Just recently I was given this scenario from the Doctorate program from which I am attempting to earn a specialization in Special Education. Let’s imagine, if you can, that You are the Director of Special Education and a family has just moved into the school district. In this scenario, the parent has asked for his child to be tested for possible special education services due to reading difficulties. The elementary school principal has told a parent that his child does not need to be referred for testing since the school is utilizing the Responsiveness to Intervention Model (RTI). The parent, as reported by the special education teacher, is very upset. The student has had difficulties with reading for a number of years. This is the third time a parent has requested services and both the principal and reading interventionist have refused to allow the special educator to start the referral process.

Child Education

As a parent of children on the autism spectrum and as a professional working with children and parents of children with special needs, it is an interesting and pertinent scenario to explore. Not only for the sake of understanding you and your child’s rights under the law, but to better understand the foundation of the education system and where it seems to fall short.

The following will be discussed: the legal issues that are involved when assessments are requested and denied; the support that should be provided to the special education teacher; and what training should be provided to the principal.

Legal Issues

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) policy ensures that children with disabilities, have access to the general education curriculum equivalent to their peers without disabilities. IDEA mandates a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all students with disabilities in the least restrictive and most integrative environment possible. Implications from the aforementioned scenario lend to legal discrepancies that should be of concern to any educator.

The fact that the child has been struggling in literacy for years deems a necessity to intervene. According to a publication submitted by the Center for Literacy & Disability Studies; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the lack of literacy is a lack of “entry points that are aligned with the general curriculum”. Literacy limitations do not in any way provide a child with the least restrictive environment possible. The Special Education Director and the principal of the above school should address these legal issues immediately.

First, the scenario states that the parent has requested an evaluation of their child due to literacy concerns.

It is also stated that this is not the first time a parent had been denied this request. As indicated by the passage 20 U.S.C 1414 of the IDEA Act regarding Evaluations, a state educational agency shall conduct a full and individual initial evaluation in accordance with the parameters of the IDEA Act. Furthermore, a request for initial evaluation can be initiated by either a parent of a child, or a state educational agency after which the evaluations will be implemented with 60 days of parental consent. In this case, the moment when the parent requested an evaluation is assumed consent but a signed document is necessary. If you are the parent in similar circumstances, document all attempts in writing that you have initiated a request for evaluation.

The principal of the school and the literacy interventionist both indicated that because the school utilizes the Response to Intervention strategies, there is no need for an evaluation. A Memorandum, written in 2011 to State Directors of Special Education from The United States Department of Education mandates that a “Response to Intervention (RTI) process cannot be used to delay or deny an evaluation for eligibility under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act”.

This memorandum came in response to a new awareness that, in some instances, local education agencies (LEAs) may have been using Response to Intervention (RTI) strategies to delay or deny a timely initial evaluation for children suspected of having a disability. According to this memorandum, states and LEAs have an obligation under the IDEA Act to ensure that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of implementation of an RTI strategy.

Special Education Support

As the Special Education Director, you may definitely see a need to educate the principal in the laws of special education. It is also important for the principal to know how to properly support the special education department of their school in regards to evaluations and eligibility determinations. There are special education law trainings provided by the Department of Education of every state for educational agencies, teachers, and advocates. In addition to state funded trainings, many other education agencies endorse conferences and trainings to instruct educators about legal compliance for special education laws.

One such agency is LRP’s National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Individuals with Disabilities. LRP conducts conferences designed to help educators keep their special education programs in compliance with federal requirements. The nation’s leading special education experts show attendees how to turn legal mandates into best practices, so staff can ensure that students receive appropriate services. As the Special Education Director, wouldn’t you want to make sure that all of the schools in the district were adequately trained?

The Principal 

An article written by Cooner, D., Tochterman, S., and Garrison-Wade, D., (2006), Preparing Principals for Leadership in Special Education Educational leadership, conveys that “educational leadership is ranked as the number one key variable associated with effective schools”.

Today’s principals are dealing with children with physical, emotional/behavioral, and developmental disorders as well as those with significant healthcare needs. Many children have multiple disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Education: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, over 6 million of our nation’s children are enrolled in special education programs.

Principals are overwhelmed by the challenge to provide strong leadership to teachers in the instruction of students with disabilities. With increasing enrollment of students in special education and the increase of these children participating in the general education arena, the role of the principal has drastically changed. Particularly in light of identifying and providing required special education services. Although the responsibility of the principal has increased, almost no state requires any training in special education for an individual to become licensed as a principal.

The scenario described above, may in fact just be a lack of special education preparation.

Providing training and resources to the Administrative staff is a good place to start but, I would suggest that more school districts assess the attitude of the school principals in the hiring process or yearly evaluations. “Principals that value diversity in the student population will provide opportunities for all teachers and students to learn valuable skills essential to living and working within a diverse world”. In contrast, principals’ negative attitudes based upon the belief that special needs students require a disproportionate amount of time and resources or that these students should be educated in more segregated environments, hamper the administration of special education in school buildings.

Beliefs influence perception and guide behavior. Given that the leadership role of a principal affects special education services, training programs for principals must address their beliefs. Effective principals model positive attitudes toward acceptance of all children, visit special education classrooms, spend time with students with special needs, tour the building daily, and become involved with the concerns of all students and programs.

Special Education Teacher

As far as supporting the special education teacher, it is imperative to make sure that the sp. ed teacher is aware and knowledgeable about the referral process. Administration must provide the necessary resources for the teacher to learn about compliance and how to advocate for his students. Each state’s department of education provides training on writing measurable goals and objectives into IEPs based on their state’s standards. They also supply resources on IEPs for children with disabilities and for learning to connect curriculum to the state standards. All teachers should be trained in this. Administration should be expected to support the teaching staff with these resources and all other necessary steps in the process for compliance.

The IEP process is designed to ensure that children with disabilities get the best education possible. There are now many technological resources that assist with the IEP process and its required documentation. There are no excuses for school districts not to be in compliance with the law.

by Katherine Goodsell M.Ed


Baio, EdS, J. (2014, March 28). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United  States, 2010. Retrieved December 10, 2014

Bateman, D., & Bateman, C. F. (2001). A principal’s guide to special education. Arlington, VA:Council for Exceptional Children.

Cooner, D., Tochterman, S., and Garrison-Wade, D., (2006). Preparing Principals for Leadership in Special Education: Applying ISLLC Standards. Journal of Principal Preparation and Development, v6 2004-2005 Retrieved From: https://www.principals.org/portals/0/content/49135.pdf

Erickson, K. Ph.D., Hanser, G. Ph.D., Hatch, P. Ph.D., Sanders, E. M.S./CCC-SLP. (2009) The Center for Literacy and Disability Studies. Research-Based Practices for Creating Access to the General Curriculum in Reading and Literacy for Students with Significant Intellectual Disabilities.

Farrall, M. L., Ph.D., Darr Wright, P., MA MSW., & Wright, Peter W.D. Esq. (2014). Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments. ISBN: 978-1-892320-16-2, 456 pages

Ferreri, S., Bolt, S., & Michigan State University, Education,Policy Center. (2011). EducatingMichigan’s students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): An initial exploration of programming.”the ASD michigan project”. special report. ().Education Policy Center,Michigan State University.

U.S. Department of Education, Memorandum from The Office of  Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Jan. 21, 2011. Questions and Answers on RTI and Coordinated Early Intervention Services (CEIS).

U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Thirty-fourth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/osep/2012/index.html

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