Skip to main content

Parent Special Education Information

PACER is the Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs.

Understanding the Special Education Process

The chart below offers an overview of the special education process. It is not designed to show all steps or the specific details. It shows what happens from the time a child is referred for evaluation and is identified as having a disability, through the development of an individualized education program (IEP).

The process begins when someone (school staff, parents, etc.) makes a referral for an initial evaluation.

Overview of the Special Education Process

View the print version of this chart

Parents, school district staff or others request an evaluation; parents agree in writing.

(Additional Information)

Evaluation completed.
Eligibility decision.

(Additional Information)

Not eligible.

(Additional Information)

Eligible for services.

(Additional Information)

a) IEP developed.
b) Placement determined.
(Might be two meetings.)

(Additional Information)

Parents disagree.

(Additional Information)

Parents agree.

(Additional Information)

Annual IEP Meeting.

(Additional Information)

Parents disagree.

(Additional Information)

Parents agree.

(Additional Information)

Parents, school personnel, students, or others may make a request for evaluation. If you request an evaluation to determine whether your child has a disability and needs special education, the school district must complete a full and individual evaluation. If it refuses to conduct the evaluation, it must give you appropriate notice and let you know your rights.

You must be asked to give permission in writing for an initial (first-time) evaluation and for any tests that are completed as part of a reevaluation. Once you agree to the evaluation plan, the evaluation report and a discussion of the results must be completed within 30 school days.

A team of qualified professionals and you will review the results of the evaluation, and determine if your child is eligible for special education services and related services. If this is an initial evaluation for an eligible child, the first IEP meeting must be held within 30 calendar days after the child has been found eligible. When the parents give consent to the IEP, the services must be made available as soon as possible.

If your child is not eligible, you will be appropriately notified and the process stops. However, you have a right to disagree with the results of the evaluation or the eligibility decision.

If you disagree with the results of an evaluation, you have a right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Someone who does not work for the school district completes the IEE. The school district must pay for the IEE or show at an impartial due process hearing (see box on next page) that its evaluation is appropriate.

If you and the school district agree that your child is eligible for services, you and the school staff will plan your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), at an IEP team meeting. You are an equal member of this team. Some states may have a different name for the IEP team meeting.

The IEP lists any special services your child needs, including goals your child is expected to achieve in one year, and objectives or benchmarks to note progress. The team determines what services are in the IEP, as well as the location of those services and modifications. At times, the IEP and placement decisions will take place at one meeting. At other times, placement may be made at a separate meeting (usually called a placement meeting.)

Placement for your child must be in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) appropriate to your child’s needs. He or she will be placed in the regular classroom to receive services unless the IEP team determines that, even with special additional aids and services, the child cannot be successful there. You are part of any group that decides what services your child will receive and where they will be provided.

If you disagree with the IEP and/or the proposed placement, you should first try to work out an agreement with your child’s IEP team. If you still disagree, you can use your due process rights, which include mediation and resolution meetings.

If you agree in writing with the IEP and placement, your child will receive the services that are written into the IEP. You will receive reports on your child’s progress at least as often as parents are given reports on their children who do not have disabilities. You can request that the IEP team meet if reports show that changes need to be made in the IEP.

The IEP team meets at least once per year to discuss progress and write any new goals or services into the IEP. As a parent, you can agree or disagree with the proposed changes. If you disagree, you should do so in writing.

If you disagree with any changes in the IEP, your child will continue to receive the services listed in the previous IEP until you and school staff reach agreement. You should discuss your concerns with the other members of the IEP team. If you continue to disagree with the IEP, you have several options, including asking for additional testing or an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), or resolving the disagreement using due process.

Your child will continue to receive special education services if the team agrees that the services are needed. A reevaluation is completed at least once every three years, unless you and the school district agree that reevaluation is not needed, to see if your child continues to be eligible for special education services and to decide what services he or she needs.

Early Intervention Services in Minnesota

Children ages birth to age 3 who are eligible for special education are served under an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP plan and process focuses on identifying the needs of the child and family and determining how to best meet the needs. The law recognizes the importance of the family in the lives of young children and emphasizes that the IFSP plan and process be family centered and directed. The IFSP process is to be comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary, and, when appropriate, interagency.


