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Expert Q&A

Can a school refuse an assessment or diagnosis conducted by a licensed medical professional?

How is it legal for a school not to accept any diagnosis or assessment other than their diagnosis? My child was diagnosed by a licensed medical professional, and the school refuses to accept that diagnosis and provide services for my child.

There are several things to be aware of here. First, legally a school district is required to consider outside evaluations but is not obligated to accept the findings and recommendations. However, if they do not accept the findings or recommendations, they must provide you with an explanation for why they disagree and a basis for the disagreement.

Sometimes, schools reject outside testing just because they don’t like the results and don’t want to be obligated to do the things that are recommended. However, there are situations where private clinicians and school evaluators are using different criteria to analyze the test results. In fact, the standards that private clinicians use for diagnosis are not always identical to the standards that the schools use. Thus, it is possible for the private clinician to be correct in their diagnosis based on their criteria and for the school to be correct based on their criteria.

One circumstance where this is most likely is when the private clinician concludes that the student is performing significantly below their potential but still at an average or above average level. The school might acknowledge the discrepancy but take the position that unless the student is performing at a below average level compared to their peers, they don’t qualify. This is a frequent dispute, and there are arguments on both sides.

A second common basis for disagreement is that the school team concludes that the child may have a disability but does not need special education. The need for some form of special education is one of the criteria to be eligible for special education. Schools often take an overly restrictive position as to what is special education or whether the student needs it. By law, special education is specialized instruction, including modifying the content, method, or mode of delivery of instruction, and can include instruction in regular education as well as in a separate classroom. Schools sometimes argue that a student will only qualify if they need special ed. instruction in a special ed. room or from a special ed. teacher.

You should discuss the school’s position with your private clinician and see if there are further tests or other data that the clinician can provide. You may also need consultation with a knowledgeable special education advocate or attorney.

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