On December 21, 2018, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”) published updated guidance addressing the timelines for initial evaluations of students being evaluated for eligibility for special education and related services. As noted by SDE, both the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and related Connecticut regulations impose timelines as to when a school district must complete those initial evaluations and, when appropriate, implement an individualized education program (“IEP”). You can read the new SDE guidance here, and we have summarized key provisions below.
As explained in the guidance, the IDEA and state regulations both have their own timelines for initial evaluations. The IDEA provides that school districts have 60 calendar days to complete an initial evaluation and determine eligibility once it obtains written parental consent for the initial evaluation.
Connecticut imposes a slightly different timeline. Under Connecticut law, once the district receives a referral for special education, the district must (1) obtain written parental consent, (2) conduct a comprehensive evaluation, (3) determine eligibility, and, when appropriate, (4) implement an IEP within 45 school days. Connecticut’s 45 school day timeline does not include the time it takes to obtain written parental consent for either conducting an initial evaluation or the initial provision of special education. And notably, an initial evaluation is “on time” if a district is unable to meet the federal 60 calendar day timeline, but still meets Connecticut’s 45 school day timeline.
The SDE guidance also provides various scenarios to explain the timelines.
- When a school district receives a referral for special education during the school year, it must (1) determine the student’s eligibility within 60 calendar days of receiving written parental consent for the initial evaluation; or (2) implement the student’s IEP within 45 school days of a referral (not counting the time it takes to obtain written parental consent to conduct the initial evaluation or to begin providing special education). The guidance also notes that under Connecticut’s regulation, the timeline for implementation of an IEP must occur within 60 school days of the PPT referral in cases where a student’s IEP requires an out-of-district or private placement (not including the time it takes to obtain written parental consent).
- When a school district receives a referral for special education at the end of the school year, SDE “strongly encourage[s]” districts to conduct the valuation within 60 calendar days. Despite this encouragement, the guidance acknowledges that districts may use the 45 school day timelines, which could include completing the initial evaluation at the beginning of the following school year. The guidance further opines that the use of the 45 school day timeline after receiving a referral at the end of the year may be used when adherence to the 60 calendar day timeline is not possible due to staff or student availability over the summer.
- When a district receives a referral for special education between school years, the date of the referral may be deemed to be the first school day of the next school year. In such cases, the district would have 45 school days from the first school day of the next school year to meet the requirements imposed by Connecticut law (i.e., (1) obtain written parental consent, (2) conduct a comprehensive evaluation, (3) determine eligibility, and, when appropriate, (4) implement an IEP).
- When a district receives notice from the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood about a child enrolled in Birth to Three who either resides in district or has a “nexus” with the district, the district should consider such notice as an official referral and should start the referral process immediately. Federal law requires that, for such children, a district must have an IEP in place by the child’s third birthday, if an IEP is needed. Although districts are strongly encouraged to comply with this requirement, compliance may not be possible due to a late referral. In such circumstances, an IEP must be implemented within 45 school days of a referral.
- The guidance further clarifies that the state 45 school day timeline begins after the district receives a completed and signed PPT referral for or letter requesting a referral to the PPT process. SDE suggests that if a parent/guardian informs a staff member verbally that the parent/guardian believes the child may have a disability or need special education services, the staff member should instruct the parent/guardian to put their concerns in writing (or provide accommodations for parent/guardians who cannot put their concerns in writing), and the district must accept that writing as a PPT referral.
Special education administrators and staff responsible for conducting or overseeing the completion of initial evaluations are encouraged to read this new guidance, which also contains important information about reporting requirements. While the guidance generally summarizes existing legal requirements, it may be a helpful resource for quick reference or to help explain the initial evaluation timelines and process to parents/guardians.