Special Education: Federal Law vs. State Law

Original article by understood.org

Every student who gets special education is covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). That federal law spells out what all states must do to meet the needs of students with disabilities. But in many areas, IDEA leaves room for states to interpret the rules and pass their own laws on how to apply them.

State laws can’t contradict IDEA, and they can’t provide less than the federal law requires. But they can offer more protections to kids and parents. This table shows examples of what IDEA provides for, and how states can add their own special education laws to meet students’ needs.

Federal Law (IDEA)State Laws
Who is eligible for special educationIDEA says students who have one of 13 types of disabilitiesmay qualify for special education. To be eligible, the disability must “adversely affect” their educational performance.States must follow IDEA, but they can have guidelines on who qualifies for each disability type.For example, qualifying under the category of “specific learning disability” can differ by state. States can even allow it to vary by school district within the state. States may also use different models for deciding if your child is eligible. That’s why a learning issue that qualifies as a “specific learning disability” in one state may not in another.
Free appropriate public education(FAPE) and least restrictive environment(LRE)IDEA says every child with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate education.Kids with disabilities must also receive special education in the LRE. There must be a continuum of placements available, from self-contained to inclusion classrooms.States must provide FAPE, but they have leeway in what instruction or services to provide. For instance, states can decide on the types of educational programs to use. And many different programs could be “appropriate.”States must educate children with disabilities in the LRE. But states can choose how to structure their schools as long as they provide special education in several types of placements.
Procedural safeguardsThis is the area where IDEA is the most detailed. IDEA lays out the process and steps that schools and parents go through for evaluation, IEP meetings and dispute resolution.For example, it requires schools to complete an evaluation within 60 days.As long as states follow the overall process in IDEA, they have leeway to determine some of the details.One example is time limits. For example, instead of the 60-day time limit for evaluations, Washington state law gives schools just 35 days to complete one after parental consent.
Early interventionIDEA provides for early intervention for kids with developmental delays or specific health conditions. But it doesn’t actually define “delay,” state who is eligible or spell out who pays for what services.Each state decides what constitutes a delay, who is eligible for services and who pays for what.Some states are more generous than others. Some pay for physical therapy or family training. Others require parents to cover some costs.
Age of eligibilityIDEA says educational services must be provided to students with disabilities who are in school until the age of 21.States must meet the federal minimum of 21, but they may pass laws that exceed it. Michigan, for instance, provides services until the age of 26.
Age of transition servicesFederal law says schools must start transition planning for after high school at the age of 16.Some states choose to start earlier. In Massachusetts, for instance, schools must provide transition services starting at age 14.

How can you find out about your state’s special education laws? Many states offer handbooks or guides. Check online, contact your school district or state department of special education, or visit your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI).

Learn more about your child’s rights in special education. Understanding both the federal and state laws will help you discuss services for your child at school.

Supreme Court sets higher bar for education of students with disabilities

Original article from The Washington Post

The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously raised the bar for the educational benefits owed to millions of children with disabilities in one of the most significant special-education cases­ to reach the high court in dec­ades.

The opinion rejected a lower standard set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and used in a subsequent case by President Trump’s nominee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, during his tenure on the appeals court. The high court’s ruling quickly became the focus of questions Wednesday at Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing.

In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said that a child’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” even if the child is not fully integrated into regular classrooms.

[Court to decide: What do schools owe children with disabilities?]

The court stopped short of setting a bright-line rule, deferring to the expertise and judgment of school officials and acknowledging the unique set of circumstances of each child with a disability.

But the justices sent a strong, clear message with their unanimous decision that the 10th Circuit standard was too low.

Any standard, the court said, that is not centered on “student progress would do little to remedy the pervasive and tragic academic stagnation that prompted Congress to act” when it passed the 1975 law that provides federal funds to help states cover the cost of educating students with disabilities.

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the 16-page opinion. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”

Lower courts have been split on what level of educational benefit is guaranteed under the federal law known as the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act, or IDEA. The majority of appeals courts, including the 10th Circuit, say that students are owed “some” benefit, which courts have interpreted to mean just more than trivial. Two appeals courts established a higher bar, calling for a “meaningful” benefit.

The Supreme Court’s decision more clearly defines a uniform nationwide standard for the more than 6 million children with disabilities who qualify for services under IDEA. Advocates said that the ruling would not only affect decisions in the relatively few special-education disputes that go to court but would also more broadly shift the balance of power between families and school officials, pushing schools to set more ambitious goals tailored more carefully to each student’s particular needs.

Gary Mayerson, a board member of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, said that the timing of the decision “couldn’t be better,” as it comes just before the spring season when many schools draw up individual education plans for students with disabilities.

“School districts will have the perfect opportunity to do the right thing and create programs that are consistent with the new clarified standard,” Mayerson said.


The court did not raise the bar as far as some advocates had hoped, to call for “substantially equal” opportunities for students with disabilities — a standard that critics said could have significantly increased costs. Francisco Negron of the National School Boards Association said the decision was “measured” and set an expectation that “school districts will be comfortable with and reflects in many ways how they’re already operating.”

The justices released their decision Wednesday morning as Gorsuch was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the third day of his confirmation hearings.

Almost immediately, he was asked about his application in 2008 of the lower 10th Circuit standard. He said that standard was set in a 1996 decision, which determined that services have to be “more than de minimis” or, in other words, result in at least minimal progress by the student.

“I was bound by circuit precedent,” Gorsuch told the committee, saying that ruling against a child with autism and his parents was “heartbreaking.”

He added that his circuit was unanimously taking the same position in all such cases. Now that the Supreme Court has said that is the wrong standard, he said, “Fine, I will follow the law.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Gorsuch had read the law the wrong way and made the precedent worse by adding the word “merely” to the standard.

