Understanding Child Find is No Game

Hide and Seek: Understanding Child Find is No Game
hide and seek graphic

Hide and Seek: Understanding Child Find is No Game

CAHELP eNews | October 2019 | Issue #11

Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) carries a list of procedural and substantive requirements for LEAs to provide FAPE to children with disabilities. It also carries with it the requirement that LEAs seek out children who have not been identified as eligible for special education supports and services, but who “are suspected” of having a disability. The ongoing requirement for LEAs to search and serve children with disabilities is known as “child find.” (34 C.F.R. § 300.111. Education Code § § 56171, 56300, 56301). This requirement even applies to students who are advancing from grade to grade—hiding in plain sight in general education classrooms—with little or no outward physical signs of a disability.

It’s not always easy to find these kids. Their educational struggles may not be severe enough to raise obvious red flags, and they may not have behavior or discipline issues. A reasonable person might not suspect these students have federally-recognized educational disabilities.

While there may be a lack of clear manifestations of a disability, there may be some less noticeable signs to help find these under-the-radar students and stay compliant with federal and state laws. One such sign might be chronic absenteeism. According to the National Center for Educational Outcomes, LEAs should consider “how student absences might signal a possible need for a referral for protection under Section 504 or . . . under the IDEA.” (Boundy & Cortiella 2018, April). Boundy & Cortiella (2018) caution that “excessive absenteeism by itself is not a basis . . . that warrants a referral for special education.”

Excessive unexcused absences may simply be attributable to parent/guardian responsibility failures, but they could also be symptomatic of a larger issue like anxiety/depression or bullying. Chronic absences combined with academic and/or social struggles might be a reason to suspect a disability. Similarly, a student with excessive absences for documented medical appointments may warrant a closer look at the underlying medical issues, the related impact on the student’s academic progress from missed instruction time, and the possible need for 504 Plan accommodations. In a June 20, 2019 decision, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District reaffirmed that repeated or extended absences from work for the purpose of attending doctor’s appointments amount to a limitation on a major life activity; physical impairments which cause such repeated or extended absences may meet the definition of a physical disability. (Ross v. County of Riverside No. D075106, 2019 (Cal.App.4th June 20, 2019)

Hide and Seek: Understanding Child Find is No Game – Tips and Good Stuff to Know

GOOD STUFF TO KNOW: Under 42 U.S. Code § 12102(1)(A), a disability is defined as:

  1. The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual—
    • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
  2. for purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

TIP: Excessive absences do not automatically create a basis to assess a student under IDEA. Keep thorough documentation of the reason(s) for the student’s chronic absences and the way they are addressed by LEA policy, and review the student’s data regarding academic/social struggles that, combined with the chronic absences, might create a basis to assess.

TIP: Be proactive in addressing the impact of missed instruction and the possible need for academic interventions, formal accommodations, or formal assessment.


Boundy, D. B. & Cortiella C. (2018, April). Chronic absenteeism: Recognizing child find obligations. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.