NJ Special Education Primer, PART II: Understanding the Referral and Identification Process
Updated: Oct 12
In Part I of the NJ Special Education Primer, I highlighted that school districts have a “Child Find” obligation under the IDEA. The IDEA mandates that all school districts locate and identify students with special needs.
This means that all students with a suspected disability must be identified and evaluated. This includes children from birth through age 21 and regardless of whether they are homeschooled or in private school. This obligation is placed directly on the state and local educational agencies.
The process typically begins with a “referral” to the Child Study Team (CST). Either the school district or the parent/guardian may initiate this process. The process is initiated when a written request for an evaluation is made to the school district, typically to the Director of Special Education Services. This request can be made at any time for any student.
The school’s CST must screen the child within 20 days of receiving the written request for the evaluation. If the CST determines that an evaluation is necessary, a meeting will be scheduled with the parents/guardians in order to review the results of the screening, to determine the scope of the evaluations, and to obtain parental consent to conduct them. The CST has 90 days from the date of consent to complete the initial evaluations.
After the evaluations are conducted, the results are shared with the parents/guardians and an eligibility determination meeting is held. The CST must provide parents/guardians with the reports 10 days prior to the meeting so that there is ample time to review them. After reviewing and explaining the testing results to the parents/guardians, eligibility for special education and services is determined at this stage.
Students are eligible for special education and related services when there is a disparity between a child’s achievement in school and his/her potential that cannot be explained by other factors. For instance, a child with a full-scale IQ score of 110, which is in the average range, should be performing in the average range in school. If not, and it is determined that a child has a disability that is impacting his or her ability to learn, the student must be found eligible for special education and related services.
If a child is found eligible, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting is held by the IEP team, which includes the parents/guardians as a full-members, and it develops the IEP for the student. As a practical matter, the eligibility determination meeting and the IEP meeting are held contemporaneously to expedite the process.
Parents must sign for consent to implement the initial IEP and have the child appropriately placed. Parents may accept, reject, or request modifications to the IEP as well.
If a parent/guardian disagrees with a decision during any stage of the process, they have a right to request State mediation and due process. Since these are legal proceedings that can be complex, an experienced attorney should be involved to ensure your child's rights are protected.
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