ADD: Working with Your School
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Federal legislation mandating special education services is relatively new. As of 1975, with the passage of the Education of the Handicapped Act (also referred to as Public Law 94-142), all children with special educational needs must be provided with a free, appropriate public education. Before 1975, the quantity and quality of services provided was dictated by where you lived; some states had programs and others didn't. Some parents of children with special needs would move to a different state or a different community in order for their child to receive the needed educational services. During the congressional hearings that led to the passage of P.L. 94-142, it was found that half of all the children with special educational needs were not being provided with any services whatsoever. For parents of children with ADD, this was a major concern until recently, when the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) - also referred to as Public Law 101-476 - included a memorandum specifying that children with ADD be eligible for special education services. The 1997 amendments to IDEA reinforced and strengthened this provision.
Our national consciousness was raised with the passage of federal legislation that assured parents that their disabled child would receive educational services from age three until age eighteen. However, the school district was not mandated to provide services to the three to five age group unless they had a school program for nondisabled three- to five-year-olds. In 1986, PL. 99-457 extended these services to all disabled children in the three to five age group.
Parents now have specific regulations, implemented by the federal, state, and local governments, that ensure that the services to which they and their disabled children are entitled are forthcoming.
A Right to an Education
Most parents take for granted that they can bring their five-year-old to kindergarten registration and their child will be enrolled. Before P.L. 94-142, however, parents of children with special needs were not provided with this basic right. They paid the same school taxes as their neighbors and their portion of federal and state taxes used for education was the same, but they could not count on their children receiving an education.
Many schools felt they were unable to provide an education for special education students; they didn't have the personnel, the facilities, or the equipment. But, moreover, it was an issue concerning the value of an education and what constitutes an education. Should a severely retarded child receive an education? Should a deaf-blind child receive an education? Should an autistic child receive an education? These and similar types of questions were debated for years before any legislation, and there were and still are differences of opinion.
Also questioned was what is an education? Should it be defined as the acquisition of academic skills? If so, what about those who would never acquire those skills? The hearings surrounding the passage of the Education of the Handicapped Act provided a focus for experts, parents, and legislation on all sides of the issue. The conclusion was that if any child in a school district is entitled to an education, then all children are entitled. The needs of each child must be considered. Children must receive an education, and it is the responsibility of the local school district to develop an appropriate educational plan. The recognition that all children must be provided with an education set the stage for provisions regarding the quality of such an education.
A Right to a Free, Appropriate Education
The education for special education students must be appropriate to their needs and provided at no cost to the parents. If the most appropriate placement is a special school with a wide variety of support services, such as speech therapy, physical therapy, and psychological services, then the student must receive these services. The spirit of the law is clear: all children are entitled to an education, and this right should not be dictated by the parents' ability to pay.
In order to ensure that each special education student is provided with an appropriate education, the authors of P.L. 94-142 required the inclusion of an Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an I.E.P. The format of the I.E.P. differs from school district to school district, but must always include the following:
- The student's current level of performance in the areas of concern.
- Annual and short-term objectives.
- The specific education services to be provided and the extent to which the student will participate in regular education.
- The projected date for initiation of the program and anticipated duration of such services.
- A description of the schedules and evaluation procedures for determining whether objectives are being met.
An important component of the I.E.P. is the Least Restrictive Environment statement. The school must state to what extent your child is being educated in the mainstream, that is, regular classroom instruction. The law is very clear; it states that "the handicapped child should be educated with his nonhandicapped peer to the maximum extent possible." Special education students do not need to be isolated in order to achieve. Conversely, some students' needs are best met in a more restrictive setting, such as a special school. The point of the Least Restrictive Environment statement is that all children have the right to learn in an environment consistent with their academic, social, and physical needs. By providing for individual needs, the letter and the spirit of the law are observed.
A Right to a Nondiscriminatory Evaluation
In the recent past, students who could not speak English were evaluated in English and placed into special education based on that evaluation. This can no longer take place; students must now be evaluated in their native language. Therefore, if the child is Spanish-speaking, the evaluation must be in Spanish and all written information must be translated at all school meetings that parents attend. If a student's processing mode of communication is sign language, then the same holds true. An interpreter must be present to sign the entire evaluation, and if the parents need an interpreter, the school must provide one at no cost to the parents. All of this has been established to ensure that students are referred, identified, and placed in special education settings based on a nondiscriminatory process.
Parents must be advocates for their children and be willing to request appropriate services. A child cannot be evaluated without parental permission, and if a parent feels that an evaluation solely in English would be unfair to the child, she should request an evaluation in the child's primary language. A simple translation of the test is not sufficient. Rather, the evaluators must be aware of the linguistic and cultural needs of the student, and it is up to the school district to ensure that these types of services are provided. There is considerable evidence in the professional literature to suggest that many students are placed in special education settings based on examiner and testing bias. Parents must be aware of their rights in this matter if they are to ensure an appropriate, nondiscriminatory education for their child.
A Right to Due Process
Perhaps the most important of all rights is the right to due process under the law. Parents are to be kept fully informed at every stage if they are in disagreement with any decision. Specifically, parents have the right to:
- Review all school records.
- Review assessment procedures (underlying test).
- Refuse or permit evaluation.
- Be informed of the results of the evaluation.
- Be provided with an independent "second opinion" at public expense.
- Participate in multidisciplinary team meetings.
- You must be informed of free or low-cost legal or other relevant services.
- An unbiased, impartial hearing officer (he or she cannot be employed by the school district) will give you and other advocates for your child an opportunity to present your side of the issue.
- You are entitled to a written or topic-recorded, word-for-word record of the proceedings.
- You are entitled to an interpreter of the deaf and/or interpreter of the language spoken in your home, at no expense.
- You are entitled to be represented by an attorney and/or other professionals, and any other persons of your choice can accompany you to the hearing.
- You and your attorney can cross-examine officials from the school district.
- All information presented must be shared with you at least five school days before the hearing.
The reason for these provisions is not to establish an adversarial relationship between parents and schools. Rather, it is to ensure a free, appropriate, public education for all children. The right to due process helps to keep this vision intact.
More on: ADHD
From Keys to Parenting a Child with Attention Deficit Disorders by Barry E. McNamara, Ed.D. & Francine J. McNamara, M.S.W., C.S.W. Copyright © 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barrons Educational Series, Inc.
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