In addition to interventions like the Individual Education Program (IEP) and the Section 504 plan, the State of Georgia has created the Student Support Team process to try to help students struggling to achieve academic success.1 SST is a state law process, not part of your child’s federal rights. Nothing in federal law requires (or prohibits) the use of the SST process.
SST is implemented in three tiers. The first tier is basically the level of support provided to any student in the public schools. In the second tier, more intensive support is provided. If that does not turn around the problem, more intensive third tier interventions are put in place. If that does not work, it is pretty clear that a medical disability of some kind exists, which means that a special education plan must be put in place.
The process is intended to provide support for children who are having academic difficulty, but do not have a disability and therefore do not require an IEP or 504 plan. The problem is that some school districts require or strongly press for completion of the SST process before beginning to create a special education plan. However, federal law does not incorporate or address the SST process. In short, nothing in federal law requires that state education interventions be exhausted before creating an IEP. School districts that discourage parents from asking for an expert evaluation are placing a barrier between children and their legal rights.
In fact, your child is entitled to evaluation at the school district’s expense to determine if a special need exists. That right exists whether or not the SST process is complete, or has even started. The evaluation process can be very time consuming, and that delay is only made worse if the school district declines to start the clock until third tier SST interventions are unsuccessful. I appreciate the skills of teachers, but there is no shame in getting an expert involved to figure out what special needs are present and to suggest more effective strategies for educating a child.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, a school district has 60 days from when it receives your consent to evaluation to complete the evaluation.2 There is some dispute about how the 60 days are calculated, but the relevant Georgia regulations do not require that the district finish SST before your child can begin the initial evaluation process.3 Keep in mind that you have a right to a second opinion of this evaluation, also paid for by the school district.
In short, invoking your rights under federal law requires you to make a written request for an evaluation. In the letter (or email), you should plainly state what you believe are your child’s learning deficits and request your federal right to appropriate evaluation designed to discover the relative contribution of cognitive, behavioral, physical, or developmental factors on your chid’s difficulty learning. Be sure to explicitly say that you consent to the appropriate evaluations. This is not the place to complain about the problems, failed solutions, missed opportunities, or miscommunications in the education process. Instead, the only purpose of the letter is to start the clock on the evaluation timeline I described above.
1 Student Support Teams are defined in GA Dept. Edu. R. 160-4-2-.32
2 See 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(C)(i)(I). Federal law allows a State to create a different timeline, but Georgia has not required completion of SST in the regulations on evaluation timelines.
3 Georgia's regulations on evaluations are found in GA Dept. Edu. R. 160-4-7-.04