Frequently Asked Questions

Under the IDEA, the term “child with a disability” includes all children (ages 3-21) who have been evaluated as having mental retardation, a hearing impairment including deafness, a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment including blindness, a serious emotional disturbance, an orthopedic impairment, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities AND who require special education; or a child between the ages of 3-9 who is developmentally delayed and who requires special education.

In Rhode Island, special education rights begin as soon as the child is 3 years old and continue until they reach 21 or complete high school, whichever comes first. Early Intervention services may be available for children under 3. When a child receiving such services reaches the age of 30 months, planning for a transition to a special education program should begin.

If you feel your child needs special education, the first step in having him/her identified as a special needs student is referral for a special education evaluation. Each school district is required to establish a system by which a student may be referred for an initial evaluation. Pre-school children are referred for special education evaluation and identification in the same way as are school-aged children. A child can be referred before age 3 so that the evaluations can be completed and the child can begin to attend the program on their third birthday. Every school district has a “child find” outreach program which screens children not yet attending school. Parents, teachers, and doctors, among others, may make a referral for special education evaluation.

Before making a referral for special education evaluation, school personnel may try classroom alternatives, which mean making modifications to the general education program for children having trouble learning. These modifications are often called “Response to Intervention” or RTI, and can include things like peer tutoring, changes in the curriculum, or remedial reading. You can request that these classroom modifications be tried before a referral is made, or in addition to a referral.

RTI may not be used to delay a referral, which may be made at any time. You should be notified that your child is experiencing some problems, that classroom modifications will be tried, and that you have the right to request a direct referral for evaluation.

The evaluation process is the means by which the school department determines how and to what extent your child has a disability that interferes with their ability to learn. The evaluation process will depend on your child’s suspected disability. The results of the tests are used to determine if your child has a disability, and if so, what the special education plan should be.

If the teacher or other professional working with your child suspects that your child has a disability, s/he may refer your child for an evaluation. You will receive a notice informing you that a referral has been made and requesting your consent for an evaluation. If you think your child has a disability, you can also request an evaluation.

If you think that your child may have special learning needs, you should contact the school district’s special education office. You should put the request in writing, and it is a good idea to give copies to your child’s teacher and school principal, so they know a referral has been made. Be sure to date the letter and keep a copy for yourself.

The decision whether to evaluate a child must be made by a team of qualified professionals and the child’s parent(s) at a meeting held within 10 school days of receipt of the referral. This team is known as the “Evaluation Team.” It must include:

  • The parent(s) of the child
  • At least 1 regular education teacher of the child
  • At least 1 special education teacher of the child or if appropriate, at least 1 special education provider of the child
  • A representative of the school district who is (1) qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education services; (2) knowledgeable about the general curriculum; (3) knowledgeable about the availability of resources in the school district and who has the authority to commit those resources
  • An individual who can interpret evaluation results (who may be a member of the team that was previously described)
  • At the discretion of the parent(s) or agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel
  • Whenever appropriate, the child

The team decides if the child requires an evaluation, and if so the types of evaluations appropriate to the needs of the child.

The Evaluation Team will meet to decide if your child needs an evaluation. You must be invited to this meeting and should make every effort to attend. If you cannot make that meeting, you can ask that you be allowed to participate by conference call or other means. If this is not possible, you must be provided with written notice of the Evaluation Team’s decision, your right to challenge a decision that you disagree with, and you must be asked to consent in writing to the evaluation, if the Team decides that an evaluation is appropriate.

If you do not provide written consent to the evaluation within 5 school days of the request to evaluate, the Evaluation Team must document its efforts to obtain consent, and if it doesn’t obtain your consent within 15 school days, the Team must meet again to decide how to proceed, including whether to request mediation and/or a hearing. You have the right to be present at the mediation and/or hearing and to be represented by an attorney or advocate at the hearing.

If the Evaluation Team decides that your child does not need to be evaluated, you must be provided written notice within 10 school days explaining the reasons for the decision. The notice must include information about your right to challenge the decision if you disagree with it. You have the right to challenge the decision by requesting mediation or an impartial hearing.

If the Team determines that your child should be evaluated, a full evaluation will be done, assessing the child 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. A vocational/career assessment shall be done with every child with a disability at the age of 14. Specific assessment procedures will be authorized depending upon the type of disability the Team suspects your child has. Typically, the individuals who conduct the evaluation will be employees of, or regular consultants to, the school district. Additional procedures are required for evaluating children with specific learning disabilities.

