Your Child’s Right to an Education
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act( IDEA) is the federal special education law. IDEA guarantees each child with a disability and in need of special education services, the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
I know what you are thinking…my child doesn't need special education. I thought the same thing. Although your child may not need interventions that come to mind when you hear special education, under the law special education encompasses more. The definition of a disability under IDEA also includes children with learning disabilities and children with emotional disorders (or disturbances as it is stated in the law). Most school refusal kids suffer from an emotional disorder and/or learning disability. Some common emotional disorders among school refusal kids are: general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression, separation anxiety disorder and Obsessive compulsive disorder.
You may need a special education designation for your child in order to get assistance and accommodations from your school district.
These accommodations may help to get your child back to his school or to get an out of district placement at a school that may be more appropriate for your child.
Categories of special education as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Emotional Disturbance - IDEA defines an emotional disturbance that qualifies for special education as the following: A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
(a) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(b) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(c) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(d) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(e) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
If your child cannot attend school, he is not in school and this is affecting his ability to learn.
If your child is not in school, this may affect his ability to build satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
If your child is scared or unable to attend school, he may have a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
And most likely your child has fears associated with his problems not attending school and may have physical symptoms.
Other Health Impaired-means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that— is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome
Specific Learning Disability
Speech or Language Impairment
Traumatic Brain Injury
Considering the Meaning of “Adversely Affects”
Notice the phrase “adversely affects educational performance” appears in most of the disability definitions. This does not mean, however, that a child has to be failing in school to receive special education and related services. According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to “any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.”
This is very important to note because school systems may use their own definitions for “adversely affects”. In our case, the school system definitely defined adversely affects as failing grades. It can take a long time to actually see failing grades as your child is falling apart. If your school does not interpret this definition correctly as stated in IDEA, you may consider hiring an educational advocate or lawyer.
If your schools interventions are not able to get your child back to his school, understand that your school district is obligated under IDEA to provide your child with an education. If your child is unable to access education at his school because of his school refusal and he has an emotional disorder or learning disability your school is required by law to find a school where he can be educated and pay for his education.
In order for your school to qualify a child for services under an IEP:
The child must be found to have one of the 14 categories of special education (above)
it must adversely affect their educational performance.
If you are having issues with your school and need more information, I highly recommend the Wrightslaw website. They provide a wealth of information about special education law and advocacy .