some limits, time & otherwise

Time limits, schedules and periods within which one must act are all part of any activity which must interact with the courts or hearing officers, and the law.  Special education is no different.  There are limits imposed on both you, as a parent, and on the school district, within which time various actions must be taken.  Below, we have listed some of the limits with which you will have to deal in the process of obtaining benefits under the IDEA.

statute of limitations

You have two years to file a due process complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings from the date that you knew, or should have known, the facts of which you are complaining. That means you will be unable to seek reimbursement, or to claim compensatory education, for any act or failure by the district which took place more than two years prior to the date of filing. If the district prevents your filing for due process by withholding information to which you were entitled and on which you would have relied, the two years is extended. [20 U.S.C. §1415(b)(6)(B); Educ. Code §56505(l)].


The procedure for determining whether your child is eligible for special education services starts either with a written request from you, as parents, to the school or a referral by someone at the school, a teacher or counsellor. Once a written request for assessment of a child is received, the district has 15 days to provide you with a written proposed assessment plan. Note that the reenactment of IDEA in 2004 added an option to hold a meeting of a Student Study Team (SST) during the first 15 day period. This is not an alternate to a full educational assessment, but the team's findings may be considered as part of the assessment. Whether an SST meets or not, the assessment plan is still due within the 15 day period following your written request. Once you receive the proposed assessment plan from the district, you have another 15 days to determine whether you will consent to the assessment as proposed. [Educ. Code §56321]

From the time it receives your signed consent to the assessment, the district has 60 days to complete the assessment of your child and to hold an IEP team meeting unless you agree in writing to an extension. These timelines are subject to some variation when the periods fall at the end of the school year or over a vacation.

individualized education program (IEP)

The Individualized education program, or as it is commonly known the "IEP", for a student is the centerpiece of special education. An IEP is the document which is supposed to translate your child's right to a free, appropriate public education ("FAPE) into a working plan. It grows out of a meeting of the IEP team and is supposed to represent the collaborative efforts of parents, teachers and other experts to provide your child with the best possible education taking into account his or her qualifying disability.

The IEP breaks the student's education into sub-categories such as mathematics, language, reading, etc. In each of these areas, the program should set out the "present level of performance" (known as the "PLOP"), goals toward which your child will work and benchmarks by which the teacher and, ultimately, the IEP team can measure his or her progress toward the goals. The IEP will also define any accommodations or related services such as speech & language, psychological or occupational support which may be necessary to help your child benefit from the special education program.

While most schools and staff work in good faith to achieve this goal, there are times that the IEP is inadequate. Sometimes the teacher responsible for defining goals and benchmarks is unable to clearly articulate measurable goals and benchmarks. Sometimes the district, for a variety of reasons, may be unwilling to provide services which your child may need.

As a member of the IEP team, you must also approve the program. If you refuse to sign, or if you accept only certain parts of the program, the district may not implement those portions of the program of which you have not approved.

due process hearing

If the district refuses to agree to an IEP which you feel is necessary for your child to benefit from his or her education, it may be denying you the free, appropriate public education (FAPE) which is guaranteed by the IDEA. Whether the district is being unreasonable or not will be decided by an administrative hearing officer who is employed by the State of California's Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

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© 2012 G. Edmund Siebel, Jr.  All rights reserved