Making Sure Every Student Has the Support They Need to Succeed
If your student is struggling with academic or discipline issues, there might be a need for special education support. In Michigan, every school (public and charter) is required to identify students with disabilities who may need help. Parents and guardians can take the first step by requesting a free evaluation.
When to Ask for a Special Education Evaluation
You may want to request a Special Education Evaluation if your child is:
- Having academic problems
- Doing well in some classes but failing others
- Experiencing a sudden drop in grades, or if a teacher expresses concerns to you about your child’s academic progress
- Having repeated behavior or social problems that interfere with learning
- Not able to focus or sit still
- Depressed, angry or moody
See the Michigan Rules for determinations of different categories of eligibility
How the Process Works
See Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Timeline for more information, including timing and delivery of special education services.
PARENT/GUARDIAN WRITES TO REQUEST EVALUATION
Write a letter to the special education director of your school district. (Everything you do should be documented in writing. If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen!)
Wondering what to say in your letter? Use this template as a starting point.
SCHOOL DISTRICT RESPONDS AND ASKS PARENT/GUARDIAN FOR CONSENT
Within 10 school days, the school district must acknowledge the request and seek written signed consent to conduct an evaluation of the student. The district can’t evaluate the student until you give consent.
If you want to proceed with the evaluation, give written consent by signing. The district will review the information that they have (attendance, grades, test scores) and outline the data they plan to collect during the evaluation period. This is called the REED, or Review of Existing Evaluative Data.
SCHOOL EVALUATES STUDENT
Within 30 school days, the school is required to evaluate the child and host a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) meeting to decide if the student is eligible for Special Education. The parent/guardian is an active member of the MET meeting and discussion; your input is vital.
TEAM MEETS TO MAKE A PLAN (IEP)
An Individual Educational Planning Team (IEPT) meeting must take place within 30 school days of getting the parent’s consent for evaluation.
See Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Timeline for Initial Evaluations for a brief description of the rules.
The planning team should be student-centered. It should include:
- the student, if they are old enough
- a parent or guardian
- at least one of the child’s teachers
- a special education professional or representative
- a member of the testing team, to review the results of the evaluation
- an administrator, usually the principal (or an administrative representative)
- an advocate: a friend, relative, religious advisor, professional or anyone who will offer moral support and has the student’s best interest at heart
Note: The school must make every effort to assure that the parent is told about the meeting with plenty of time to make arrangements, and that the meeting is at a mutually convenient time and place.
THE INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PLAN (IEP)
The IEP is a written legal document including the instruction, supports and services the school district is offering to meet the child’s needs. Ideally, the IEP will support the child in being successful throughout their remaining years in the public school system.
If you agree with the IEP, sign it. This means that you are accepting the offer, and the school district will be held responsible for providing the services and supports outlined in the IEP. Make sure that you and the MET are given a signed copy of the IEP.
IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH THE IEP
If the the parent and school cannot agree on the supports and services for the child, you can ask for mediation. Mediation is a collaborative means of resolving disputes. When parents, educators or service providers disagree over a special education or early intervention matter, they can try to find a solution together with help from a neutral third party. Mediation is a free service from the Michigan Special Education Mediation Program.
What to Do If the School Determines That Your Child Isn’t Eligible for Special Education Services
Sometimes the evaluation will result in the school not recommending special education services for your child. If this happens, and you disagree with the outcome of the evaluation, you can request an additional evaluation called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). This is an evaluation by a qualified and impartial evaluator from outside the school. The school is required to pay for this evaluation. Make this request in writing to the director of Special Education in your school district. (Here is a helpful template to help you write this letter.)
If you do not agree with the results of this second evaluation, you may:
- Ask for a due process hearing. These hearings take time and are costly. The hearing will function a lot like a court of law, and legal representation is highly recommended. If the hearing is won by the family, the school pays their attorney’s fees. Other fees (the cost of expert witnesses, for example) are not covered.
- Ask for a Section 504 Plan. According to Title VI, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, students with disabilities cannot be “excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” A 504 plan lists the accommodations needed to be able to participate in a general education classroom.
Special Education and School Discipline
A student cannot be expelled or suspended for behavior related to their disability.
A special meeting called a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) Hearing will help to decide if the violation of the school code is related to the child’s disability, and if the school did everything possible to keep the behavior from happening.
Example: James, a seventh grader, is eligible for Special Education because he has Attention Deficit Disorder. He cannot be expelled or long-term suspended for behavior that is caused by poor impulse control.
Learn more about Manifestation Determination Review Hearings
An Individual Education Planning Team (IEPT) must hold a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR) Hearing to discuss:
- Whether the violation of the school discipline code is related to the student’s disability, and
whether or not the school did everything possible to keep the behavior from happening
- Whether or not the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s disability
- Whether or not the conduct in question was the direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP. 34 CFR §300.530(e). (Source: Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service)
- If the answer to the above questions is YES (there was a substantial relationship to disability) or (the incident was a result of failure to implement the IEP), the expulsion must be halted.
Questions to determine if the behavior “was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability:
- Did the student’s disability impair his or her ability to understand the impact and consequences of the behavior subject to disciplinary action/behavioral intervention plan? If the answer is YES, the expulsion must be halted. (It has a substantial relationship to the child’s disability.)
- Did the student’s disability impair his or her ability to control the behavior subject to disciplinary action? If the answer is YES, the expulsion must be halted. During the course of the MDR, the student must “stay-put” in his/her school placement until the hearing is over, unless there are “special circumstances” (34 CFR §300.530).
Understanding Right to Stay-Put Protection
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA ‘04) lays out a stay-put provision that temporarily protects special education students from unjustified suspension or expulsion. The provision requires that while a school or law enforcement agency is reviewing the case or filing proceedings, a special education student has the right to remain in his or her “then current educational placement” unless the parent and school agree otherwise. Under “special circumstances,” if a weapon, drug or serious bodily harm is involved, the school can move the child to a 45-day temporary placement (an “interim alternative educational setting” or IAES) without parental consent. Obtaining a stay-put may seem difficult at first (See Sample Letter for a Stay-Put). However the only way a Special Education student can be kept out of school, if the district secures a court injunction.