When you are trying to determine if your child is eligible for special education services, legal guidance can be a large factor in your success. At Feinstein Education Law Group, our attorneys have been helping families throughout Connecticut with education law matters for over 25 years. We can help your family through the eligibility and evaluation process, as well.
To be eligible for special education, a child must have one of the 10 disabilities listed in the statute and “by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.” The 10 listed disability categories are broadly defined so that conditions like ADD and PTSD are covered. The disagreements come over the need for special education. If the child does not need specially designed instruction, the child could qualify for accommodations (but not curricular modifications) under Section 504.
The entire special education system is based on assessment. Schools are obliged to assess a student initially and then at least every three years to determine to nature of the student’s disability, how the student learns and what kind of interventions make sense for that individual student. So, the law provides for initial evaluations and triennial evaluations.
A typical school-based evaluation will include a test of cognitive ability. The test most often used is the WISC-V, which assesses a student’s cognitive ability in five domains. The school evaluation will also include a test of academic achievement, often the WIAT or the Woodcock-Johnson. Cognitive ability is supposed to be innate and unchanging, while academic achievement is supposed to show how much the student learns.
If there are attentional or behavioral issues, the school-based testing will include questionnaires for family members and teachers, such as the BASC and the BRIEF. If there are articulation, language, or pragmatic issues, a speech and language evaluation will be included. Fine motor or gross motor deficits will indicate the need for an OT or PT assessment.
All observations should include an assessment of the student’s performance on schoolwork and a structured observation in the classroom.
If a parent disagrees with an observation conducted by the school, the parent has, under the regulations, the right to an independent educational evaluation (IEE) paid for by the school district. This right has, however, become seriously eroded. The school has the right to prove, in a hearing, that its evaluation was appropriate to escape the cost of an IEE. The school also has the right to establish certain requirements that the outside evaluator needs to meet.
A parent also has the option of funding an evaluation themselves. If the parents bring an evaluation to a PPT meeting, the PPT team needs to fully review and consider the evaluation.
Here is the critical part: a parent usually needs an evaluation and an expert to compel a school district to substantially alter its program. A parent absolutely and always needs an evaluation and an expert to win at a due process hearing. The legal question is not whether the student has a serious disability. The legal question is whether the school has offered the student a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
The term “appropriate” is cryptic. Hearing officers and courts require that an expert testify directly and unambiguously that the program offered by the school is not appropriate to meet the specific child’s educational needs. Our office can help you succeed in this process.
When you need answers to your special education questions, Feinstein Education Law Group can help. Call our office or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a free initial consultation.