What if My Child Doesn’t Qualify for Special Education?

Roadblock with floodwaters on the other sideFinding that your child is not eligible for special education services may feel like a roadblock. After all of the meetings and paperwork, parents are sometimes left with mixed emotions if their child is found not eligible for an IEP. You may be feeling a sense of relief that your child’s problems in school are not due to a disability. At the same time, it is also common for parents to feel confused and frustrated because it appears that the team is no closer to helping your child. Do not lose hope. There are some things that you and your child’s school can do if your child does not qualify for special education.

Your child may be eligible for a 504 Plan

Not all students with disabilities are eligible for special education services. If your child has an identified disability and is found not eligible for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), he may be eligible for a 504 Plan. 504 Plans are regulated under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This is a civil rights law specifying that an individual cannot be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities. Public schools fall under this category.

If a student is determined to have a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a 504 Plan may be used to level the playing field. 504 Plans do not alter instruction in the classroom, but rather provide your child with the accommodations needed so that he can participate fully and be successful in the general education setting. Accommodations on a 504 Plan may include a wheelchair ramp, a recording device for note taking, additional time to complete assignments, etc. 504 Plans are individualized for the needs of each student but do not individualize instruction. (See IEPs versus 504 Plans for additional information.)

Create a plan that focuses on your child’s strengths

I once heard an interview with an NBA basketball coach who discussed his strategy for creating a strong team. He shared that the secret to the success of his team was to have his players spend hours and hours perfecting their areas of strength. Building on strengths is a whole lot more effective than remediating weaknesses. The evaluation report should identify your child’s strengths. For example, if your child demonstrates a strength in nonverbal reasoning skills, discuss with the team how instruction and tasks required in the classroom could incorporate more hands-on or multi-sensory experiences. Work together with the team to incorporate your child’s strengths in the learning process.

Review the recommendations from the Evaluation Report

Most evaluation reports include recommendations from the school psychologist even if the student is not eligible for special education services. These recommendations are often very helpful in moving forward with a viable plan to help your child overcome obstacles interfering with learning. Recommendations from the evaluation should take into consideration the most current testing information. This is helpful because testing often reveals information that the team was not aware of prior to the evaluation. Oftentimes, teachers come to the evaluation process having tried everything that they know to help a student. Recommendations from the evaluation process can provide new information and things to try in order to help your child succeed.

Explore supports available through general education

When a student is not eligible for special education services, the responsibility falls back on general education to create programs and put supports in place to help your child learn. Many schools have reading coaches, literacy specialists, afterschool tutoring, or home-school programs to help students who are struggling. Check with your child’s school about what supports they provide in order to take advantage of these services. There also may be reading programs and tutoring options available through the community.


What if I disagree with the evaluation report?

If you disagree with the evaluation of your child, you have the right to request an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) at no cost to you. The evaluation team will then review the new data and make a decision taking the new information into consideration. Obtaining an IEE does not necessarily mean that the outcome will change. It does, however, provide unbiased information if you disagree with testing.

Try to pinpoint specifically what you disagree with. Your child’s evaluation team is required to follow legal guidelines for determining special education eligibility. If you disagree with these guidelines, there is nothing that will be gained from having an IEE completed. The team cannot change the laws that govern special education.


While it is often frustrating to go through the evaluation process only to find that your child is not eligible for services, there are other resources and supports available to help your child in school. Students who require Individual Education Plans represent only a small subset of all students with disabilities. Keep in mind that there are pros and cons to all services. Special education services are not an easy fix. Sometimes the other side of the roadblock is not any better than the side you are on. If your child is not eligible for special education services, the general education teacher and other members of the team should work together with you to create a plan to help your child.

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