Your child’s best advocate is you. Parents need to understand their rights in special education as guaranteed under the federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law ensures that your child will receive a free and appropriate public education.
This is a basic overview of the process that every parent of a student with a disability should know. Also refer to your state’s education code. States must provide, at a minimum, the federal level. States will outline their procedures.
What is an Individualized Education Program – IEP?
This is a written document which will outline your child’s education. It is individualized to your child’s specific needs as determined by recommendations and evaluations. This IEP is developed by teachers, special service providers and you, the parent.
What are the contents of an Individualized Education Program IEP?
Consideration of strengths of student and parental concerns
Consideration of results of evaluations
Consideration of behavioral strategies, positive behavior interventions and supports in cases where behavior impedes learning and the learning of others
Consideration of language needs for limited English proficiency
Braille instruction determination for blind and visually impaired
Consideration of communication needs
Language and communication mode for deaf and hearing impaired
Consideration of need for assistive technology devices and services
Needs for transition services for adulthood (no later than at age 14)
Statement of present level of performance
How disability affects participation and progress in the general curriculum
Preschoolers – how disability affects participation in appropriate activities
Measurable annual goals and short-term objectives/benchmarks to enable student to participate and progress in general curriculum and other educational needs that result from disability
Statement of special education and related services, supplementary aids and services to be provided
Program modifications or supports to be provided
Explanation why student will not participate with nondisabled students in general education and/or extracurricular activities
Individual modifications for Statewide/Districtwide assessments or explanation for non-participation
Projected start date, frequency, location and duration for all services. For in-class resource programs, the amount of time resource teacher is present in the class.
At age 14, State and local graduation requirements
Transition from elementary to secondary program
Transition service needs of student at no later than age 14
At no later than age 16, needed transition services and interagency responsibilities
Statement that student and parents are informed of their rights
Statement of how progress toward goals will be measured
Method of notice of progress to parents
What is Extended School Year (ESY) and how do I get it?
What is it / What is it not
educational programming beyond a 180 school year
based upon the needs of a student with disabilities
determined by ALL members of the CST including parents
available in various programming models
ESY IS NOT:
limited to certain disabilities
solely determined by the school district
based on solely one consideration such as regression/recoupment analysis
necessarily a continuation of the same programs and services of the school year
just not limited to the summer break
Considerations for ESY
regression/recoupment analysis: consideration of how much a child will regress from an interruption of services and how much time it will take to recoup skills
nature and severity of impairment
parent’s ability to provide educational structure at home
child’s rate of progress
behavior and physical needs
availability of alternative resources
ability of child to interact with nondisabled children
areas of curriculum that need continuous attention
extraordinary or integral part of the program for those with child’s condition
“emerging skills” or “breakthrough opportunities”
Types of ESY Programs
support services for maintenance of skills
home instruction to parents to prevent regression
individual or group instruction
recreational programs which maintain IEP skills
What is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and how do I advocate for or against it for my child’s individual needs?
Student with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment according to both IDEA. To the maximum extent appropriate, a student with disabilities is educated with typical peers. Appropriateness is determined by the educational needs of the child and whether the delivery of an appropriate education can be achieved in the least restrictive environment with special education services, aids and supports. The removal of a child from the general education environment should only occur when the nature or severity of the disability does not allow the receipt of an appropriate education even with services, aids and supports.
Requirements of LRE
Placement is determined at least annually and must be consistent to the child’s needs specified in the IEP. The appropriate educational settings are as close to home as possible. Unless otherwise specified in the IEP, the child should attend the school he/she would attend if not disabled.
Determination of LRE
LRE is determined by the following considerations:
Can the student be educated in a regular classroom with special education aids and services?
How do the benefits of a regular classroom compare to the benefits of a special education class?
Are there any potential beneficial or harmful effects of education in the general environment to the child or other children in the class?
Equal opportunity for participation in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities is to be provided to students with disabilities. Districts must insure that students with disabilities participate with typical students to the maximum extent appropriate.
Inclusion vs. Mainstreaming
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably but in fact are two different things. Inclusion means the child is in a regular classroom with the appropriate aids and services necessary so the child can receive an appropriate education. Mainstreaming, on the other hand, is when a child is in a removed environment for some or the majority of the day but is given opportunities to participate with typical peers in a regular classroom or nonacademic offerings.
