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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

Assistive Technology: Responsibility for Damage

on Mon, 11/25/2013 - 14:33

For children with special needs, adding a computer tablet can be extremely beneficial to the student’s educational progress. The technology can do new things that were previously impossible, present established concepts in new and exciting ways, and can hold the interest of a student who might otherwise have difficulty focusing. Unfortunately, fragile technology does not always combine well with active children. When the technology breaks, replacement can be expensive – so school districts might seek assistance from the family to reduce the expense.  

The overarching principle is that something that is necessary for a special needs student to receive an appropriate education must be provided for free. Thus, the regulations on assistive technology services say that the school district is responsible for maintaining, repairing, and replacing any assistive technology device.That means a school district generally should not be seeking reimbursement from a family for damage to a device. Whether the student will be given another device is a separate question, but if the original device was necessary to provide an appropriate education, it seems strange to say that the school district can provide an appropriate education without the device.  

Normally, a device is used by the student at school, and does not go home with the student when the school day ends. But sometimes, the device needs to be sent home so that the appropriate plan can continue in the home. When that happens, the rule generally is that parents cannot be charged for normal use, and wear and tear. But federal law does not override any state law or case that holds parents liable for theft, loss, or damage due to negligence or misuse of the assistive device.  

Before the assistive technology is sent home, school districts often request the parent sign an acknowledgement of liability. Read this carefully, and if the notice holds you liable for ordinary wear and tear, ask the district what policy requires this language – because it risks forcing you to pay for a part of your child’s appropriate education that the school district should be providing for free.  

1 34 C.F.R. § 300.6(c)  

Upcoming Events:  

I will be speaking about the basics of special education law at the Reach Enrichment Center on Saturday, December 7 at 10:00 am. Please RSVP by calling 404-963-6624.  

The next meeting of Decoding Dyslexia Georgia will be December 2, 2013.  

The 6th Annual Conference of the Georgia Association for Positive Behavior Support is December 4 & 5, 2013.  

The IDA-GA Dimensions of Dyslexia Conference is February 1, 2014.  

The Across the Spectrum conference will be March 13 & 14, 2014.

IEP Eligibility: Spotlight on Dyslexia

on Fri, 11/08/2013 - 21:19

The requirements to be eligible an IEP are actually very simple. A student who:

(a) has one of the listed medical problems 

(b) that causes them to need  

(c) specialized education  

is eligible for an IEP and all the procedural and substantive rights that go with that eligibility.1 The list of eligibility categories includes all the other categories one might expect, including blindness, deafness, severe brain injury, and autism. Further, “other health impairment” is specifically listed as a potential category.  

Today’s focus is on one specific condition that school districts are sometimes resistant to acknowledging with an IEP: dyslexia. Technically speaking, no child is eligible under IEP laws specifically for being diagnosed with dyslexia. Instead, most such children would be eligible for an IEP under the category of specific learning disability. Under federal law, a specific learning disability is a “disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language.”2  

The most prominent legal difficulty in getting an IEP for a dyslexic child arises from two additional eligibility criteria found in the Georgia eligibility rules defining specific learning disability. These criteria are in addition to the federal definition, and for some students, can have the effect of excluding or delaying special education services. The additional criteria in the Georgia eligibility rule beyond the definition under federal law are an academic deficiency requirement and a data collection requirement.3  

Academic Deficiency

Under the rule issued by the Georgia Department of Education, a student does not qualify for an IEP under specific learning disability unless the student has serious academic deficiencies and does not meet grade level standards. Further, the student’s need for additional academic support is not a reason to give the student an IEP.  

This requirement may have arisen from conceptual borrowing from other types of disability, in which a student mostly functioning on grade level is a cause for celebration. But that does not make the standard appropriate when a student is barely passing a course because of difficulty reading. Particularly because failure to develop a robust reading skills early can lead to total breakdown later, but can be disguised by barely passing grades.  

Mandatory Data Collection

The Georgia Department of Education rule also prohibits granting a student an IEP under specific learning disability unless multiple sources of data are considered. Possible sources of data include below grade level results on standardized tests, or results from supplementary instruction being insufficient. A particularly frustrating part of the data collection requirement is the need to collect at least twelve weeks of data on supplementary instruction before IEP eligibility is considered. This is another example of how school district policies delay federal rights and delay implementation of appropriate interventions to improve a student’s academic deficits.  

The requirement for a significant period of supplementary instruction is particularly confounding because supplementary instruction (to address a medical or psychological condition) is the definition of what generally must be shown to get an IEP. I understand the need to avoid over-inclusion, which has an unfortunate practical history. Nonetheless, the supplementary instruction for a child with a psychological difficulty learning ought to be treated as special education, which inherently makes a student eligible for an IEP with all the legal protection for a student that goes with that legal conclusion. Otherwise, the school district can minimize its own accountability to address the particular needs of particular students.  

1 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3). Special education is simply “specially designed instruction” that “meets the unique needs” of the student. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(29).  

2 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(10).  

3 Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 160-4-7-.05, Appendix (i)  

Upcoming Events:  

Dislecksia the Movie will be showing at the Studio Movie Grill – Holcomb Bridge on November 11, 2013 at 7 p.m. (go through the link and click SMG Outreach to easily find ticket information).  

The next meeting of Decoding Dyslexia Georgia will be December 2, 2013.  

The 6th Annual Conference of the Georgia Association for Positive Behavior Support is December 4 & 5, 2013.  

The IDA-GA Dimensions of Dyslexia Conference is February 1, 2014.  

The Across the Spectrum conference will be March 13 & 14, 2014.

