Janie is an 8-year-old second grader. She repeated kindergarten and is now making poor grades in school and is said to be in danger of failing this school year. The teacher has complained that she is not completing her classwork, not paying attention and refuses to read out loud in class. Mother has noted that Janie will write some of letters and numbers backwards and cries when they are working on homework. What should Janie's mother do next?
Whatever school difficulties that your child is facing, the following steps will lead you down the path to getting the appropriate help for your child.
There are two federal civil rights laws that protect the educational rights of children with learning disabilities in public schools. Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Both laws guarantee that child with disabilities are to receive a "free and appropriate public education" in the “least restrictive environment.”
Section 504 is for children who have a disability that may substantially limit a major function necessary for success in the classroom like concentration or handwriting and is often used for disorders such as ADHD, seizure disorders or Tourette syndrome. Typically, this law is used for children whose educational needs can be addressed through changes in the general curriculum within the regular classroom. The changes may include such options as using a computer for word processing rather than writing, the ability to tape record instead of taking notes, or even shortening the number of math problems in an assignment.
IDEA requires that that the child's disability impact the performance in a regular classroom and who may require support outside of the regular classroom. To qualify for IDEA, extensive evaluation and the development of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) must be accomplished. The IEP is a structured, individualized plan designed to meet the specific needs of the child. Parents and teachers and other therapists jointly decide on the child's needs and services.
Talk with your child's physician to be sure that there is no medical issue that might be interfering with your child's classroom function such as a visual deficit or hearing problem. There might even be a medication that your child is taking that could be interfering with concentration. Your doctor might want you to have the teachers complete a teacher rating scale to see exactly what the teacher is seeing and may want you to complete an evaluation to see if you observe the same difficulties that the teacher is noting.
Now that you have educated yourself and spoken with your child's doctor, talk with the school administrator and teacher. Put in a written request for a meeting to discuss the problems and possible interventions. When the meeting occurs, submit a request in writing that an evaluation be completed to determine what type of services may be needed. This request should make clear what you are requesting and why. Phrases such as "struggling in learning to read" or "difficulty understanding math" or "problems completing his work" will be helpful in justifying the need. You will need to sign a
permission slip for the testing to be completed. The school has between 30 days to 6 weeks to complete the evaluation of your child's need for additional educational services.
Information that should be reviewed by the school includes: grades, teacher reports, parent information, state assessment scores, attendance records (a child may not qualify for special services if he has missed over 10-days), health records and your child's daily living skills (the a bility to care for his own needs).
Tips about attending the teacher support team meeting:
Once the evaluation is completed, there is a possibility that the school will deny services for several reasons. The school may not agree that special services are needed, the school may say that they do not have the services available, or they may say that your child has to first fail before the services will be given.
If you do not agree with the results, you can request a follow-up meeting to obtain additional information and determine if you want to go through an appeal process. At this point, it is a good idea to contact the State Department of Education parent relation line to be sure that the process is being legally followed by your child's school. It is often very helpful to also obtain an advocate or support group to attend the next meeting with you. There are groups that are available to serve as another set of ears and to ensure that you have clear understanding of the issues.