Toolbox Tuesday!!

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Did you know that Abraham Maslow is the one who said that? I didn’t, but I’m delighted to upgrade the Daily Dawg with a citation to such a famous person. 

This familiar aphorism came to mind when I studied a federal court case in which the District of Columbia focused on a single tool with a student who was doing poorly in school.  Here’s a brief summary of the student’s experience in school:

*Middle school years: poor performance on state assessments, and in one year, failing six of eight classes.

*Freshman year at Roosevelt High School: four teachers expressed concerns over his poor performance and attendance problems.

*Sophomore year: failing seven of nine classes and unexcused absences 64 times in English, 65 in French. Behavioral problems also.

*Junior year: Failed every class and was absent 99 days. 

What did the school do about this?  It used the hammer of criminal proceedings over the student’s truancy. What did it not do?  It did not make a referral for special education testing. 

The federal court had little problem concluding that this was a Child Find violation:

Despite C.E.’s increasingly poor academic performance, his teachers’ comments about his learning and behavioral struggles, and his abysmal attendance record from 2017-20, neither Roosevelt nor DCPS identified him as a student with even a “suspected” disability worthy of exploration.

In our firm’s Toolbox Training we focus on how to serve those students who are already identified as needing special education. Today, a reminder that the duty to refer is triggered by a “suspicion.”  When you see a student over this long a period of time performing this poorly, it’s a mistake to chalk it all up to truancy without exploring other possibilities. It’s a mistake to use the hammer of truancy when there are more useful tools available. 

This one is Malloy v District of Columbia, decided by the federal court for the District of Columbia on March 30, 2022. It’s published by Special Educator at 80 IDELR 242. 


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Tomorrow: another Circuit Court on parents’ rights….