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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

IEP Advocacy: Prior Written Notice

on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 19:37

The school district is required to consider and explain rejection of your requests for particular services. When you are at the IEP meeting, the school district will not always agree to provide services that you request. That can be very frustrating, but it is very important that you focus on your purpose at the IEP meeting – designing the best IEP for your child - instead of letting school officials distract you from that purpose.

Even so, you have a legal right to a written explanation of the school district’s refusal to include a request in the IEP. Among other things, the writing must describe: (1) the action refused by the district, (2) the reasoning why the action was refused, (3) the data used in making the decision, and (4) the factors used by the district to make the decision.* This writing is called prior written notice  - because same notice is required is when the district makes a change in the IEP.

I have had districts tell me that the IEP document satisfies these requirements, but this is not necessarily true. The IEP is a plan, listing what the school district is required to do. Usually, the IEP does not contain much data, and it does not list why a particular goal was included instead of a different goal.

One district told me that a Georgia Board of Education rule** authorizes use of the IEP as written notice. Section 5(c) of that rule does state that notice requirements in “most cases” can be satisfied by the IEP. But section (b) of the same rule explicitly requires “an explanation of why the [school district] proposes or refuses to take the action” and “any other factors which are relevant to the [school district’s] proposal or refusal.” Section 5(b) also requires a description of the data that the district used to make the decision.

If the school district still refuses to agree to provide additional written notice after you have calmly asserted that it should be given, you need only ask to make sure the discussion is clearly included in the minutes. Getting school officials agree at you will prevent them from putting in their best effort to generate the IEP. Negotiations are the path to success in the IEP meeting – if legal confrontation comes later, the notation in the IEP minutes will show clearly the district’s attitude to its legal obligations.

* These requirements are contained at 20 U.S.C. § 1415(c)(1). (available here)

** State Bd. of Edu. R 160-4-7-.09 (available here).  In the rules, the school district is referred to as the Local Education Agency (or LEA).

Effective IEP Advocacy: Meeting Minutes

on Mon, 06/04/2012 - 15:13

The IEP meeting is a design session with a specific purpose: creating a plan for your child’s education for the next year. Your child deserves the best effort from all the IEP team members in designing the plan. The school district has expertise in education techniques and you have expertise in your child’s behaviors and ways of thinking.  By combining those types of expertise, a plan can be created that will effectively help your child learn despite your child’s special needs.

Although the school district is legally required to individualize the plan for each eligible student, the district may not be focusing on your child’s individual needs. As a parent, you are the person who cares the most about your child, so don’t hesitate to speak up and advocate for things that will help your child learn.
One way that you can be effective in advocating is paying attention to the meeting minutes – the written record of what is discussed. When important issues are discussed, make sure that the minutes reflect it. Try to honestly paraphrase the school official’s most recent statement in your own words and ask in a calm tone of voice whether the statement is reflected in the minutes. 
Doing this helps you two ways. First, your statement facilitates communication because if your honest paraphrase is incorrect, it helps the school officials communicate their true intent. Second, the fact that you are explicitly thinking about the minutes shows your seriousness in advocating for your child. The minutes are the record of what happened and will be very important in any legal challenge, and school officials know that. By being careful to protect your child’s rights, you let the school district know that you are a careful thinker who deserves to be taken seriously.

Preparing for IEP Meetings: Managing Expectations

on Fri, 06/01/2012 - 14:42

Your child’s IEP is very important because it is the plan the school will follow in educating your child for the next school year. Go to the IEP meeting with a purpose – to see that good goals are included in the IEP and services are provided that help make it likely that the goals will be achieved. But the school district is not required to do everything any parent asks be done. Therefore, it is very important to prepare for the IEP ahead of time, thinking about what you want to ask for and how you will persuade the school district that it is legally obligated to provide the services you are suggesting.

Persuasion is extremely important, because the school district is only required to make a plan that has a decent chance of providing educational benefit, even if that does not actually educate your child. As the federal appeals court for Georgia explained*, school districts are only obligated to provide a basic floor of opportunity. If you can’t persuade the school district, you will have a very difficult time forcing the district to increase what it is doing, given the low legal standard the district must meet.
In short, you must manage your expectations. You are your child’s champion, but you are also the world’s greatest expert on your child. You must be honest with yourself in order to figure out what you (as champion) want for your child and what you (as expert) know your child needs. Once you have focused on your expertise, you can think effectively about how to explain your reasoning to the school officials.
Again, you must be brutally honest with yourself about whether a desire for your child is a want or a need.  It would be nice if every child with special needs received a one-on-one tutor in every subject, but this simply isn’t possible.  School district officials are only human – if they decide (rightly or wrongly) that your first request is unreasonable, that will affect how they view your later, smaller requests.
*JSK v. Hendry County Sch. Bd., 941 F.2d 1563 (11th Cir. 1991)

Interesting Mini-Conference - May 7, 2012

on Mon, 05/07/2012 - 14:05

Autism Speaks and the Marcus Autism Center sponsored a really interesting event this past Saturday that I had the pleasure to attend.  Autism researchers from the CDC, and the Marcus Center presented their very imformative results.

Dr. Warren Jones from the Marcus Center discussed his research using eye-tracking of young children to differentiate autistic from non-autistic children.  He showed the babies a video and used sophisticated technology to determine where in the video the baby was looking at.  He discovered that, starting at about nine months of age, typically developing children focused on social cues, while the children later diagnosed as autistic were looking at movement and sound generally.  In other words, the typically developing children were watching eyes, while autistic children were watching the mouth.  The differences were striking and if the technology could be deployed in pediatrician's offices, they could act as a screener for children so that beneficial early interventions could be applied earlier.  Dr. Jones' group is running more research trials for babies and is hoping to run studies on older children.  Sign up on the Marcus Center website.

The CDC discussed prelimiary data from the SEED program, which is a huge study looking into the prevelance of autism in society.  The presenter mentioned that a second stage for SEED is starting.  If you have you children and are interested in participating, check them out.  Other presenters from the Marcus Institute talked about the difference between screeners for autism, which only raise concerns, and diagnostic evaluations, that give a diagnosis.  Just because a screener suggests autism does not mean that your child has autism.  

Some discussion of importan issues in the IEP were also discussed.  One speaker discussed the importance of planning for transition out of school, after graduation.  The IDEA recognizes this important issue and as graduation approaches, IEPs must contain planning for life after graduation, including lifeskills training as appropriate.  Early is better, because the more training, the more prepared your child will be for life after public schooling.

Another speaker discussed the pending change to the definition of autism in the DSM-V.  I think my colleague Jennifer Laviano covered the issue very well.  As she noted, autism is defined in the IDEA without reference to the DSM-V.  If your child meets that definition, your child is eligible for services regardless of the definition in the DSM.  And once a child is eligible for services, the school district is obligated to create an individualized plan that deals with a child's specific needs - no matter what eligibility category led to eligibility for services.

Upcoming Presentation - April 30, 2012

on Mon, 04/30/2012 - 20:00

As I have mentioned, the Georgia Asperger's Organization has invited me to present "Special Needs, the Education System, and the Law," an overview of the IEP process and special education law with tips for getting the best IEP for your child.  The presentation will be at 7 pm at the Barrow Regional Medical Center on 316 N. Broad St., Winder, GA 30680.  Go to the third floor and look for the signs.  All are welcome.