School Refusal Hope

You are not alone

School Refusal Hope is a site dedicated to helping families who are struggling with their child's school refusal.  We provide listings of different treatment programs around the country that can help children who avoid school. We also share the names of therapeutic and small boarding schools around the country where your child may thrive. We also provide support in the form of other families who have been down the same road as you.

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)

  1. Autism

  2. Deaf -Blindness

  3. Deafness

  4. Developmental Delay

  5. 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.

  6. Hearing Impairment

  7. Intellectual Disability

  8. Multiple Disabilities

  9. Orthopedic Impairment

  10. 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

  11. Specific Learning Disability

  12. Speech or Language Impairment

  13. Traumatic Brain Injury

  14. Visual Impairment

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.

The US Department of Education provides detailed information on IDEA and A Guide to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

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 .



Disclaimer:  This site is designed by School Refusal Hope to assist parents, family, friends and other caregivers with finding resources to understand and cope with school refusal, as well as to increase public awareness regarding school refusal.  The contents of this website are presented for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing on this website is to be construed as professional advice on medical, legal, technical or therapeutic matters.  By accessing and using the information on this site, you agree to waive any rights to hold the site developer(s), or any individual and/or group associated with this site, liable for any damage that may result from the use of the information presented.