Too often school districts ignore evidence that a child may need to be evaluated for special education. Months, even years may go by during which time the school district fails to provide the child with much needed special education supports and services. In the meantime, the child may flounder in school, losing ground academically or socially or behaviorally. Thankfully, special education laws are designed to help parents obtain appropriate supports and services for their exceptional children.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, commonly known as the “IDEA,” which is our federal special education law, and related state law, school districts are responsible for timely identifying all children suspected of having disabilities who are in need of special education and related services who reside in their school district, determining if evaluations are needed, and, with parent consent, conducting evaluations in all areas of suspected disability. This requirement to assess is called “child find.”
Child find applies to all children who reside within a state, regardless of the severity of the disability, including children who attend private schools and public schools, migrant children, homeless children, and children who are wards of the state. The child find duty requires school districts to actively and systematically seek out children from birth to 21 years of age, including children who are progressing from grade to grade and those who have not previously been determined to have a disability. A school district's child find duties to a particular child are triggered when the school district has knowledge of or reason to suspect a disability and that the child may need special education services to address the disability.
In California, once a school district receives a written request for assessment from a parent, guardian, teacher, or other service provider, the school district generally has fifteen days to provide the parent with an assessment plan. When a referral for assessment is made ten days or less prior to the end of the regular year, the assessment plan must be developed within ten days after school begins the following school year. The assessment plan will explain the kinds of assessments that are to be conducted.
If the school district refuses to assess the child, it must inform the parents in writing of its refusal, explain the reason for its refusal, and inform the parents that they have procedural safeguards under the IDEA, including the right to due process to challenge the school district’s refusal to assess the child.
If you believe your child’s school district may have violated federal and state special education law by failing to appropriately assess your child in a timely manner, you should seek a consultation with a knowledgeable special education attorney.
Martha Watson is a special education attorney with offices in Sacramento, Oakland and Roseville. For more information, call 530-273-2740, or visit educationattorneymarthawartson.com.
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