Katrina Hermetet, PhD, offers a unique background that is helping families better understand both the clinical and school side of any child’s school success story.
As director of neurobehavioral health and pediatric clinical psychologist in Akron Children’s NeuroDevelopmental Science Center, she helps kids with disabilities so they can achieve their potential in the classroom.
On the flip side, as a nationally certified school psychologist and program director of Akron Children’s School Success Clinic, Dr. Hermetet also provides recommendations to parents and schools throughout the region to put in place special services for students with conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, and speech and language impairments.
Her dual background brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to help families when it comes to navigating learning disabilities, an array of school systems and a slew of federal and state regulations to ultimately help all kids achieve school success.
Dr. Hermetet answers top questions parents often have to help their special-needs child achieve school success, including Individual Education Programs (IEPs). These are plans that serve as the foundation for receiving special education services. Federal law requires public schools to create an IEP for any child found eligible under one of 13 educational disability categories.
What is the School Success Clinic?
The School Success Clinic is an interdisciplinary center, comprised of psychology, developmental/behavioral pediatrics, speech pathology and occupational therapy, that partners with both families and schools for whole child success. The whole child is defined as having academic, interpersonal and medical success.
Our team can provide diagnostic information related to our assessment and interviews, and then we make recommendations to schools and partner with them to help a student achieve success. Many of our patients have confirmed or suspected disorders, such as ADHD, speech and language delays, anxiety, depression and learning disabilities.
How does the IEP process work?
A parent concerned that a child has a disability that interferes with learning should put a request in writing for a school-based evaluation. The letter needs to go to the special education director or pupil services director, the school psychologist and building principal. A dated written request for an evaluation is critical because it starts the (legal) clock ticking. Districts have 30 days to respond in writing.
The school has the right to deny a parent’s request, but it must explain the reasons why on a form called Prior Written Notice. Reasons for denial could include too many absences or COVID disruptions.
However, if a school accepts the request for an evaluation, schools have another 60 days to conduct an evaluation and sit parents down with the evaluation team to discuss results and eligibility. The evaluation can take several weeks because it may include academic testing, child observation, parental interviews and more. If the child has had outside testing and recommendations, that information will be considered, as well. The whole process can take 3 months, so that’s why you want to get the letter out as soon as possible.
Is a medical diagnosis necessary?
For medical conditions that can impact learning, such as Tourette syndrome, you will need a medical diagnosis to demonstrate a health impairment. However, this does not apply to the 13 educational disability categories spelled out in the IEP federal law, including: autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disturbance, traumatic brain injuries, speech and language impairment, intellectual disability, and visual and hearing impairments.
It’s important to keep in mind that even a diagnosed condition, such as ADHD, does not necessarily guarantee a student will receive an IEP. It has to be evident that the disability interferes with the student’s education and requires specially designed instruction.
What does an IEP provide? Will my child be in a regular classroom?
An IEP will outline support services, such as specialized instruction, speech therapy or occupational therapy, and service time. In most cases, children remain in a regular classroom, but they may be pulled out of the classroom for intervention. Schools have to look at the least restrictive setting, so they want to keep special-needs students with their typical peers as much as possible.
Do all schools have to provide special services?
Public schools are obligated to provide services based on needs outlined in their evaluation called an Evaluation Team Report. But, private schools and charter schools are not bound by the federal law to implement specialized IEP services. However, some of these schools do provide additional support plans and accommodations, they’re just not provided through the government.
What other options are available?
For some kids with medical and behavioral needs, we recommend a 504 plan. That’s a federal law requiring public schools to make accommodations for students with disabilities that impact a major life activity. Unlike an IEP, a 504 plan doesn’t call for specialized instruction or services. It often involves accommodations and/or modifications that can be managed by the teacher, such as preferential seating, technology aids or modified class schedules or assignments.
How often are IEPs updated?
The IEP has to be reviewed by the school and family at least once a year. A student is re-evaluated at least once every 3 years to determine continued eligibility.
It’s important to understand an IEP is considered a living document. This means if something isn’t working in an IEP or it needs adjusting, a parent can contact the school at any time to request an updated evaluation or have a meeting about their child’s progress.