Monday, December 4, 2017

Child Find and Initial Evaluation

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes the Child Find mandate (20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)), which essentially requires schools to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of severity, including children who receive passing grades and are “advancing from grade to grade,” children who attend private schools and public schools, highly mobile children, migrant children, homeless children, and children who are wards of the state. 34 C.F.R. § 300.101; 281 I.A.C. 41.101.

Iowa’s Rules of Special Education require that a child be evaluated when the school or AEA is aware of facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonably prudent school or AEA to suspect that the child might have a disability for which the child might be eligible for special education and related services. If it is suspected that a child’s educational difficulties arise from a disability and that the child may need special education services, the AEA and school district are obligated to promptly seek parental consent to conduct a Full and Individual Initial Evaluation (FIE).

Although a school district may attempt to resolve educational difficulties before deciding to conduct a FIE, this must not delay an appropriate evaluation if the child is suspected of having a disability, regardless of the number of days, tiers, or levels in such interventions the child has completed, if any. As stated by the United States Department of Education concerning “pre-referral interventions,” the school district “in conjunction with the AEA “cannot refuse to conduct the evaluation or delay the evaluation until the alternative strategies have been tried if the school district  suspects the child has a disability.” Letter to Anonymous, 19 IDELR 498 (OSEP 1992). 
Occasionally, some school personnel do not “suspect” a child has a disability, although the parent has provided copies of the child’s diagnostic report, and symptoms of the disability are significantly interfering with the child’s functioning at school. When this problem confronted an Iowa parent, she contacted me.  With a few changes to conceal her identity and her written permission, I am posting the first parts of our initial email exchange. I was especially pleased that the parent contacted me to address this matter before her child missed further school and became more frustrated at school.  

How can we get the school to evaluate our first grade son for special education services? He was diagnosed with and has been treated for ADHD since he was three. At home we keep problems to a minimum by using a visual schedule, clearly explaining rules and checking to make sure he understands (at at time when he isn’t tired, hungry or upset), preparing him in advance for transitions, and positive reinforcement. His doctor and preschool teachers told us that punishments will backfire, so we keep them brief and to a minimum. However, punishments seem to be the only way the school deals with his symptomatic behaviors.

This year, he has been suspended four times in three months. The first time the principal had me pick him up because at recess he tried to go to the playground by crawling out a (ground floor) window. The next time he was given an in-school suspension for telling the principal, “I hate you,” after he was sent to her office for chewing his pencil after being told to stop. The next time she had me take him home because he wouldn’t stand still on the risers while rehearsing for the Thanksgiving concert. He was suspended for the rest of the day and not allowed to participate in the concert. He is currently on a day-and-a-half suspension for a “weapons violation” (at recess he was using his bare hand as a "gun" and “shooting” at other boys who were falling down very dramatically). 

I have given the principal copies of his evaluation reports from 2016 and 2017, and have provided a report from his speech therapist (he has articulation difficulties), and asked her at least seven times (in person and by email) to have him evaluated. Each time she has responded, “In Iowa we don’t like to put labels on children. While he may have ADHD, Iowa is a ‘noncategorical’ state in which special education is for children who have ‘educational disabilities,’ not medical diagnoses.” When I pointed  out that the behaviors for which he is punished at school reflect his ADHD symptoms, she responded, “Whether or not he has ADHD, he needs to learn to stop making bad choices.”

This is very frustrating. I would like to talk with his teacher, but the principal has told me that I can only communicate through her. . . .

To make a long story short, the parents and I resolved this matter through a state-facilitated mediation. The child now has an appropriate IEP and BIP, and is receiving compensatory education to make up for the class time he missed while being suspended from school. The school district’s attorney educated the principal in regard to the District’s duties under Child Find, the parents are now able to communicate as needed with their child’s classroom teacher, and some other issues were satisfactorily addressed.


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