My Child’s Physician Has Diagnosed My Child with Autism – Now What?
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First, all local public school districts have an “affirmative duty” to locate and then evaluate for eligibility all student’s with a disability. This is commonly referred to as the “child find” requirement of IDEA. Simply put, the IDEA statute at 20 U.S.C. §1414(a) (3) (A) requires the local public school district where the child resides to:
Locate Potential Students Needing Special Education Services – This is generally accomplished from information provided by medical professionals, parents, family members, teachers and others.
Within 10 school days – Obtain Parent’s Consent to Evaluate – of the school’s receipt of a written request to evaluate, obtain parental consent to evaluate. This usually occurs in a meeting with the parents where the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET), made of a school staff and retained persons with specialized expertise, explain the evaluation tools they intend to use to determine eligibility. R 340.1721(b) (1).
Within 30 Schools Days of Parent’s Consent – Conduct Evaluation, Create MET Team Report and Meet with Parents – The MET evaluators complete their evaluations and generate a written report that is presented to the parent in an in-person meeting. R 340.1721(b) (1). The MET evaluators either recommend eligibility for IDEA special education services or deny eligibility for the reasons set forth in the report.
IDEA Eligible – If it is determined that due to the results of the multidisciplinary evaluations the student meets the criteria of one (or more) of the IDEA eligibility categories, then a team of teachers, specialized service providers and the parents will proceed to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the student. That Plan will define the local school district’s commitment to the delivery of appropriate special education and related services in the least restrictive placement (LRE) possible.
Not IDEA Eligible – If the evaluation team does not recommend IDEA eligibility, a parent has a number of options:
Obtain “Second Opinion” – The parent can request a school district funded “second opinion” from private evaluators not associated with the school. This request for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) must be in writing. The local school district has seven (7) calendar days to grant or deny the request. R 340.1723(c) (2). If the request is granted, the district can establish reasonable evaluator qualifications and cost restrictions. If the request is denied, the district will need to request that an IDEA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is appointed to hear the dispute in an IDEA administrative hearing setting. At such a hearing, the school district will carry the burden to provide its evaluations were appropriate. The parent, at their expense, can present expert testimony why the school district’s evaluations were not appropriately selected or administered. Once the independent IEE evaluation is complete, the IEP Team must then meet to consider the new evaluation and decide if it wishes (based on the new information) find the student eligible. R 340.1723(c).
Immediately appeal the denial of eligibility to an IDEA ALJ in an IDEA hearing. However, as the party requesting the hearing the parent (and not the school) will bear the burden of introducing expert witness testimony and evidence to prove the denial of eligibility was incorrect.
Accept the MET/IEP determination of no eligibility, but request a determination of §504 eligibility. If found §504 eligible the student will be provided an accommodation plan designed to reasonably accommodate the student’s disabilities. Often, but not always, IDEA services such as special education classrooms and related services are not provided.
While there are a number of areas where an evaluation dispute can arise, the more common ones are: (1) Refusal/Failure to conduct an initial evaluation. (2) Agree to evaluate BUT an excessive delay in completing the evaluation and therefore the eligibility determination. The other area arises when the MET evaluation team agrees that the student is eligible for IDEA based special education services BUT determines that the student does not meet the criteria for eligibility under the Autism Spectrum Disorder criteria at R 340.1715. That issue is addressed in a separate document.
Failure to Conduct an Eligibility Evaluation
If a parent provides a physician’s diagnosis of autism in a written communication to the local special education administrator, the failure to convene the team of evaluators (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team – MET) to conduct a comprehensive evaluation is very rare. If that happens, the failure to evaluate can be resolved with the filing of a Part 8 written complaint, with the Michigan Department of Education – Office for Special Education Services (1-888-320-8384) and your local school district. The complaint should include the relevant facts and a copy of whatever documentation is available that identifies the child as a person with autism, The Department will assign an investigator to the complaint. The Department will conduct an investigation and issue a written decision within 60 calendar days of the filing of the complaint. R 340.1853(5)
Delay in Evaluation/Eligibility Process
A more common occurrence is that the start of the evaluation is delayed. However, if the parent reminds the school of the requirement of MARSE at R 340.1721b requires that within 10 school days of receipt of a written request for any evaluation, the public agency shall provide the parent with written notice consistent with 34 CFR § 300.503 and shall request written parental consent to evaluate. That consent is usually obtained at a meeting of the evaluators and the parents called a Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED) meeting. However, parental consent can be granted without a meeting, as long as the parent understands what evaluations will be conducted and what purpose they serve.
Once consent is obtained, the school evaluators have 30 school days from the time from receipt of parental consent for an evaluation to providing the parent the notice of an offer of a free appropriate public education as contained in the IEP document or the determination of ineligibility.