In evaluating whether a child has a specific learning disability the Team should consider the child’s response to interventions (RTI) that are based on research over time. However, this RTI process should not be used to delay a full special education evaluation if a parent or teacher requests one.

The regulations require that the evaluation and test materials be provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. The tests cannot be culturally or racially discriminatory. For example, a child from Cambodia should not be subjected to intelligence tests that measure general knowledge of American culture. If the child has impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the tests must be chosen and administered in a way that compensates for those deficits (except if the test is to measure the degree of impairment in that area). For example, a deaf child is entitled to have someone who knows sign language administer their test. The tests must be appropriate to the child’s age, language, and ability.

When the evaluation is completed, you and the Evaluation Team review the reports and decide whether or not your child requires special education and/or related services. You must be invited to this meeting. The Evaluation Team and the parents must meet to determine eligibility and submit its report to the Special Education Director and the parents within 60 calendar days after the receipt of parental consent to evaluate. You will be provided with a copy of the evaluation report and documents relating to the eligibility determination.

If the Evaluation Team, including you, after reviewing the evaluation results makes a determination that your child is not eligible for special education, the Team can refer the child back to general education for consideration of classroom modifications. In addition, the Team should refer the child for consideration of Section 504 eligibility. If you do not agree with the decision, you can request mediation and/or a hearing.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based upon disability. A person is considered disabled if s/he has an impairment that significantly interferes with any major life activity. A disability that may not “adversely impact education” for IDEA eligibility may still entitle a child to Section 504 protections, which would include accommodations in the classroom to help the child learn. If eligible, a child would get a written 504 plan that describes any classroom modifications needed to address their specific areas of need.

If you do not agree with the school district’s evaluation, you have the right to an independent educational evaluation. In some cases, the evaluation must be paid for by the school district. The independent educational evaluation is conducted by qualified examiners who are not employed by the school department responsible for your child’s education. To request an independent evaluation, you must contact the Director of Special Education stating that: (1) you disagree with the results of the school’s evaluation, and (2) you are requesting an independent educational evaluation. You should put this request in writing, date it, and keep a copy for your records. The school department can ask, but not require, you to explain why you object to its evaluation. The school district must provide you with information about where an independent educational evaluation may be obtained and the agency criteria that apply. Not later than 15 calendar days from receipt of your request, the school department must either (1) authorize the independent educational evaluation, or (2) request a hearing to show that its own evaluation is appropriate. If a hearing officer finds that the school’s evaluation was appropriate, the school department does not have to pay for the independent educational evaluation. You still have the right to obtain one, but the school does not have to pay. If you choose to have an independent educational evaluation at your own expense, the results of the examination must be considered by the school in determining the educational plan for your child and can be presented as evidence at any hearing involving your child’s education plan.

The school district must notify you whenever it proposes to take any action with regard to your child’s special education. It must also notify you if it refuses to take action. Notice be sent to you at least 10 school days before the proposed action and must be in your spoken language, and must be written in language understandable to the general public. The notice must include sources for you to contact to obtain help in understanding your rights.

It may be helpful to begin by discussing your concerns with the special education administrator with the authority to resolve the problem. If it is not resolved at that level it sometimes helps to contact the special education director for your school district. If resolution isn’t possible at the level, you can contact the RI Department of Education.

There are at least 3 ways to challenge an action or inaction of the school department. You can file a “special education complaint” with the RI Department of Education (RIDE). RIDE will investigate the complaint, issue findings, and if necessary take action to ensure that the district complies with the regulations.

If you disagree with a decision made by the school district you can also request mediation or a hearing. You can raise procedural problems in the mediation or hearing process. You can request mediation by making a written request to the Commissioner of Education. If the school district agrees to mediation, an impartial person will try to negotiate a resolution. Instead of or in addition to mediation, you can request a hearing to challenge any agency decision with which you disagree. An impartial person will then decide whether the school district can go ahead with its proposed action.

If the school district is proposing a change in your child’s IEP or placement and you challenge the decision, the school district generally cannot make the change until the conclusion of the hearing process. In the meantime, the school district must follow the old IEP and continue your child’s placement, unless you and the school district agree to a change.

