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Child's New School Denies Special Ed

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: My friend recently relocated. Her son is a senior in high school. In his old school, he had been diagnosed with 504(?) and had always been allowed to go to Content Mastery Classes. Upon arrival at the new high school, they informed the new school of his LD, but when he requested permission to go to Content Mastery classes they told him he was not eligible. Both parent and child are extremely upset (discouraged). We were under the impression that content mastery was available to all kids with LD statewide. Do you have any information on this or where we might search to find this? Thank you.

A: The fact that this young man was on a 504 plan in the old school means that the professionals there felt that his learning disability was not severe enough to merit an individual educational plan (IEP) which provides services from special education. The 504 plan is a way of acknowledging that the boy has a disability (in this case, LD) under federal guidelines and providing reasonable accommodations to enable him to participate in school. If the boy had an IEP at the old school, the new school would have been required to implement that IEP until a new one took its place. A 504 plan does not carry the same protections. A new school system can take a new look to see what accommodations, if any, it must provide to enable the boy to participate.

Since the description "content mastery class" is not used in all schools, I will assume that is a part of the special education program -- a class in which the curriculum is modified (presented in a special way) so that this boy can master the concepts and content. If this is the case, then the new school is saying that he is not eligible for such services, since he does not have a real special educational need (even though he has a learning disability). Here's why. A student only has to be provided with special education services if the disability has a significant negative impact on learning in traditionally taught programs. However -- and here's the confusing part -- one sure way that a school system can be in compliance with a 504 plan is to offer special education services! That's probably what happened in the old school.

Now the new school takes the position that even though the boy has a disability, that disability does not prevent him from participating successfully in the mainstream; and even though the old school was willing to give him special education services, he really didn't need those services at all. So they say, in effect: we'll treat this boy fairly and won't discriminate against him because of his disability, but he doesn't really need special education. The real question is DOES HE?

If the parents feel that the special services are necessary (if they constitute an appropriate education for him), then they should ask the special education team to convene to reconsider his status. If it is determined that he has a special educational need, then he should be on an IEP. If there is a finding of no special need (and remember this is not the same as having the diagnostic label of LD), the team may nevertheless determine that he needs accommodations to participate in the mainstream and recommend a 504 plan outlining those accommodations. This is a confusing situation that just might require the services of a special education advocate (someone trained in helping parents obtain special education services in school systems) or a special education attorney.

More on: Expert Advice

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.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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