Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanks, But No Thanks

We've recently met with several families, from a number of different public school districts, who have encountered a similar problem. They each have have a child who was struggling in school, and they met with school officials to explore their options. They were offered support services and accommodations and when they asked whether their child needed to be evaluated for eligibility for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they were told they didn't need to "do anything formal".

"We don't need to classify your son," one family was told. "We'll give him what he needs without having to go through that".

This may seem like a great suggestion by a thoughtful school district, but it is anything but. Students who are struggling have a right to be evaluated, and if they are found to need special educational services, they have a right to those services. The school district is not doing this student a favor. They are avoiding having to include this student in their roster of those receiving special education services, which is carefully scrutinized by the State to make sure children aren't being classified unnecessarily.

Another issue is that when services are offered informally by a school, they can be stopped at any time. We've seen this happen when there has been a change of staff at the school, or it can occur when the school sees some improvement in the student's performance and unilaterally decides to withdraw services. In contrast, a student who is receiving special education services under the IDEA continues to receive services which are updated at least annually through an Individual Educational Program (IEP). Services cannot be terminated completely unless the child is formally discharged from special education after a meeting of all concerned parties, including the parents.

Parents should be aware of their rights to services for their child and avoid substituting informal arrangements for the legal rights and protections of the IDEA.

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