Disagreements sometimes arise between schools and parents and/or adult students. Options to assist in resolving disputes include: mediation, due process, and IDEA complaint.  Click here for FREE options available in Oklahoma.


Step 4. Child is found eligible for services.

If the child is found to be a child with a disability, as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services.  The definition of a child with a disability:

A child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with 34 CFR §300.304 through 300.311 as having an intellectual disability, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as “emotional disturbance”), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, another health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.  The IDEA Improvement Act (2004) clarified that states may use, in addition to the Part B disability categories for eligibility determinations, the term “developmental delay” and apply it to the age range 3 through 9, or any subset of that range, including ages 3 through 5.

Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child.


Step 5. IEP meeting is scheduled.

The school system schedules and conducts the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. School staff must:

  • contact the participants, including the parents;
  • notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend;
  • schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school;
  • tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting;
  • tell the parents who will be attending; and
  • tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.

The IDEA is very clear about who all develops the IEP and needs to attend the meetings, this is called the IEP Team.  It includes the following people, but is not limited to just these people, these are the people who are required by IDEA to be included.

  • The Parents, it is important that you attend this meeting;
  • At least one (1) Regular Education teacher who knows the curriculum for the child’s grade level and what children in regular education classes are typically expected to do;
  • At least one (1) Special Education teacher who has more training with issues such as providing the supplementary aids and services needed, providing special accommodations, and other aspects of individualizing instruction to meet the child’s unique needs;
  • The Administrative Representative is generally a principal or superintendent – they must have the power to commit the resources needed so that services can be provided as described in the IEP and will ensure those services will actually be provided;
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results to explain the evaluation results and describe how to provide appropriate instruction to the student. He or she may already be a member of the team, such as a special education teacher, or may be someone else entirely, such as a school psychologist;
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate). IDEA requires that the child be invited to the IEP meeting if transition goals and services are going to be discussed. Parents decide when it is appropriate for a child to attend meetings; and
  • Any other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child and have been requested by the school or the parent to attend.

Step 6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.

The school makes sure that the child’s IEP is carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child’s teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.


Step 7. After the IEP is written, services are provided.

If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.

If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. At any time in this process, the parent may call the Oklahoma Parents Center to ask for assistance at 877-553-4332.

Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give written consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the IEP is written and this consent is given.

The IEP team gathers to talk about the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are full participating members of the team. If the child’s placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well.  Please remember that Special Education is a service and not a place.


Step 8. Progress is measured and reported to parents. 

The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to participate in these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP, and agree or disagree with the placement. At least every three years the child must be reevaluated. Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a child with a disability, as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.


Step 9. IEP is reviewed.

The child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. His or her parents are regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children’s progress.


Step 10. Child is reevaluated.

If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation, or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.