Who makes the decisions about a child’s eligibility for special education and related services?
Federal law states very clearly that an inter-professional team must make that decision. Why is that the case? If we go back to case law, we would likely see many examples of single professionals making mistakes. However, the better reason for having an inter-professional team is that if we have multiple people looking at the student, we get a fuller picture of the child. Inter-professional practice is becoming popular right now with our colleagues on the medical side. One of the reasons for that is because the majority of medical errors are made from a lack of communication between different team members. We need to look at the whole client medically in order to address the full need of the individual. The same thing is true for special education.
One thing that confuses people, is that eligibility for special education cannot be made by a physician. You may have received a physician’s prescription that states a child is eligible for special education and must receive speech-language services twice a week. Parents often don’t understand that it is a separate funding approach; they have to follow the rules of IDEA, and the physician’s order does not apply in this situation. In fact, if the school began to provide services solely based on the physician’s order that would be violating IDEA, in that they are not making that decision as a team. Clearly the physician has some good information. If we get that type of a prescription, it might make sense for someone to call and find out what has prompted that. What the physician is seeing might not be the same thing you are seeing in school. It would be prudent to maintain good relationships with the child’s physician and family, and to find out more about what is behind the order that came from the physician. The decision about whether a child is eligible for special education, by law, is made by an eligibility committee. It cannot be made by one person.
Lissa Power-deFur teaches at Longwood University where she has taught public school methods and supervised school-based services. Previously, she worked at the Virginia Department of Education as state consultant in speech-language and hearing, as special education/student services director, and as a policy analyst. She received the ASHA Leader Outstanding Services Award in 2012, for her article “When is a child with a speech-language impairment a child with a disability? Special education eligibility criteria.”