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Expert Q&A

How does a parent persuade the school system to use a particular reading program that they believe will help their child?

Dear Mr. Cohen,

I have an LD child who was first classified in March of 2004 when he was in kindergarten. I had first brought up my concerns in November of kindergarten and was asked to wait for my son to mature a little more. Needless to say, by January I pushed the issue and we went to CSE at the end of March.

Now my son is in first grade and receives Resource Room every day for forty minutes and Speech and Language two days on a six day cycle. I have spoken with all of his teachers and they say he is doing great, but agree that he is low. I have expressed my concerns that he still doesn’t have letter/sound recognition and that he really needs, in addition, to be in a one-on-one reading, (phonetically based) program.

I have asked for another meeting to add some goals to his IEP. What are my legal rights once in that meeting? I have been told that I am not permitted to ask for a specific reading program, but instead a research-based reading program. What are your thoughts and advice for me?


Dear Jennifer,

Your question raises the issue of whether and under what circumstances you may request specific methodologies, services or interventions, in response to your perception that your child is not making appropriate progress. At the outset, you have the right to request anything that you wish to request. There is no limitation to what you may ask for in an IEP meeting. On the other hand, there is no obligation on the part of the school district to agree to what you are requesting just because you request it. As a result, it is wise to be careful about requesting things only if they are realistic and you can substantiate the basis for them. Making outlandish requests to a school district or requests that are not legally supportable will serve to alienate the staff, without getting your child the services that you are seeking.

In order to avoid this problem, I suggest that you carefully document the ways that your child is continuing to experience difficulty, despite the positive feedback from the school staff. This documentation can include accumulating work samples, videotaping your child having difficulty with various tasks that he/she is working on, accumulating test data from the tests that the school staff are administering, including classroom tests and achievement tests, and obtaining data from school psychologists and independent evaluators indicating the ways that your child is underachieving relative to both his/her intellectual potential and in comparison to peers.

While your child may be “low,” it is important for you to establish that your child is functioning below where he/she ought to be functioning given the intellectual potential. This requires some comparison of actual performance to how the child has been assessed intellectually by the school and/or outside clinicians. It is also important to provide information that documents the ways that these specific academic tasks, whether reading or otherwise, takes your child excessive amounts of time, causes excessive anxiety, or generates other symptoms or behaviors which suggest that your child is having unusual difficulty in comparison to his/her peers.

With reference to requests for specific reading programs, the school district is partially correct, but not entirely so. The IDEA specifically allows for discussion of specific methodologies if there is evidence that the specific methodology is necessary for the child to make academic progress in the area of concern. To the extent you can show that a specific reading program, as opposed to research-based reading programs in general, are necessary for your child to make progress in the specific area you have identified, the specific reading program is an appropriate topic for the IEP meeting. In the absence of evidence that the specific reading program is necessary, you are certainly justified in seeking to discuss research-based reading that addresses the targeted skill, such as decoding. In any event, it is helpful to have outside clinical support for research-based programs to address the particular problem, or, even better, to have clinical support for the specific program that you are seeking.

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