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Expert Q&A

Must the school obtain permission from the parent to conduct an occupational or physical therapy evaluation?

During a school implementation of Response to Intervention, occupational and physical therapists are being asked to participate in the RTI Process without obtaining parental consent prior to discussing the child. What are the rules on implementation of RTI and how does the OT/PT Practice acts fit into the interpretation?

There is little guidance from the federal government on how the RTI (Response to Intervention) process is supposed to work, with no guidance for the role of related service professionals in the process. Much of the detail of the process is being left to the states. Many, if not most, states have not formally issued rules or guidelines on how RTI should work. Even those that have may not address the question you raise, which is a very important one.

Essentially, your question raises the dilemma that RTI is a non-special education service for children who are at risk of being identified as having learning disabilities. The law makes clear on the one hand that being in an RTI program does not give the child all the rights they would have under IDEA, but it does give the parent the ongoing right to request a formal evaluation for special education eligibility.

Further, as your question implies, there are serious legal and ethical issues surrounding the ways that RTI may be implemented in particular states and/or school districts, due to the possibility that evaluations may be delayed excessively due to the school’s insistence on referral to and/or excessive time spent in RTI or use of criteria for special education eligibility that are not clinically defensible.

Further, since RTI is supposed to focus on the child’s response to research based reading interventions, I would question whether a request for involvement of the OT or PT without parent consent was in fact a de facto special education evaluation without parent consent, rather than just intensive scientifically based reading instruction in regular education.

Given these various legal questions, a related services professional would be wise to check both their state’s professional licensing or practice act and their professional association’s code of ethics to determine if the things they are being asked to do are legal and ethical.

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