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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

Focusing on the Plan 9/11/12

on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 19:44

My colleague TJ Thurston wrote an interesting article titled Special Education is not about Revenge

My take: The post is essentially right. Not matter what it looks like on the surface, all IEP disputes are about the plan to educate your child. Trying to fight about other issues is very difficult to accomodate in the IEP process. When there are problems, changing the plan might include the school district providing, paying for, or reimbursing you for additional services. Or it might involve a new teacher or placement. But if your thinking is not focused on the plan for educating your child, you might not be focusing directly on the school district's obligations under the IDEA. And that will make it difficult to compel the district to change its behavior.

In other news, Autism Speaks has invited me to speak at 9 am on September 15 at their office about IEP basics. I will be speaking about general issues in the IEP process that are applicable even if your child does not have Autism. Attendance is free, but Austism Speaks asks that you RSVP here.

Special Education in the News - 8/22/12

on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 16:07

Yeaterday NPR's Tell Me More had an interview with several parents of children with special needs. Most of the conversation was about finding the right placement for the child, one of the core issues in creating a good IEP. Here is a transcript of the conversation.

I agree with basically everything the parents said. It is really hard to be sure that the district's chosen placement is right for your child. I suggest visiting the placement to see what it is like. If your child is high-functioning, but the other children are severely developmentally delayed, the placement probably is not right. If your child has a cochlear implant and needs auditory stimulation, a classroom focused on sign language education probably is not the right placement. The other thing to do is to track your child's progress. Even if there is not as much progress as a typically developing child, you should see evidence of improvement on a biweekly or monthly basis.

If you are not satisfied with the placement, you should ask for another IEP meeting. There is no rule that IEP meetings can happen only once a year. The fact that you liked the IEP two months ago (or even yesterday) does not mean that you like it today. And lack of progress is a completely reasonable justification to having another meeting with school officials to talk about what can or should be changed.

If school officials cannot explain the reasons for problems, then you should ask what they will do going forward to figure out the problem. Maybe another evaluation is needed. Or an outside expert needs to be consulted. School districts are not required to do what is best, but they are required provide educational benefit. It is practically the definition of a bad placement that it does not provide educational benefit.

Special Education in the News - 8/14/12

on Tue, 08/14/2012 - 18:01

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a heartwarming story today about iPads as assistive technology for children with severe developmental delays. The child's father, who works for AT&T doing product development, brought technology ideas home to help his daughter communicate more effectively. The story reports that the child is doing much better in school since the introduction of the assistive technology. Particularly interesting is the mentioned of using social media to keep parents, teachers, therapists, and other care providers on the same page about the little girl's progress.

Many school districts already use assistive techology, although they aren't always using cutting edge equipment and they seldom use social media to keep everyone in the loop. A good IEP should have a some discussion of what assistive technology will be provided to support education. A picture system like PECS can be very helpful, but feel free to ask about computer based-systems at the IEP meeting. Implemented well, a computer system could easily provide more flexibility an customization for a particular child. And your child might be more motivated to participate if a computer, tablet, or smart phone is part of the system.

The father's name is Lee Mabie, and he has recently launched a website at

School District Evaluations: Basic Information

on Tue, 07/17/2012 - 18:50

In theory, every child with special needs must be evaluated by an expert so that the school district will know the precise extent of the child’s needs and receive some guidance from the expert in effective strategies to educate the child. Like any medical intervention on your child, you generally must authorize the evaluation or it does not happen. In practice, the evaluation process can be very aggravating for parents. Here is some basic background on the legal issues in trying to get out of the evaluation process under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

The school district is obligated to evaluate a child to determine eligibility for special needs. Unless the school district has different timing rules, the evaluation must generally occur within 60 days of the request.(1)  The district must seek your consent for this evaluation.(2) You are legally authorized to withhold or condition your consent, perhaps because you think that the proposed evaluation is not targeted at your child’s problems. But the school district is not obligated to accept your conditions. If the school district treats your response to its request for consent as a refusal to consent, the district might seek an administrative determination that it may evaluate without your consent – essentially take you to court before an administrative law judge for the judge to decide if your refusal was appropriate.(3)

Re-evaluations can occur whenever the situation warrants, including when you request a re-evaluation.(4) But this requested evaluation is different than your right to an independent evaluation at public expense. In terms of timing, the evaluations cannot occur more frequently than once a year, nor less frequently than once every three years, unless you and the school district agree otherwise.(5)

Thus, every third year, the IEP meeting will be particularly long, as the school district creates a record that it complied with the re-evaluation requirements. As I noted, you and the district can agree that the re-evaluation process can be skipped, but that means you are relying on the conclusions and guidance that is three years out of date. But if you withhold consent, some cases suggest that the school district would have the same options it had in dealing with withheld consent on an initial evaluation.



(1) 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(C)

(2) § 1414(a)(1)(D)(i)

(3) § 1414(a)(1)(D)(ii)(I)

(4) § 1414(a)(2)(A)

(5) § 1414(a)(2)(B)

Open Thread July 2012 - Why I am a Special Education Attorney

on Mon, 07/02/2012 - 14:33

When a school district will not provide services to a student with special needs, the district saves money in its budget. But this is a false saving. The more prepared for independent living a person is at graduation, the fewer support services must be provided in adulthood. Living independently serves two purposes – it allows a people to choose their own goals and it saves society unnecessary expense in providing the social safety net. That’s why I’m a special education attorney for parents.

It’s time for an open thread. What are you thinking about?

The basic rule: Be polite. Think of this as a pleasant dinner party. Comments may take some time to appear.