Your Child’s Educational Rights, Part 2
When kids need more help
If your child has severe ADD, she may need the special-ed services and legal protections provided under IDEA.
"A 504 plan simply doesn't have teeth," says Luger. "If your child is having real problems academically or behaviorally, or if your school comes to you and says your child should be evaluated, insist on an IDEA evaluation."
Your request should be made in the form of a brief letter to the school district's director of special education.
Peter Wright, an educational attorney in Deltaville, Virginia, and co-author of From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide, suggests hand-delivering the letter to the director's office. (Be sure to note the date and time of delivery, as well as the name of the person who took the envelope.) "Do not send it by certified or registered mail," he says, "because then it will be red-flagged and a copy sent to the school attorney, which will cause the school to start circling the wagons."
One of three things will happen once you make the request. First, your child will be accepted for evaluation. Alternatively, you'll receive a call or letter asking you to explain why you want to have your child evaluated. Or, you'll be turned down flat.
Be prepared to provide a detailed argument showing how your child's disability hampers his academic performance. "Include all the documentation you can," says Wright, "including school papers, medical reports, samples of your child's writing and other schoolwork, and any private evaluations you have of your child."
If you've been turned down, send in copies of all the material with a second letter, asking the school district to reconsider in light of the information you're now providing. If you get turned down again, it's time to hire your own experts and have your child evaluated before reapplying.
Once your child has been accepted for evaluation, you'll be interviewed by a social worker from the school system, then meet with a child-study team. Typically, this team consists of a learning disabilities consultant, a special education teacher, a social worker, and the school psychologist.
Following this meeting, your child will undergo psycho-educational testing for learning disabilities as well as problems in language processing and attention. In addition, one or more members of the team will observe your child in the classroom.
If your child is deemed eligible for special services, you'll meet again with the team to devise an IEP. (It's helpful to have your advocate or attorney at this meeting.) An IEP might call for time in a resource room, where your child gets one-on-one instruction, for speech and/or physical therapy, or for psychological counseling. In some instances, IEPs mandate placement in a private school, the cost to be reimbursed by the school system. Any 504 accommodation may also be written into an IEP.
The process sounds straightforward. In practice, however, parents often have trouble getting school authorities to accept a request for an IDEA evaluation. As you go about securing services for your child, put everything in writing and keep a file of all related documents—requests to school officials, concerns about the process, thank-you letters. Even a note asking for your child's test scores can be valuable if you later have to document that the request went unmet.