IEP and LRE
Your IEP must contain an explanation as to why your child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular classroom and other activities. If mainstreaming is a component to the educational needs of your child, a description as to what general curriculum or nonacademic activities your child will participate in and how these activities have been chosen.
Advocating For or Against Inclusion/Mainstreaming
The spirit of the federal and state laws support and recommend LRE but the individual needs of the child should guide the placement. The first placement that should be considered is the regular classroom with services, aids and supports.
As the parent, you must decide the benefits of inclusion and whether your child can receive an appropriate education in this environment. If you decide this is possible, the law is on your side. The burden of proof rests with the district as to why the child requires removal from the general classroom.
If your child would benefit from a self-contained classroom, the child’s needs and IEP will support this. In this case, the least restrictive environment for this child is a self-contained class. Remember, self-contained, does not mean segregation. Your child still has the right to participate in academic and nonacademic activities as appropriate.
How do I monitor my child’s progress?
Throughout your child’s school year, you must monitor your child’s progress to determine whether the IEP has been implemented appropriately, whether the IEP needs revision to address new needs or concerns, whether current strategies are effective, and/or whether new strategies may need to be implemented.
PARENT-TEACHER COMMUNICATION LOGS
One of the tools which assist the special parent is a daily log where the teachers and the parents can write questions, answers and share information and concerns.
DAILY ACTIVITY REPORTS
An additional mode of communication is a teacher completed activity report that is provided to the parent. It is a form with general information so the parent is informed of the child’s day.
Just as other students in the general class, parents should attend parent-teacher conferences. It is an opportunity to see your child’s work space, review data collection tools, ask questions, and voice concerns. These are generally scheduled but you may request a conference to address concerns as well.
Parents have a right to visit their child’s program to see it in action. It’s an opportunity to see your child in their daily environment, observe classroom behavior, interaction with teaching staff and interaction with peers. Call ahead of time to schedule a visit. The district must allow visits but scheduling the visit is courteous and will avoid any conflicts with your child’s schedule.
The goals and objectives of your child’s IEP are the basis of the progress reports. Progress reports are required to be provided as often as report cards are provided to the general population or at least two times per school year.
When reviewing progress reports, check on completion dates. Have the objectives been met by the anticipated date? What factors may have impeded progress? If you have any questions, you can contact staff members for further clarification. If you are dissatisfied with the rate of progress, you can contact the district to address your concerns. Remember goals and objectives are not legally binding but rather a basis of measure and a list of skills that are needed. Depending on the individual child’s progress, mastery of goals and objectives will vary.
REVIEW YOUR CHILD’S WORK
Review your child’s homework, school work, and tests. Is the quality of work reasonable based upon the supports and services of your IEP? Are there areas which need work and may need to addressed in a revised IEP? Save your child’s work for future reference.
CONTACT TEACHERS AND RELATED SERVICES PROVIDERS
Never hesitate to call up the staff who are responsible for your child’s education. Get your concerns and questions addressed but also call for a general update if you feel out of touch.
REVIEW YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL RECORDS
You have a right to view and obtain a copy of your child’s records. If you are concerned about the delivery of services, you can review your child’s records to verify that services are in place and are being delivered. A review of your child’s records may also yield further insight to your child’s progress.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD IF APPROPRIATE
A simple “How was school?” or “What did you do in school today?” may give you information as to how your child is doing. In cases of non-verbal children, note their cues. What is their general demeanor when they return home? If you are experiencing difficulties with transition from school to home, you may want to explore possible causes with the teaching staff
How do I communicate with my child’s school? How do I resolve conflicts?
Some simple tips for communication:
CHECK YOUR ANGER AT THE DOOR (AT LEAST FOR NOW)
When encountering a problem or concern, the natural initial reaction may be anger. This is especially true when it is not your first experience but rather following a string of difficulties. Your ability to tolerate explanations or in some cases, excuses, is low.
You have a right to be angry. This is your child’s future at stake. Use your anger productively and do not let your anger cloud your judgement or ability to solve the conflict. Your anger should not reflect in your voice or your written communication. There are federal and state laws which protect the rights of your child to a free, appropriate public education. Use these laws, the facts and your child’s needs to build your case.
