June 8

What Can I Do Now?

The school year is nearing a close and you’re concerned that your child hasn’t learned, or that your child is having difficulty meeting the demands of school or their independence hasn’t increased. What can you do now? You need to know your rights!

Ask for an evaluation

If you haven’t met with your school and no one has told you that your child qualifies to receive an IEP, write a letter to your school psychologist and principal describing your concerns and ask the school to perform a psycho-educational evaluation BEFORE the next school year.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), but you think there are issues or deficits that haven’t been addressed this year, it’s possible that more detailed evaluation is needed. Write a letter to your school psychologist and principal detailing your concerns. The evaluation can be done over the summer.

All requests must be written. Send your letter in a way that creates a record of when your request was received by the District – by email or regular mail using “return receipt requested.” Keeping written records is absolutely crucial.

You might need to explore private schools or supplemental services outside of school; if your child has an IEP (or should have had an IEP) there are certain circumstances where you might qualify for tuition reimbursement from your school district or where you could use the legal process to make the District pay for the extra services you obtain outside of school.

April 4

Is Private School Always Better for IDEA Students? Parent, Beware!

As a special education lawyer in New York, I often help parents access their right to private school tuition reimbursement under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). So, do I support Betsy Devos’s ‘school choice’ agenda? Absolutely not. Let me explain.

Private does not mean better. A system that directs children with certain types of disabilities to certain private schools is problematic for several reasons:

  • It lets public school districts off the hook; there’s no motivation to accommodate and integrate all different kinds of students into the educational community.
  •  ‘School choice’ programs can promote exclusion of students with certain disabilities and this type of segregation is exactly what the IDEA sought to eliminate or discourage.
  •  Private schools on the voucher list aren’t necessarily appropriate for the child – and if it isn’t, then the parent and child are left empty handed.
  •  Charter schools frequently are unable to serve students with certain disabilities – I’ve seen that a lot here in New York.

The current IDEA system is better for classified students and their parents:

  • The IDEA requires public school districts to attempt to meet the needs of their students. This is especially important in areas where a variety of alternative private school options are not readily available.
  • The IDEA allows Parents to explore a variety of private schools to find the learning environment and specialized instruction tailored to their child’s need instead of being forced to accept a private school that might not really serve their child’s needs.

Ironically, a typical school district defense to an IDEA private school tuition reimbursement claim is that the school selected by the parent is overly restrictive. Districts that used to be determined keeping certain students out became determined to keeping them in. In my view, the ‘school choice’ agenda would allow public school districts to revert to an exclusionary agenda and not in a manner that serves students. So,  beware; private is not always better! Make sure that the school you select for YOUR child is a ‘fit’ and serves your child’s needs in a way that will allow YOUR child to be prepared for further education, employment and independent living. Of course this means that parents need to understand their children’s learning profile and the type of classroom that will serve their child’s needs – which means that the parents need to learn a thing or two about education.

January 4

Sometimes You Just Have to Leave – 5 Planning Tips

If your child has been classified under the IDEA and has an IEP, they are certainly entitled to education in a community school to the extent that it is possible. However, as with any relationship, there comes a point where you have to get real. Public schools sometimes just doesn’t have the capacity to help a child. Even though the schools are supposed to have certain services or placements available, they don’t and they won’t. Ever. So, it may be time to go. Fortunately, the law gives you the right to seek private school tuition reimbursement if your child has not been given a program reasonably calculated to allow them to make meaningful progress. The law also allows you to obtain compensatory services for those that should have been provided, but were not. In either case, you need to start taking these steps:

1) Create a paper trail: Communicate with your child’s teachers and school administrators in writing as much as possible and keep copies of your child’s work
2) Document your concerns and share them with your child’s teachers and school administrators.
3) Investigate private school options in your area. Visit, apply, perhaps reserve your child’s spot for next year.
4) Investigate possible summer programs that might provide supplemental instruction.
5) Consult with a non-attorney parent advocate and/or a special education attorney for guidance

My heart breaks when people call me in June to say that they need to get their child out of a public program. At that point, private school seats are long gone. Some spots open up, but that’s unusual and I wouldn’t count on luck. One last thing: if you are going to enroll your child in a private school, make sure you send written notice to the District. If the District asks you to discuss the matter further, by all means continue the discussion – but get guidance before you do so because it’s a relationship and relationships, as we all know, are complicated.

January 4

Snow Day Special Education Road Map

I hope everyone here in the Northeast is snug and warm! This is a great time of year to review your child’s education and start thinking about school year 2018-2019.
Is your child struggling in school? Problems might include learning how to read or do math, staying organized, keeping up with school work, getting along with others, following directions. If yes, then now is the time to do the following:

1) consult with a non-attorney advocate or a special education attorney about the steps you should take.
2) Make a WRITTEN request your public school district to perform an assessment, which is called an evaluation.
3) If your child attends private school, you can ask for an evaluation. If the private school your child attends is outside of your district of residence, request that the district where the private school is located perform the evaluation.

You can also pay for an evaluation yourself, preferably from a neuropsychologist. Your child may qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is a document outlining a program that is supposed to allow your child to make meaningful progress. Some public school districts give students 504 plans instead of IEPs. A 504 plan is different than an IEP and simply provides ‘accommodations’ for disabilities without any particular promise of progress. You don’t have to accept what the public district offers. Have someone knowledgeable help you decide what your child really needs. You may be entitled to locate a private school and seek tuition reimbursement or to find your own outside support and seek reimbursement. And if your child already has an IEP, now is the time to assess for yourself whether the program is really making a difference. If not, now is the time to start investigating private alternatives. Stay warm!

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