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What Happens at a Disability Eligibility Meeting?

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

At the disability eligibility meeting, everyone present will introduce themselves and describe how they interact with the student. Parents should expect multiple people to attend the meeting. The student's main general education teacher or teachers will likely be there, as well as any other staff members who work regularly with that child or who feel they have specific insight into the child's functioning, such as the school nurse, main disciplinary staff, etc. Usually a general representative of the school will attend, such as the special education coordinator or another administrator. Normally, the person who performed the evaluation will also attend, in order to describe the meaning of the (otherwise fairly technical) evaluation in easily understood terms. It is likely that parents will encounter these professionals at a later date, so it is helpful to accurately record each professional's name and role, and to request business cards if they are available.

chat bubblesAfter introductions, the evaluator will review the results of the evaluation, and the parents can also discuss any outcomes or information they have about their child's condition or behavior relates to their educational functioning.

It may occur that the evaluator concludes that the child does not qualify for a disability. This finding may occur due to lack of evidence that a disability exists or that it has affected school performance. In cases where school performance deficits are clear, a ruling of no disability may still occur, for instance in cases where the problem is determined to be due to limited language alone (e.g., the student is having problems because he or she does not know the language of instruction well enough), or due to lack of instruction, such as may be the case where the child is frequently absent from school due to truancy or family troubles. At this point, the participants may have a discussion in which the parents and the school disagree about the child's disability.

Disagreeing with the School's Disability Findings

Parents who want a finding of disability and who do not get one may feel angry and frustrated, but they must nevertheless do everything they can to stay cool. Parents' angry outbursts will cause school representatives to form a negative opinion about the parents which will compromise their effectiveness as advocates for their child!

The key thing for angry or frustrated parents to keep in mind is that everyone at the meeting is trying to help the child succeed, though they may disagree about how to best accomplish this task. It is far more important to remain focused on arriving at a solution, however imperfect, which will actually help the child to progress, than to place blame.

Parents should express their disagreement calmly but firmly, and only after having listened carefully to what each staff member has to say. They should use their disagreement to move the discussion towards the generation of alternative plans likely to help their child, rather than as an opportunity for righteousness.

Several options remain in the event that parents and the school cannot resolve their disagreement over whether the child has a disability or not. Parents can agree to go along with the school's determination, but then talk with the school about other, non-special-education-related options for helping their child to do better in school. They can talk to the school about developing a 504 plan for their children (more on this here).They can press forward and continue to try to get full special education services for their child, either through mediation or through a formal appeal known as due process.