School District’s Obligation to Provide Medical Evaluations
By: Lauren M. O’Connell Mahler, Esquire
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA” – a federal law governing special education) requires that a School District conduct a “full and individual” evaluation of each child who they suspect has a disability that makes the child eligible for special education services. The District’s evaluation must be sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the individual child’s special education needs. If a child’s medical issues are adversely impacting the child’s educational performance and if medical testing is necessary in order to develop an appropriate special education program, then the School District should conduct a medical diagnostic evaluation.
Medical evaluations that a School District might need to provide, when appropriate, include but are not limited to: Occupational Therapy Evaluations, Physical Therapy Evaluations, Psychiatric Evaluations, Auditory Processing Evaluations, Vision or Visual Processing Evaluations, or diagnostic evaluations by a physician or other qualified health professional. Thus, if a parent observes that his/her child’s motor skills, physical difficulties, emotional/behavioral needs, hearing, vision, health problems, or other medical issues are adversely impacting their educational progress, the parent may want to request that the District conduct an assessment in that area.
If the School District does not employ a person qualified to conduct the medical assessment needed, then the District should contract out for the assessment at no cost to the parent. The School District cannot require a parent to obtain the medical evaluation at the parent’s own expense or at the expense of the parent’s insurer if that evaluation is necessary to determine whether the child is eligible for special education services.
Under federal law, confusion over the District’s duty to fund medical evaluations and obtain a medical diagnosis often arises when a child is suspected of having ADHD which is causing their educational struggles. Some School Districts (not all) require documentation from a doctor that a child has been formally diagnosed with ADHD before the child can receive special education services. If that is the case, the District must take the necessary steps to obtain the required documentation of ADHD from a doctor. They cannot require the parent to go out and obtain the ADHD diagnosis at the parent’s own expense or at the expense of the parent’s insurance.
However, parents should also keep in mind that a doctor’s diagnosis alone does not automatically qualify a child for special education. There are 14 different classifications of disability listed in IDEA. A child must qualify under at least on of IDEA’s 14 classifications in order to receive special education services, and each classification has its own specific criteria that must be met. In general, the child’s medical diagnosis must adversely affect the child’s educational performance for special education to be warranted. Whether the child qualifies for special education under the criteria in IDEA is a decision ultimately made by the IEP team (which includes the parent) as a group. The IEP team should consider the medical doctor’s diagnosis in reaching their decision, but they are not obligated to follow it.
The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. If you would like to receive an electronic copy or more information regarding this article, please visit our website at http://www.mcandrewslaw.com or call (610) 648-9300.