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Game Plan To Resolve An Eligibility Dispute

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"My son has been diagnosed with disability. The school staff agree with this diagnosis but say he doesn’t qualify for special education because he is making good grades. Is this true? What are the guidelines about grades and eligibility for special education?" - Eric

Good questions, Eric. How are eligibility decisions made? Is it true that good grades mean that a child is not eligible for special education? 

Your position is that your child has a disability and NEEDS special education. The school’s position is that your child has a disability but does not NEED special education.

Here is a game plan to help you resolve the dispute. Although you won’t be able to resolve EVERY dispute with this plan, you can resolve many disputes by taking these steps. First, you need to learn about:
* Legal Rights and Responsibilities
* School Culture
* Tactics and Strategies

Legal Rights & Responsibilities 

Pull out Wrightslaw: Special Education Law and find "Eligibility" in the Index. You will find answers to some of your questions in Pete’s commentary on the statute.

On page 25, you will find the definition of "Child with a disability." As you see, the child must have a disability (and there is a list of disabilities) AND because of the disability, the child "needs special education and related services." 

Read Pete's commentary: "Disability Does Not Mean Eligibility For Special Education" (page 25), "IDEA and FAPE" (page 26), "Eligibility Disputes" (page 26).

Go back to "Eligibility" in the Index and find "determination." You will find several pages listed. Read the information about "Eligibility, determination," "Eligibility, for specific learning disability," "Eligibility, joint establishment," and so forth. 

You see that decisions about whether a child is eligible for special education are not to be based on any single criteria (including grades, which are not mentioned): 

"In interpreting evaluation data for the purpose of determining if a child is a child with a disability, and the educational needs of the child, each public agency shall --
(1) Draw upon information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, teacher recommendations, physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior; and

(2) Ensure that information obtained from all of these sources is documented and carefully considered. (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 190)

Read the statute about "Evaluations, Eligibility, IEPs and Placement" (Section 1414) in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 59) 

Next, read the IDEA Regulations about "Services" (Subpart C) that describes the child's right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), evaluations, IEP teams, etc. (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 163).

Read the IDEA Regulations about Procedural Safeguards (Subpart E ), including evaluation procedures and determination of eligibility, additional requirements about evaluating children with specific learning disabilities (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 178).

Read Appendix A to the IDEA Regulations to get a clear idea of the "parental role." (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 209).

Learn About"School Culture" 

From the perspective of school staff, parents are outsiders. As an outsider, you need to learn about "school culture" which includes the beliefs and assumptions held by school people. 

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy includes several chapters about school culture and parent-school conflict:"Learning the Rules of the Game", "Obstacles to Success", "Resolving Parent-School Conflicts", and "Emergency! Crisis! Help!"

If you do not have this book yet, please download
and read these articles:

Learn To Use Tactics & Strategy 

Parents can use tactics and strategies to anticipate problems, manage conflict, and avoid crises. If you have a dispute with the school, tactics and strategy will help you control the outcome.

How you present information and requests is often far more important to a successful outcome.

If school people believe an outsider (and parents ARE outsiders) is trying to FORCE them to do something, they will balk. (This is true of any group whose members share a common identity.)

We recommend that parents have their child evaluated by an independent expert in the private sector. (Stategies to find an evaluator or educational consultant) Ask the independent evaluator to make recommendations and answer these questions:

* Does the child have a disability?
* Does the disability mean the child needs special education services?
* What special education services does this child need? 
If the independent evaluator makes recommendations, the parent is not placed in the no-win position of telling school staff what to do. Although the evaluator is an outsider, school staff are more likely to accept this individual's recommendations than requests by parents.

Wrightslaw: From Emotions To Advocacy -
The Special Education Survival Guide

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy (FETA) is more than a book. FETA has a companion web site at FetaWeb with articles, checklists, and resources that supplement the book.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Getting Started

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy (FETA) includes two chapters about letter-writing and two chapters about meetings. Appendix I includes more than a dozen sample letters that you can use as templates.

Resources From The Advocate's Bookstore  
When you deal with school staff, you negotiate for services. Here are two books that will get you off to a good start. Each of these books will help you in different ways. 

1. How to Argue and Win Every Time" by Gerry Spence

"How To Argue" is NOT about arguing. "How To Argue" teaches you how to present your case effectively, using story telling and visual imagery. "How To Argue" is one of our favorite advocacy books. 

2. Everyday Letters for Busy People

Parents must document their concerns in writing. If you make a statement or share a concern about your child BUT you don’t put your concerns in writing, then for practical and legal purposes, you did not express concerns. 

"Everyday Letters" will help you write effective letters. The book includes sample Parent-School letters that you can adapt to your situation. 

Visit the Advocate's Bookstore 

Visit the Tactics and Strategy Section of the Advocate’s Bookstore


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