Mistaken Evaluation: The School Psychologist or the Case Law?

Article excerpt

Given their pivotal position, school psychologists have understandable concerns about the possibility ofbecoming the target of the relatively frequent legal proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Indeed, the threat of litigation can contribute to a flight from the profession (Lange, 2011). Yet, an informal search of court decisions reveals that the school psychologist is not a distinguishable part, much less the identified target, of most cases. Thus, school psychologists have little to fear in terms of a central role in a due process proceeding.

For a possible exception, consider the following case, which I summarize in chronological order, and my initial observations, which can be the starting point for more complete consideration from other perspectives.

THE CASE FACTS

In June or early July 2008, Jack's parents enrolled him in kindergarten at the Wissahickon School District, which is in the suburbs of Philadelphia. In the district's preadmission screening report, they provided private evaluations reporting a verbal IQ of 143, a performance IQ of 103, and a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. As a result, on July 25, 2008, the district sent them a form requesting permission for a special education evaluation.

In late August, Jack started the school year in a regular kindergarten class. His teacher was Ms. O. On September 28, the parents submitted the signedpermission form. They also shared with Ms. O. private occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) evaluations that respectively reported behavioral/sensory issues and recommended weekly PT sessions at home.

The districfs evaluation. On October 16, the district issued an evaluation report that concluded that Jack did not qualify for special education or PT services but that recommended a 504 plan. The 504 plan provided for accommodations, including alternative seating, postural accommodations, and behavioral expectations.

On December 2,Ms. O. issued Jack's first report card, indicating that Jack was making academic progress but that his behaviors - distractability and organizational difficulties - were interfering with his learning. On December 3, Jack's mother met with Ms. O. They discussed Jack's behavioral issues; Ms. O. outlined her strategies for addressing them, indicating that some had been successful and some had not. On that same day, Jack's mother returned the signed 504 plan.

During the rest of December, Ms. O. and Jack's parents exchanged e-mails regarding Jack's increasingly problematic behaviors, including an incident in which Jack had spit in a friend's face. At that time, Jack's teacher referred him to the school's instructional support team, whichis a prereferral process for general education interventions. On January 12, Ms. M., who was the school psychologist assisting the instructional support team, met with the parents and explained that Jack would not qualify for special education services based on "his academic skills." On January 16, 2009, the district sent the parents another permission form for a second multidisciplinary evaluation. The express purpose was to prepare a révaluation report to "assist in the functional behavioral process."

The independent educational evaluation. On January 19, the parents engaged a private psychologist to conduct an independent educational evaluation (IEE). The subsequent undated report diagnosed Jack with ADHD and recommended a 504 plan. Meanwhile, on February 4, the parents returned the signed form for the functional behavioral assessment (FBA).

On February 24, Jack's private psychiatrist confirmed the ADHD diagnosis and prescribed medication. During the ensuing three months, Jack took four different medications due to adverse side effects.

On March 23, Ms. O. sent Jack to the principal's office for grabbing and pushing one of his classmates who was blocking his way, Jack apparently was angry at not having finishing an assigned task on time. …