A Parent’s Guide for when a child does not qualify for special education services

By Erin N. King, Ed.S., Nationally Certified School Psychologist

The testing has been completed, the eligibility team has met, and your child was found ineligible for special education services. This should not be the end of the road. If there was even an eligibility meeting to begin with, this means that there were valid concerns and difficulties that probably still need to be addressed. However, these problems will need to be addressed using an avenue other than special education. It would be wise at this point to have a meeting with the teacher and other school personnel to determine what can be done within regular education to address the issues presented. This could mean more involvement in a remedial program, a new behavior plan, extra tutoring, or any other intervention.

Common reasons a child might be found ineligible for special education services
  • Your child does not meet criteria for one of the disabilities recognized within special education.The school is required to follow federal guidelines in determining eligibility for special education. Each disability has a federal definition and a strict set of guidelines for determining if a student meets that definition. Some school districts are more flexible with those guidelines, some follow them strictly. If a student does not meet the criteria for a disability, he or she will not be eligible to receive special education services.
  • Your child has a disability, but there is not a documented educational impact.If a student is has a diagnosed disability, it does not automatically mean a child will receive special education services. The disability must be creating an adverse effect on education. The way a school measures this adverse effect on education will vary. Some schools compare educational testing to cognitive testing to see if the child is learning to his or her ability level. Other schools will use grades or more qualitative information.
  • Your child learns more slowly than other children, but does not qualify for Specific Learning Disability.Testing revealed that your child has difficulty learning, struggles to learn new concepts, and it has greatly impacted educational performance. Despite these difficulties, special education services can not be obtained because this is not considered a “disability.” These are the students who will need the most support within the regular education environment.


What parents can do if they disagree with eligibility findings.

When a parent disagrees with the testing results or the eligibility decision, there are actions that can be taken. The first step is to voice the concerns at the eligibility meeting. If you still do not agree with the outcome, go to the Director of Special Education and request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). This is an evaluation by a private professional at the cost of the school system. It is like a second opinion by a neutral person not affiliated with the school system. After this evaluation is completed, the school will use the new data to see if the student meets criteria for special education services. The same eligibility guidelines will be used, but the testing will be different. It may be helpful to talk to an advocate to make sure you understand your rights. After the IEE, if the parent does not agree that the school is following federal guidelines in determining eligibility, the parent can file a complaint with the state. Usually attempts are made to solve the conflict through mediation at this point. However, in extreme cases, a Due Process lawsuit will be filed.  I would recommend doing everything possible to work together with the school system and lawsuits should only be used in extreme circumstances.

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