Join us Oct. 17 @ 12:15 p.m. CST for our FREE webinar!

Join us on October 17 @ 12:15 p.m. CST for this FREE webinar where we will discuss a key component of your child’s IEP – the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP).

Why is the PLAAFP important?  Think of the IEP as a road map guiding your child from a beginning level of performance to a higher level of performance.  To plan effectively, you need to know where your child is starting out and what obstacles he or she may face along the way. Present levels (PLAAFP) are the starting point for setting IEP goals and measuring progress toward these goals.

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How Do I Get Special Education Services for My Child with Special Needs?

When children are struggling in school, it is important to determine whether a learning, cognitive, and/or physical disability is affecting your child’s educational performance. If this is the case, your child may be eligible for special education services and related services that can help your child to succeed. This article from the Friendship Circle Blog discusses the evaluation process and your child’s legal rights in the classroom setting. Special education law is expansive and thorough. This article will serve as only a brief summary of the pertinent laws.

What is Special Education?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) is the governing statute for the delivery of special education services, giving eligible children with disabilities the right to receive special services and assistance in school. IDEA defines special education as, “specifically designed instruction at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability”.

Special education refers to education for students who may require additional support to be successful students in a general education classroom. Special education also refers to education for those students who will not be able to compete in a general education classroom setting.

Thus, some special education services may involve separate classrooms for students unable or unready to be in a mainstream course. Other times, special education services may help children with a particular issue. For example, students with speech delays may have speech therapy and students with physical problems might take special occupational therapy courses. This is often done on a pullout basis. A student will attend his or her regular classes but will be called out of the classroom to receive needed services.

Occasionally, students with ongoing disabilities like autism may work with a special aide in the classroom so that all work can be mainstreamed. Special education does not necessarily imply that a child’s cognitive abilities are poor. In many cases, very intelligent children receive services to help them better handle the school environment.

Who Is Eligible for Special Education Services?

Children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services when they meet IDEA’s definition of a “child with a disability” after a full and individual evaluation by the school. There are 13 categories of eligibility which include:

1. Intellectual disabilities
2. Hearing impairment (including deafness)
3. Speech of language impairment
4. Visual impairment (including blindness)
5. Serious emotional disturbance
6. Orthopedic impairment
7. Autism
8. Traumatic brain injury
9. Other health impairment (commonly referred to as “OHI”)
10. A specific learning disability
11. Deaf-blindness
12. Multiple disabilities.

The specific criteria for each category and can be found in your specific state’s guidelines and the federal implementing regulations, 34 CFR Parts 300 and 30.

How Do I Request a Determination by the School?

A parent or guardian of a child simply needs to put into a simple letter that they are requesting their child be evaluated for special education services. In the initial letter, you may want to list the struggles your child is having or evidence of a specific disability manifesting itself.

Each school district, and typically each school, has a point person that would handle the receipt of such a request. If you do not know whom to address the request, ask your child’s teacher, counselor, or principal.

Refusal to Evaluate

Just a warning, the school does not have to evaluate your child just because you have requested it. The school may believe that your child has a disability or needs special education or related services. In that case, the school may refuse to evaluate your child. The decision not to evaluate must be given to you in writing with the reasons why the school has refused to evaluate. This is called giving you “prior written notice.” If you disagree with the decision not to evaluate, the school should provide you with materials on how to appeal the decision.

The Evaluation Process

Once the school agrees to evaluate and you have consented to the evaluation, the school must conduct the initial evaluation within 60 days of receiving parental consent. The initial evaluation must consist of procedures to determine if the child is a child with a disability and to determine the educational needs of the child.

Using Assessment Tools

The school is required to use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent(s) that may assist in determining whether the child is a child with a disability and what the content of the child’s IEP should include. The child is to be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities.

Reviewing Current Information

Further more, the evaluating team and other qualified professionals as part of an initial evaluation must review existing evaluation data on the child including evaluations and information provided by the parent(s) of the child (this would include your own observations and reports from treating physicians, psychologists and therapists); current classroom-based, local, or state assessments, and classroom-based observations, and observations by teachers and related service providers.

