When schools closed in March 2020, many about 7 million special education students didn’t get special education services to which they had the right under federal law. The law requires that these services be provided even in special circumstances, like the pandemic.
School districts may have failed to provide special education services to eligible students with disabilities during the pandemic. For example, the Los Angeles Unified Public School District has been cited by the US Department of Education for failing to provide appropriate special education services to students with disabilities during the pandemic. Consequently, the district will have to provide and pay for services to compensate for what was not provided.
But even though most schools across the country have resumed in-person classes, they have struggled to recruit enough staff to provide all necessary services.
Like a special education specialistI have some ideas about how parents and students can get the services they’re entitled to, how to get the most out of these resources, and what to do if they feel schools aren’t up to par.
How did it all start?
As recently as the early 1970s, many states allowed school districts to exclude students with disabilities from school altogether or place them in separate classrooms from students without disabilities.
In courts and legislatures across the country, parents have fought for their children’s education rights – and won.
In 1975, Congress passed and President Gerald Ford signed the Education for All Children with Disabilities Act. Senator Harrison Williams, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “It’s time for Congress… ensure all children with disabilities their right to education.” In 1990, the law was renamed Persons with Disabilities Education Act and is now commonly referred to as IDEA.
What are students entitled to?
The law requires that all students with disabilities receive what is called a “free appropriate public education», a program specifically developed to meet their individual educational needs.
Congress requires school districts to work with parents of students with disabilities to develop a individualized education program specifying the exact assistance and accommodations each student needs. For example, a student with a disability that makes reading difficult for them may receive one hour a day of specialized reading instruction. These IEPs are legal documents, and schools are required to provide these services.
The law too provides funds to help states pay additional costs associated with providing these supports.
What can parents do to ensure their children get what they need?
Congress wanted parents to be involved in the development and implementation of their child’s special education program.
The law requires parental consent for any test or other assessment that may help determine what a student needs or what interventions might help. In addition, school district personnel should involve the student parents as full and equal partners when developing the IEP. And schools cannot implement or change a student’s placement or special education programs without notifying parents and obtaining their consent.
Parents can learn more about their roles and responsibilities — as well as the rights they and their children have and how to protect those rights — from their state authority. Parent Education and Information Center. These centers also teach students the self-advocacy skills they need to lead independent and productive lives.
What if the school and the parents don’t agree?
If parents disagree with a school’s assessment of their child, they can file a complaint with their state’s Department of Education.
They can also request that the school district pay for an independent educational evaluation of their child. The school can claim that its assessment is appropriate and the dispute can be resolved by a impartial hearing officer. I am a State Review Due Process Hearing Officer for the State of South Carolina. Decisions of a hearing officer may be appealed in state or federal courts.
What if everyone agrees, but the school still doesn’t provide the services?
Parents can complain to the state Department of Education if a school district does not follow through on an agreed-upon IEP.
If a school district does not implement an IEP as agreed, a student’s parents can also file a complaint with the state Department of Education or request a due process hearing. If either leads to the conclusion that there was an implementation error by the school district, the district may be required to resolve the issue. Districts may also be required to pay a parent’s attorney fees, provide compensatory services, or even reimburse parents’ tuition if they had to place the student in a private school to obtain needed services. .
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