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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Ask the Advocate with Lynne Tamor


Question: My grandson is 5 years old and has autism. The 3 year MET is now due and the school says that he does not have all 4 characteristics to be labeled as autistically impaired. Therefore, the school wants to remove his label. His mother and I strongly disagree and we want his label to remain. Can the school remove his label without my daughter's signature? She had to sign 3 years ago to have him labeled in the first place.

Answer:  Your question can be addressed in a number of ways, depending on the details of your grandson’s situation.

1. If you believe that the school’s evaluation is wrong and that your grandson does meet all of the criteria laid out in the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education with respect to defining autism, then you can request an Independent Evaluation in hopes that an expert opinion on your side will change the MET’s decision with respect to eligibility category.

2. If the MET is seeking to change your grandson’s label, but not make him ineligible for special education services – that is, to make him eligible under a different label such as “learning disabled”, “speech and language impaired”, or “emotionally impaired”, you may decide it is not important to fight over the label. Instead, as long as your grandson is eligible for special education services under some label, the IEPC should then design a program to meet his needs. It could involve the services of an “AI consultant” or placement in an AI (autistically impaired) program, whether or not your grandson has an AI label. It could also involve services, supports, and programs that do not carry the word “autism” but do address his needs.

On the other hand, you may decide that the label itself is important and therefore proceed under #1. In theory, the label should never be important. Once a student is deemed eligible to have an IEP, all decisions should be based on individual needs. However, in practice many parents find that schools tend to determine types and levels of service by label instead of by individual needs – thus it can be worthwhile to fight over labels even though the laws and rules say otherwise.

3. If the MET is seeking to conclude that your grandson does not have a disability severe enough to make him eligible for special education services at all, your first recourse again is probably an Independent Educational Evaluation. In this case, as in the first case, if the independent evaluator agrees with your grandson’s family that there is a disability under the special education rules but the MET does not accept that opinion, you then have a choice of accepting the MET decision, beginning due process (legal) proceedings, or requesting mediation.

4. There is a provision for meeting the needs of students with disabilities whose disabilities do not fit the criteria of the special education rules. This is usually referred to as “Section 504” and depends on civil rights provisions under federal law. The school must write a “504 plan” that lays out a scheme for meeting the student’s needs. If your grandson has autism or another significant disability, a 504 plan will probably be insufficient and you should pursue one of the routes listed above. However, if his needs are not all that great, it may be that a 504 plan may be sufficient.

It is critical to understand that a medical diagnosis is not the determining factor in educational decision-making. Instead, the MET should look at the child’s ability to succeed within the general education curriculum. If the disability creates significant barriers to accessing the general education curriculum (including all aspects of school life), then special education supports, services, and/or programs are warranted. If the disability does not create any barriers, or if those barriers are inconsequential, then there is no determination of special education eligibility. Thus, the opinions of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other medical professionals are useful information for MET determinations, they are not the whole story. It is very important that if you get an independent evaluation, the evaluator be able to write a report on his or her findings that connects to education, rather than being purely medical.
Lynne Tamor


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