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.
It is possible that during the school closures, you may have noticed your child has some problems with math, reading, writing or other areas that you may not have noticed before.
Have you noticed some struggles are worse than you thought?
Is your child struggling with completing tasks on their own?
Is it hard for them to organize the work they need to complete?
Did the school tell you those struggles were age appropriate?
Did they say your child would grow out of it?
Has the school not communicated any of their concerns with you?
Have you noticed behavior problems when doing school work?
Are you concerned about your child’s social skills?
If you are noticing some school problems like these or other issues, you may want to ask the school for an evaluation to determine if your child may have a disability that is impacting their education.
With the child find obligation, 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.
Sometimes schools may discourage parents from requesting or pursuing an evaluation. They may say that you should give it time. They may discourage you from “labeling” your child. But if you suspect your child has a disability, there is no reason to wait.
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 enough. 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 more supports or services to be able to learn in school. This may include extra 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?
1. Once a parent requests the evaluation, the school has up to 15 school days to hold a meeting to get “informed written consent” from the parent. School days, unlike calendar days, are days that schools are in session.
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 then refuse consent to special education if you feel he or she does not need it.
2. Once the school receives 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 (MET) meeting. Parents are part of the MET team.
3. 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.
4. If the school determines your child is not eligible, you can request the school pay for additional testing from professionals not affiliated with the school. This is called an independent educational evaluation or IEE. See my blog post about IEEs.
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. The child find obligation is an important IDEA right that is meant to make sure children do not slip through the cracks and continue to struggle. With appropriate supports, students with disabilities should be able to thrive.