In my first “Getting Started” column, I described the process for getting your child assessed for special education. Once the assessment is completed, the District will convene an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting to discuss their findings and allow the IEP team to determine eligibility and services, if necessary. The initial IEP meeting is an opportunity for parents and professionals to come together, identify your child’s strengths and challenges and determine a course of action, including services, accommodations and supports, to provide educational access.
The key determination of the initial IEP meeting is whether your child is eligible for special education. Eligibility hinges on two factors: 1) the child must have a qualifying disability and 2) the disability must interfere with the child’s ability to access his or her education, making special education services necessary to provide a basic floor of educational opportunity.
Federal statutes and regulations describe twelve specific disabilities that will make a child eligible for special education. These twelve are:
1) mental retardation
2) hearing impairment
3) speech or language impairment
4) visual impairment
5) serious emotional disturbance (also known as “emotional disturbance”)
6) orthopedic impairment,
8.) traumatic brain injury
9) specific learning disability
10) other health impairment
12) multiple disabilities
States have also been given the option to include developmental delays for children ages three to nine as a separate category.
Interference with Educational Access:
This is a tricky provision. If your child has a problem articulating certain sounds but is doing just fine in school, the District will likely determine that she is not eligible for special education. However, it is important that the team not interpret your child’s school performance too narrowly. For example, if your son is passing his classes, but is calling you crying every afternoon and asking to come home, that is not educational success.
Typically when there is a disagreement, it is because parents believe their child to be eligible while the District asserts otherwise. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some good questions to ask and areas that deserve further scrutiny:
1. Was the assessment appropriate? The law contains a series of requirements for assessments, including that they be conducted in the first language of the student, that the determination not rely on a single testing instrument and that assessments include parental input. These are all areas to explore if you are faced with an assessment that you believe does not accurately reflect your child.
2. What are the qualifications and credentials of the person conducting the assessment? For example, if there is a dispute about whether a child has a speech or language impairment, you will want to make sure that the person conducting the assessment was a licensed speech and language pathologist. States have different licensing requirements, but many also have an online directory of licensed professionals, which can help you confirm the qualifications of your child’s assessor.
3. Is the District considering the full educational experience of my child? This includes not only grades, but standardized testing and peer relationships as well.
4. Parents can ask themselves: have we been the glue holding this whole operation together? Sometimes parents go to great lengths to make sure their children pass their classes, including hiring private tutors, paying for expensive private therapies and even doing homework for them. While I can certainly understand the desire to help your child, this approach tends to backfire if you are seeking a special education designation for your child. Unfortunately, there are situations in which parents have to “let their child fail” in order to establish that he truly does need the intervention.
If the team remains at an impasse on the issue of eligibility, there are many things parents can do to continue advocating for their child, including requesting an independent assessment, working with the school on a 504 plan and seeking out legal advice, among others. I will touch on each of these approaches in future columns.
Previously posted. Please read all of Diana’s posts on federal special education law.
This column reflects the views of Diana B. Glick in her individual capacity. It does not necessarily represent the views of her law firm or her clients, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them. The purpose of this column is to assist in dissemination of information about federal special education law, but no representation is made about the accuracy of the information. The information contained in this column is provided only as general information for education purposes, and topics may or may not be updated subsequent to their initial posting.
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