These are rules for us as parents. Do not be baited into arguments on an emotional level. These arguments are power struggles and stray from the true issue – your child’s education. Telling the Director of Special Services that she is ignorant will not secure services. Tell him that he is violating the law and you will act upon it. Getting the district angry doesn’t solve your problems. This may cloud THEIR judgment because it becomes personal for them. However, getting the district worried because they are dealing with a knowledgeable and resourceful parent who is ready to act, may motivate the district.
VERIFY YOUR FACTS AND ORGANIZE CORROBORATING EVIDENCE
Before you pick up the phone or pound that letter off the keyboard, verify your facts. When a problem or concern arises due to a delivery of services, verify the terms of the service. Review the IEP carefully. Be sure there is no room for misinterpretation. You do not want to go into a conversation or meeting only to be told that the child’s IEP does specify the issue you are concerned with.
If the IEP is vague on this point or not addressed at all, get it resolved by scheduling a review for revision to clarify terms or requesting an evaluation to obtain a needed related service.
When clarifications or revisions are agreed, it must be in written form as a revised IEP or an addendum to the current IEP. Conversations and handshakes are not binding in a court of law.
If the issue is one of non-compliance to the IEP or federal/state laws, proceed as though you will pursue due process. It may not come to this but protect your case by gathering evidence, documenting phone conversations and sending your concerns in writing.
DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT (AND OH, DID I SAY DOCUMENT)
When you encounter difficulties, approach this as though you will have to stand before an administrative law judge. As such, a court of law will only rule in your favor based upon your evidence and the rule of law.
Begin building your evidence. Document every phone call in a log. Detail:
time and date
person you spoke with and title
if you left a message only
any promised resolution
Follow up phone conversations that have a promised resolution with a letter of understanding.
Schools are legally required to respond to written correspondence in 20 days.
ASK FOR HELP!
This is a complex process and you will have to learn as you go along. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to go running to an attorney immediately when encountering a difficulty. Seek resolution to the best of your ability. This may require help. Special parent advocates have more resource than ever. Depending upon the severity of the situation, choose the appropriate resource.
Other parents: Ask fellow parents in the area or program if they have previously encountered this problem. Get a pulse on the administration. Ask how they effectively resolved their difficulties.
Research: Read the state and federal guidelines regarding your issue. Also read books on special education for tips. Search the Web for the many website dedicated to advocacy. Get involved in message boards and e-groups where other parent advocates support one another.
Contact State resources for advocacy: The State is required to run a parent training and information center. They can offer information regarding how to handle a problem. When legal representation is required, contact Protection and Advocacy. This agency also exists in every state. If you case is accepted, a staff attorney or advocate will legally represent you free of charge. Another resource is disability organizations. They may also offer advocacy resources and advice.
What is the 3 year re-evaluation?
Three Year Reevaluation
Within three years of the previous classification, a multi-disciplinary reevaluation must be conducted to determine whether a student continues to be a student with a disability. This may be conducted sooner by request of a parent or a teacher and should be done without “undue delay.”
Step 1: Review existing data
evaluations and information provided by parents
current classroom-based assessments and observations
observations by teachers and related services providers
Step 2: Determine if additional data is needed to make further determination
whether student continues to have a disability
present levels of performance and educational needs
whether student needs special education and related services
whether additions and modifications to special education and related services are needed to achieve annual goals and to participate in the general curriculum.
Step 3A: No additional required
district will provide prior written notice to parents regarding determination and advise parents of their right to request an assessment to determine student’s continued eligibility
Step 3B: Additional data required or change in eligibility is considered or preschoolers entering elementary school (no later than June 30th)
IEP team will determine which IEP members/specialists will administer tests or other assessments
assessments will determine all items outlined in Step 2
parental consent is required to conduct evaluations
individual assessments are conducted as outlined in the EVALUATIONS unit of this manual
Step 4: Eligibility/IEP Meeting
IEP team (including parents) will meet to determine continued eligibility after reevaluation is completed
once eligible, IEP meeting will be conducted for review and revision
This is a very broad overview of the process. Visit the following websites for more information:
NICHCY: (State resource listings available here including your state Parent Information Center and Protection and Advocacy Agency)
This may be an intimidating process. But always remember, no one knows your child better than you. If you remember this, you will be a great advocate for child!