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Expert Q&A

My child has missed a lot of school due to illness. Now her teacher will not let her make up work or attend the Special Olympics. What can I do?

My daughter has a learning disability and mental retardation, and she has been diagnosed with major depression disorder, anxiety, and a panic disorder. She misses a lot of school due to her depression and was hospitalized twice last year for it. Because of her absences, her special education teacher will not let her attend the Special Olympics this year. In addition, her teacher will not let her make up the work she missed, although most were excused absences. What rights do I have in this situation?

Your question presents two distinct problems related to your child’s frequent absence from school. In relation to both of them, a starting place would be to make sure that you have medical documentation of the need for her to miss school, whether for physical or emotional reasons or both. You might need a note from both a mental health professional and her primary care physician, but it is important to establish that the absences are bona fide and related to her emotional disorder and/or a physical illness.

Assuming you can document this, her absence should not be a basis for exclusion from the Special Olympics. Unless her conditions pose a health risk to her participation, it is arguably discriminatory to use her absence as a basis for exclusion. You may want to contact the Special Olympics to check their rules for eligibility, as I suspect that the teacher is making her own decision rather than following the organization’s policies.

With respect to the equally or more important issue of the refusal to allow her to make up work, this should be addressed in two ways. First, you should ask for a copy of the school’s policy on medical absence. If a child, with or without a disability, is absent from school for legitimate medical reasons, most schools permit the students to make up the work. Second, you should seek a specific accommodation in her IEP that provides for a procedure for her to make up the work. If it is in the IEP, the teacher is legally required to follow it.

Finally, if she is absent for prolonged periods of time, most states have a procedure to address prolonged medical absence. With medical certification, if she is absent for the period provided by state law (generally two or three weeks) and there is medical documentation that her absence will extend beyond that period, the child is entitled to some form of home tutoring from the school system at district expense. Typically, this is only for several hours a week but has the advantage that the home tutor must provide your child with the work that the class is doing each week and assist her in keeping up with the work. However, this procedure only applies for extended absence and requires medical documentation. The specifics vary by state, so you should check your state rules.

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