I talk to a lot parents who are concerned about their children's education. There are a few issues that come up over and over again. So for this blog, I am going to list the top three things I wish every parent of a special needs (or suspected special needs) student knew.
1. THE SCHOOL IS REQUIRED TO CREATE A CUSTOMIZED EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM FOR YOUR KID TO ENABLE THEM TO MAKE EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS
Once your child is qualified for special education, your child has certain established rights. The school district or charter school is required by federal law to design an educational program tailored to your child’s needs. The goal is to give your child what he or she needs to make educational progress. The plan is called an IEP or a 504 plan.
The idea is that the school district has done its assessments of your student and now understands what their unique needs are. Then, the IEP team or 504 team members come together and have a meeting and determine what services and accommodations are needed to help your child make educational progress.
That means if your child needs speech therapy, they have to provide it. It does not matter if they don’t have a speech therapist. They have to get one, or somehow arrange to provide that service.
If your child needs one on one help in math, the school has to provide it. Again, it does not matter if they tell you that there is no one to do it, or whatever excuses they make. I have heard that the RSP teacher is on maternity leave. I have heard that they do not have an RSP program at that school. Those are just excuses and you do not have to accept them.
The other important aspect of this is what happens when the IEP or 504 plan ends up not being sufficient to help your child. When that happens, it means the district or charter school failed to properly design the IEP or 504 plan, and they then need to fix it. It is NOT your fault. They have to fix it by adding services, by changing the type of classroom, etc. The answer is NOT the parents being told to hire a tutor or pay to enroll their student in some outside program at a cost to the parents. If your child’s behavior is out of control and the school is calling you to come and pick them up, that means the school is not doing their job. It is their job to educate your child. If the behavior is a problem, what are they doing about it? They should be developing a Behavioral Intervention Plan. They should be providing ABA therapy to your student. You get the idea? Don’t accept the blame. Question their services, question the abilities of the persons working with your child. For example, is the aide your child has just an untrained person they hired for $10 per hour? Or is this person a trained ABA therapist? Assigning an untrained aide to work with an autistic child can cause more harm than good.
2. THEY CAN'T TAKE AWAY SERVICES WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION OR A COURT ORDER
I have heard far too many times from parents who tell me that their child used to get a certain service such as speech therapy or RSP but it was taken away by the school. And the parent will usually tell me they think their child still needs it. I will usually ask some questions to try and understand what happened.
Nine times out of then here is what happened: An IEP meeting is held. The District tells parent how much their child has improved. They will then say that they do not believe that the child needs one of the services anymore. They may say the child no longer needs RSP support in math, or no longer needs speech therapy. The parent will then be handed an new IEP document with the RSP or speech therapy no longer listed in the document. Most parents will just sign this thinking they do not have any choice. And once they sign it, the child loses the services. The RSP support or speech therapy are no gone for the time period in the IEP. It could be immediate, or it could be for the next school year.
Please understand that once your child is qualified for special education and has certain services set forth in an IEP or 504 Plan, the school CANNOT take these away without either your permission or Court Order (well actually an order from an administrative law judge).
In the above scenario, when the school announces at the IEP meeting that they don’t want to offer the child a particular service, the parent DOES NOT HAVE TO AGREE. If they parents refuse to accept that change, the school district has to keep offering the service.
So if this happens to you, you must do two things. First, tell the IEP team you disagree and tell them why. Then, when you consent to the IEP, note on the signature page what part of the IEP you consent to and which part you do not. For example you can write on the signature page the following “I consent to all parts of the IEP document except 1) the reduction in the number of speech hours and 2) the removal of the accommodation of preferential seating in the classroom”.
When you give a partial consent like this, they have to continue to give your child the services you refused to agree to remove. If they want to stop giving them they have to do an assessment that supports their opinion, and they have to file a complaint with the office of due process hearings asking the administrative judge to allow them to make the change. It is very rare for a district to file a complaint over this. 95% of the time they will just continue providing the disputed service or accommodation. They call process where they have to keep providing you a service because you won’t consent to a change to “stay put”. It means that unless you agree, the services have to stay the same.
A final note. If the school district does file a complaint against you, you have two choices. You can fight it. Or if you don’t want to, you can provide them with written consent to the service they wanted to take away. Once you agree they have to drop their complaint.
3. YOU CAN ASK FOR AN IEP MEETING ANY TIME
School Districts are required to hold an IEP meeting one a year. But you as a parent can ask to hold an IEP meeting whenever an issue comes up that the IEP team should discuss. You just have to make sure you make the request in writing. You should also say what you want the IEP team to address.
Say your special education qualified child is getting all A’s and B’s in most of her classes. She is struggling in science though, and has an F. You’ve already had her make up all her missing assignments and retake tests, etc. but still it’s an F. This is a time to request an IEP meeting to discuss what additional support the school can offer to help her pass the class.
These meetings are a time for you to ask the IEP team what they can do to help your child. See point 1 above regarding it’s not your fault, it’s their job to properly design the IEP.
If you find yourself in a situation where they have nothing to offer, then its time take some action. This could be hiring an attorney or advocate. This could be filing a compliance complaint with the CA Department of Education. Or it could be just a call to your school district’s special education department. You can look on their website and find out who their special education administrators are. Call them and tell them you are trying to resolve this problem and are hoping you don’t have to escalate and hire a lawyer. You may be surprised that suddenly they have some ideas on how to help your child.