By Tim Schwarz, Esq.
When your student is having difficulty in school, you might decide to seek additional education support outside school. Especially when your student has a disability education plan (IEP or 504), it is very important that you select private psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, behavior analysts, or other professionals that will be useful to you in advocating for your student’s needs in public schools.
Here are my thoughts on factors to consider:
The most important factor is your relationship with the provider, including your confidence in their competence. After all, the main reason you are hiring an expert is to intervene to address your student’s needs. Equally important is your student’s relationship with the therapist – a poor relationship between patient and therapist will interfere with progress regardless of the therapist’s skill. Additionally, a qualified provider should be able to describe measurable goals and a rough timeframe for reaching them. If applicable, a competent provider can also give advice about what you can do at home to address your student’s needs.
Still, a major benefit of a private provider is their recommendations to the school. A school district is required to consider an expert’s opinion, but is not required to agree or adopt the expert’s report. Further, a school district usually has the right to their own evaluation before determining a student is eligible for additional services.
Nonetheless, an expert evaluation can be very helpful. If the expert identifies an areas of need, it is difficult for a district to refuse to write a goal to address the need. Although a school district is not required to [maximize a student’s potential](http://educationlawgeorgia.com/news/maximizing-potential-not-required), the district is not allowed to ignore a student’s educational need.
Further, describing the progression of specific skills that a student should acquire can convince a district to include them in the interventions. Specific description of potential goals helps you advocate for understandable ways to hold the district accountable for refusing to meet needs without interfering with the school district’s discretion in how to serve a student.
Finally, your expert can explain technical topics, like the difference between positive reinforcement and positive punishment, in a way you can understand. Remember, if you ever need to legally challenge the school district, the judge will not be an expert on education. Detailed descriptions in the private evaluation, which should be included in the student record, will help a judge understand and compare to what happened in the classroom.
Since 2012, Tim Schwarz has represented families with civil rights issues arising in the public schools, including school discipline, bullying, and disability planning (including eligibility and implementation of IEPs and 504 plans). Before that, Mr. Schwarz worked at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Staff Attorneys’ Office. He graduated from Emory Law School in 2007 after attending the University of Chicago as an undergraduate. Mr. Schwarz is a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. To explain the practical application of federal law in school districts, he also writes the Georgia Special Education Law Blog.
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