Child Find is the requirement that school districts find and evaluate children who may have a disability located in their district to determine whether the children need special education services. The requirement covers any child with a disability or who is suspected of having a disability. The Child Find obligation applies to all school districts and charter schools in North Carolina. Beginning the process of determining whether your child needs special education services is overwhelming, and we frequently encounter situations where parents have been provided misinformation about the Child Find process.
We hope that the information below will clear up some confusion and give you more confidence when starting the Child Find process in North Carolina.
1. The school district cannot require the parent to first obtain an evaluation before determining eligibility. When parents express to a teacher or other school official that they believe their child may need special education services, the school district must convene a Referral Meeting to determine whether the child should be evaluated. The school district should not tell the parents that they must first obtain an evaluation of their child before the school will convene a Referral Meeting. This approach is contrary to the IDEA.
2. The school district cannot ignore a verbal request for an evaluation. The IDEA does not require that a request for a special education evaluation be in writing. If a parent verbally requests the school district evaluate their child, the district cannot ignore the request since it is not in writing. The district must help the parent complete a written referral.
3. The school district must determine eligibility and, if the child is eligible, develop an IEP, within 90 days from the written referral. The district cannot delay this process due to holidays or summer vacation.
4. The school district is obliged to convene a Referral Meeting if the district suspects the child has a disability that affects his or her learning. The school district has an affirmative obligation to take action if it has reason to suspect a child has a disability that affects his or her learning. It is not the parents’ obligation to refer their child for special education services (but if a parent suspects their child has a disability, the parent can certainly submit a referral as well).
5. The school district must evaluate the child in all suspected areas of disability. If evidence exists that a child is struggling in an area, the district must evaluate in that area. For example, evaluating a child only in the area of speech where academic concerns are also noted is inappropriate—even if the initial referral only expressed concerns about speech.