By Kristin Peterson and Marion Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP
The United States Department of Education has confirmed that students with disabilities remain entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) during the COVID-19 national emergency. The New York State Education Department has similarly confirmed that students with disabilities are entitled to FAPE and has issued update guidance. NYSED has confirmed that students with disabilities must receive continuity of learning and, to the greatest extent possible, the special education and related services 2 identified in the student’s individualized education program (IEP)
Yet, in this age of remote instruction, it is more important than ever to be a strong advocate for your child. Ensuring appropriate progress for vulnerable students is more difficult than ever. Parents must step in and work worth your school district to ensure your child is receiving appropriate services, in this remote setting and to plan for next year.
Reminder Tips on Preparing For Remote Meetings and Hearings
In preparation of an on-line, remote or virtual meeting it is highly advisable to research accessing Facetime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype. These resources are available on cell phones or can be downloaded to a computer or tablet device. Communicate with your District representative and identify what remote platform they will be using to conduct the meeting. Be prepared in advance, and test your connectivity with a friend your child’s teacher or the school administration.
Before the meeting, ask the chairperson to ensure that the meeting is password protected so your discussion stays confidential. Ask the chairperson to remind meeting participants that they should delete any of your child’s information from their home computer and that all information must remain confidential.
If you plan to bring an advocate or attorney, in general, you should inform the District through the standard channels of communication. In this circumstance, be prepared that the District will also have an attorney in attendance.
Understandably, unless you are practiced conducting group sessions on-line, attending such important meetings (CSE, 504, Hearings) will be challenging. There are however some clear recommendations
- Make certain your device is fully charged and in working order.
- Situate yourself in a setting with the least anticipated distractions (we realize this may not be realistic while supervising your children and trying to work)
- Set up your children with an activity that they can safely and productively navigate on their own or with little need to disturb you
- If you have the provision to tape record the meeting, then do so; again you should inform the district that you are recording
- Plan with your advocate or attorney ahead of the meeting. Discuss the expectations who will be speaking to what points and raising the thorny, grueling and acrimonious issues (if they are present).
- If the CSE is reviewing documents and you do not have a copy, ask them to provide it to you during the meeting, as the Parent should have all documents that the CSE is reviewing.
- Have the means of jotting down notes to reference during the meeting and potentially a way to text or communicate with your advocate or attorney, outside of the remote format.
- Just as you would have the liberty to ask for a few minute “recess” from the meeting to confirm with your advocate or attorney; you should expect the same during a remote meeting.
Know Your Rights and Options
- Familiarize yourself with your child’s legal rights to special education
IDEA requires your school district to provide you with procedural safeguards each year—which is information about special education laws, regulations, and policies. As you study these laws and protections, remember that as the parent you are an equal decision maker when it comes to your child’s needs. Your voice is essential at the meeting. If you need a copy of the procedural safeguards, do not hesitate to ask your CSE chairperson.
- 2. Determine your options
Collect information about different learning programs in your area, interventions at the school and support services within your District.
- Be Prepared
Ensure you have a copy of your child’s IEP. If you do not have one, request it from the CSE chairperson. Read through the IEP and be prepared to discuss each area reflected in the document. If your child has had any recent evaluations, make certain you have been provided the reports ahead of the meeting so you have time to review them and seek answers to questions that they may generate. Share these documents with your advocate or attorney.
Familiar Terminology you should have an understanding of:
- Class versus programs: Decide which is best for you child–a classroom environment for all or part of the day, a specialized program set aside just for students with disabilities, or a specialized school for your child’s specific disability.
- Goals and objectives: List goals such as language, social, vocational, cognitive, self-growth, independence, and general academic goals you have for your child. Think broadly from math, reading, writing and communication skills to building healthy relationships and successful independent living. Consider what steps it will take for your child to accomplish these goals.
- Related services: Consider what supplemental supportive services will help your child succeed or will help your child reap the benefits of special education. (speech and language, counselling, OT, PT, Nursing, Adaptive PE etc).
- Transition services: List any questions you have regarding support programs and services that help children transition into vocational settings and advanced placements. Typically, this is offered to children 15 years of age or older.
- Review and Document Your Child’s Needs
- Compose a list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses: Think in terms of your child’s full day including interests and extracurricular activities, communication dynamics, behavior at home and school, social relationships, safety concerns, health issues, and any other hardships or strengths you notice. You should also include your child’s preferences and responses to environmental stimuli as these will all help contribute to a successful IEP. Jot down any concerns you have with your child’s current evaluations and reports and be sure to ask how your child is doing in regards to her or his grade level and functional skills of daily living. This will help you learn about your child’s school day life and show the District that your child really does need the educational assistance you are asking for.
- Reflect on the goals listed in the current IEP: Ask yourself which goals are the most important to you. Which ones will help your child prepare for post-school life? Compose a list of questions about how well your child is achieving these goals and which ones your child is struggling with. Consider whether to keep the goals, delete them, or modify them.
- List some of your own goals that you would like to see your child achieve: Be specific. Think about behaviors you’d like to see improved; transitions into next steps or grade levels; the amount of time your child will spend in special education settings; if your goals are appropriate for your child’s grade level and academic setting; any technological assistance you want your child to receive; and any possible need for after-school and/or summer program and services.
- Decide how often you need progress reports: Your child’s school is required to give you a progress report each time a report card is issued. If you don’t feel like you are being adequately informed, think about what is necessary to correct this. How often do you think it is appropriate to receive progress reports or conduct a team meeting?
- Invite others to attend the IEP meetings on your child’s behalf
Consider inviting your child’s doctor, psychologist, independent tutors and evaluators to speak on your child’s behalf. If you really want someone there who can’t make it, see if he or she would be willing to write a written statement and submit it to the Committee prior to the meeting. The statement may then be read into the record.
- Come up with questions you want to ask at the meeting
As you prepare for the IEP meeting any time you have a question, jot it down. Have this list of questions readily available during the IEP meeting and review with the team.
Tips for the Day of Meeting
Politely ask that everyone, including any of your guests, introduces themselves and states their roles at the IEP meeting. Jot this down for your records and date it. If you are taping the meeting, you can remind everyone there you are recording.
- Follow your organized plan
Make certain that all your concerns, questions and comments get addressed.
- Stay positive
Stay positive and polite, but don’t be afraid to be assertive. Remember to thank the participants. You don’t have to agree on the IEP plan the team composes right away. Request a copy of the IEP or 504 Plan and let everyone know that you will need to review it before you make your final decisions.
- Reschedule if necessary
If the team is not making progress, or if you just need some extra time to reflect on the recommended IEP, request that a follow-up meeting be scheduled.
- Document any disagreement, both at the meeting and in writing after. It is very important to document your disagreement in a written communication, which can be an email or a PDF attached to an email.
Remember, if you are unclear about your child’s rights and the educational responsibility of your school district it is recommended to seek legal representation. Our attorneys and advocates, here at Littman Krooks, can guide you through this uncharted territory.