Kristen Maurer McCarthy, Esq.
Keeping Up: With Child Find Requirements
Happy Mental Health Awareness month!
May is Mental Health Awareness month and while the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, it has, perhaps, been especially hard on children and teenagers. This month provides educators a good opportunity to remember the importance of the Child Find portion of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”). The federal government enacted Child Find to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) that emphasizes special education and related services (“services”) designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” IDEA governs how “states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services” to eligible students with disabilities and requires schools to identify and evaluate all students who may need services.
Identify and Evaluate
Students with diagnosed disabilities, including social and emotional disabilities, are the classic examples of those who a school must identify and evaluate. However, schools also must identify and evaluate all students who exhibit signs and symptoms of a potential need for services, regardless of whether the student has been diagnosed with a disability. It is the school’s responsibility, therefore, to ensure that all students in need of these services receive them.
While schools often think of their Child Find duties in the context of younger students, it is vital for schools that serve older populations to remember that these duties do not fade as students age. Schools are responsible for providing students with the services they need now, regardless of their past needs, and educators and staff must be on the lookout for students who show their first signs and symptoms of a need for services well into their K-12 education.
A school, therefore, is guilty of violating Child Find if it knows, or has reason to know, of a student’s need for an evaluation and fails to evaluate the student. Being unaware of a student’s need occasionally shields schools from liability for violations of Child Find; however, if a student is attending physical classes in the school’s building on a regular basis and needs services, it is safe to assume that a court would likely find that the school “[knew] or [had] reason to know” of the need.
It is also important to remember that a student who is already on an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) or Section 504 Plan might need additional or alternative services. If the current plan is not adequately meeting the student’s needs in a way that provides FAPE, the school must reevaluate the student as soon as possible. If a school in this circumstance waits until the reevaluation date listed on the IEP or 504 Plan to reevaluate, despite having knowledge or reason to know that there may be a need to reevaluate, it is violating the law. Not only is adhering to Child Find necessary to ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education, but violating Child Find also can result in severe financial penalties. Maintaining compliance, therefore, should be a top priority for all schools.
Back to School & COVID-19
Child Find duties are likely to become particularly relevant as students return to the physical classroom from their virtual learning environments.
It is critical for schools to remember that students will return to the physical classroom in a very different place, from a mental health standpoint, than they were when they last left it. As students return to in-person learning, school staff must be able to recognize signs and symptoms indicating that a student might need additional mental-health-related support. Remember that, no matter the age of a student, the school is responsible for identifying all students who require services.
While educators are always much more than conduits of content, as students return to in-person learning, it will be essential to focus on identifying new and evolving individual needs and determine how each student can be best served. While taking this approach will certainly help to ensure compliance with Child Find, it will also, more importantly, allow schools to provide students with the robust and holistic education that each and every one of them deserves. For a list of signs and symptoms that indicate a need for mental-health-related services, please see the American Association of Pediatrics’ website here.
As always, please be aware that this blog is intended only for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. If you need help navigating Child Find or other charter school legal obligations, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Kristen Maurer McCarthy
303-209-7813 Ext. 2
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