There is nothing more important to parents than the welfare of their children. If their child is struggling, all parents want is for the experts in their school to give their child some help.
But we encourage parents to consider if the informal support their child is receiving in school is truly helpful.
Some help is not helpful enough.
Many parents tell us that they appreciate their child’s school’s willingness to offer support to their struggling readers. For example, they may offer extra help from a teacher or the ability to join a special reading group to help some kids “catch up”. These parents rightfully praise their school for allowing all students to have access to spell check, audio textbooks, or other supports that are crucial for a dyslexic learner. We hear this a lot and some parents feel comfortable with these embedded accommodations and support. In fact, they wonder why they should go through the hassle of obtaining a formal special education plan when their school seems to be supporting their child so well informally.
Other parents may not have the experience of such a support system. Therefore they reach out to their school team for more help, but rather than beginning with a comprehensive evaluation to see if the child has a learning disability and is eligible for special education services, the school offers some support and accommodations through an informal intervention plan instead. There are different names for the school committees that set up these informal plans across the country. In Northern Virginia, they are often referred to as Child Study, School Referral Team, Intervention Team, or Local Screening Committee. Many parents are falsely reassured by these informal plans because their child is finally getting some help.
But there are some BIG problems with informal support:
There is no guarantee that your child will continue to receive that support in their next classroom, with another teacher, or in another school.
Because an evaluation hasn’t been done to thoroughly understand your child’s developmental, cognitive, and academic needs, the remediation offered may not be suitable for your child.
There are no required goals or progress monitoring to ensure that your child is making real progress.
Students can get stuck in these informal plans for years, delaying the important first step of identifying a learning disability.
Schools can remove these ‘informal’ services and support at any time.
Parents have no safeguards in place to help them advocate for their child’s needs.
So we encourage parents to ensure that the school team moves forward with an evaluation and eligibility determination while keeping the child’s informal plan in place. The US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has made it clear that the use of informal plans such as Response to Intervention (RTI) may not be used to delay or deny a full evaluation
when a parent suspects that their child may have a disability.
If your school team is not moving forward with an evaluation for your child, we recommend that you make a formal referral for an evaluation because you suspect your child may have a disability.
Write a letter explaining your child's struggles in school and how that is impacting your child at home and in school. In this letter, we further recommend that you formally request a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation and consideration for special education services and accommodations.
We encourage parents to begin the referral process as soon as possible, as the special education determination process can take months to complete.
If your child qualifies for special education services, only 504 Plans and IEPs will provide your child with protections that are not afforded by informal school plans.
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