What is special education?
Special education is specially designed instruction, at no cost to families, which meets the unique needs of a child with a disability. Michigan's Mandatory Special Education Act (P.A. 451) of 1976) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 (P.L. 105-17 of 1997) guarantee all persons with disabilities from infancy to age 25 the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
Who is a "child with a disability?"
The definition includes the following qualifications:
Children from birth through age 25, who have not graduated from high school, and children who have the characteristics for a specific disability as defined in the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education. (The special education categories are listed in this book.)
What happens during an evaluation?
Prior to a child’s first evaluation, the school must notify the child’s parent/guardians. The required notice will explain any evaluation that the school proposes to conduct, and the parent/guardians must give their informed consent for the child to be evaluated.
The next step involves gathering and reviewing existing information on the child by an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. This includes evaluations and information provided by the parents, current classroom-based assessments and observations, and teacher and other service providers’ observations. Once the information is reviewed, if questions remain unanswered, additional tests and evaluations will be given.
What is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written plan for a child with a disability, which lists out the special education and related services to be received. The IEP team is comprised of the child’s parent/guardians, school professionals and the student. Scheduled during a mutually agreeable time, the IEP is annually reviewed.
What is FAPE?
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) means that needed education and related services are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge to families. The services provided must meet the standards of the Department of Education for all students and follow the IEP.
Should my child go to the meetings?
Kalamazoo RESA Special Education recommends that each student have the option to be involved in meetings, as they often have an accurate insight into their own strengths and needs. When students are involved in determining their own goals and objectives they often exhibit a stronger commitment toward achieving them. These plans are annually updated.
Each student should have the option to be a part of the process. Students are a part of their transition planning beginning at age 14. When students turn 17 they are notified that their rights will officially transfer to them upon reaching the age of majority, 18 years old.
How long will it take to get help?
(Special Education Guidelines)
10 School Days from Referral to Parent Notice:
Once a written referral has been submitted to the school district or service area office, the Parent Consent Form and Procedural Safeguards information must be given to the parent/guardians within 10 school days.
30 School Days between Parent Consent and the initial IEP Team Meeting:
During the 30 days following parent consent:
A Multidisciplinary Evaluation TEAM (MET) is composed of professional staff and the parent/guardians of the student. The team will compile all relevant data and consider other potentially necessary evaluations.
A meeting with the parent/guardians will be held to discuss the results of the evaluation to determine a recommendation for special education services. An initial IEPT meeting will be held with the parent/guardians to determine if the child is eligible for special education services based on state rules and regulations, as well as to determine programs and services based on the student’s individual needs and current levels of performance. During the meeting, an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) will be written describing all decisions. There will be 15 school days between the time that the parent/guardian is notified of the placement decision and beginning of the IEP services. Services may begin as soon as the districts have assigned the location and parent/guardians have signed in agreement with the IEP.
One year later, the IEP must be reviewed.
On a yearly basis, an IEPT must meet to review student progress and consider appropriate programs and services. Three years later, the Multidisciplinary Evaluation must be reviewed. Every three years, students who are receiving special education services must receive an evaluation, followed by an IEPT meeting to review eligibility and programs/services. The parent/guardians will meet with school staff prior to the 3 year evaluation to determine what specific areas should be addressed during the evaluation.
How do I prepare for the IEP meeting?
Please consider the following ideas on preparation for meetings at school:
- Obtain as much information as possible before the meeting by participating as a member of the MET team, talking with your student’s teacher and visiting your child in their current program.
- Share information from other agencies with school staff.
- Keep a file of reports and documents related to your child's program.
- Bring information with you to MET and IEPT meetings.
- Become familiar with your rights and with special education terminology by reading your parent handbook.
- Whenever possible, have both parents attend the IEPT meeting. Also consider bringing a friend or relative who is knowledgeable about your child and can talk things through with you as needed.
- Write down your questions and concerns and bring them to the meeting.
- Make a list of the things that you want your child to learn in school. You can work with school staff to develop goals and objectives for your child's program.
What if I don't like what is happening at the meeting?
Disagreements can be viewed as a sign that there are many people who care about the student, but who also share different points of view. It is important that all members of the team work together to resolve areas of disagreement.
It may be necessary to:
- Stop and listen to make sure that each person's point of view is heard.
- List areas of disagreement and address them individually.
- Reconvene the meeting after questions have been answered or more information is obtained.
Please note: The school district has the responsibility to ensure that an appropriate program is designed and implemented for the child. If, at the end of the meeting, the parent/guardians are not in agreement with the written IEP plan, they have the right to appeal the plan by signing in disagreement and requesting:
Mediation – Mediation is a method of resolving a dispute by working with a neutral third-party that can assist the parent/guardians and the school district in finding an acceptable resolution. Parent/guardians and the district must agree on the mediator, and the mediator may not impose a decision on you.