In response to a series of follow-up questions from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Gorsuch rejected her suggestion that he was “anywhere out of the mainstream” in applying the standard rejected by the Supreme Court. He noted that several other appellate courts had relied on the same standard.

Scheduled to testify at Gorsuch’s hearing later this week is Jeff Perkins, the father of the child with autism whom Gorsuch ruled against in the 2008 case.

The case decided Wednesday involves Endrew F., a Colorado boy who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.

His parents pulled him out of a public schools in Douglas County, south of Denver, after his behavior deteriorated dramatically and he made what they said was almost no academic progress. They placed him in private school, where he made rapid progress, and they sought reimbursement for tuition. They are entitled to that reimbursement if they can prove that the public school failed to provide a “free appropriate public education” under federal law.

The 10th Circuit ruled in 2015 against Endrew, finding that he had made enough progress under his education plan to satisfy the “merely more than de minimis” standard. Gorsuch was not part of the panel that decided that case. The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday sends the case back to the appeals court to decide in light of its decision.

William Trachman, a lawyer for the Douglas County schools, said the district is confident that its work already meets the Supreme Court’s standard and looks forward to proving it.

Colorado lawyer Jack Robinson represented both Endrew and the Perkins family in the 2008 case. Robinson said that until now, too many schools have treated parents dismissively, understanding that — because of the 10th Circuit’s rulings — they would not be held accountable for failing to adequately serve a child with a disability.

College Board to Offer More Accommodations for Students With Disabilities, ELLs

Original Article from edweek.org

The College Board announced on Thursday that it would make it easier for students with disabilities to request test accommodations, and that it would provide, for the first time, testing supports to some English-language learners who take the SAT.

The College Board and its competitor, ACT Inc., have increasingly faced criticism—and questions from the U.S. Department of Justice—for testing practices that put students with disabilities at a disadvantage compared to students without disabilities.

Earlier this year, the department’s civil rights division began to look into the testing organizations’ practices after hearing persistent complaints that they reject many requests for accommodations that are routinely provided by schools, such as extra time or frequent breaks. Students who are used to testing accommodations at school typically have to take the exams without them and risk a compromised performance, or, in some states, they can take the tests with their usual accommodations without getting a certified “college-reportable” score.

This has posed challenges for students with disabilities, particularly those in the states that require high school students to take either the SAT or the ACT.

Now, the College Board has announced, starting on January 1, most students who use testing accommodations at their school through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan will have those same accommodations automatically approved for taking the SAT, the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, the PSAT 10, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement exams.

School testing accommodation coordinators must now answer just two questions affirmatively to have most students’ requests be approved—”Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan?” and “Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?” This change is expected to reduce the approval time for accommodation requests.

In a statement, David Coleman, the president and CEO of the College Board, said educators, students, and families have been asking for a simpler request process.

“The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit a testing accommodations request,” he said.

Also starting January 1, English-learners who take a state-funded SAT during the school day will receive test instructions in their native language (including Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, and a limited number of other languages initially) and will have access to an approved word-to-word bilingual glossary. In the fall, ELL students taking a state-funded SAT during the school day can also receive more time on the exam (up to time-and-a-half) and will be able to take the test in a room with fewer distractions.

Only a handful of states fund the SAT during the school day: Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, plus the District of Columbia. The College Board expects to expand its ELL-testing supports to students taking the SAT in all states soon.

“We are excited that Colorado’s first statewide SAT administration will mark the first time that English-language learners who use these testing supports on the state’s college entrance exam will receive college-reportable scores,” said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment at the state’s education department, in a statement.

This change comes just a few weeks after ACT Inc. announced it would start providing the same accommodations for English-learners in the fall of 2017.

New York State Eases Graduation Requirements for Students With Disabilities

Original Article by edweek.org

The New York Board of Regents voted Tuesday to make it easier for some students in special education to earn a high school diploma, the latest in a series of changes intended to ease the path to graduation for students with disabilities.

The new regulation requires district superintendents to automatically review a student’s record to see if he or she has demonstrated proficiency in enough subjects to earn a local diploma (New York state also has a Regents diploma, considered more rigorous.)

Can I ask for a self-advocacy goal to be included in my child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

Original Article from understood.org

Yes, it’s definitely OK to ask for self-advocacy goals to be included in your child’s IEP. The IEP needs to include any goals that you and the rest of the IEP team think are important to help your child receive an appropriate education. Schools know that self-advocacy is essential for your child’s success in the classroom and in the working world.

For example, it’s common for students with learning and attention issues to have difficulty asking teachers for help. Many students also struggle to stand up for themselves when interacting with peers. As your child gets older, these kinds of self-advocacy skills will become more and more important.

Just like the academic goals and objectives in your child’s IEP, the self-advocacy goals and objectives should be specific. Let’s say your child has a hard time approaching a teacher for help. The IEP could include a goal like this:

When student does not know what to do, he will ask for help by raising his hand during class and/or asking to see teacher after class. When meeting with teacher, the student will ask for assistance with a specific problem.

As with all the goals in an IEP, self-advocacy goals are most successful when paired with objectives that can be measured. Here’s an example:

By the end of the third quarter, student will ask for assistance with a specific problem during four out of five consecutive meetings with teacher.

Don’t hesitate to ask for one or more self-advocacy goals to be included in your child’s IEP. These are particularly important when designing transition plans for kids who are changing schools or preparing for life after high school.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to reinforce your child’s self-advocacy skills. Parenting Coach has lots of tips on how to teach your child to self-advocate. Something as simple as ordering a pizza can help kids work on figuring out how to approach someone for help and what to say.