Administrator’s Corner: Special education referral and eligibility

Published 10:06 pm Friday, January 31, 2020

Administrator’s Corner by Tami Alphs

Tami Alphs


The focus of the Albert Lea preK-12 special education department is to ensure a free and appropriate public education for eligible students identified to have a disability and who are in need of individualized and specially designed instruction.

Students qualify for special education by meeting specific eligibility criteria, as defined by the Minnesota Department of Education. Students are evaluated by a team of professionals to determine if they qualify for services, and if their needs can be met with adjustments in the traditional classroom setting.


School-age referral process

To assure that students are given ample opportunity to succeed within the general education program, Minnesota Statute 125.56 requires that schools implement and document at least “instructional strategies, alternatives or interventions” within the general education classroom prior to referring a child for special education evaluation. This is called the pre-referral process. In many instances, the child’s needs can be met by changing instructional strategies or through other interventions within the general classroom.

If the first intervention is successful, the teacher will continue with the intervention. If there is not progress, the teacher will try a second intervention. If that is successful, the teacher will continue with it. If there is not progress, the teacher will contact the parent and submit a referral to the building special education team. The team will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the student and determine if an evaluation is necessary. The parent will be contacted about developing an evaluation plan.    

The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if the child is eligible for and needs special education services, and, if so, to identify the special education needs that will be the focus of specialized instruction. Districts have 45 calendar days from the referral date to complete the evaluation of a child age birth to 3, and 30 school days from the date written permission is received to complete the evaluation for students age 3 and above. If the student qualifies for special education services by meeting entrance criteria for any of the 13 areas, the team will then develop an individual education program, or an IEP. The school is not able to begin providing services until the IEP has been signed. IEPs are developed annually, and the comprehensive evaluation is completed every three years.

While the district is not financially responsible for the costs of a parent-initiated assessment conducted by a physician, clinic or other agency, the evaluation team will review and consider such assessment data. However, the district is not required to accept the results nor implement the recommendations of an outside assessment unless the evaluation team agrees to do so.


Parent involvement

There are a number of people who can assist parents if they have questions. If your concerns are specifically related to the implementation of your child’s IEP, you should discuss them with your child’s IEP manager. Parents might also elect to speak to their child’s building principal for questions related to both special and general education. Although the director of special services cannot overrule an IEP team’s decisions, you may wish to contact the director if you cannot resolve an issue with the IEP team.

Tami Alphs is the director of special services for Albert Lea Area Schools.