Due Process Hearing – Due process is a formal way to resolve disagreements about IEPT decisions. There must be a written request for a hearing describing concerns and proposed resolution. A hearing officer is appointed that is agreeable to both parties. Each side presents witnesses and evidence, and is subsequently allowed to question the witnesses and evidence presented by the other side.
For further information about parent rights regarding mediation and due process hearings, please see the Procedural Safeguards in the Parent Handbook.
Will my child always be in special education?
Special education services are provided to children who continue to need assistance to access the general education program or specific learning experiences related to their disability. Each year, the child's need for continued special education programs and services is reviewed at the annual IEPT meeting, and every three years an evaluation is given to determine whether the child continues to be eligible for services.
Parent/guardians can monitor progress on specific IEP goals and objectives each time progress reports are provided, which must be at least as often as students in the general education program.
Once identified as a student with a disability, a child may not always need special education services. If that child can learn specific skills or has the ability to compensate in a way that they may be successful in the general education program without support, services may not continue to be needed. This is why it is important for parents to participate in MET evaluations and IEPT meetings, as well as monitor progress reports, so that parent/guardians are able to assess how your child is learning in school and what supports are needed for success.
What is Kalamazoo RESA?
Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency encompasses nine school districts and several public school academies, providing a full range of programs and services to meet the needs of students.
Kalamazoo County is divided into three service areas for the purpose of coordinating special education services for students.
The Eastern Service Area is comprised of the school districts of Climax-Scotts, Comstock, Galesburg-Augusta, Gull Lake and Parchment. The Central Service Area is comprised of Kalamazoo Public Schools. The Southern Service Area is comprised of the school districts of Portage, Schoolcraft and Vicksburg. The service areas and member districts each employ special education staff and serve the public school districts and non-public schools in their geographic areas.
Kalamazoo RESA provides programs and services on a countywide basis, which act in support to the school districts throughout the county.
Why does my child need an evaluation?
An evaluation is given in order to answer these questions:
- Does the child have a particular category of disability?
- How is the child currently performing in school?
- What are the child’s educational needs?
- Does the child need special education and related services?
- What additions or modifications, if any, are needed to enable the child to meet annual goals in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and participate, as appropriate, in the general curriculum?
Who makes the decisions?
A team of qualified professionals and the student’s parent/guardians will decide if the child is eligible for special education.
What is LRE?
LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) looks at the setting in which the child receives an education. The law presumes that children with disabilities are most appropriately educated with their nondisabled peers. Attending special classes or separate schools, or removing children with disabilities from the regular classroom, occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability prevents the student from achieving satisfactorily even when supplementary aids and services are used.
How does a parent/guardian participate in the decision-making process?
Parents may be involved in a variety of ways:
- Parent/guardians have the opportunity to provide information and participate in decision making at meetings related to identification, evaluation, educational placement, reevaluation and the appropriate education of the child.
- Parent/guardians give consent for initial evaluations and reevaluations.
- Parent/guardians will receive regular reports on their child’s progress.
- Parent/guardians must notify the school district if they intend to remove their student from the public school or of their intent to file a complaint.
- Parent/guardians may be involved at the local-level through the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC). The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) involves parents in planning, implementing and reviewing activities.
Where do I start to get help?
In most cases, when a child is having difficulty in school, help begins with the classroom teacher and the school principal. Most buildings feature a team of staff, sometimes referred to as the building support team or teacher assistance team, which assists teachers and parents in addressing concerns related to learning problems of individual students- This is generally the place to start.
A special education referral can be made by anyone who suspects that a student may have a disability, and is a written statement describing the concern. A special education referral may be made on behalf of an individual, age 0-15 years of age. The special education service area office serving the local school district receives the referrals.
An evaluation is the first step in determining if a child has a disability. Prior to the school evaluation, you must receive written notice, in your native language or preferred mode of communication. This notice must describe the evaluation and the reason it is being requested.
Written parental consent must be obtained before the district can conduct an initial evaluation. This consent is only for the evaluation. Parent/guardians will be given a Parent Handbook which further describes their rights as a parent/guardian and will explain the next steps in the process, including their participation in the Individualized Educational Planning Team (IEPT) meeting which will be held at the end of the evaluation. Once consent is given for an evaluation, the district will have 30 school days to complete the evaluation, meet with the parent/guardians and hold an IEPT meeting.
If you have concerns about a child who has not yet started school, you should contact the Preprimary Evaluation Team at (269) 250-9670.
What is a MET evaluation and what if I don't agree with it?
