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!

December 2

When It Smells Rotten, Make A Stink

I stay current with legal developments in the area of special education law through Lexis, a professional service. This week, I did just that and saw a case where my local school district was the defendant. The case involved a teacher who alleged that she was not rehired because she had complained about the delivery of special education in the district. The court held that there was a triable issue of fact and the case is going to trial.

The incidents occurred during the exact time period when my own child attended the district and, at the time, I suspected that something was rotten in the special education department. At the time, I hadn’t studied special education law and and was just like every other parent who assumed that the District cared. It seemed odd to me that I was the one TELLING the head of special education (named as a defendant in this suit) how to teach certain skills. I wasn’t sharing just nuances about my particular child; I was teaching the teachers how to teach. I interviewed my child’s teachers and it seemed strange they had no understanding of the two deficits affecting my child’s progress that were listed prominently on the IEP’s first page. In defense of the head of the special education department, she seemed truly pleased that I was confronting the teachers.

Here’s the point: I suspected something was wrong. It turns out that I was probably right. So, as a parent,

– Study and learn about your child’s particular deficits and the generally accepted views of how they should be managed.
– Make sure that those strategies are being taught to your child in school. Then,
– If you suspect that the District knows what should be done and they just aren’t doing it, RAISE YOUR VOICE (calmly)!
– Know your legal rights and document your child’s progress.
– Communicate regularly with your child’s teachers and special educators.
– Investigate the private school alternatives in your area. That way you won’t get caught up short if your child persists in not making progress.

Don’t rely on other people to do their job. Sadly, and unfortunately, they don’t.

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