Thursday, April 21, 2011

The "Child Find" Obligation

Even parents who are fairly well versed in workings of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are often not familiar with an important provision of that law called the "child find" obligation. This provision of the IDEA places the obligation for locating and evaluating children who may be in need of special education services on local public school districts. In practice, this means that schools that fail to evaluate children who are suspected to be in need of special education and related services (such as speech and language support, or occupational or physicial therapy) are in violation of federal law.

We were reminded of this issue by a recent email from Disability Scoop which notes that the United States Supreme Court has asked the Solicitor General to provide input on whether the IDEA provides a remedy for failure to evaluate a child who is suspected of having a learning disability. In the case at hand, a California high school student with clear signs of disability was promoted, rather than evaluated. [As in many of these cases, there was also some parental confusion or complication about the evaluation -- as described by the appeals court which became involved in the case, the mom was reluctant to have her daughter "looked at" and the school decided "not to push"]. When the evaluation was finally conducted, the child was found to have a disability and to be entitled to special education services. The school district appealed from a  United States Circuit Court of Appeals decision that provided for compensatory education -- which can take the form of extended years of schooling (beyond the usual legal obligation), summer school, extra support, or placement in a private school able to meet a student's needs (at the expense of the school district). 

Now, as this matter is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court is looking at what kind of remedies are intended to be available to students under the "child find" provision of the IDEA. We will continue to watch this case and get the final word on what remedies are available when schools violate their obligations under the law.

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