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Requesting an Evaluation
Q: I am legal guardian to three children. Their ages are seven, ten, and fourteen. I have watched the two older brothers fail grades, struggle, and even get depressed, before getting the help they need. One has learning disabilities. One is mildly mentally handicapped. I feel the youngest is going to need special help, also. I was told it was best if the school requests the testing. Why should this child have to wait for the school to request testing for him? I feel like the longer we wait, the further behind he will become. Thank you.
A: You do not have to wait until the school decides there is a problem. Your right to start this process are spelled out in the special education laws of the United States, called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These laws, which went into effect in 1997, specifically state that either you (a parent or legal guardian) or the school may start the evaluation process.
Once you ask for an evaluation to find out if this little boy is in need of special education services, the school has to respond by scheduling the evaluation. (It is against the law for them to refuse your request. Put your request in writing by sending a dated letter to the building principal with a copy to the director of special education -- and keep a copy for your files.) Once they receive the request from you, the testing has to be carried out within a reasonable amount of time (about a month). They are required to inform you in writing that this is going to happen. The evaluation process should involve classroom observations, review of your child's work, and an examination of testing that has already been done. The process should include you, at least one of your child's regular education teachers, at least one special education teacher, one school administrator who knows about special education policies and the regular education curriculum. It should also include someone who can interpret the results of the assessment and turn this information into practical, helpful strategies to be used by the teachers. Other specialists such as a school psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, or physician may also need to be involved, depending on your child's problem.
I would like to think that the school would do the right thing if you asked them to begin the assessment process. However, the people in the school may drag their feet, or try to tell you that you shouldn't worry, or that they are on top of the situation. Tell them you know that the child's rights are guaranteed under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, Public Law 105-17, and the final implementing regulations as published in March 12, 1999. This will help you get their attention. Incidentally, you may request a complete copy of the law and its regulations by going to the website of the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY).
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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.