The topic of independent educational evaluations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) has, now more than ever, become one of the most discussed and debated topics in special education. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”), has provided guidance on a parent’s right to receive an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”), most recently earlier this year in Letter to Baus. In summary, the Letter provides that a parent is not limited to obtaining an IEE only in the area that was assessed by the school district.
The IDEA provides that, if a parent disagrees with an evaluation conducted by a school district, the parent is entitled to request an IEE at public expense. Once the IEE is requested, the school district has two options: (1) agree to fund the IEE; or (2) request a due process hearing to defend its evaluation. A parent is entitled to only one IEE for each evaluation with which the parent disagrees. The language of the IDEA does not clearly explain, however, whether the school district has the right to first conduct an evaluation in a particular area of suspected disability before the parent may request an IEE in that area of concern.
In Letter to Baus, OSEP clarifies that, in accordance with the IDEA regulations, an evaluation must be conducted using a variety of assessments and strategies to gather “relevant functional, developmental, and academic information” to determine a child’s eligibility and plan an appropriate program. Such evaluation must be “sufficiently comprehensive to assess the child in all areas related to the suspected disability, and must identify all of the child’s special needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Using this backdrop, OSEP explains that when a parent disagrees with an evaluation because the child was not evaluated in a particular area to determine special education eligibility and/or appropriate programming, the parent has a right to request an IEE. Once requested, the school district may either defend the comprehensiveness of its evaluation at a due process hearing or provide the IEE at public expense.