Worried your child might have ADHD, autism or a learning disability? Know your evaluation rights
Updated: Aug 11
With the schools closed since March due to COVID-19, parents have had to take on additional work educating their children. After a couple weeks of the schools being closed your school began to offer some form of distance learning for students.
How much support was offered differed greatly throughout Arizona. Some schools may have provided robust support including some live lessons through Zoom or some other platforms. Some other districts and schools may only have provided access to some worksheets. The level of support may also have depended on your access to appropriate devices (laptops, tablets, and smartphones) and a good internet connection.
But regardless of the support offered by the schools, parents have likely been given even more responsibility during the pandemic. No matter how involved you were with your child’s education before the school closures, you probably know more of what your child is working on in school and how they are faring.
It is possible that during the school closures, you may have noticed your child has some problems with math, reading, writing or other areas of academics that you had not noticed before; or that some struggles you noticed are worse than you thought. Perhaps your school told you that those struggles were age appropriate for her or that he would grow out of it. Perhaps the school has not communicated any of their concerns with you.
You may have also noticed your child struggling with completing tasks on their own or organizing the work they need to complete.
Alternatively, you may have noticed some struggles were lessened in the home environment with fewer distractions than in the school environment.
If you are noticing some struggles or more significant deficits, you may want to ask the school for an evaluation to determine if your child may have a disability that is impacting their learning.
Public schools, including charter schools, have an obligation to locate, identify and evaluate students who may have a suspected disability. This is called the “child find” obligation in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.
Schools should request permission from parents to have students evaluated. But more often than not, schools who may suspect a student has a disability wait for a parent to request the evaluation.
If you suspect your child might have a disability, you can request the school conduct the evaluation. Under Arizona law, the request must be in writing. An email to a teacher, principal or other school representative should be sufficient. If the request is not in writing, the school is not obligated to start an evaluation.
The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if your child needs additional supports or services to benefit from the education the school is providing. This may include additional support in any areas of need, changing the way the instruction is delivered or modifying what your child is taught. These changes to the instruction is called special education.
How long does an evaluation take?
Once a parent requests the evaluation, the school has up to 15 school days to hold a meeting to obtain “informed written consent” from the parent. School days, unlike calendar days, are days that schools are in session. So with schools closed since March, there have not been any “school days” since that time. This means for any request for an evaluation made over the summer, the school has 15 school days after schools resume in July or August to hold a meeting. (With the school closures, the schools will likely have a number of obligations to students once school resumes because of deferred evaluations. So it is a good idea to get any requests to the schools as soon as possible.)
Consenting to have your child evaluated is not the same as consenting to special education. You may consent to an evaluation to see if your child has a disability and refuse consent to special education if you feel he or she does not need it.
Once the school obtains your consent to evaluate your child, they have 60 calendar days to complete the evaluation and determine if your child is a student with a disability who requires special education. This is done in a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team or MET meeting.
If your child has a disability and qualifies for special education, then the school will prepare an Individualized Education Program or IEP. Under the IDEA, the school has 30 calendar days after the determination of eligibility at the MET meeting to develop the IEP.
So, if during the school closures, you have noticed some deficits that concern you, you can request the school evaluate your child for a suspected disability.
I will be posting updates as more information becomes available. If you have specific concerns for a special education attorney, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Richard J. Murphy, PLC for a free legal consultation. This is a confusing time for everyone including educators, students with disabilities and their families. The Law Office of Richard J. Murphy, PLC is ready to help students with disabilities and their families.