School districts in California are required to provide each student with a disability with a free appropriate public education. Free appropriate public education means special education and related services, including mental health services.

How do I request special education services?

To refer your child for special education services, write a letter to the principal of your child’s school, the school district special education administrative office, and the psychologist at your child’s school. Send certified mail, return receipt requested. Tell the school district you are concerned about your child’s education progress and that you are requesting a special education assessment.

What are the timelines for the assessment and IEP process?

After you have requested a special education assessment, the school district has 15 days (not counting days between regular school session or days of school vacation in excess of five school days) to provide parents with a written proposed assessment plan. The assessment plan will identify the types of rests the school district will give to the child. You have 15 days to decide if you will consent to the proposed assessment. The assessment cannot begin without your consent.

Starting from the date the school district receives your written consent to assess, the assessment must be completed and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed and an IEP meeting held within 60 days (not counting days between regular school session or days of school vacation in excess of five school days). All services written in the IEP are effective once the IEP is signed by the parents. If parents have not secured a service provider, the district will give a list of authorized providers.

What is an IEP and how is it developed?

An IEP is an Individual Education Program, which sets forth in writing the education program for the student. The IEP is developed by a team of people, which must include a teacher, a school administrator, and a parent. If the IEP meeting is being held following an assessment, a member of the assessment team must also participate.
The IEP must include: (1) the student’s present levels of functioning; (2) a statement of annual goals and measurable objectives designed to achieve those goals; (3) the specific special education services to be provided; (4) the specific related services to be provided, including mental health services, and the amount of time for each service; (5) the extent to which the student will be able to participate in the regular education program; and (6) a description of the type of placement needed to implement the IEP.

How do I obtain mental health services?

Under California law, commonly called AB3632, the County Department of Mental Health is responsible for providing mental health services and residential placement for seriously emotionally disturbed students. If you believe that your child needs mental health services, you should request the school district to refer your child to the Department of Mental Health for an assessment. The Department of Mental Health must follow the assessment timelines described above. Following this assessment, the IEP team will meet to consider the needs for mental health services or residential placement.