The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) recently released its state-by-state IDEA compliance findings for the 2008-2009 school year. For the fourth consecutive year, Massachusetts has not met the IDEA Part B (children 3 - 21) requirements. Read the complete report here. In addition, OSEP determined that Massachusetts is so far behind its IDEA Part C requirements (birth - 3) that federal intervention is necessary.
Starting tomorrow (July 1, 2010) parents in Maryland will be more prepared for IEP meetings. At least, that is the purpose of S.B. 540, a law that requires schools to provide parents with IEP meeting documents 5 days business days prior to an IEP meeting. Documents covered by this new rule include draft IEPs, assessments, and any other documents the team plans to discuss. What a wonderful idea! One of the fundamental pillars of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is parental participation. However, it is common practice, at least here in Massachusetts, that only school personnel have access to draft IEPs prior to meetings. Allowing parents to have time to better comprehend the draft IEP and propose changes is a positive step to encouraging parental participation in the special education process. Maryland should be applauded for providing parental rights above and beyond IDEA.
The main difference is that parents have fewer rights and schools have fewer legal obligations under Section 504. For example, IEP plans have to be in writing. 504 plans do not. IEP requires that school's take reasonable efforts to ensure parental participation, including inviting parents to IEP meetings. Section 504 does not require notice of meetings. IDEA requires parental notice before a change of placement. Section 504 does not. Children with 504 Plans can be permanently expelled for behavior that is not a manifestation of their disability. Children with IEP plans can be removed from school for behavior that is not a manifestation of their disability, but the school is still required to provide a free appropriate education.
How can I get my child off a 504 and on an IEP plan?
Schools must provide a child with an IEP if the child's disability makes special education and related services necessary. If your school refuses to provide your child with an IEP, you should contact a special education attorney.
When you disagree with the school in a special education matter, there are a variety of ways you can try to resolve the dispute. The avenue you pursue may affect the outcome, so it's important to discuss the pros and cons of each approach with a special education attorney.
Mediation: Special Education Mediation is a voluntary and confidential dispute resolution process available at no cost through the BSEA. In mediation, an impartial mediator helps parents and school staff clarify the issues and underlying concerns, explore interests, discuss options and collaborate to reach mutually satisfying agreements that address the needs of the student. The mediator does not decide how to resolve the dispute.
Advisory Opinion: The advisory opinion process is an optional dispute resolution process available to parties who have requested a due process hearing. Each party has one hour to give a brief presentation of its case after which the hearing officer issues a written, nonbinding opinion within an hour of the close of the presentations. The parties may agree prior to the commencement of the process, apart from the hearing officer, to make the resulting opinion binding on the parties
SpedX: A dispute resolution pilot project that will be available in certain cases after an IEP has been rejected or a hearing request has been filed. It is voluntary and involves a jointly agreed-upon independent SpedEx consultant at no cost to the parent. The consultant helps determine whether the IEP provides the child with FAPE in the LRE. Parties are not bound by the consultant's report and recommendation.
Due Process: Due Process hearings are more like a formal trial. Parties often employ attorneys and a hearing officer issues a binding decision. Witnesses can be subpoenaed and exhibits are introduced. Read more about due process hearings here.
Case Name: Student v. Salem Public Schools (BSEA #10-6335)
Decision Date: May 14, 2010
Hearing Officer: Rose I. Figueroa
Representation: Colby Brunt, School Attorney
Parent, Pro Se
(1) Is Student Safe in school?
(2) Is Student's paraprofessional appropriate?
(1) Student is safe in school. The Hearing Officer concluded that Student's disabilities (a thirteen-year-old seventh grader with autism spectrum disorder) impact her ability to accurately relate back events that occurred at school. Parent's assertion that Student was not safe in school were based entirely on Student's reports. The Hearing Officer found the testimony of School personnel and the Student's Guardian at Litem persuasive on this point. The Hearing Officer seemed satisfied that students Behavioral Intervention Plan and paraprofessional support provided Student with a Free Appropriate Education.
(2) Student's paraprofessional is appropriate, and highly qualified. The Hearing Officer concluded that Student's paraprofessional was not abusing Student and was highly qualified. This decision was based on Student's inability to accurately report events and observations and testimony from School personnel and the Student's Guardian at Litem.
This decision highlights a broken relationship between Parents and the School. Mediation between the parties was not successful. The School involved the juvenile justice system, further alienating the mother. Student's mother worried the school was not keeping her daughter safe and did trust the School's assertion that it was keeping Student safe. Ultimately, the Hearing Officer sided with the School. Hopefully the testimony during this due process hearing helped assure the mother that her daughter was indeed safe at school.
Read the entire decision here:
The trial of John Odgren, a child with Asperger's syndrome who was found guilty of first-degree murder, has been all over the headlines. This article contains one of the first interviews with his parents, and provides some important insights into the trial, the child, and the tragedy. As a special education attorney, I think it is very interesting that the parents and school struggled to find the proper placement for Odgren, a child with superior cognitive scores but severe emotional disabilities. In my experience, finding a school for a child with this profile in Massachusetts is incredibly difficult. Read the entire article here and feel free to leave your comments.