Has your child been screened by special education personnel and told that they are not eligible for services? Did their doctor state that your child has autism, but the school stated that they did a screening and found that your child did not have autism, thus was not eligible? This article will discuss screening and how it is related to eligibility for special education services.
School districts in the US must perform something that is called: Child Find. What this means is that school districts are required to locate, identify and evaluate those that may have a disability. This requirement is included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) under 300.111 (a) (i). Many school districts use screening tools as a basis to fulfill their Child Find obligations.
But screening is not the same as testing for special education eligibility. Once the school district finds someone that may have a disability, through the screening process, they must be evaluated, to determine if they are eligible, according to IDEA and the Child Find requirements.
The evaluation should be comprehensive and include all areas of suspected disability, which is required by IDEA. Some of these areas could be speech/language needs, occupational therapy needs, fine motor difficulty, learning disability central auditory processing disorder, social/emotional and behavioral needs, functional needs, sensory processing disorder and not just academic difficulties.
So if your child is screened and thought to have a disability, a complete evaluation must be completed on your child to determine if they are eligible for special education and related services. Do not accept screening as an eligibility tool!
IDEA states that two things must occur to be eligible:
1. They must have a disability
2. They must have educational needs.
Many school districts may state that the child’s disability must negatively affect there education; but that was taken out when IDEA was reauthorized in 2004! They must have a disability, and must have educational needs (not just academic needs, as discussed above).
According to Caselaw: Seattle School District No1 vs. BS (9th circuit 1996) : The term unique educational needs shall be broadly construed to include. . . academic, social, health, emotional, communicative, physical and vocational needs
Once the testing is complete, an eligibility conference will be held between you and special education personnel in your district. Do not go alone, try and find another parent or an advocate who is familiar with special education. The eligibility conference is one of the most important conferences in special education.
At the eligibility conference if your child is found eligible for special education an Individual Education Plan will be developed. If they are not found eligible ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation at Public Expense, because you disagree with the school districts evaluation (and/or interpretation).
Many school districts find children ineligible for special education services even though they do have a disability, and have educational needs. The difficulty begins with their interpretation of the testing. The test scores may be extremely low, but they interpret them to be fine, and then find the child ineligible.
You must advocate, because you are their parent and they are depending on you! Good luck in this difficult process, but it will be worth it!