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The Disability Eligibility Determination

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

meetingOnce the school has completed the evaluation, they will arrange an Individual Education Plan (IEP) eligibility meeting with the student's family. Sometimes just parents and school officials attend this meeting, other times it is advantageous for the student to attend as well. At this meeting, the evaluator will review the results of all the evaluations. Based on the results of the evaluation, the school will determine whether the child is eligible for special education. In order to be eligible for special education services, the evaluation needs to determine that a child has one of the 13 previously-discussed categories of disabilities, and the school needs to determine that that disability is negatively impacting a student's education. This means the disability has made it difficult for the student to: 1) make adequate progress in academic areas, 2) access the learning environment, or 3) use the same tools that typically-developing students use. A "negative impact" on a student's education is usually demonstrated by some evidence and documentation of emotional, behavioral, or cognitive problems.

In some cases, schools will disclose whether or not they have determined that disabilities needing accommodation are present in advance of the eligibility meeting. In other cases they will not. It is useful for parents to ask for this information in advance, so as to better prepare themselves for the meeting.

If the school has determined that the child does have one or more qualifying disabilities, the IEP team may launch directly into the task of developing the child's Individual Education Plan (IEP) at the eligibility meeting. When the school calls to set up an eligibility meeting parents may ask if an IEP will be discussed during that meeting. More information about IEPs and who participates in an IEP team is provided here.

If a parent learns the school does not consider the student eligible for special education services, the parent will want to be prepared to go to the meeting to advocate for the child. In this case, parents will want to review all the material in the children's academic file and any other evaluation material or documentation they submitted at the time they gave permission for the evaluation. If cost is not an issue, they may also want to ask professionals who work with their children already, such as pediatricians, speech therapists, mental health therapists, etc, to attend the meeting. If cost is an issue (and it will be for many families), it may be possible to get those professionals to write advocacy letters describing why they believe the children should be found to have a disability.

If parents are going to submit new documentation at the eligibility meeting, they should submit it to the school eligibility team in advance of the actual meeting, so that school officials have an opportunity to review that new material. Submitting new material in advance is a courtesy to the school, which is especially appropriate if the school has similarly allowed the parents to review the eligibility findings in advance of the meeting.

Parents who disagree with the schools' evaluation results may decide to fund an independent (and expensive) evaluation done by professionals not affiliated with the school. We discuss independent evaluations in greater detail here.