If you are proposing a change in your child’s IEP or placement, the school district does not have to make the change until the conclusion of the hearing process or mediation. However, if a hearing officer rules in your favor, that decision can be implemented even if the school district appeals the decision.

If you believe that the school district has violated any of the provisions of IDEA or the State Regulations, you can file a "special education complaint" with RIDE. For example, if the district takes more than 60 calendar days to conduct an evaluation, or if the child is not in placement within 15 days of an eligibility decision, a special education complaint can be filed. You can file a complaint by filling out a complaint form and sending it to the Office of Special Needs, RIDE, 255 Westminster St, Providence, RI 02903. A complaint form can be downloaded from the RIDE website. RIDE will investigate your complaint and if the district has violated the laws, RIDE will order a remedy. That remedy can include compensatory services, reimbursement of costs that you paid to get a service the school should have provided, or requiring the school to take an action that it has refused/failed to take. The complaint must be resolved by RIDE within 60 days of receipt.

Mediation is a process for resolving disputes concerning your child’s education that is less formal than a hearing. The goal of mediation is to get you and the district to agree to a solution to the problem. The hearing process is different. In the hearing process, both sides present their cases to the hearing officer and s/he decides which one is correct. A mediator will not decide who is correct, but will attempt to get the parties to agree upon a resolution to the dispute. If agreement is reached it will be written down by the mediator. This signed mediation agreement is enforceable in court. Mediation is voluntary and both parties must agree to participate or the process cannot proceed. You can choose either mediation or a hearing as the first step in resolving a dispute. Keep in mind that all discussions that occur in mediation are confidential, and information from these discussions cannot be used as evidence in a later hearing or other legal dispute.

To start the process, call RIDE’s Office of Special Populations at (401) 222-8999 and say that you would like to request mediation. The Department of Education will appoint a mediator who will contact the school district to get its consent to mediation. If the school district does not agree to mediation, you can pursue a hearing instead. If the school district agrees to mediation, the Department of Education will appoint a mediator who will try to get you and the school district to agree to a solution to the dispute. If you cannot agree to a solution, you can request a hearing to resolve the dispute.

If you feel you need a hearing to resolve your dispute with the school department, you probably should contact an attorney for assistance. The school department will be represented by its attorney. A parent who is successful in challenging a school department decision may be reimbursed for attorney’s fees from the school district. You can request a hearing by completing the Due Process Hearing Request form (available for download on the RIDE website). You should also file a copy of this request form with the Superintendent of your school district.

The school district must inform you of any free or low-cost legal services available in your area. The District must also notify you that reasonable attorneys’ fees may be recovered from the District as part of the costs if you are successful at the hearing. You are required to provide written notice to the school department describing your complaint and proposed solution. Failure to provide this notice can result in reduction or denial of attorneys’ fees even if you are successful at the hearing. Completing the RIDE form will ensure that you comply with this requirement.

The Commissioner of Education has a list of approved hearing officers and will appoint someone from this list. The hearing officer must be impartial. The hearing officer should be someone with little or no contact with you or the school district. S/he should not be an employee of the school district or someone with any personal or professional interest in the outcome of the hearing.

You have the right to represent yourself or to be represented by an attorney or by any person with knowledge or training with respect to special education or children with disabilities. You have the right to a public or private hearing. Before the hearing, you can inspect your child’s records and get a copy of the records. You can present the records or other documents at the hearing. You can have witnesses testify and you can cross-examine the witnesses who testify for the school district. Before the hearing, you also have the right to see any written evidence the school district will submit at the hearing. You must also disclose what you plan to submit at least 5 business days before the hearing.

*****Since the process can be complicated and often involves the testimony of expert professional witnesses, it is strongly advised that parents have the assistance of a lawyer or a trained advocate at the hearing and through any appeal process.

In most instances you should receive a written decision within 45 calendar days after the 30 days that start with the receipt of your request for a hearing, unless the hearing officer has extended the timelines. The first 30 days are used to try to resolve your hearing through a meeting called a Resolution Meeting.

You can appeal the decision of the hearing officer by filing a civil action in a federal or state court. If you have not already contacted an attorney, it is advisable to do so, as filing a legal action is complicated, and, again, the school department will be represented in any court action.

You can ask the school district to correct any information in your child’s record which you believe is inaccurate, misleading, or which violates your child’s privacy. If the school district refuses, you may request a hearing. The hearing officer will decide whether the records should be amended. If the hearing officer decides the records do not need to be amended, you still have the right to put your statement correcting the information in your child’s file.

