Access to an independent educational evaluation (IEE) and observation in school are central to a parent’s ability to meaningfully participate in their child’s school program. Further, an accurate evaluation is the cornerstone to the IDEA, ensuring that the Student’s functional and academic deficits are identified, and setting the stage for appropriate goals and objectives and appropriate special education and related services. The procedural safeguards, contained in 20 U.S.C. 1415(B)(1), guarantee parents the right to obtain an IEE at public expense. Connecticut school districts have created highly restrictive policies that serve to frustrate a parent’s ability to obtain an IEE. This is a serious abrogation of the rights of all parents. For parents of low income, these policies serve to deny their children the right to a free appropriate public education.
The federal regulations on IEE, 34 C.F.R. §300.502(b), provide:
(1) A parent has the right to an [IEE] at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency, subject to the [following] conditions.
(2) If a parent requests an [IEE] at public expense, the public agency must, without unnecessary delay, either- (i) File a due process complaint to request a hearing to show that its evaluation is appropriate; or (ii) Ensure that an [IEE] is provided at public expense, unless the agency demonstrates in [an impartial hearing under the IDEA] . . . that the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet agency criteria.
Regarding “agency criteria” for IEEs at public expense, the regulations provide that “the criteria under which the evaluation is obtained, including the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner, must be the same as the criteria that the [district] uses when it initiates an evaluation, to the extent those criteria are consistent with the parent’s right to an [IEE].” 34 C.F.R. §300.502(e). Otherwise, a public agency may not impose conditions or timelines related to obtaining an independent educational evaluation at public expense. Id.
Connecticut school districts have promulgated IEE guidelines that create unreasonable limitations and are, thus, violative of the federal regulations. Parents of students with disabilities are effectively being stripped of their right to an Independent Educational Evaluation at public expense. Instead, students with disabilities are assessed and programmed for based exclusively on school-based evaluations, which may or may not be adequate.
Similarly, observations are almost always part of the evaluation process and Connecticut school districts are creating policies with unreasonable limitations. Evaluators often need to observe on multiple days in multiple settings. Limitations on observation curtails a parent’s ability to understand their child’s program in school, and impacts the usefulness of an IEE.
Further, under §300.502(c): “If the parent obtains an independent educational evaluation at private expense, the results of the evaluation…may be presented as evidence at a hearing . . . regarding that child.” If a parent or their evaluator’s ability to observe is limited then the parent is deprived of the right to challenge the school’s program.
Several provisions of IDEA and its implementing regulations suggest observation is appropriate or necessary. IDEA also contemplates that parties will conduct evaluations for use in due process proceedings. There is also authority from the United States Department of Education (USDE) that parents must have at least the same rights as the school district to have independent evaluators observe their children in school. In the opinion letter, Letter to Wessels, 16 EHLR 735 (OSEP 1990), the USDE states if the district observed the child as part of its evaluation, or its evaluation policies permit “in-class observation of a child, the independent evaluator has the right to do so”.
Across Connecticut various observation policies create unreasonable limitations and are particularly harmful to parents of special education student.