Are Parents Entitled to a Second Opinion?

Parents often ask what to do if they disagree with a school’s evaluation of their child.  The answer is the same whether the school did a large, comprehensive evaluation (usually called a “psychoeducational” evaluation), or an evaluation in a specific area of need such as speech and language.

Parents are always entitled to pay for an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at their own expense, and the school has to consider the evaluation once its completed.  The school does not necessarily have to adopt the recommendations in the evaluation, but it has to consider them.

Additionally, the IDEA provides that parents are entitled to request one independent evaluation, at public expense, for every evaluation that a school conducts.  This independent evaluation is often performed by a psychologist in private practice who is qualified to do school-related evaluations.  If the school’s evaluation was in a particular area of need, for example a speech/language or occupational therapy evaluation, then the parents are entitled to request an independent evaluation by a qualified speech/language or occupational therapist.

When parents request an IEE, the school has two options – “fund or file.”  The school must either pay for the independent evaluation (fund), or file a due process complaint and prove that its evaluation is appropriate (file).  In most cases, the school will pay for the IEE because it’s less confrontational, less expensive, and generally less trouble than filing a due process complaint.  This is not always the case, and I have certainly represented parents at hearings over IEE requests, but most of the time the school will simply pay for the independent evaluation.

If the school grants parents’ request for an IEE, it should give them a list of potential independent evaluators.  This is intended to help the parent get started, but parents are not required to use evaluators from the school’s list.  An independent evaluation is just that, independent.  Parents can pick their own evaluators as long as they choose people who are qualified.  I advise parents that, among other things, it is extremely important that they pick an evaluator who is willing to testify at a due process hearing if a hearing becomes necessary.  Not all evaluators will testify, so it is important to ask.

There is a surprising amount of law regarding the content of an IEE request, its timing, the qualifications of independent evaluators, and other details that cannot be covered in a blog post.  If you are thinking about requesting an independent evaluation, a lawyer can help you navigate these details to get the best results.

References

If you would like to do some research on IEEs, the best place to start is with the riveting prose contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, 34 C.F.R. §300.502.

 

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