The law protects every child’s right to an education. It can be a long and complex process. This sheet gives you the basic information about special education and only applies to public schools. Private schools do not accept federal money and are not held to the same standards.

Schools will assess students to see if they have a “disability” by seeing if they have “educational impairments” that effect how they perform at school. This means the school will assess the child for problems with a certain subject or overall learning problems. These may include medical, academic, developmental, and emotional problems.

If the school finds a child qualifies for services, they may offer an individualized education plan (IEP). An IEP is like a contract between parents and schools. It states the student’s needs, steps school will take to meet those needs, and includes goals for students to work towards.

Getting Started

The first step to seeking help is to submit a referral to the school in writing. A referral is a letter asking the school to assess the child to see if he/she qualifies to receive help at school. Anyone can write a referral letter. This includes parents, teachers, or medical providers. Giving the school a written letter is the first step to start the legal process. See the back of this document for a sample letter.

Schools can do their own assessment. You should share health records with the school as these will help with this process.


Once a school gets a referral, they have 15 business days to respond. They may respond by asking for consent to assess your child. They could also say no assessment is needed and state the school’s reason for this. Asking for an assessment does not ensure school help. The school will have 60 days to assess your child after you give your consent.

If the child meets the standards for an IEP, the team has 30 calendar days to create and begin the plan. IEPs are reviewed every year, and students are re-assessed every 3 years.


The school should tell you of the appeal process. If not, you can ask what the appeal process is.

Other Help

If you need an advocate for your child, you can find one for little to no cost. Agencies include:

  • FACETS: 877-374-4677 or

  • WSPEI: 877-844-4925 or

If there are legal issues involved with the school, Disability Rights Wisconsin ( can help for little or no cost.


  • Students do not need testing outside of the school.

  • A doctor’s note or diagnosis does not ensure an IEP.

  • Doctors cannot “prescribe” an IEP.

  • Schools do not diagnose learning disorders, ADHD, or autism. They do figure out if the child meets the standards for school help.

Sample Letter

Name of principal
Name of school
School address

Re: Request and Parental Consent for a Special Education Evaluation for:
Child’s name
Child’s date of birth
Child’s grade

Dear “principal’s name”:

I request the school district assess my child for special education eligibility and services. I am concerned about my child’s progress in school (list which areas).

(Address all your concerns, and how your child’s problems effect how he/she performs in school).

Kindly provide me with a consent to evaluate form.

If you have any question, please feel free to call or email. Thank you for your time.

Parent name
Parent email
Parent phone number

Copy to:
Director of special education
Vice principal
Classroom teacher
School psychologist