The Pathway to Special Education: Referral Process Explained

Referral Process for Special Education

As parents, we want nothing more than for our children to feel happy, confident, and supported at school. But when they start to struggle, either academically or behaviorally, it can keep us up at night.

If your child is having difficulties in the classroom, it may be time to consider special education services. With the care of experienced teachers and proper resources in place, children have an incredible capacity to blossom. We are here to guide you step-by-step so that your child gets everything they need to flourish.

There is a formal legal process defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that must be followed for evaluating and qualifying students for special education. At Shields Law, we’ve supported many families through this referral and evaluation process in Texas. We know it can feel overwhelming to navigate. Our goal here is to explain the steps so you understand your rights and responsibilities in getting your child the services they require.

Is a Referral Needed? Signs Your Child May Benefit From Special Education

As parents, you know your child best. You may notice them struggling in certain areas that indicate a need to explore special education. 

Some of the most common signs include:

  • Difficulty learning to read, write, do math, or master other academic skills
  • Trouble focusing and completing assignments
  • Delayed speech or trouble communicating
  • Acting out or other behavioral challenges
  • Difficulty socializing or making friends

Don’t hesitate to speak up and make a referral if you spot any issues interfering with your child’s learning and happiness at school. Acting early is key – addressing needs early on can prevent them from escalating and improve outcomes.

Who Can Refer a Child for Special Ed Services?

IDEA guarantees eligible students the right to receive special education support and services tailored to their unique needs.

A child can be referred for evaluation for special education by either the school or a parent. If the school suspects your child may have a disability and require specialized instruction, they are obligated to initiate the evaluation process. As a parent, however, you also have the right to request an evaluation at any time if you believe your child needs additional support.

To start the process as a parent, submit a written request for evaluation to your child’s principal if he or she is already enrolled in school. For a preschool-aged child not yet in school, send the letter to the special education director for your school district. Including a request in writing begins important legal timelines, the school must follow in responding.

Walking Through the Special Education Referral and Evaluation Process

Starting the evaluation process is an important first step to getting your child the help they need to be successful. Here are the key steps involved in getting your child evaluated and qualified for special education services in Texas:

1. Documenting All Areas of Concern

The referral submission should provide detailed documentation of your child’s suspected disability. This includes:

  • Academic struggles in reading, writing, math, or other subjects
  • Test scores indicating below grade-level performance
  • Observations from teachers noting concentration difficulties
  • Records of behavioral incidents or disciplinary actions
  • Developmental delays in speech/language or social skills

Having thorough documentation from the start ensures the full scope of your child’s needs is addressed in the evaluation.

2. Submitting the Written Referral

The referral request is submitted in writing, typically to your child’s principal or special education coordinator at their school. It formally initiates the legal timelines the school must follow for evaluation.

3. Parent Notification

Within 15 school days after receiving the referral, the school must respond to the request to evaluate your child. Parental consent is required before any testing can be performed.

This notification should clearly explain what evaluations will be conducted, why they are recommended, and how results will be used. As the parent, you have a right to ask questions and understand the process.

4. Conducting the Full Individual Evaluation

Once you provide consent, the school has 45 school days to complete a comprehensive evaluation determining your child’s specific needs and eligibility.

This includes psychological, academic, behavioral, and other formal assessments tailored to your child’s areas of suspected disability. Observations, interviews, health records, and work samples may also be used.

5. Reviewing Results and Determining Eligibility

After testing, an ARD meeting is held with you, your child’s teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to decide if your child qualifies for services under IDEA guidelines.

To be eligible, they must show your child has a disability that adversely impacts their education. You will also discuss what types of support they need.

6. Developing the IEP

If your child qualifies, the school has 30 calendar days to assemble an ARD committee meeting. This meeting develops the legally binding IEP outlining their customized special education program – the services, accommodations, goals, and progress tracking based entirely on their unique needs.

Understanding the details will help you ensure proper procedures are followed in your child’s case. An experienced special education attorney can provide guidance on all aspects of the process.

Partnering With a Special Education Lawyer

Having a special education attorney on your side helps ensure proper procedures are followed, and your child’s rights are protected. Our lawyers can provide assistance by:

  • Reviewing your child’s records and helping document referral reasons.
  • Attending ARD meetings to represent your interests.
  • Ensuring the school follows timelines and conducts appropriate testing.
  • Negotiating IEP services to match your child’s requirements.
  • Resolving any disputes through mediation or due process hearings.

With a special needs attorney’s assistance, you can have peace of mind that everything is being handled properly and focus on your child’s needs. We regularly see improved results for students when families have strong legal support.

Let Our Team Support Your Child’s Success

At Shields Law, we are not just attorneys but parents and former teachers who have lived the challenges children with special needs face. We understand this process because we have been in your shoes. 

Our law firm focuses solely on special education, so your child will have passionate advocates invested in their success. We will use our experience navigating the Texas education system to ensure your child is properly evaluated and qualified to receive the services that allow them to thrive. 

Don’t go through this alone – our team will provide guidance, advocacy, and empowerment so you can focus on your child’s bright future. Reach out today to book your free discovery call.

Author Bio

Kevin Piwowarski Shields

Kevin Shields

Kevin Shields is a Founding Member and Special Education Lawyer at Shields Law Firm, representing children and families in special needs matters throughout Texas. Before becoming a lawyer, Kevin worked as a general education teacher and fought for increased inclusion time for his students receiving services. He advocated for his students by calling out providers who missed sessions and was often the dissenting voice at the IEP table.

Kevin obtained his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law School and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. He is admitted to practice law in Texas, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He is also a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) and holds memberships in the State Bar of Texas, focusing on School Law, Juvenile Law, and Child Protection Law. He is also a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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