Guide to Public School Speech and Language Assessments
What You Need to Know
Speech and language therapy can be provided for free through the public school system in the United States.
Having worked in California public schools for almost six years now, I can tell you that accessing speech and language services through the public school system can feel daunting. The Educational Code surrounding students with disabilities is dense and complex. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) alone is over 190 pages. The process doesn’t have to be impossible, though. I have put together this guide to address some of the common questions and misconceptions behind accessing speech and language services in the public school system.
Three Important Things to Know
1. You have the right as a parent to request an evaluation in all areas of suspected disability from your school district of residence.
If you are your child’s legal guardian and educational rights holder, you have the right to refer your child for special education services. A teacher or other school staff member may also make this referral. If you would like to refer your child, you will need to make a written request specifying the areas of concern that you would like assessed. This is typically a hand-written or typed and signed statement provided to your child’s school office. Many school districts now accept email requests in place of a physical note, but please check with your specific district for their policy on submitting a written assessment request.
If you verbally request an assessment, the school district has an obligation to inform you about how to make a written request. However, you must put your request in writing; a verbal request will not suffice.
Upon receipt of your written request, the school district then has fifteen (15) calendar days to review your request and either:
- Propose an Assessment Plan for your review and consent,
- Hold a meeting to learn more about your concerns,
- Deny the request with a written rationale for the denial.
If the school district determines they need to hold a meeting to learn more, they still must either present with an Assessment Plan or a denial within 15 calendar days of receiving the written request.
Note: School districts have an obligation to assess any suspected disabilities under the Child Find Mandate of the IDEA, so if a district denies your request, they need to properly document why there is no evidence even to suspect a disability.
2. Know your procedural safeguards
If you are presented with an Assessment Plan and your child is assessed, the school district will convene a meeting to discuss a possible Individualized Education Plan IEP). You are a valuable part of the IEP team. As a parent or educational rights holder, you and your child have protected rights under the procedural safeguards that are important to understand so you can participate in the process to the greatest extent possible.
As a part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a set of procedural safeguards was established to help explain these rights and better support students and parents in understanding their rights. These safeguards include information about your parent consent, independent evaluations, access to educational records, how disputes are solved, and much more. As important members of the IEP team, I highly encourage that all parents become familiar with this document to better participate in IEP meetings.
For example, did you know that as the parent, you must give consent to an initial evaluation? The school district cannot initially assess your child without your permission.
Schools are obligated to give you a copy of these procedural safeguards:
- When you ask for a copy,
- The first time your child is referred for a special education assessment,
- Each time you are given an assessment plan to evaluate your child,
- Upon receipt of the first state or due process complaint in a school year, and
- When the decision is made to make a removal that constitutes a change of placement.
3. Learn how to reach your school district’s special education department.
While it is best to submit your written request for assessment to your child’s school first, you can also confirm receipt of the written request with the district-level special education department. Check your school district’s website for contact information for the district-level special education department and make contact with them to confirm that your written request for an assessment has been received. As with all things in life, some school offices are more organized than others (especially if it’s a large school with many office staff members) and sometimes emails get lost or accidentally deleted. Receiving confirmation that the request has been received directly from the special education department can help mitigate any chance that your request may have been lost.