February/March 2016

EC Legal Updates; B. Elvey, DPI

Take problem-solving approach to parent concerns about field trips

You may have misgivings about taking an impulsive student with ADHD on a field trip to a fine art museum. Or you may have concerns about including a student with mobility issues on a field trip to a farm. But regardless of your concerns about a student's involvement in a field trip, you have to work with parents if they bring up the topic of field trips in their child's IEP meeting.

  • Use collaborative tone
  • Go over potential accommodations
  • Promote opportunity to generalize skills
  • Prepare hosts
  • Document discussions

Transition: Prepare students to take the wheel at their next IEP meeting

Some students with disabilities may have trouble voicing their goals and preferences, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have a say in what their IEP team decides they should tackle in a school year.

Indeed, giving students with complex disabilities, such as fetal alcohol syndrome or autism, the power to share their strengths and desires to improve can help them build the self-determination and self-awareness skills they will need when they graduate high school.

Encourage your teams to help students lead their own IEP meetings. Have the student's case manager help him invite his parents to the meeting, collaborate with him on his slides using presentation software, and prepare other team members for following the student's lead in the meeting. Ensure everything is discussed ahead of time so there are no surprises.

"Students need to be motivated to accept responsibility," said Holly Zwink, a special education teacher and case manager at Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. "Helping students develop initiative is not only important for their IEP meeting; it applies to their whole life."

  • Encourage student to invite parents
  • Work with student on presentation
  • Leave no room for surprises
  • Facilitate as student runs meeting
  • Conclude meeting

Individualize plans to transition private school students or homeschooled students back to public school

If the student has significant challenges with transitions, behavior, anxiety, or social interaction, getting him to reenter and consistently attend public school so that he can receive FAPE may not be possible without an individualized transition plan.

A Pennsylvania district avoided liability by including in an IEP a detailed plan to facilitate the transition of a student with ADHD, anxiety, and characteristics of Asperger syndrome from a private special school he attended for two years at the district's expense to a public high school. An IHO found that the district's proposal offered the student FAPE, including an array of supports that would enable the student to gradually acclimate to the public school setting. Methacton Sch. Dist.,116 LRP 5732 (SEA PA 01/26/16).

  • Address all potential impediments
  • Gradually reintroduce the student to the environment
  • Offer access to daily personal support
  • Involve the parent

Address stress, tension of families of students with disabilities

A child's diagnosis with a disability is a stressful and traumatic experience for families. By reaching out and partnering with families, you can help provide a much-needed map for the road ahead to ease their tension and fear.

"A child with special needs impacts all parts of the family's life," said Kathy Gould, program manager of the Illinois Autism Partnership at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago. From the beginning when a child is identified as having a disability, there can be a sense of shock within the family, she said. "There may be one parent blaming the other for the child's special needs," Gould said. "Their plans were for a 'perfect' child, but when that doesn't happen, they try to figure out the causes. The question then becomes what they're going to do about it."

  • Build support networks for parents
  • Connect families with resources
  • Empower families as partners
  • Project optimism
  • Establish milestones

Consensus on placement, IEP necessary to determine, measure adequate progress

Many of the disputes that lead to expensive, time-consuming due process litigation stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the IDEA requires public schools to provide for students with disabilities.

Therefore, your special education teachers, staff and IEP teams must explain early and often in their relationship with parents what key concepts such as FAPE mean. They must also ensure that parents understand the difference between "meaningful" and "greater" educational benefit.

  • Define FAPE: IDEA obligation is to provide their child with a meaningful educational benefit
  • Get consensus on placement: "Placement is critical in determining what constitutes adequate progress, because it is a starting point for measuring success or failure in meeting IEP goals and objectives" Work carefully with parents to establish consensus on a placement in the LRE that all agree will offer the child an opportunity to attain goals and objectives
  • Assess, review, document often: Agreement on placement, as well as on IEP goals and objectives, means there is consensus on what constitutes adequate progress. Determining how well the IEP has been implemented to achieve adequate progress in meeting those goals and objectives requires regular assessment, review and documentation