When your child with a disability reaches the age of majority, 18 in Rhode Island, all of the rights you had under the IDEA are transferred to her/him. These include the right to be present at meetings where decisions will be made, the right to consent to services, evaluations, etc. The school district is required to notify you and your child of the transfer of these rights. If you do not feel your child will be able to make education decisions alone at age 18, contact an attorney to explore a guardianship or power of attorney.

No. Rhode Island law does not allow for expulsion from school. Any suspension from school must have a definite beginning and a definite ending date.

Children with disabilities may be suspended from school for up to 10 days per year. If a child is suspended beyond this 10 day limit, his/her school must provide educational services consistent with the child’s IEP, which may include placement at another educational facility, called an Interim Alternative Educational Setting. Any school removal after 10 days of suspension is considered a change in placement.

An exception to this rule is that is the school personnel determine that a child with a disability presents an immediate threat to him/herself or others, the child may be removed from school for the remainder of the school day regardless of how many days the child has already been suspended. The school may request an expedited hearing and ask the hearing officer to order the student removed from school for no more than 45 days. Another exception to this rule is for a student who brings drugs or weapons to school or who seriously injures another person at school. That child’s placement may be changed immediately to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting for no more than 45 days.

The Interim Alternative Educational Setting is determined by the IEP team and must be selected so that the student may continue to progress in the general curriculum and must continue to receive the services and modifications in the IEP team that will enable her/him to meet the goals set out in the IEP. This setting must include a behavioral assessment and services and modifications necessary to address the behavior that resulted in the placement so that it does not recur.

Schools are required to provide written notices to a parent when a child is being suspended. You may also receive a telephone call from the school, but the written notice should be provided on the day that the decision is made to suspend a student.

Before a school can suspend a child with a disability for the eleventh day, there must be a "manifestation" meeting, to which you must be invited, to determine whether the misbehavior for which the student would be suspended is related to his/her disability. If the misbehavior is related to the disability, the student may not be suspended.

The IEP team (including the parents) must meet, consider all relevant information in the student’s file, including the child’s IEP, teacher observations, and relevant information provided by the child’s parent(s), and then determine: (1) if the child’s conduct was caused by or directly and substantially related to the child’s disability; OR (2) if the conduct was a direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP. If the answer to either of these questions is yes, the conduct is considered to be a manifestation of the child’s disability. Additionally, if the answer to question (2) is yes, then the school must take immediate steps to effectively implement the child’s IEP.

Absolutely. Every child needs to feel consequences for inappropriate behavior. However, those consequences should be designed to teach the student what is acceptable behavior as well as to avoid misbehavior in the future. In order to determine what triggers the misbehavior and to develop a plan to change that behavior, the school department must conduct a functional behavioral assessment (FBA). If a behavioral intervention plan had been previously developed, it should be reviewed by the IEP team and modified as necessary to address the behavioral problem. Once the FBA is done or revised, the IEP team should meet to develop a behavioral intervention plan which would be a part of the IEP. Behavioral interventions should include positive reinforcement of acceptable behavior as well as any appropriate negative consequences for misbehavior. The child should be returned to the school from which s/he was removed unless the parents and the school agree to a new school placement.

If the Team determines that the misbehavior for which the child will be suspended is not related to the disability, the child may be suspended but must continue to receive the free appropriate public education described in his/her IEP. The IEP team must decide how those services will be provided during the term of any suspension. A student may be assigned to an Interim Alternative Educational Setting for not more than 45 days. A parent is entitled to an expedited hearing to challenge the decision and the child would remain in the interim alternative educational setting pending the hearing decision.

Students who have been referred for special education evaluation and those whom the school knows or should have known to have a disability, have the same protections as those who have already been found eligible. The school district is presumed to know that the child has a disability if the parent has expressed concern in writing to school personnel that the child is in need of special education of if the parents has requested an evaluation; or if the teacher of the child or other school personnel have expressed concern about the child’s behavior or performance to the director of special education.

Yes. The school district where the child lives is responsible for evaluating the child to see if s/he is eligible for special education and for providing special education and related services if s/he is eligible. This is true even if the child is attending a private school outside the school district where the child lives. The parents must ask the school district to provide these services (in other words, to provide a free appropriate public education). Otherwise the school district is not required to do so.

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