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By Jan Baumel, M.S.
As a parent, you want the best for your child, to maximize his potential. However, since there's no "cure" for LD, your child may struggle throughout school and progress at a different rate from his peers. The effect of a learning disability on a child's rate of learning, coupled with high parental expectations, can cause a child to feel pressured and home-school relations to be strained.
When communication breaks down, you may feel the public school isn't doing enough or the teachers just don't understand your child. That may lead to disagreement over your child's rate of learning and what he's entitled to. The frustration that results may lead you to consider other alternatives, including private school.
While it may sound good to you to have your child educated in a school in which all the other kids have LD, be aware that such a private school legally may be considered a more restrictive environment because he'll have little, if any, access to nondisabled peers. In other words, your child will be educated only with kids who are considered to have a disability. Therefore, the setting may not be considered the LRE because there's no opportunity to work and play with nondisabled kids.
In order to get placement in a private school at public expense, you'll need to show your child was denied FAPE. In 1982, the Supreme Court of the United States set the standard that a child must receive "meaningful" (more than "trivial") benefit from his education. Public schools are expected to provide some benefit, not maximize your child's potential or offer the best services available. This has been referred to as the requirement to "provide a Chevrolet, not a Cadillac" education. In other words, school districts have to provide basic services — access to general education curriculum — within a clearly stated budget that comes from public tax dollars.
Deciding how much benefit your child has received from school can be difficult because you and the school may have different standards and expectations. The outcome of a case heard before the 5th Circuit (affecting Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) in 1997 encouraged a look at these questions to decide if your child's IEP is "reasonably calculated to provide educational benefit":
To evaluate educational benefit from year to year, compare your child's individual and group standardized test scores; class papers, projects, and tests; report card grades; and progress on IEP goals and objectives. Also consider his social skills, behavior, attendance, study skills, and work habits and how they may affect his classroom performance. Do regular reports keep you informed of progress at school? If you decide to pursue legal recourse, these will all be taken into consideration in deciding whether your child has received educational benefit or has been denied FAPE.
Of course, parents always have the right to enroll their child in a private school at their own expense. Some independent schools may offer partial scholarships or other financial assistance.
As a parent, you may have heard of a specific methodology that sounds just perfect for your child. Perhaps a friend gave a testimonial or you saw an advertisement about a certain program. But the school turned you down when you asked them to use this method to teach your child. Generally, this is because courts have given schools the authority to choose the methodology for educating children with IEPs. If your child is making progress in school, then the teaching methods being used are considered to be appropriate.
If you can show that your child has not received FAPE, then the district may have to consider using the methodology you favor. But you'll probably need to have independent assessment data showing your child is not receiving educational benefit and recommending the specific methodology.
By definition, an independent educational evaluation (IEE) is conducted by a qualified professional who is not an employee of the school district. Parents may request an IEE paid for by the school district when they disagree with the school district's special education evaluation. In other words, these steps are necessary prior to asking for an IEE:
In response to your request for an IEE, the district must take one of two actions:
In the first situation, if the school district agrees to provide an IEE at no cost to you, they may do so in a variety of ways, e.g., give you names of individuals who are qualified to assess, suggest a state-supported agency (such as a diagnostic school), or even arrange to have an employee of another school district do the evaluation. In any case, certain conditions, qualifications of evaluators, and standards spelled out in IDEA must be met. If the district agrees to provide an IEE at public expense, it doesn't necessarily mean they will pay for an assessment by a professional whom you heard about from friends or one linked to a specific methodology or program.
In the second instance, the district requests a due process hearing to show its assessment followed standards for evaluation and was conducted by qualified individuals. The Hearing Officer has an option to order an independent evaluation. However, after hearing testimony from both sides and reviewing records, if he decides the district's evaluation was appropriate, then the district does not need to pay for an IEE.
Parents always have the option of obtaining an independent evaluation at their own expense. The school district is obligated to consider the results of such an assessment at an IEP meeting. However, giving consideration to the report doesn't mean the school has to agree with the results or accept the recommendations made by the professional who did the assessment. Often there may be agreement or overlap between school and independent evaluation, and this should be pointed out to you. If the school does use new information from the IEE to develop your child's IEP, they may be responsible to reimburse you for a part or all of the evaluation cost.
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