School breaks, including summer, do not extend the time frame for conducting initial evaluations

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I frequently hear from parents that they have been told by school staff that their child could not be evaluated for special education eligibility because school was out for the summer and staff were not available. Melody Musgrove, the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), advised the Director of Special Education in North Carolina that school breaks do not lengthen the time frame for conducting initial evaluations [Letter to Reyes, 59 IDELR 49 (OSEP April 2012)].

The IDEA regulations at 34 CFR 301(c)(1) require that an initial evaluation be conducted within 60 calendar days after receiving parental consent for the evaluation.  States may establish their own time frame (in this case North Carolina had established a 90 day time frame) but the state must complete the evaluation within that time frame. There are some other exceptions to meeting the time frame, for example if the parents do not make the child available for the evaluation (see 34 CFR 300. 301(d)) Ms. Musgrove acknowledged :

" that conducting evaluation activities during extended breaks, such as the typical school's summer vacation, can be challenging for school districts, particularly if fewer staff members are available. Nevertheless, the IDEA contemplates that the initial evaluation of a child suspected of having a disability not be unreasonably delayed so that eligible children with disabilities are not denied a FAPE."

Thus, it is clear that initial evaluations must be completed with the IDEA 60 day timeline (unless the state has established another timeline) and that timeline is not extended during school breaks, including summer months.