When Evaluation Shows a Disability, School Says Child is “Lazy”

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We receive many questions about violations of IDEA. The children’s names and dates of birth change but their stories are similar.

The child shows clear signs of a disability. The school may have an evaluation showing the child has a disability – a learning disability, ADHD, anxiety disorder, or another disability.

The school district fails to tell parents about their child’s rights under IDEA, or their parental rights. Instead, the district tells the parents “Your child is lazy – she is choosing not to learn.”

This was an issue in Florence County School District IV v. Shannon Carter.

Shannon Carter being interviewed after oral argument before the Supreme CourtThe school system evaluated Shannon when she was in the sixth grade. This evaluation clearly showed that Shannon had learning disabilities in reading and math. The school told the parents that Shannon was lazy, unmotivated. Her parents were advised to pressure her to work harder.

The school did not advise the parents that they had any rights.

Relying on the school’s advice, Shannon’s parents pushed her to work harder. Regardless of how hard Shannon worked, she could not teach herself to read, write or do math. The situation came to a head when her mother realized that Shannon was seriously considering suicide.

Shannon’s dad testified: “The school psychologist said Shannon’s learning problems were her fault, that she was lazy and unmotivated.”

  • We pressured her to work harder.
  • We didn’t allow her to watch television or listen to the radio.
  • We didn’t allow her to go out with friends.
  • Homework took hours to complete, even when we helped her.

“She became terribly depressed. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to raise a lazy child.” (from The Untold Story of Shannon Carter v. Florence County)

To learn more about blaming children for learning and other school problems, read Pam’s article, The Blame Game! Are School Problems the Kids’ Fault? at https://www.wrightslaw.com/advoc/articles/ALESSI1.html

Pete and Shannon after Oral Argument before the Supreme Court

Pete recalled, “The fact that the school blamed Shannon after they failed to teach her to read hit the judges hard, especially at the Fourth Circuit level. I’ll never forget those three Judges sitting up there as the implications unfolded before them.

“The judges looked beyond me to Emory, Elaine, and Shannon Carter, faces wet with tears. When I saw the judges watching Shannon and her parents, not looking at me, not listening to me, I knew we had prevailed.”

This was one theme in oral argument before the Fourth Circuit, and the beginning of my oral argument before the U. S. Supreme Court in Shannon’s case.

Read oral argument before the Supreme Court at https://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/Carter_SupCt_Oral_Argument.html

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Shannon’s favor. https://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/ussupct.carter.htm

This theme resonates with many Hearing Officers and Judges. They can empathize with parents who are told that their child is “lazy” or “stubborn,” especially when they learn the school had reason to know the child’s problems were caused by a disability.

When parents learn that their child is not stubborn, lazy, or unmotivated, but has a disability, many are consumed by guilt. If you’ve experienced these feelings, it’s time for a reality check.

What happened to Shannon? How did things turn out for her?

The New York Times decided to find out. Read “How the Clip ‘N Snip’s Owner Changed Special Education”

You may be able to use this article and the lessons in Shannon’s case to create the theme of your case.


P.S. You can read the Untold Story of Shannon Carter at

  1. To Ruthie:
    I have printed off and distributed Pam and Pete’s advice for raising children with ADHD. It is a challenge, but it can be done. On this website, it is entitled “training lions and tiger” or something like that. I found it very helpful.

  2. Nikki–
    I don’t know about your state, but schools in my state are required to provide mental health services on site. I’m not talking about a sit-down with our counselor, (who does a great job) but scheduled visits with a psychologist. If you believe that depression is behind his sleeping all the time, get him to an outside service. School counselors can be wonderful, but they have hundreds of kids to look after. Also, see if a local clinic or hospital does sleep studies. They can be very educational.

  3. I have requested a IEP meeting for my son that has been diagnosed with severe depression. He is failing his classes and this has been going on for sometime. We only have two high schools in our district and both have failed AYP for more than 2 years, but neither are Title I schools. I requested an IEP in September and it is December. I also contacted my state dept. of ed. this week and I have yet to hear from them. What do I need to do now? My son is failing, I can’t afford to put him in private school, and he is so depressed he sleeps all of the time.

