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When should I ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation?

The school district tells you that your child no longer needs occupational therapy but you disagree.

The child study team has evaluated your child and did not identify a problem which you believe affects his or her school performance.
Your child’s IEP fails to address an area of need which you believe is a manifestation of his or her disability.

The school has administered one test to your child, but you think it was the wrong test for getting at the issue with which your child struggles.

These are all reasons to consider asking your student’s child study team for an independent educational evaluation.
The right of a parent to request an independent evaluation of their child (an “IEE”) grows out of the school’s obligation to test a child suspected of having a disability that adversely affects his educational performance, such that he or she requires special education and related services, in all areas of suspected need. Schools typically evaluate children with their own school personnel. Parents often bring evaluations which they have paid for privately to the team for consideration; the law requires the child study team to consider—but not accept—such privately obtained evaluations.

When, however, a parent disagrees with the evaluation of their child by the school district, he or she may exercise a very powerful right: to request an independent evaluation of their child at the school district’s expense. In some instances, an independent evaluation that the school pays for may have more weight in determining a child’s program than an evaluation paid for solely by a parent, or by a parent through insurance.

What is an Independent Evaluation?
An independent evaluation refers to an evaluation by a professional who is not a paid employee of the school district. The value of an independent evaluation arises out of the impartiality of the evaluator. Independent evaluators still must meet school district criteria for evaluators in the discipline. However, they are not to be chosen solely by the school district.

Who Chooses the Independent Evaluator?
The school district and parent need to agree on the independent evaluator. The parent may make a suggestion of an evaluator. The school does not necessarily need to accept the parent’s suggestion. At the same time, the school district may not tell the parent whom the parent must use. If the school district rejects the parent’s suggestion or proposes an evaluator whom the parent does not wish to accept, the school district is obligated to provide the parent with an exhaustive list of all possible evaluators who are in the geographical location and who meet the school district’s criteria for evaluators of that type.

What Types of Independent Evaluations are Available?
Evaluations are not limited to a particular type, to only those types of evaluations that the school performs typically, or to those a school has already performed with respect to a particular child. A parent may ask for any type of evaluation that would allow the school to assess special education eligibility or the educational needs of the child in a suspected area of disability. Examples include psycho-educational assessments, assistive technology assessments, functional behavior analyses, augmentative technology evaluations, feeding evaluations, physical therapy evaluations. A parent who believes that a particular assessment is necessary to determine the proper placement and programming for their child with special needs should make a request to the case manager or director of special services in writing. The school district may not require the parent to give his or her reasons for making the request for the independent evaluation.

What if the School District Says “No” to a Request for an IEE?
Under federal law, when a school district receives a request for an independent evaluation to be paid for by the school, the school has two choices: 1) it can agree to the requested evaluation; or 2) it can refer the matter for a Due Process Hearing in which case an Administrative Law Judge will make the determination as to whether the parents are entitled to such an evaluation. New Jersey regulations require that if a school district disagrees with the need for the evaluation, then the school must refer the matter for such a Due Process Hearing within twenty days of the parent’s request for the evaluation. At a Due Process Hearing, the parent would need to set forth the reasons that the district evaluation of their child is not appropriate, and why an independent educational evaluation is therefore required.

A school district should consider such a request in earnest. Going to Due Process can be costly for a school district; for this reason, the right to request an IEE is considered a powerful right that parents hold.

What if the School District Simply Ignores My Request?
Generally, a school district that ignores a request for an IEE may be committing a procedural violation of parental rights. If the school district delays unnecessarily in responding to an appropriate request, parents may file a Compliance Complaint with the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). OSEP investigates such procedural violations of special education laws. Such Investigations typically require little further involvement by the parent.

If OSEP finds in favor of the parent, the district will be required to pay for the independent evaluation in question. If OSEP rules in favor of the district, the parent may still obtain an independent evaluation at his or her own cost.

The Best Case Scenario
Independent evaluations—when they are employed judiciously by parents—can be an important tool that brings parents into the planning process for their children and helps parents and school districts use expert evaluations to devise the most appropriate program and placement for a child with special needs.