A child with school avoidance may qualify for an Individualized Education Plan governed by the U.S. Federal Law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

IDEA guarantees each child with a disability and in need of special education services the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Individualized Education Plans (IEP)

Can A Child with School Avoidance qualify for an IEP?

Yes, In order for a student to qualify for an IEP, they must be found to have one of the 13 Characteristics of special education (below) and it must adversely affect their educational performance.

If your child is unable to access their education due to school avoidance and; Has a diagnosed emotional regulation disorder (or any of the 13 characteristicsyour school is required by law to help them access their education through services in an IEP or pay for another school where he can be educated (an Out of District Placement).


Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The least restrictive environment (LRE) is essential to ensure all kids, regardless of their disability (can be a mental health disorder or learning difference), are given the exact same opportunities as any other kid to enjoy every aspect of the school experience; from academics to socialization.

LRE will come into play with each interventional assistance you request for your child. Most schools will use this appropriately, but because school avoidance is sometimes misunderstood, LRE can also be used as an excuse why your child cannot receive a 504 plan, IEP, or Out of District Placement (OOD).

Their thinking may be child-centric, and they may be concerned about the child not living in his own home with parents and siblings. And living far from local friends.

Also, it’s possible your school doesn’t want to pay for this expensive placement and won’t consider it, using LRE as the reason.

Special Education and School Avoidance

The words Special Education may give the impression that this only refers to children with physical or intellectual challenges, but it encompasses other characteristics and criteria that may include and be able to help a child with school avoidance.

The Child Study Team (aka) Student Support Team; Goes by other similar but different names.

The Special Education (Special Services) department at your school is where the Child Study Team works. They report to the Director of Special Services (Special Education) in your school district.

They are your contacts to request an evaluation for your child to be considered for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP, Special Education)

You, as an advocate, must make the determination as to the level of assistance, accommodations, modifications, and services that your child needs in order to get your child with school avoidance back into school.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

There are exceptions where a direct referral to special education is warranted, such as it would be impossible for your child’s needs to be met in regular education. School-Based Interventions should not be used as a barrier (an excuse) to special education. Understand the law and know your rights.

There are 13 categories of disability in special education as defined by the individuals with disabilities education (IDEA):

  • Autism
  • Deafblindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Regulation Impairment (previously called emotional disturbance, which is a horrific way to describe a child!)
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Other health impairment
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment-including blindness

Many kids with school avoidance suffer from a mental health disability or learning disability.

You may need a special education designation for your child in order to get the appropriate program and accommodations for your child.

Look at the characteristics below for emotional regulation impairment. It makes sense that kids with school avoidance meet the criteria IDEA defines an Emotional Regulation Impairment.

*IDEA defines an emotional regulation impairment that qualifies for special education as the following:

A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time into a marked degree that “ADVERSELY AFFECTS”* a child’s educational performance:

A. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
B. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
C. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
D. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
E. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Logic tells us:

  • If your child cannot attend school, he cannot get into a classroom environment, which obviously affects his ability to learn.
  • If your child is not in school, he is not socializing with his peers or interacting with teachers, so this probably affects his ability to build satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Your child’s inability to get to school or crying/yelling/tantrums associated with fears of going to school is inappropriate behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
  • If your child is scared and unable to attend school, he may have a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  • And most likely, your child has fears associated with this problem of not attending school and may also have physical symptoms as well.

IDEA/Emotional Regulation/Adversely Affects; Application to School Avoidance

Notice the phrase “adversely affects” educational performance appears in the disability definitions.

This does not mean a child has to fail in school to receive special education and related services.

According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services.

A child doesn’t need failing grades to qualify for special education services.

This is very important because school systems can vary in their interpretations and definitions of “adversely affects.”
Some schools may define “adversely affects” as failing grades. This should not be a barometer.

Click here if you want to read the exact statutes on IDEA as provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

If your child does not qualify for services under IDEA, they may be eligible for modifications under Section 504 of the American Disabilities Act of 1973.

Timelines for the IEP Process

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