Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

How to Reconcile Requests for Special Education Evaluations with RTI

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

How to Reconcile Requests for Special Education Evaluations with RTI

Article excerpt

When a child's parents request a special education evaluation, the school generally must promptly evaluate the student. However, many schools implement response to intervention (RTI) to provide students with regular education interventions prior to evaluating the student for special education eligibility. School psychologists may find themselves in situations where parents have requested a special education evaluation, but the school has not yet provided interventions through its RTI process. These situations are fraught with legal risks, but can be navigated to simultaneously meet the student's needs, parents' concerns, and legal requirements.

The federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has repeatedly stated that special education evaluations may wot be delayed on the grounds that RTI has not yet been attempted (OSEP, 2011,2016). While OSEP opinions are not technically legally binding, they do express the United States Department of Education's interpretation of the law, and are routinely accorded weight by compliance monitoring officials, judges, and due process hearing officers. OSEP (2011, p. 1) stated:

[I]t is critical that this identification [of special education eligibility] occur in a timely manner and that no procedures or practices result in delaying or denying this identification.... States and [local educational agencies] have an obligation to ensure that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of implementation of an RTI strategy.

Consistent with OSEP's interpretation, state due process decisions and federal Office for Civil Rights investigations have found school districts in violation of their special education and Section 504 child find obligations for delaying evaluation while RTI was pending (see e.g., Acalanes Union High School District, 2009; Sacramento City School District, 2012).

Thus, when parents request an evaluation, the school must take action, regardless of the status of RTI. However, when faced with a parent's request for evaluation prior to completion of RTI, school psychologists have several options, including:

* Request that the parents withdraw their request for evaluation pending evaluation,

* Conduct the evaluation, and integrate RTI into the evaluation,

* Conduct the evaluation independent of RTI, or

* Decline to evaluate the student (risky!).

Each of these options is discussed below.


While school personnel absolutely cannot require parents to withdraw a request for evaluation, we may request that they do so. Such a request must be made in a way that is respectful to the parents and compliant with the law. In particular, the parents must have been fully informed of all relevant information, and their consent to withdraw the request must be voluntary and in writing (34 C.F.R. §300.9).

To ensure sufficiently informed consent, school psychologists should meet with the parents, discuss the parents' reasons for requesting the evaluation, and address any concerns with RTI. The psychologist should explain in detail the timelines for the RTI process, the decisions that will be made at various steps in the process, and the notification that parents will receive. Parents should be given a copy of their special education procedural rights and safeguards at this meeting, the rights should be explained to ensure understanding, and parents should have the opportunity to ask any questions about those rights. The school psychologist should emphasize that the choice belongs to the parents, and that if they wish the evaluation to proceed immediately, the school will honor that decision or formally decline to evaluate with appropriate prior written notice. If the parent agrees to withdraw the request, we strongly encourage the school to obtain the withdrawal in writing-in one recent case, a district argued that the parent had orally agreed to withdraw the request, but was unable to prove it when the parents denied ever giving consent (Sacramento City School District, 2012). …

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