Upon Completion

Upon completion of the administration of the assessments and other evaluation measures, team members and the parent(s) of the child determine whether the child is a child with a disability as defined by state and federal law. The school must provide a copy of the evaluation reports and documentation of determination. Read up on the state-based eligibility requirements for the specific disability or disabilities that you believe your child has before attending this final meeting.

If your child is found to be eligible for special education services, you and the school will work together to develop an IEP.

What Happens if After Evaluation, My Child is not Deemed Eligible?

If the evaluating team decides that your child is not eligible for special education services after evaluating him or her, the school must tell you this in writing and explain why your child has been found to not be eligible to receive special education services. Under IDEA, the school must give you information about what you can do if you disagree with the decision. This includes mediation and due process. IDEA includes these mechanisms and the school is required to give you the information on how to appeal.


Entry into the world of special education can be very daunting. Acronyms and legal terms are abounding. If you believe your child has a disability that qualifies for special education services, research the issue. Come in prepared to describe and sell your child’s needs. There are many different agencies, advocates, and attorneys that can also help guide you through the process. You don’t have to do it alone. Advocating for your child in the school setting is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

Written by Michael Dorfman, an attorney and partner at Nykanen Dorfman, PLLC in Farmington Hills, Michigan. In his special education law practice, Michael represents students and their families when there is a conflict with the school district or when an appropriate education is not being provided.

9 Things Every Parent Should Know About the “10 Day Rule”

Sometimes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Consider, for example, the widespread belief that there is a ten day limit on the number of days that a child with disabilities can be suspended from school. As with many widespread beliefs, the common version of the rule is only partially true. Here are nine things that every parent should know about the so-called “ten-day” rule and the laws governing the suspension of children with disabilities who are entitled to services under IDEA:

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Writing IEP Goals

Creating an IEP with a team of people who are all there to design a good educational program for one unique child can be a pleasure. It can also be very productive. When the whole team has the same level of understanding about IEPs, it is even better. Sounds like crazy talk? Just ask those who have seen it happen. The big winner here is the child.

A Lesson in Writing IEP Goals

An IEP is good educational programming. Good IEPs set the standard for good education. Each part of the IEP addresses an important part of educational planning. The IEP team focuses on the unique educational needs of an individual student. The goals reflect the child’s needs. Designing well-formed goals is an important part of writing an IEP.

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Is Your Child’s PLAAFP a Flop? Webinar

Join us on October 17 @ 12:15 p.m. CST for this FREE webinar where we will discuss a key component of your child’s IEP – the Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP).

Why is the PLAAFP important?  Think of the IEP as a road map guiding your child from a beginning level of performance to a higher level of performance.  To plan effectively, you need to know where your child is starting out and what obstacles he or she may face along the way. Present levels (PLAAFP) are the starting point for setting IEP goals and measuring progress toward these goals.

Register at

Identifying Struggling Students

Early and accurate identification of learning disabilities and ADHD in schools can set struggling students on a path for success. But identification can be influenced by many factors—and too often is not happening early enough.

Not all children with learning and attention issues are identified in school as having a disability.

Students who are identified by schools as having a disability may qualify for one of two types of assistance. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) provides specially designed instruction, accommodations, modifications and related services such as speech-language therapy to students who qualify for special education. A 504 plan provides accommodations and related services to general education students who are identified with a disability but who do not need special education.

Students with IEPs or 504 plans are protected from discrimination. Schools are also required to report certain data on students who are identified as having disabilities, such as how many repeat a grade, receive out-of-school suspensions or graduate on time.

But many of the 1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues are not formally identified with a disability. When these children receive the right interventions and informal supports, many can succeed in general education. Without enough support, however, children with unidentified disabilities may not reach their full potential and risk falling behind and having to repeat a grade. This could lead to other problems, including dislike of school, absenteeism and dropping out.

