This post is written for parents who have children with an actual, documented diagnosis of a disability that is preventing their children from doing well in school. This is not intended for those kids who are falling a little behind, or who are struggling for other reasons, I'm talking about kids who qualify for an IEP under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Before you go on, read my disclaimer at the top again. Okay! We're good!
I spend a lot of time talking to people who have children with IEPs or children who have a diagnosis of something and need extra help at school because of it. I talk to people online, in real life, on the phone, via email, whatever. There is one commonality in the stories of practically every single person I talk to and I'll be honest, I'm getting really sick of it.
So. Parents. Here's something you should know about your school and your school district: Your child may be entitled to services under IDEA but it is the intention of your district to do their best to make sure you don't find out about that. They don't want you to know your rights because if you did, you would then be empowered and you would use your rights to get services for your child. This costs the district money and they don't have very much of it as it is and they certainly don't want to give what they do have to your kid. So they will lie, and they will avoid you, and they will feed you complete crap so that you walk away disappointed... as long as you walk away.
If your child has a diagnoses, or even if you suspect that he does (I'm not being sexist but I'm going to use the masculine pronoun here because it's easier than saying "he or she" every time) and he is struggling in school as a result, the first person you might want to talk to would be the principal at your school. Except the principal at your school is really just an extension of the district at large and they have (for the most part) been instructed to tell you whatever it takes to get you to stop asking about it.
Here are a few things I've heard parents tell me that they've heard from their principals:
1. We don't give IEPs for (whatever your diagnosis is)
2. You can't get an IEP until your child is X number of years behind academically
3. The district isn't giving out IEPs right now, check again next year
4. We're not giving out IEPs because we've run out of IEP forms
5. I'm sorry, this isn't the kind of school district that teaches children
(I made those last 2 up.) (NOT LEGAL ADVICE.)
All of that is complete horseshit, of course. If your child has a documented disability that impairs his ability to learn in school along with his peers, he qualifies for an IEP. And the principal of your school has absolutely no jurisdiction or authority to determine any of this, despite what they might tell you. There is a special education department located inside the district offices, with a special education director whose job it is specifically to field your questions. That's the person you want to talk to, not your school's principal. Unless your district is so small that your school's principal plays a dual role of both school principal and district SPED director, don't go to your principal for an IEP.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act lists 13 categories under which a student can qualify for special education services. You can make pretty much any diagnosis (yes, including ADHD) fit into one of these:
- Hearing Impairment
- Mental Retardation
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Serious Emotional Disturbance
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual impairment, including Blindness
Parents: know your rights. They are online and they are easy to find. There are people in your district or your state who exist specifically just to help you find out. If you're a good internet researcher, I suggest you start at WrightsLaw. They will have everything you need to know about what to do.
Put all your communication with the school district in writing (emails don't count). Never make a phone call and then take the words you were given as some kind of evidence of anything, because they probably will deny it later. Having things in writing will document your timeline and you will be able to prove, undeniably, that in August 2011 you requested an evaluation. This may be helpful in April 2012 when you're in front of a judge or a mediator still trying to get some help for your kid.
So, if you're in the process, or you're starting the process, or you know somebody who is, don't necessarily believe what you're told because it might not be true. And if you need any help, contact me; I'm a good resource, no matter where you live, and I love sticking it to the lying school districts who lie.
Except I'm not a lawyer. And none of this was legal advice.
Edit: Sometimes I see in my site stats that people land on this page because of a google search. PLEASE feel free to contact me if there's anything I can answer for you or help you with!!! firstname.lastname@example.org
Edit2: This is a really good article: Top Ten Most Ridiculous Comments Heard at an IEP Meeting