Social Thinking Scholarship 2013 - Awarded

on Mon, 10/14/2013 - 20:37

I sponsored the Social Thinking Conference 2013 to help build expertise in intervening to improve the lives and educational outcomes of children with special needs. It gives me great to announce that the winner of the scholarship was:  

Jennifer Kovanis of Atlanta, GA  

At the conference November 5, 6 & 7, Michelle Garcia Winner and her associates will provide training on the best evidence-based interventions for helping children develop social skills. Along with all the other attendees of the conference, Ms. Kovanis will be able to apply that knowledge to help child throughout the metro Atlanta area.  

Thanks to all who applied. If you are still interested in attending, more information on registration for the conference is available here. Early Bird registration ends October 22, 2013.  

Upcoming Events  

The 6th Annual Conference of the Georgia Association for Positive Behavior Support is December 4 & 5.

From Meeting to Plan

on Thu, 10/03/2013 - 21:12

All too frequently, an IEP meeting will end with the school officials telling the parent that they will send home the printed IEP “very soon.” Then time passes, and before the parents know it, a week or more has passed. Finally, the parents receive a printed copy of the IEP. Delay is always frustrating, but delays in receiving the IEP raised several red flags.  

First, your child’s teachers are supposed to implement the accommodations listed in the IEP. If you have not gotten a copy of the IEP, chances are that the teachers who were not at the meet also will not get copies. And if the teachers have not gotten copies, they have no way of knowing what changes they should be making for your child.  

Second, the delay in writing down the IEP leaves open the possibility that the written IEP is different from what was decided at the IEP meeting. Changes to the IEP may be inadvertent mistakes from a mistake of memory, or they might be deliberate decisions to reduce a service that you convinced the school district to provide. Regardless of the reason, any change to the IEP that is not based on the decisions of the IEP team or your agreement is illegal. It does not matter whether the changes are malicious or merely careless on the part of the person who wrote down the IEP.  

If a substantial amount of time passes before you get a copy of the IEP, review it closely to make sure that the goals and services sections of the IEP match what the IEP team decided. Keep in mind that what you asked for at the meeting might not match what the IEP team decides. If the copy of the IEP you get does not match that decision, immediately contact the school official who supervised the meeting at ask that the document be amended to conform to the IEP team decision.  

Hopefully, the school official will agree to amend the IEP with your permission. If so, make sure that the new version is given to all your child’s teachers. But if the official refuses, the next step is to exercise your right to ask for another IEP meeting so that the IEP team can make sure the plan as decided matches the plan as written.  

Upcoming Events  

I am speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting tonight, October 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm.  

The Social Thinking Scholarship 2013 will close to applicants on October 7, 2013.  

If you live in the Gainesville, Georgia area, Embracing the Lifestyle of Living with Autism Families Networking Together (ELLAFANT) parent support group meets monthly at 6 pm at the Church of the Nazarene on Otila Drive. Visit the ELLAFANT Facebook page for more information.  

Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.

Measurable Annual Goals

on Mon, 08/19/2013 - 20:36

One of the legal requirements of goals in an IEP is that they be measurable. In other words, people who were not at the meeting should be able to determine how much progress a student has made towards the goals. That means the school district must collect data. Further, the meaning of that data should be clear. For example, a data sheet that says a student interacted appropriately with peers is not very informative, because “appropriate” could mean so many different things. By contrast, a data sheet that says the student initiated three interactions with peers tells the reader what happened in a measurable way.  

There are numerous benefits of measurable goals. First, it allows a parent to compare how the student is doing at school and at home. Second, it makes data (and hopefully services) less dependent on the particular teacher providing the services. Third, comparing data from measurable goals over time can help you discover whether current levels of services are enough to provide appropriate educational benefit. Knowing that your child is at 55% success when the goal is 80% success might be fine, depending on how much of the school year has passed. Or it might mean that it is time to talk with the school district about increasing the intensity of services. At an IEP meeting, there are two major implications from the requirement that goals be measurable:  

Numerical Progress Reports

The school district is required to tell you about your child’s progress on IEP goals at least as frequently as typical children are given progress reports – generally, whenever a report card is sent home. Too often, the progress reports say only that the student is “making appropriate progress.” By itself, this is useless to figure out whether the special education plan is working well. You should insist that the IEP require the school district provide numerical progress. The school district is supposed to be collecting data. If the district will not send you copies, it should send you useful summaries.  

One Fraction Rule

When an IEP goal is measured in terms of trials, that means that the school district expects your child to make mistakes some of the time. There is nothing inherently wrong with a goal that a student will succeed at a task in two out of three tries. Separately, there is nothing wrong with setting a percentage for when a skill is mastered, allowing the school district to change to working on another goal. But when those two parts of an IEP get combined, it can effectively reduce the goal to nothing. The criteria for mastery percentage is the fraction of the time that the skill must be demonstrated so that parents and teachers can justify thinking the child has the skill. But fractions in an IEP goal should be multiplied together. With a criteria for mastery of 50% and a goal of success at 2 out of 3 trials, the district is essentially saying that teachers can stop working on a skill once the student completed 1 trial, because 50% = 1/2, and one half of two is one. If that is not what the IEP team meant, then the IEP should be written so that it says what everyone agrees it means. That is why I have a strict rule that only one fraction or percentage is allowed in any particular IEP goal.  

Important Links

From 2004 to 2007, a teacher at the Hopewell Middle School in Fulton County physically abused children in the non-verbal special education classroom. For this violation of federal law, Fulton County Schools has already been ordered to provide compensatory services to at least one student from that classroom. Now, another case is going to trial, starting Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Come to the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings (230 Peachtree Street) to show support for the family. Additional information can be found in this news article.  

Upcoming Events

I will be speaking at the SPECTRUM parent support group monthly meeting on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm.  

The Social Thinking Scholarship 2013 will close to applicants on October 7, 2013.  

Have your own event for children with special needs? Submit it here for inclusion in future events lists.

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