February 2008


With passage of the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act” (EHA) of 1975 (PL 94-142), the EHA Amendments of 1986 (PL 99-457), and the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA) Amendments of 1991 (PL 102-119), and the subsequent reauthorizations, many students are presently receiving occupational therapy (OT) and/or physical therapy (PT) in the public school setting.

Physical and occupational therapists have historically provided services to students with special education needs in public schools. Therapists have the skills to evaluate a variety of sensory and motor disabilities, develop interventions, and implement programs that will help students benefit from special education. School-based therapists are prepared to participate at many levels of the special education process, including screening, evaluation, eligibility determination, and development of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). In addition, therapists may be called upon to contribute unique administrative, consultative, management, and teaching skills in the school environment.

This document provides guidelines for parents, education staff, administrators, occupational therapists, and physical therapists who deliver services in Montana public schools. The primary purpose of this publication is to encourage a cooperative effort between those involved in the delivery of physical and occupational therapy as related services and education providers across the state.
These guidelines were developed through a collaborative effort between the Montana School OT/PT Organization and Montana's Office of Public Instruction. Throughout the process, guidelines were reviewed from multiple other states and information pertinent to Montana was included. It is recommended that school districts follow them as closely to maximize positive results to children with disabilities and establish a consistent approach for services throughout Montana public schools.

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy as a Related Service

Under IDEA, the school district is responsible for providing related services and not medical services. A related service is one which is needed to assist the child with a disability to benefit from his or her special education. Physical therapy or occupational therapy services will be provided by the school district as a related service only when the child’s special education program requires it.

The presence of medical conditions, injuries and disabilities does not automatically dictate the need for physical therapy or occupational therapy services in the school system. Some students with disabilities may be in regular education programs without the need for any special modifications to the regular education curriculum and are not considered in need of special education services. Likewise, many students who receive special education services may not need occupational therapy or physical therapy as a related service in order to benefit from their educational program.