Completing an evaluation by a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) is the first step in determining if the child has a disability that interferes with educational performance and meets the eligibility standards for special education services.
The team includes the parent/guardians and educational specialists with knowledge of the child's suspected disability. This may include teachers, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, etc., who will select tests, observations and other procedures for the evaluation based on areas of suspected need. The MET will define the child's strengths, as well as areas of educational need. The evaluation will include parent/guardian input, a review of school records, medical history and other evaluations that may be provided for review.
As part of the evaluation, parent/guardians are assured that:
- Tests will be presented in the child's primary language or mode of communication, including having an interpreter/translator present.
- There will be more than one test or evaluation procedure used to determine eligibility, so that the evaluation does not rest on just one measure.
- You will be notified of each evaluation procedure, test, record and report the IEPT uses in determining eligibility and the need for special education programs and services.
Additional assessment safeguards are described in the Parent Handbook.
When the evaluation is completed, parent/guardians will be invited to participate in meetings where recommendations are made about eligibility, and will have an opportunity to review evaluations before the IEPT meeting, which will determine eligibility.
If the parent/guardians disagree with any piece of the evaluation, they should notify their MET members about the disagreement as soon as possible. Other evaluation procedures can be used to address the concerns.
Parent/guardians also have the option of requesting an independent evaluation provided by someone who is qualified to conduct special education evaluations. This request must be in writing, list the specific concerns regarding the completed evaluation and be sent to the local director of special education. The district must respond to the written request within seven days. The district may disagree with the request and choose to go to a hearing which will review the district's evaluation and the parent/guardian request.
The Special Education Parent Handbook contains specific information about making a request for an outside evaluation, as well as parent/guardian and district rights.
What do I do at the IEP meeting and can I bring someone with me?
Parent/guardians are invited to attend the IEP meetings in order to represent the best interests of their child. This can be done by:
- Participating as an active member of the IEPT, sharing thoughts and ideas about the educational needs of the child.
- Asking for clarification regarding any information or terminology which they do not understand.
- Notifying staff if information that is given does not sound representative of the child.
- Asking for explanations, advantages and disadvantages of proposed services or programs.
- Asking what they can do at home to help the child reach the set IEP goals.
The length of the meeting may vary. Additional time may be needed at a second meeting in order to address individual needs of the student.
- Parent/guardians can ask for a copy of the IEP at the end of the meeting.
- Parent/guardians should make sure that they understand the contents of the MET evaluation and the IEP before signing it. Parent/guardians are welcome to take it home the MET evaluation and IEP for a couple of days to consider them, if needed.
- Parent/guardians are encouraged to bring a friend or relative who is knowledgeable about your child and can help talk through things, as needed. It is also acceptable to contact a parent advocate who can attend the meeting and act as a support person about special education laws and procedures.
Advocates with offices in our community include:
- The Arc Community Advocates for Persons with Developmental Disabilities- (269) 342-9801
- Advocacy Services for Kids (ASK) for Children with Emotional Disorders- (269) 343-5896
- Down Syndrome Resource League- (269) 343-2161
- Additional resources are listed in the Parent Handbook
How do I continue to be involved in my child's special education program?
- Visit the school and classroom, and get to know the teachers and principal.
- Participate in the normal school activities. Attend open houses and after-school events, and participate on the School Improvement Team or parent volunteer organizations.
- Maintain positive communication with teachers. Share information that you have about medical issues, behavior changes and family events. Report on gains in skills that you see at home.
- Request a conference with your child's teacher, a new IEPT meeting or an updated evaluation if you believe that there are other issues to address with school staff.
- Keep the IEPT report, progress reports and other educational records together for your reference.
If things aren't happening like the plan says, what can I do?
There are a number of resources available to parents:
- Any concerns regarding the student’s school program should first be discussed with the child's teacher and principal. If the issue cannot be resolved, contact the director of special education for your local district. These are informal methods that are often quicker and less adversarial.
- Any concern about implementation of the IEP may also be addressed by filing a formal complaint. This is a specific written statement, signed by an individual or organization, which includes facts on the basis for the complaint, describing an uncorrected violation, misinterpretation or misapplication of the following:
- The child's Individualized Education Program (IEP)
- Special education laws
- Administrative rules
- The Kalamazoo RESA Plan for Special Education Services
- The State Board of Education's plan
- A hearing officer's decision
- A court decision
Formal complaints may be filed to the Kalamazoo RESA Special Education office via Assistant Superintendent Mindy Miller at (269) 250-9323.Parent/guardians may also seek assistance from this office on how to write a formal complaint.
The Special Education Parent Handbook includes a full explanation of parent rights and timelines regarding the complaint process.