When is PT a “Medical Issue” – and NOT the School’s Responsiblity?

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My 3 year old son has Angelman’s syndrome and has just started walking independently. He has a one-to-one aide in the school-based prek program. The school is saying they do not have to provide any physical therapy because it is a medical issue. As long as my son has “access” in the classroom, they are not responsible for providing the service.

As a parent, it is time to step up to the plate as the advocate for your son.

First, do your homework.

In your law book read the statute in IDEA 2004 that defines “Child with a disability.” Then read the Wrightslaw footnotes and possible related services exception.

Remember, if a child has a disability and if that disability adversely affects educational performance, then the child should be found eligible for an IEP.

Then, after reading the statute, read the regulations about:

  1. the definition of a child with a disability, and
  2. about how physical therapy (PT) is defined relating to the definition of a child with a disability.

(Hint – read the related services statute and the related services regulations.)

Next, read the commentary portion that relates both to the definition of a child with a disability and also the regulations about related services.

Once you have done that, turn to the back of your law book. Read the summary of these two cases.

  • Tatro case
  • Cedar Rapids v. Garret F

So what if it is a medical condition?

Now you will have an idea how the need for PT should be characterized and presented to the school district so that it is put into your son’s IEP.

It sounds like someone you know is making the recommendation that your son needs PT. That person, presumably a professional, has to also show

  • how it is needed, from an educational perspective, and
  • the damage to your son if not provided.

And that needs to be put into writing.

You may think the issue is that your son simply needs someone (advocate or attorney) to step in to tell the school system what to do. That approach will simply postpone history repeating itself again, on another issue.

Bottom line – you are your son’s best advocate.

Start at the beginning. Read the legal definition of a child with a disability . . .

Run it all down by reading the law on all of it.

This is the first step in acquiring the information and skills you will need to advocate for the services your son will need.

  1. Jane, if your school can not give your son adapted PE in the school building he attends, then you can still get him his PE credits thru summer ESY programs such as disability friendly camp, Hippotherapy, adapted swim lessons, special olympics…and paid for by the school district.

  2. Question – when child w/similar issue is removed from PE for a med. reason BUT is obtaining PT on a regular basis to deal with problem preventing them from PE, shouldn’t PT count towards PE or be performed in place of? No luck finding law info on this. thanks

  3. Hi,

    I completely agree with the above recommendations by Pete. You are the most important person to advocate for your child. As such you should familiarize yourself with the special education laws and regulations and also find a parent advocate. A parent advocate differs from a parent representative although both may be present at IEP meetings. A parent rep is typically someone who has a child with a disability whereas a parent advocate can be someone who is familiar with special education regulations and procedures and can best advocate for services and accommodations.

    Natascha, MA, MS

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