by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS
In 1975, Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now known as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). In order to receive federal funds, states must develop and implement policies that assure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children with disabilities. The state plans must be consistent with the federal statute. One of the tenets of the law provides that students who are found to have disabilities or special needs, must be provided education in the “least restrictive environment”. The law has created a large federal bureaucracy as most laws requiring compliance will do. School districts all over the country receive grants and special funding to make sure the least restrictive environment provision is met.
Large school districts have created special classrooms with complex equipment and specialists to meet most of the needs presented by students with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans). Students may spend part of their day in these classrooms, the rest in regular classrooms with their peers so they can be in a less restrictive environment, thus meeting the letter of the law.
In the recent past, students have been seen with increasingly complex medical and intellectual challenges. Medical science has improved birth outcomes for children with very low birth weight for instance; these children at one time would have died, but are now saved, some with complicated needs. The public schools are required to provide services for these children. Often, a child will need to be transported away from his neighborhood school to find a classroom that can meet his needs. You have probably seen small yellow buses in your town; that is what they are for, providing free transportation for special needs children to special services in their town, or a neighboring community.
The special education programs in schools are based on the rules and guidelines developed by the federal government. These rules are established to protect special education students and parents and to promote the well-being of the students. Because these rules and regulations are many, varied, and quite specific on a number of points, special education administrators as well as building principals must make sure that their schools conform to both the substance and the intent of these rules. That is not always an easy job.
Many rules and regulations that administrators must understand revolve around special committees and IEP’s (Individual Educational Programs or Plans). A program could be deemed non-compliant because all the required members of the committee were not present, or properly informed, or noted in the minutes of a committee meeting. By law, each child’s IEP must be reviewed on a regularly scheduled basis so all his needs will be met as he grows. Things change, and the committees are empowered to keep up with the changes by providing new services as needed. Parents are heavily involved in this process; this is the intent of the law.
Another way a program might be found non-compliant is when parents are not afforded an opportunity for meaningful participation in the committee meetings. The parents might not have been notified of the meeting in a timely fashion or the meeting may have been set up at a time or place that was not mutually agreeable. The parents might have disagreed with the committee and no meeting was set to reconvene. The parents might have refused to sign or agree or disagree with provisions of new plans. Any or all of these problems could have a school cited for non-compliance, especially if there is a pattern of this behavior.
The IEP itself can be the center of a host of other non-compliance problems. This can happen if an IEP was not written to provide appropriate educational benefit to the student. Maybe the goals and objectives were not set up so that they were measurable. Perhaps the levels of academic achievement were not aligned with goals, assessments, or services provided. Now, with the implementation of Common Core State Standards and new testing requirements, students may not have been provided with proper accommodations on exams so they can take them with their peers.
Being a special education administrator or a building administrator is a difficult job. It is really challenging when you have to deal with the many compliance issues surrounding special education students in the form of IEP’s, and evaluation/reevaluation meetings.
This blog article is a very basic thumbnail description of some of the more basic provisions of a law that has greatly improved the academic environments for so many thousands of students. I will be writing more about this law, but I felt the need to provide this background material for you to absorb so you will understand complicated issues.
If you are a parent of a special needs child, I’d love to hear from you. How is your school district managing your child’s educational needs? Are you happy with the services your child receives? Comment on this or other blogs we provide.
Grant Name: BWI Summer Reading Program Grant
Funded By: American Library Association
Description: This grant is designed to encourage outstanding summer reading programs by providing financial assistance, while recognizing ALSC members for outstanding program development. The applicant must plan and present an outline for a theme-based summer reading program in a public library. The program must be open to all children (birth -14 years). The committee also encourages innovative proposals involving children with physical or mental disabilities.
Program Areas: Disabilities, Library, Professional Development, Special Education
Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other
Proposal Deadline: 11/30/2014
Average Amount: $3,000.00
Address: 50 E. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2788
Website: American Library Association
Availability: All States