My son is in the 6th grade. He has sensory processing disorders, executive functioning problems, and severe anxiety. He had an IEP for emotional problems.
When he takes medication, his anxiety is manageable. Because his medication is working, the school says he is no longer eligible for special education services.
Does effective medication disqualify a child from special education eligibility?
No. If a child takes medication, this does not disqualify the child from eligibility for special education services. In fact, his anxiety may be a symptom of the sensory processing disorders and executive functioning problems. Medication won’t cure these problems.
Change the facts.
Assume a child has diabetes. Her blood sugar levels fluctuate dramatically during the day, and this affects her ability to pay attention in class and learn. If she takes medication and her insulin levels stabilize, she can pay attention, concentrate and learn. Should this child be disqualified for special education because her medication is working for now?
Criteria for Eligibility
Review the requirements for special education eligibility. The legal definition of a “child with a disability” in IDEA includes two requirements: (1) the child must have a disability and (2) because of the disability, the child must “need special education and related services.” (20 U.S.C. 1401(3))
The children we discussed earlier have qualifying disabilities. The question that must be answered is this: Does the child need special education and related services because of the disability?
When parents and school staff have different answers to this question, the seeds are sown for a major parent-school dispute.
Many school personnel believe that if a child is not failing or struggling very hard, the child is not eligible for special ed services. This is incorrect and has never been correct. When a school team uses passing grades to make eligibility decisions, many children who should be found eligible are denied services.
After you read what the law says about eligibility, you will know that the law does not include “passing grades” or “advancing from grade to grade” as criteria for eligibility (20 U.S. 1414, Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, p. 92.)
Terminating a child’s eligibility for special education because medication is effective is risky.
It isn’t unusual for the effectiveness of medication to vary, or a formerly effective medication to stop working. If the school terminates a child’s eligibility because medication is “working,” and the medication stops working, then the child, family and school must start the eligibility process all over again – and this usually takes months, at a minimum.
Caselaw: Forest Grove v. T.A.
In 2009, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Forest Grove School District v. T.A., a case about tuition reimbursement for a child who had ADHD, learning disabilities, and emotional issues, but was never found eligible and never received special education services from the school district.
The Supreme Court held that:
This dispute concerns “… the school district’s failure to provide an IEP at all ….when a child requires special education services, a school district’s failure to propose an IEP of any kind is at least as serious a violation of its responsibilities under IDEA as a failure to provide an adequate IEP.”
Get a highlighter and read the decision in Forest Grove. When you read the decision, you will find language that will help you.
Wrightslaw Update: U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case back to U.S. District Court, school prevailed, parents appealed again to Ninth Circuit, school prevailed.
The parents appealed to the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. On April 27, 2011, in a split decision, the 9th Circuit upheld the District Court’s ruling.
In a strong dissent, Judge Susan Graber faulted the majority on several grounds. Quoting directly from the 9th Circuit’s original decision, she noted that it was undisputed that T.A.’s parents placed him in the private program for reasons related to and unrelated to his disabilities. The District Court’s decision was not supported by the record.
What next? We don’t know. If there is more news about this case – if, for example, the 9th Circuit agrees to hear the case en banc – we will post updates on this page. (06/02/11 update by Pam Wright)
Next Steps for You, and Your Son
You need to get a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation of your child by an expert in the private sector. After the evaluation, the evaluator can describe your child’s disabilities and their impact on his ability to learn. The evaluator can also describe what he needs in an educational program, and what will happen if the school refuses to provide the needed help.