Yet another Child Find case…

Middle school teachers will find this one interesting, particularly math teachers. The student had a hard time with math in 7th grade, and even harder in 8th. The school responded with one-on-one assistance from the teacher, and additional help from the school’s “problem solving team.”  The court also quoted the principal as saying that “the academic struggles of 7th graders in math are a ‘nationwide conundrum.’” 

The mother convinced the district court that the school should have referred her daughter for a special education evaluation sooner than it did. But the court also held that this was only a procedural error and it did not cause any substantive harm.  Thus the mother was not entitled to compensatory services or recovery of attorneys’ fees.  Why was there no substantive harm?   Because of the efforts of those general education teachers to help a student who was struggling with math. 

Math is difficult.  Not every kid who struggles with quadratic equations is showing signs of a disability.  Some are demonstrating natural resistance in the face of a difficult task. Some are showing signs of poor math instruction in earlier years. Math is progressive, so if you don’t get what they teach in 4th grade, 5th is going to be a real problem, and 7th grade math will be impossible.  So teachers should use their experience and good common sense to sort out the nature of the problem. If there is reason to suspect that a disability might be contributing to the problems, then it’s time to make a referral. 

This is a case where good common sense and helpful intervention by general education teachers proved decisive in subsequent litigation.  It’s J.N. v. Jefferson County BOE, decided by the 11th Circuit on September 10, 2021. It’s reported at 12 F.4th 1355, (11th Cir. 2021).


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