Diagnosis is different from eligibility. Diagnosis typically relates to a medical identification of a disease or problem based upon the characteristics or symptoms the person is exhibiting. Eligibility relates to if a person meets the criteria to obtain specific services from an agency. In the situation for eligibility for exceptional student education services through public schools, students must meet the criteria for the disability, but also have a need for specially designed instruction and related services as a result of the disability.
Once the information and data from classroom data collection, observations, and evaluations are completed the school will schedule a meeting called an eligibility staffing to review the reports with you and other educational professionals. This includes the parent, the child’s teacher, an exceptional student education teacher, an exceptional student education staffing specialist (this person is the designated person within the school to expertly understand the state’s eligibility criteria), a school psychologist. It may also include a school administrator, speech pathologist, other specialists who helped with the evaluation, and if a parent desires, may include others that may help them understand the process (such as another family member, professional advocate, an in-home therapist, or education attorney). A parent may request copies of the evaluations prior to this meeting.
Together at the eligibility staffing, this team will review the eligibility criteria for the specific disability category and determine if the student meets the criteria. Next, if the child meets eligibility for a disability category, then the team will discuss the child’s ability to make age appropriate progress on the educational standards for the grade level. If the child is not making progress, the group will discuss what special services are needed to help this child make educational progress. If a child has a disability but does not need special education services, the child is not eligible for special education under IDEA, but may be eligible for protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. If your child is eligible, you will be asked to sign consent for placement then an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be developed. (See IEP)
Questions or observations you would recommend parents to investigate before an eligibility meeting?
Eligibility meetings at schools may seem intimidating but remember the people in the room are there to help your child to make progress in learning the educational standards for the specific grade level. Being prepared will lessen the intimidation. Once the invitation is sent to you for the eligibility staffing, request a copy of all of the evaluations that are a part of the decision making process. Read through these. If you do not understand something in the reports, write down or highlight the area so that you can ask what is meant.
Have an understanding of the disability category for which your child is being evaluated. Review the Florida Department of Education’s ESE Eligibility criteria for that specific disability. At the meeting discuss your observations of how your child learns at home and any concerns you have regarding academic progress. This may include ability or behaviors exhibited during home study time, reading, completing tasks or organization at home and how long it takes to do homework.
If at any time you do not feel you understand something, ask what is meant. If you feel you would like someone else to attend the meeting with you, let the school know in advance who the person is and their profession.
At each meeting regarding Exceptional Student Education, you will be given a copy of the Procedural Safeguards and the opportunity to have this explained to you and a provided a copy of the Due Process Rights or Procedural Safeguards. Have the school’s staffing specialist review these with you at the first meeting and any other meeting that you wish to hear them again. Ask questions if you do not understand. Take a copy home to read through. These are your rights and procedures to follow should you disagree with any outcome of the meeting.
Be organized. Keep a notebook of all of your child’s school records. The school district and CILO offer trainings on how to organize your child’s school records. Contact the ESE Parent Services team at 561-434-8626 or CILO at 561-966-4288.
Florida dept. of education exceptional student education. A parent’s guide to exceptional student Education
School district of palm beach county exceptional student education dept. Parent services
Written by: Iris Neil