Referral: The First Step in the Special Education Process

As the school year moves along, you may start to suspect that your child should be evaluated for special education.  To start the process, you should make a “referral.”  The following describes the referral process and timelines for Massachusetts and New Hampshire:

  1. Write a Letter to the special education director in your school system requesting a special education evaluation.  Explain that you are the parent or guardian of the child, and then explain some of your concerns (e.g. failing grades, distractibility, emotional concerns, etc.).  Be very clear that you are requesting an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services or accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  If you are able to go to the school office in person, you should obtain a date-stamped receipt as proof that you submitted the request on a certain date (read on to see why proof of the date is important).  If you are not able to go to the school office in person, you should send the letter certified, return receipt requested.  E-mail is also acceptable, as long as you get a response indicating that the e-mail has been received.
  2. Consent Form.  Federal law requires school districts to obtain parental consent before performing any evaluations.  This process can be more difficult for New Hampshire parents than for Massachusetts parents:
    1. Massachusetts: In Massachusetts, school districts must send the consent form to the parents within 5 school days of receiving the referral (i.e. your letter). 603 C.M.R. 28.04(1)(a).
    2. New Hampshire: In New Hampshire, when a referral is made, the IEP team must meet within 15 days of the referral to determine:
      1. whether the concerns raised by the referral can be addressed by existing educational supports that are available to all children;
      2. whether additional information is required; and
      3. what testing, if any, is needed to address any remaining concerns raised by the referral. Ed 1106.01(d).
  1. Evaluation.  If an evaluation will take place, federal law requires that it occur within 60 days of receiving parental consent. 300 C.F.R. 300.301(c)(1)(i).  Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire provide shorter timeframes, though.
    1. Massachusetts: Schools must complete the evaluation within 30 school days of receiving the consent form.  603 C.M.R. 28.04(2).
    2. New Hampshire: Schools must complete the evaluation within 45 days of receiving the consent form. Ed 1107.01(c).

I will examine the Evaluation procedures in more detail in a subsequent blog post.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters.  Please visit, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

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