The obligation of public school districts to identify students who may have disabilities and to proactively determine if they qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a rarely discussed aspect of the law, called "Child Find."
This section of the IDEA requires that all children with disabilities residing in each State, including children who are enrolled in private schools, be "identified, located, and evaluated." This provision effectively makes it the responsibility of each district to seek out students who are struggling, to determine if they qualify for services, and to provide them with needed services. It goes hand-in-hand with the affirmative obligation of school districts to establish an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each child who qualifies for services, and to meet at least once each year to review the student's progress and update his or her IEP.
While we have written about Child Find before*, we haven't specifically noted how the absence of Child Find impacts students who have graduated and are no longer eligible for IDEA services. This shift of responsibility, from the school to the individual student or employee, can be a rude awakening for college students or those entering the workplace from high school. Neither colleges nor employers have any obligation to seek out individuals with disabilities. Unless the individual informs the college (by providing documentation of a disability to the Office of Disability Services) a student will have no right to any accommodations, auxiliary aids and services, or modifications which they might require to access the curriculum or campus.
This is an important reason for high school students to understand the nature of their disability -- learning, medical, or otherwise -- and to be able to articulate what they need to learn effectively. Students who have been involved in their education, by discussing their learning needs, attending IEP meetings, and generally being aware of what they require to build on their strengths and overcome their challenges, are well equipped to step up when they are no longer covered by the IDEA and need to take the initiative to arrange the accommodations they will need to succeed beyond high school.
*The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case we discussed in our prior post on this subject.
Photo credit: Inf-Lite Teacher via Flickr