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by Steve Glink
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This morning I had a parent-teacher conference that was
the result of an evaluation at my son's public school, and I still have a knot
in my stomach ever since. We live in a predominately middle class suburb,
and my son attends a middle school that has won a presidential award for being
the top school in the country.
Pamela: your e-mail to the Addhelpline was forwarded to me for review and response. Before I respond, I must tell you that I am an attorney licensed to practice law only in Illinois. Although special education is focused under federal law (IDEA, 20 USC 1400, et. seq.), court decisions vary from state to state or jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Your e-mail does not say where you are from, but that is always importatnt. Also, my reponse is based exclusively on your version of the facts. The facts and the applicable law is usually disputed in every case. There is no guarantee that the court would accept your version of the facts or my interpretation of the law. Finally, my response should not be considered as legal advice because I have not had a full opportunity to review the file. Rather, it is intended to give you some information so you can decide how you want to proceed.
First, under 1997 revisions to the IDEA, ADD kids can now be eligible for special education and related services under the Other Health Impaired (OHI) category. You have to demonstrate that you son has ADD AND that it has a negative impact on his ability to be educated. It sounds like that is true. If not, he may qualify for assistance under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is another federal disability law. There, you usually do not have to prove the negative impact component. If your son has ADD, the school must make "reasonable accommodations" in his educational program to help him. That could be untimed tests, preferential seating, etc. The kids have more protection under IDEA, but not everyone qualifies. By law, the school has the duty to evaluate and identify special needs kids. You should send a certified letter, return receipt requested to the superintendent and the principal requesting a case study evaluation (CSE) immediately. They have 60 days to complete it and hold a meeting to discuss it. Among other things, they must provide a social developmental study (by a social worker) and a psychological evaluation. Often times, a psychologist can diagnose ADD. Also, your son's doctor can do that. All he/she has to do is to send a letter to the school. By law, they must consider it! One thing you can do is to log onto your state board of education's website. Usually, there is a lot of information there.
After the CSE, they will have a meeting called an MDC to discuss these evaluations. At that point they will decide whether or not your son is eligible for special education or a section 504 plan. They could decide that he is entitled to neither. You should attend because by law, you are an integral part of the IEP team. If you disagree with their decision(s), you should note that on the meeting notes. Then, you can file for a due process hearing. By law, they must give you a written explanation of your rights. They must also give you a list of where you can obtain low cost legal assistance in your area. Make sure you get both of those. If they fail to do either of those things, go file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Justice Department in your area. They will investigate the school's actions. You might also consider filing a complaint against the principal for threatening to arrest your son, especially if it is an attempt to dissaude you from exercising your rights under the law.
The issue of Ritalin is a medical issue, not a school issue. They have no right to tell you to use Ritalin. That decision should/must be made by a doctor in conjunction with the parent. There are other medications out there for ADD or ADHD. That is something that you should discuss with your son's doctor.
Going through this process is often quite heartwrenching for parents because (1) they do not know the law and (2) the school has a lot of power.
You must keep copies of everything and document what is going on by sending letters to them or keeping a journal. You must not back down. You should try to get legal assistance from a qualified lawyer. If you cannot get one via the school district list or the state board's website, call (847/480-7749) or e-mail me and I will try to help you get one. Good luck.