  4. As a special educator, it saddens me greatly to see so many parents in this post struggling with schools who are calling their kids lazy. I am so sorry. There are some key things to consider to know whether or not your child can’t do it, won’t do it and then determining if they won’t, why they won’t. Kids, deep inside, want to learn, I do not believe students don’t do work because they are lazy. If you are interested in what I have to say in regards to this subject please check out my post on my website: http://everyonecanlearn.wordpress.com/2008/11/07

  5. Pam

    My son is high functioning and is extremely bright. His handwriting is not good so I guess he will have to be a Doctor or something. He is in a journalism class and does great using Microsoft publisher to assemble his creative thoughts.

    His evaluations and observations from elementary to high school all note that he takes frequent restroom breaks for whatever reason.

    Despite the fact that he has always been an A student and in high classes, an expert was brought in who explained that these frequent restroom urges were nothing more than an “escape” behavior used to get out of doing his work. ……..To get out of work that he is Acing?????

    Currently makes A’s and still has frequent urges to go beginning first period.

    if he were still in our local public school, we would have attempted to extinct this “misconduct” using BIP.

  6. I am looking for a research based program designed to help children with ADHD succeed in school. These kids all seem to have the same classic problems, lack of ability to focus and pay attention, and impulsivity. It was interesting to hear about attorneys who are successful in getting services for kids, but it seems as if they need to offer a packaged program like the Orton-Gillingham reading program, or Sondra Kerr wrote about a program for autistic kids, but I have not heard of a “program” for the kids with ADHD. If anyone has a program which has worked for kids with ADHD, please share it.

  7. I recently had an independent evaluation done on my son, Luke. Luke does very good on the Sol’s, but he is failing in the classroom. The Dr. who evaluated him told me that he has a unique learning disability..he is both gifted with a LD. He has poor graphomotor skills and a processing speed issue. Luke is very bright and has been allowed to pass in school without any teacher questioning his inability to write ( he writes on a third grade level) and reads on a twelvth grade level. I have been told by many teachers that Luke chooses not to do the work because he doesn’t want to do it, even after the evaluation. The county’s method of accommodation has been to remove two math problems from test.The most recent quotes from staff have been,”We are very frustrated. What difference is it going to make?”

  8. jdeekdee – You write, “as long as schools do not have to follow federal laws like the rest of the world, as long as they don’t have to go to prison and/or pay fines like the rest of the world …”

    Beliefs like this – that other federal laws are enforced – cause parents to feel victimized. Noncompliance with federal law is not unique to special ed. Guilty parties rarely “go to prison or pay fines.”

    Ask Native American tribes what happened to billions of dollars in funds held in trust by the Dept of Interior for decades or longer. What did they do? http://www.narf.org/pubs/pr/06trust.htm

    What about the environment? In the 1990s, the EPA agreed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by 2010. Progress to date: zero. The Bay is dying. Last week, several groups filed notice of their intent to sue the EPA. This time, they want a legal agreement with teeth and sanctions.

    There will always be competing interests and incompetent bureaucracies. If you know your rights and strategies to use if your rights are ignored, you will be in a strong position to prevail. We hear from parents who prevail every day.

  9. As long as schools are not enforced to follow IDEA, as long as schools do not have to follow federal laws like the rest of the world, as long as they don’t have to go to prison and/or pay fines like the rest of the world, the special ed horror in US schools will continue, no matter how many parents take schools to court, no matter how many state complaints are filed, no matter how many due process hearings there are.

  10. This is an incredible story.

    From what I understand, the recent State budget cuts for South Carolina include a 100% reduction in State funding for “Protection and Advocacy”.

    Does anyone know if there has ever been a limit on how much a school is allowed to spend on attorneys for non-lawsuit or non-due process legal services?

    Is there a contingency clause for legal services that is related to educational services being provided for the child that the school’s attorney is protecting the school from?

  11. I wonder what the benefit is for school Districts to practice the blame the kid approach but devote thousands of “educational dollars” to attorneys.

    Under the IDEA, there is a chance that parents can obtain educational services for their child. The child’s parents even stand a slim chance of reimbursement for legal fees.

    Attorneys who represent the school districts have a 100% chance of getting paid regardless of whether the child is denied or provided a FAPE, and regardless of if retaliation is practiced.

    Until there is a balance between providing educational services and schools using legal resources in lieu of educational services, the Carter’s experience will continue to reoccur.
    Maybe the cap for school attorneys representing a school that has violated the IDEA, should be 10-15% of amount spent on the child’s ed/year.

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