Families are Important! An Early Childhood Guidebook for Families of Young Children

Helps families of children with disabilities or delayed development understand Minnesota's early intervention system and how to access services for their child.

Call to order - $7 or free to Minnesota parents of children and young adults with disabilities.

Early Childhood Transition Guidebook  

Helps parents understand the process that guides their child's transition from infant and toddler intervention services to other early childhood services at age three and includes strategies to use for a successful transition.

2010 edition - 14 page pdf

Structure of special education in Minnesota

In Minnesota, special education programs for students with disabilities are provided primarily by school districts (public schools) that sometimes combine with other local school districts to form special education cooperatives.

Sometimes a single school district--usually in highly populated areas-- provides services to all children within its boundaries, including the entire range of programs and services for students with disabilities.

Sometimes a special education cooperative of two or more districts-- usually adjoining or within the same county or region--may join to provide special education services to students with disabilities within their combined boundaries. A cooperative may have a single administrative office with teaching personnel hired by that office.

Charter schools also are required to provide special education services to eligible children. Minnesota also has three intermediate school districts which operate similar to cooperatives.

Regardless how the special education programs of a school district are organized, in most cases, one person called the special education director is in charge of coordinating all special education services.


A book that help parents understand both the principles of special education and the procedures for writing the educational program for a child with a disability is available free of charge from PACER Center to Minnesota parents:

  • Parents Can Be the Key
    As a parent, you know your child in a way no one else can. You are an expert on your child and a vital member of the team that plans your child’s education. You, as a parent, can be the key to an appropriate education for your child. You have important information to share about your child’s educational planning, and you can take action to make changes when they are needed. To be an effective advocate, you must know your rights and those of your child. Exercising these rights and fulfilling your responsibilities are important steps in supporting your child on his or her educational journey. This book offers an overview of special education in Minnesota. (2011 edition - 40 pages)

Call to Order

Communication in the special education process

IEP meetings and other school meetings are crucial parts of a child's educational program. A parent's responsibility extends beyond giving consent and accepting explanations. Asking questions, bringing up issues to discuss, gathering information, and clarifying points are all part of the parent's role.

Effective communication is two-way, generating understanding and support the professionals and the parents need to make effective decisions about the child's educational program.

The key to effective communication is preparation and willingness to be actively involved in planning the child's educational program. To foster meaningful communication, the parent can:

  • Make sure the focus stays on the child.
  • Be prepared by knowing in advance the important points to discuss and questions to ask. Then write down the points and questions and check them off as they are addressed.
  • Listen. Listening helps gather information about the child and understanding of other viewpoints.
  • State issues clearly. It is important to communicate in a honest and clear manner.
  • Ask questions. Asking questions can be an effective way of clarifying a point and keeping the line of communication open.
  • Direct comments and questions to the person who can best address or answer them.
  • Restate concerns if not heard the first time.
  • Be confident. A parent never has to feel guilty or embarrassed asking questions or assertively pursuing the appropriate services for the child. That is their role and their right.
  • Work together. Neither the parent nor the professionals have all the answers. Working together as a team encourages finding solutions. Everyone at the meeting has the same goal – to provide an appropriate educational program for the child.

Resolving differences with the school

Most participants want IEP meetings to result in mutual agreement about an appropriate educational program for the child. However, this doesn't always happen. The parent can:

  • Discuss concerns with the child's IEP case manager
  • Request another IEP meeting to discuss specific issues and concerns
  • Explore other school programs or placements if necessary
  • Consider requesting a conciliation conference, mediation, or an alternate form of dispute resolution
  • If the above methods don't work and the situation is appropriate, consider initiating due process procedures
  • It if appears that the school is not complying with special education laws, consider filing a complaint with the state's Division of Compliance and Assistance.

For information about the dispute resolution methods mentioned above visit our Dispute Resolution Section or contact PACER Center.

Tips on resolving conflicts:

  • Put requests in writing and ask for a written response
  • Keep written records of communication with the school
  • Clarify issues and priorities related to points of agreement and disagreement
  • Define possible solutions