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LD and Evaluation Rights
Q: My son, now age 15, has had struggles with at schoolwork for years. I feel his grades do not reflect his abilities. He was tested and found to be learning disabled when in the early grades at private school. Because I could not afford the extra tuition and he was able to make good grades (albeit with my help at times), I did not enroll him in the LD class.
When he was a public school student in junior high, I felt he was struggling, and he received a "D" in math. I asked for testing, and I was given an appointment with the school learning specialist. I showed her information I had from his previous test, and she was unfamiliar with that test. She told me that because it was almost the end of the school year and because his grades were not all D's and F's, the school was refusing to test him. I told her that I had heard that if I requested testing that the school could not refuse, but she just told me that "was the way they did it."
My son still seems to wrestle with math and his grade reflects this. I would still like to have him tested just to be certain that there are no other learning skills that would help him.
Is it true that the public school system cannot legally refuse my request, and should I try again?
A: You are absolutely right! By refusing to carry out an evaluation, the school is violating your rights and your son's rights under the special education laws (IDEA). Since a disability has already been diagnosed, your son's civil rights (as a person with a disability) have also been violated. The school might want to make a referral to a "child study" or "teacher assistance" team, which would give several professionals the chance to put their thoughts together about how best to meet your son's needs. This can be a helpful process, which is sometimes done prior to a referral for special education, but it does not take away the need for a more formal evaluation. You should be aware that you do not have to wait for a child study to be done to initiate a referral for an evaluation for special needs. You should request in writing to the director of the special education department that a current evaluation be carried out. By law, the testing has to be completed within 30 working days, and the results have to be presented to you within 45 days. The school is required by law to respond by sending you information about your rights under the special education laws, and telling you the date of your son's evaluation. If they do not, write another letter stating that they have not responded, and send a copy to Special Education Office in your state's department of education. Call this office and tell them you believe your son's rights have been violated. This will put you on the right path.
It may be that your son's difficulties in math are not related to a learning disability, but to other factors (motivation, relationship with the teacher, poor background skills, etc.) so make sure that the assessment looks at all of these possibilities. Even if there is a finding of "no special need," the evaluation should give you information about what's getting in the way of success and offer guidelines about how teachers can best meet your son's needs.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.