One of the most important safeguards which exists in the IDEA for parents of children with disabilities is the right to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
While special education administrators hate it when I point it out, district personnel have a vested interest in the outcome of testing.
If the testing indicates that a child needs expensive services, a person who works for the school district may be uncomfortable making that recommendation. Or, if an evaluation is being done to assess a child’s progress, and the person who is administering the testing happens also to be the service provider (this happens a lot with related services like Speech, Physical and Occupational Therapy) it isn’t too hard to see the inherent tension in a professional evaluating what is, in essence, their own performance.
So how does a parent obtain an IEE? Well, if you disagree with the school district’s testing of your child, you have a right to ask them to pay for an evaluation by a professional not employed by the school system.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It should be, but it’s not. Disputes surrounding IEEs are extremely common. In fact, I would say that about half of the parents who contact me because they are looking for a special education lawyer in Connecticut do so because they want an IEE, even if they don’t know that specific term.
Parents, if you become familiar with no other aspect of the IDEA, become familiar with IEEs!
In my experience, there is nothing more important in securing an appropriate special education program for a child than having proper evaluations. Nothing. It is essential that evaluations accurately reflect your child’s needs, because if they don’t, you and the special education team will be developing your child’s program based on faulty information.
Your child will eventually go to another classroom or school, but evaluations became part of their educational records and will follow them throughout their schooling.
You can ask for an IEE in virtually any area of assessment. If your school does an Occupational Therapy evaluation with which you disagree, you can ask for an Independent OT evaluation. Same goes for Speech and Language, psychological, Augmentative Communication, Assistive Technology, and psychiatric evaluations as well. You can disagree with some of the school’s testing or all of it, you can ask for one IEE or several.
Just remember that your school district should have the opportunity to do the testing first.
Once you have requested the IEE, your school system has two choices: 1) agree to the IEE and pay for it; or 2) disagree, at which point they MUST initiate a Due Process Hearing defending their decision. Those are their legal options; and yet, very few school districts seem to know it.
As a result, what usually happens when a district refuses an IEE is that they either fail to commence a Due Process Hearing as required by law within a reasonable period of time, or they never do it. The result can be years of inappropriate programming as IEP after IEP is founded on inaccurate or incomplete information.
I wish I could say that all goes well when districts DO agree to fund the IEE, but I can’t. Unfortunately, even then I am still seeing the IDEA routiniely violated, as districts tell parents that they will pay for the IEE, provided that the parents select the school district’s chosen evaluator or from a list of their evaluators.
Having the school district select the evaluator who performs an IEE undermines the very purpose of having one.
The Parents get to select the individual or agency who completes the IEE, provided that the evaluator meets district criteria in terms of licensing, certification, and things of that ilk. For an excellent legal analysis of the law surrounding IEEs, feel free to read one of my favorite cases of my own: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Hearing_Decisions/2005/05_293.pdf. The language regarding IEEs begins at page 21, although the whole Decision is informative.
Do keep in mind, though, while you have the right to insist on who does the evaluation, it doesn’t mean you should. It can be a good idea to mutually agree with your district about who will perform an outside evaluation. The upside of this that your school is more likely to actually listen to the results of the testing if they had some input as to the evaluator. The risk is that the school will suggest an individual who gets most of their referrals from school districts in general, or your district in particular.
Therefore, if you choose to compromise as to who does the outside evaluation, remember that “independent” does not necessarily mean “unbiased,” and you should check with as many parents and parent organizations in your area as possible about any evaluator before you agree to them. Even then, document clearly that you have agreed to forego your right to an IEE in favor of a mutually agreeable evaluation, just in case the results are questionable.