Your child can get through school
The first thing to remember is that Special Education law is weighted heavily towards the parents because you know your child best. And, you are your child's best, first advocate. It is well understood that you know more about your child. So, don't hesitate to speak up! However, that isn't a guarantee that you will be understood. So, the next piece of advice is get help from a professional advocate. Having resources at your side who know the procedures and laws is invaluable. And those resources are available for no charge.
Finally, as hard as it is to come to terms with the fact that Circadian Rhythm disorder is a disability, know that there is help for your son or daughter through your state department of Health and Human Services under Vocational Rehabilitation.
There are two paths to Special Education in school for your student. The Independent Education Plan (IEP) and the Section 504 Plan (which drills directly into the Americans' with Disabilities law) are the two pathways. They are not mutually exclusive. You can have both. They do different things.
Define the Learning Disabilities
The IEP is governed by the IDEA law. And it is designed to provide for specialized individual instruction from Special Education Teachers. IEP's are built on accommodations and modifications for learning disabilities. You'll need to have an assessment done by a licensed school psychologist. Your district can provide this or you may choose to do it independently. A Neuro psychologist is a best resource for the testing and analysis.
Remember that the testing provides a snapshot of your child. It does not account very well for the impact of fatigue at the time of the test or over extended periods. And fatigue is an important piece of your child's challenges too. For this, have the results analyzed by your Neurologist with a specialty in Sleep for discussion of how fatigue may skew or mask the test results and your child's strengths and weaknesses.
Some examples of learning disabilities which may be relevant include but are not limited to weaknesses in the areas of:
Help is available!
When the IEP meeting is called, make sure to take an advocate with you. You will want to make sure you understand the exact meaning of what is included in the plan- what the goals are for your child in improving their learning and performance and how the achievement of those goals will be measured. A big component of the IEP is transition planning. Transition planning is about how your child will move from high school to post-secondary education and into the workforce. Generally, children are expected to be working on this with their Special Education teachers from about age 15 forward. As a parent, you need to know that you can't be overruled until the child reaches the age of majority (whatever it is in your state). This is important to know because the IEP is a legal contract with the school system. Many have no formal process for training your child to be self-advocating and the school systems use this provision to cut services and move your child out of the program as fast as they can to reduce the costs of providing services.
Get an advocate. Learn the law so you know your child's rights and yours as a parent. If at any point in the IEP process, you feel that those rights have been violated, you may request Due process. This is usually a form of mediation by an Administrative Law Judge. Remember, that the Due Process Review applies to the procedures followed to arrive at the IEP. It does not apply to the content.
Children with disabilities qualify for free advocates. And there are resources you can hire too. They may be found through the ARC which is a nonprofit organization that supports people with disabilities (www.thearc.org/), your local County Mental Health organization, PACER (www.pacer.org/about/howpacerhelps.asp) and other resources including attorneys who are Special Education Law experts. You can find some of them listed on Yellow pages for kids with disabilities at (www.yellowpagesforkids.com/)
Know your Rights to Free and Public Education
The 504 plan focuses on the accommodations and modifications required by your child's physical disability and drills more directly into each classroom to define how the teachers need to work with your son or daughter. It can also direct things like transportation and physical facility accommodations. The 504 plans are simpler and shorter than an IEP. And they are governed under the Americans with Disability law. The 504 plan is not mutually exclusive of an IEP. And the 504 plan qualifies your student for additional services for people with disabilities. Make sure your doctor defines the requirements for accommodating your student as a prescription and know that it helps if they will specify the need to focus education on the child's periods of alertness.
Keep in mind that a 504 differs from an IEP. Under a 504 plan, your child as a disabled person has a right to a Free and Public Education. If the child is not accommodated so that they may obtain it, it's a violation of their CIVIL RIGHTS under the law and instead of going through your local Due Process, you may complain directly to the Office of Civil Rights under the Department of Education. (www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html). Again, the investigation will only pursue the legitimacy of the process your plan was arrived at; they will not investigate the content. And the investigation will be specifically to look for incidents of discrimination.
Looking ahead to Post-Secondary Education
While an IEP is finished at the time of graduation from High School, a 504 plan is not. And you will want to work with the Disabilities coordinator at your post-secondary choice schools to develop the plans for accommodations under the 504 after high school.
Since your son or daughter has a disability, they qualify for help with their transition planning and beyond by the Vocational Rehabilitation Services under your State's Health and Human Services Department. The VOC Rehab people are able to sit in on meeting for the 504 and IEP transition planning and provide your child with a structured process for deciding where and how they may be permanently employed and what training or schooling will help them achieve their goals. Here is a link to finding these resources in all 50 states: answers.usa.gov/system/selfservice.controller?CONFIGURATION=1000&PARTITION_ID=1&CMD=VIEW_ARTICLE&ARTICLE_ID=10903&USERTYPE=1&LANGUAGE=en&COUNTRY=US
There is a provision in the law for Special Education that allows a student to have what is called a "social graduation" and proceed to taking additional classes until their age of majority under the protection of both their IEP and 504 plans. This approach requires the school district to pay for the continuing education in order to provide free and public education if the student has exhausted the course requirements to the high school and needs to enroll outside of it to continue through the age of majority (whatever it is in their state).
Exercise your rights
Special Education Law is important to understand for the benefit to your student. And there are resources available to help you navigate it. People with Disabilities have rights too and there are resources available to help you make sure your son or daughter is being given their full Civil Rights. Learn the laws, use the resources and advocate for your child. CRD's are a difficult disability and your teen will deeply and genuinely appreciate being understood and supported.