Independent Educational Evaluations
I REQUESTED AN INDEPENDENT EVALUATION AND THE DISTRICT SAID “NO”: NOW WHAT?
One of a parent’s most powerful tools is the right to request an independent educational evaluation at public expense. An independent educational evaluation (or “IEE”) is an evaluation performed by someone other than the local agency responsible for the child’s education. Such evaluations supplement child study team evaluations by providing further information about the child’s suspected disabilities and potential need for special education and related services. Parents frequently ask when they can request an IEE, how an IEE can help them advocate for their child, and what to do if a district says “no” to a parent’s request for an IEE.
In general, if the parent disagrees with an evaluation or re-evaluation of their child, or if the parent believes that the team has failed to assess the child in an area of need, then the parent is entitled to ask for an independent educational evaluation at public expense. The right to ask for an IEE is so powerful because once a parent makes a request, the district has only two options: 1) to grant the request, or 2) to file for due process.
As an initial matter, the child study team is charged with evaluating a child in all areas of suspected disability. When choosing evaluations to conduct, the IEP team should keep in mind that education is a broad concept. Emotional, behavioral and social challenges may affect a child’s ability to access a meaningful education. Such challenges may be appropriate for the team to evaluate in determining whether special education and related services are needed.
Once evaluations have been completed, parents sometimes get a feeling that the child study team’s evaluations do not capture the child’s disability or needs. Parents may object to specific findings, or believe that a particular assessment was incomplete in certain respects. Parents may believe that a different assessment is necessary.
For any of these reasons, a parent may believe that the child study team’s evaluations are not sufficient to enable the team to make meaningful decisions about the child’s disability and the program he or she needs. In such cases, an IEE is a way to bring additional information to the child study team so that the team can make appropriate decisions.
If a district says “no” to a request for an IEE at public expense, the district must file for due process which means explaining its reasoning to an administrative law judge at a hearing. The school bears the burden of proving to the judge that its current evaluation is sufficient. If the Court agrees with the parent that the evaluation is warranted, it will award the parent the right to the IEE at public expense. Courts have also awarded parents retroactive reimbursement for evaluations, although such instances are not common.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT REQUESTING AN IEE
Can I pay for my own evaluation?
A parent can commission an independent evaluation at the parent’s expense at any time. If the parent uses an evaluator who possesses the same credentials that the district requires of its evaluators, the district must consider the parent’s independent evaluation. However, the district need not accept the evaluator’s findings.
One reason a parent might choose to pay for a private evaluation is in order to obtain more comprehensive information about the child’s need than the school’s budget for an independent evaluation permits. Schools may set reasonable limits on expert’s fees.
What kinds of evaluations do parents sometimes ask for?
Any evaluation that helps assess a child’s ability to function in school is potentially relevant and appropriate for a parent to request. Independent evaluations often include requests for speech and language evaluations that focus on language pragmatics and social skills, functional behavior assessments, assistive technology evaluations, and occupational therapy evaluations that include evaluation of sensory issues.
A parent need not know the precise name of the evaluation he seeks. Recently, the Department of Education has clarified that a district may not reject a request for an IEE on the grounds that it does not specially identify the evaluations the parent seeks. Instead, the district must reach out to the parent in order to understand what type of assessment the parent believes is appropriate.
How do I prepare for an IEE of my child?
The evaluator needs to know what he or she is being asked to evaluate; parents should convey to the evaluator the point of the IEE. The team may benefit from specific recommendations for classroom accommodations. The team may need to understand if a reading disability is present. The parent may want to ask the evaluator if she believes that she will be able to address the question presented.
Does the district have to accept the findings of an independent evaluator?
The school must consider the findings of an IEE. This means that the team must have a meaningful discussion of the results of the IEE. The IEE may be persuasive evidence of the child’s needs. However the team is not required to follow the IEE evaluator’s recommendations.
I asked for an IEE and the district filed for due process. What do I do now?
If the district files for due process, the parent will need to appear before an administrative law judge along with the district representative. The district will explain why the evaluation is not needed. The parent should be prepared to explain the reasons for the request. While the parent can represent him or herself at such a hearing, an education lawyer can assist a parent by attending such a hearing or by preparing a parent to represent himself.
If a district simply says “no” to a request for an IEE without filing the required due process request, the parent himself may file for a due process hearing.
The right to request an IEE at public expense helps level the playing field between parents and the rest of the IEP team. IEEs remain one of the most powerful tools a parent may use to bring information to the IEP team and participate meaningfully in planning appropriate programming.