6 Things You Need to Know About State Special Education Laws That Will Empower Your Advocacy!

Are you the parents of a child with Autism or other type of disability who receives special education services? Are you currently having a dispute with your school district related to your child’s education? Would you like to learn about State special education laws and regulations to use in your advocacy? This article is for you and will be discussing these laws,and information that you need to know to empower your advocacy!

1. Every state is required by IDEA 2004 (federal special education law) to have laws and regulations that will show how they will be complying with the law.

2. State regulations cannot “establish provisions that reduce parent’s rights or are otherwise in conflict with the requirements of IDEA and Federal Regulations.” Federal law “trumps” or is stronger than State law. State law can give a parent more rights but cannot take away rights.

3. Many States laws are not consistent with federal laws.

4. Some states have been told that they must change their state regulations to be consistent with federal law. For example: New Jersey stated in their regulations that school districts had the right to test a child in an area that they did not previously test—if a parent asked for an independent educational evaluation at public expense (IEE at public expense). Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) found this inconsistent with IDEA 2004 (300.502). They have required NJ to revise their regulations and until they do so make sure school districts are not evaluating children in an area not previously evaluated before paying for an IEE.

5. Other States regulations are also inconsistent with federal law but have not been told by the U.S. DOE that they must change their regulations. One example is New York who has a regulation that ESY eligibility is only for children with multiple disabilities and/or who show regression and slow recoupment. This is not consistent with federal special education law and may hurt children by denying them needed services. Another example is in my State of Illinois the parent guide states that parents must “request” an IEE before the testing is done. IDEA 2004 states that parents have the right to “obtain” an IEE if they disagree with the schools evaluation. A letter to the Illinois State Board of Education pointing out this inconsistency was answered with this statement “The office plans to review the identified guidance document and initiate any necessary revisions during the summer of 2012. Your information will be considered during the course of that process.” It is now 2014, and I will not be holding my breath for the State of Illinois to revise their parent guide.

6. OSEP policy letters often address inconsistent State laws and regulations! They are great advocacy tools and can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/index.html#topiclisting. I use them all the time to show special educators how the Office of Special Education Programs (at the U.S. DOE) interpret IDEA 2004 and inconsistent State regulations.

By understanding these 6 things about State Special Education Law, your advocacy will be empowered! Good Luck!

No Child Left Behind Education Law to Be Revamped?

In 2002, when the “No Child Left Behind” education act was passed it was for educational reform targeted to change the use of Federal funds to close the achievement gap and improve the achievement levels of America’s students. The Federal funding required states to fund their own expenses in order to adhere to the law and gain the Federal monies.

Between 1965 and 2001, $120 billion a year in Federal dollars was allotted to close the achievement gap between rich and poor. Yet, today, we see this gap growing wider.

Now legislators are calling for a revamping of the law in order to make it more flexible and effective.

With 70% of inner city fourth graders unable to read at a basic level on national reading tests, concerns are being raised. Since our high school seniors trail students in Cyprus, China and South Africa on international math tests, educators are seeking ways to ameliorate those statistics for America. Nearly a third of students entering colleges and universities today are required to take remedial classes before they can even begin to participate in regular college courses.

So what is the hope of advocates of the “No Child Left Behind” law? The objective is the same as it was a decade ago. The methods, however, are now in question. How to make educators and school districts accountable for their performance is a mammoth undertaking. With states, like Texas, reducing state funds to schools, the problem of student achievement is increasingly frightening.

Teachers and schools are already burdened with the task of meeting high expectations for educators and more and more involved curricula. Frankly, teachers and schools need tons of assistance that is going to be missed when teachers, teacher assistants and whoever is considered “non-essential staff” are let go because of lack of funding.

One giant contribution which Americans can make toward improving the achievement of our students is by volunteering in the schools. Volunteerism, by its nature, is the giving of oneself, one’s talents and time. That is a service that cannot be legislated. Willing service from those who are equipped to offer it is the component that is embarrassingly missing in Elementary and Secondary Education in America today.

American adults have the ability to contribute and make a positive impact on children’s education. Teachers and Administrators need our help. Students who are “at risk” desperately need our help.

You’ve heard that old idealism ” If I can make a difference in the life of just one child…” Well, we can. It is not so difficult. In working with a Third Grader at a nearby Elementary School, I got a real kick out of his response to a simple suggestion aimed at reducing his obvious stress as he viewed a full page of text his teacher gave him to read. I just asked him to go the second page and read the questions first. Then I showed him how he could scan the passage for keywords that would lead him to the correct answers.

The passage was in the format used for the achievement test mandated by the state of Texas. He has to be able to manage that format in order to be successful. That little boy was thrilled and completed the assignment independently and with enthusiasm. We were both pleased. His teacher was relieved to know that he could work independently. After all, she has a lot of other students for whom she is accountable and she wants each of them to be successful.

Whether or not the “No Child Left Behind” education law remains a Federally funded initiative and is extended by the next school year, our help as educated adults may be crucial to students’ futures.

That tutoring session was just 45 minutes long. The student’s confidence in his abilities is growing exponentially. Volunteerism certainly is a “win-win” process! Try it. Help out in America’s mission to improve students’ achievement.

Special Education Law – Overview

Many of us, who went to school not that long ago, remember that being a special needs student meant riding to school in a separate bus and attending one class with other children of varying disabilities. These classes resembled more of a day care than school, and even the most advanced students had little hope of receiving a high school diploma, let alone attend college. Since that time, the term disability, and special needs student, has expanded to encompass much more than a person with an IQ below a certain arbitrary standard. What I have attempted to do in my first article is to give a little history of the evolution of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In 1954 the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) which found that segregated schools were a violation of equal protection rights. It would be another twenty years before this concept was applied to children with handicaps, especially learning disabilities, trying to receive an education. In fact, shortly after Brown was decided the Illinois Supreme Court found that compulsory education did not apply to mentally impaired students, and as late as 1969, it was a crime to try to enroll a handicapped child in a public school if that child had ever been excluded.

Due to court challenges in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia in the early 1970’s things started to change. In 1975 Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This was the first law that mandated that all handicapped students had a right to an education. Not only did it mandate that all handicapped students had a right to an education, it also mandated that local educational agencies could be held accountable for not doing so. Shortly thereafter, the term handicapped was replaced with “child with a disability”. Although revised in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the most comprehensive changes came in 1997. This law required schools to identify children with disabilities to make sure that all children have available a “free appropriate public education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living” 20 U.S.C. ยง 1401 (d). Unfortunately, the most recent changes in 2004 made the law slightly more difficult to receive the benefits they deserve, which, depending upon the next administration and the make up of Congress may or may not be a trend that will be followed in the future.

Exactly what is a “free appropriate public education”? Under the law, it is defined as “special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge: (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under [the law].” In other words, the school must provide services that meet the needs of a child with a disability that may affect their ability to learn. These “related services” can be services that are provided in the classroom, such as giving the child extra time to finish taking tests. They can also encompass services that can be provided outside of the classroom, such as tutoring, or having the child attend either a day or residential program outside of the school, along with transportation.

For the historical data, I relied on Wrightslaw: Special Education Law by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright and Special Education Law in Massachusetts by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education.