Your Rights – Your Child’s Rights for Special Education Services
“My daughter is behind in school by at least 2 years because she’s been in the hospital so much and when she’s out, she either feels horrible or doesn’t want to go to school because she’s so far behind. Would she be eligible for special services?”
Children with chronic illnesses who cannot attend school are entitled to home teaching through their school district. To request home teaching, your physician must write a request that includes the reason and start date and end date. (The end date can always be extended.) You will need to submit the request to your child’s school or school district office. The law entitles children to 5 hours a week of home teaching. You can ask for more time, but there is no provision in the law that requires schools to provide more.
If your child is capable of reentering school then you should request and initiate an Individual Educational Plan, (IEP). An IEP is offered to students who qualify for Special Education services under the Individual’s with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a Federal Law. In order to qualify for an IEP, students must be assessed and found eligible by an IEP team. The first step is to write a letter to the principal or Special Education Director that requests that your child be assessed for consideration of Special Education services due to her medical condition. One of the categories that your child might be eligible under is called Other Health Impaired (OHI). Briefly, OHI is when a child’s chronic medical condition or treatment adversely affects her school performance and she may need special services outside of the general education curriculum.
Once the district receives your request, the law states that they have 15 days to send you an assessment plan that details how they will assess your child and what areas, such as cognitive, academic, or social, will be tested. When you sign that letter and return it to the school, the school then has 60 days to perform the assessment and to hold an IEP meeting. You will be invited to the IEP meeting.
Once the IEP team agrees that your child meets the eligibility criteria, they will write the placement, services, and goals for your child into the IEP. Services can range from being pulled out of class to work with a resource specialist for a set amount of time to certain classroom accommodations or to related services like speech and language or occupational therapy.
When a child has been out of school for a long time, it might be best for her to start school on a modified day schedule (mornings or afternoons) or attend for short periods of time. During this transition, the district should provide a home teacher to help your child keep up with the instruction that she misses when she cannot be in class. Home teaching also helps children catch up when they return after missing a lot of school without losing the opportunity to socialize with their friends.
If your child does not qualify for an IEP, another option is to request a 504 plan, which is part of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is a civil rights law that provides for the “accommodation” of differences that children may have as a result of an illness or disability. Children are eligible if they have any past or current physical or mental impairment that limits major life activity. A 504 plan does not usually include special education time or resources, but it can be used to obtain extended time on tests, an extra set of books, preferential seating, etc. for your child. A 504 plan can also be written to give your child some support in class while she is waiting to be assessed for an IEP.