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Inadequate IEPs and a Child’s Placement in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

PRN note: While this was written for New Jersey parents, the basic concepts apply in all states. The second factor listed is from a fifth Circuit Court case against a Texas school.

An inadequate IEP will make it difficult to consider any child’s placement in an organized way. To assist schools and parents, the department has developed and widely distributed a model form that addresses all the required IEP components.

Next, each placement option is examined not only as it currently exists, but also as it might be modified. Then, each educational placement option is examined in sequence from least restrictive to most restrictive.

Regular class placement is examined as the first option. In New Jersey, the decision-making process must include the three factors of the Oberti decision now incorporated into code and begins with consideration of placement in the regular classroom. Does this mean that each child must be placed in the regular classroom before other placement options are considered? The answer is no. The requirement for a continuum of placement options reinforces the importance of an individualized inquiry, not a “one size fits all” approach, in determining what placement is the least restrictive environment for each student with disabilities.

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Using the School Years to the Max!

Public school is the last mandated service that a student with a disability can access. After graduation, a person must apply to get services and supports and prove eligibility through income as well as disability. Public school is the last opportunity for free education, with a wide range of modifications and a requirement for parent input. Make the most of public school services as you plan for your youth’s transition to adulthood. Here are a few ideas to consider while you and your youth plan in the school setting:

Create a vision for the future. Ask for a planning session at school to discuss your youth’s future. Many districts have planning tools and interest/vocational inventories in place to help with this process. Invite your youth, family and friends, as well as relevant school staff, to your planning meeting. Be sure that you are clear on when your youth will graduate (ask staff to explain graduation options) and that your youth has a voice at the meeting.

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Manifestation Determination Q&A

What recourse does a parent have if he or she disagrees with the determination that his or her child’s behavior was not a manifestation of the child’s disability?

The regulations, in 34 CFR §300.532(a), provide that the parent of a child with a disability who disagrees with the manifestation determination under 34 CFR §300.530(e) may appeal the decision by requesting a hearing.  A parent also has the right to file a State complaint alleging a denial of a free appropriate public education and to request voluntary mediation under 34 CFR §300.506.”  U.S. Department of Education,,root,dynamic,QaCorner,7,.html

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Comments that Parents Hear: “We cannot/will not provide X service(s) to your child during after school activities or nonacademic services.”

If a parent, student or the school decides that the student will or should participate in nonacademic or extracurricular services and activities, the school must make plans that will allow the student to participate in these services and activities. As part of this process the IEP team must consider whether supplementary aids and services are “appropriate and necessary” to allow “an equal opportunity for participation”.

If the student is provided aids, services or accommodations to allow them to participate in academic activities, then it would seem that these would probably be needed to allow “an equal opportunity for participation” in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities. If the IEP team should feel that this is not the case, the school should provide the parent with prior written notice of why these are not needed.

The school should be able to articulate the steps taken to provide the student the opportunity to participate in the services and activities. If the parent can document that these steps have not lead to an equal opportunity to participate, they can share this with the school in writing, and request a meeting to discuss “appropriate” steps to achieve the opportunity for participation. The parent can also use the IDEA and state dispute resolution processes to try to resolve disagreements on this issue.

Recall the Law

Schools (a) “must take steps, including, the provision of supplementary aids and services determined appropriate and necessary by the child’s IEP Team, to provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in the manner necessary to afford children with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in those services and activities.” “(b) Nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities may include counseling services, athletics, transportation, health services, recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency, referrals to agencies that provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, and employment of students, including both employment by the public agency and assistance in making outside employment available.” 300.107

“Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided to regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate”. 300.42

Possible Responses

“My child wants/needs to participate in X activity/service. What steps needed to put into place to achieve this?”

“I am requesting that my child receive X aids, service(s) to allow them to participate in (list services and activities).”

“I do not understand why the aids, services, and supports my child receives in other settings cannot or do not need to be provided for nonacademic and extracurricular aids and services. Please try to explain again so I can understand.”

“I am requesting written notice of why my child will not receive the aids, or services they are receiving in other settings in (list nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities).”