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Frank Yee June 3, 2015

You call your son’s school, tell the nice lady in the special education department that you suspect he has a learning disability and you want him evaluated. After a brief discussion about your concerns, you are told that you must provide the school with written consent before testing can commence. Not to worry, the helpful school official offers to mail you the form. She encourages you to return the signed form promptly so testing can begin. You anxiously await the form’s arrival in the mail. Three days later you receive the consent form. Attached to it is a post-it note instructing you where to sign. However, as you review the form, you notice that the section of the form entitled “list the recommended assessment(s)” is blank and that the “yes” box is checked for an “educational assessment,” a “health assessment” and a “psychological assessment.” You hesitate before signing. Your mother always warned you never to sign anything unless you understood it and you do not understand any of this educational jargon. However, you do not want to delay the testing. Should you sign it?

The simple answer is your mom was right: You should not sign the consent form if you do not understand it. However, please know that you are not alone. Few parents understand that they have a right to make decisions about their child’s education based on “informed consent.” In Massachusetts, this means you have a right to be “fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought.” So, if the language appearing in the form leaves you asking questions, by all means, ask them! Indeed, ask questions until you and you alone are satisfied you have the information you need to make an informed decision. For example, consider asking for a list of all the assessments the school seeks to administer, a detailed description of each assessment and, to the extent the assessment has “sub-parts,” ask if any sub-part will be omitted from the testing. If so, ask them to explain the decision not to administer that sub-part. As a matter of fact, if you ever do not understand the school’s decision to administer or not administer an assessment or sub-part to an assessment, ask the school to provide you with an explanation for the decision. It’s your right! If your school responds that it is not required to explain itself, remind that school official that the legislative history for informed consent includes the following language: “A few commenters recommended adding a requirement to the definition of consent that a parent be fully informed of the reasons why a public agency selected one activity over another. Discussion: We do not believe it is necessary to include the additional requirement recommended by the commenter. The definition of consent already requires that the parent be fully informed of all the information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought.”

In other words, to be “fully informed” a parent not only has the right to know whatassessment will be administered/not administered by the school, he or she also has the right to know why the assessment will be administered/not administered. So, don’t be shy. Ask, ask, ask……