According to Education Week, The College Board has announced that it will more readily approve accommodations for the SAT, PSAT, and AP tests beginning January 1, 2017. As many who have attempted to receive accommodations know, applications for accommodations have frequently been denied by College Board despite appropriate documentation. Some students who routinely receive accommodations from their schools pursuant to IEPs or 504 plans have had to take the College Board exams without these accommodations, resulting in lower scores. The U.S. Department of Justice has reportedly been looking into the practices of College Board and its competitor, ACT, Inc., after receiving persistent complaints. Education Week reports that College Board will soon begin automatically approving accommodations for students if the accommodations requested are provided by their school through an IEP or 504 plan.
When students turn 14 (in Massachusetts), IEP teams are required to consider “transition services.” Students with disabilities are far more likely than non-disabled students to have difficulty successfully navigating post-secondary education, finding and holding a job, and living independently. The point of transition planning and transition services is to make your student ready to participate in post-secondary education if that is appropriate, live as independently as possible, and be gainfully employed. Transition planning is a results-oriented process in that it is focused on how to move the student from where he is now to where he wants to be. The transition plan is a set of coordinated activities which is based on the student’s vision for himself.
Eligibility for special education services (and with it, transition services) terminates upon high school graduation or when the student turns 22, whichever comes first. So, it is obviously important that your student not accept a high school diploma and not graduate from high school before he or she is ready, because graduating will terminate eligibility for services.
From the time a student turns 14, the IEP team is supposed to look forward to the future, consider the student’s vision for herself, and discuss how to help her achieve her goals. The student should be the star of the show at this time, because it is the student’s interests, goals, and plans which are the primary focus. The student should attend these meetings and be encouraged to participate as best she can. You should additionally invite anyone to team meetings who you think has a unique perspective on your student, her skills, and her needs (e.g., a coach, a boss, a mentor, etc.). When discussing the student’s goals, the conversation should be specific. Appropriate topics could and should include what education the student wants to pursue, what employment the student would like to achieve, what leisure activities the student would like to be involved in, and where the student wants to live (e.g., city or suburb?; independently in an apartment, in a supported living environment, or with family?). These conversations will evolve over time.
Once the IEP team figures out what the student wants and needs, it must be documented in the IEP. There should be goals which describe what the student needs to work on and there should be services on the service delivery grid which will help the student achieve those goals. It is not enough to just fill out the Transition Planning Form (the “TPF”). The conclusions drawn from the TPF must be put into the IEP as goals, objectives, and services.
If you are advocating on behalf of your student, a school district is prohibited under federal law from retaliating against you in any way. Recently, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved two cases in Virginia concerning two individuals who were working on behalf of students. In one case, a mother who was employed by the school district was terminated from her job after advocating for her child. The district argued that it had fired the mother because of job performance, but OCR found that the reasons given for termination were a pretext for retaliation for the mother’s work on behalf of her child. In the second case, a school district instructed all of its staff to stop communicating with an advocate who was working on behalf of several children, going so far as to block the advocate’s e-mail account. The case was resolved when the district agreed to restore the advocate’s access and conduct a training program for its employees.
If you have experienced conduct by any school employee which you believe is retaliation for your advocacy on behalf of your student, you can read about the Office for Civil Rights’ complaint processing procedures here. Professional assistance in filing OCR complaints is not required, but is often a good idea.
Time to get an IEP in place for the fall! Although it is still hot outside, every school child can feel the chill of school approaching. In fact, schools will be back in session in about 3 weeks. The law requires that schools have IEPs in place for eligible individuals at the beginning of the school year. It is not acceptable for schools to tell parents that they must wait 6 weeks before an IEP is drafted because the school staff need to get to know the student. IEP teams must do their best to craft an IEP that will meet the student’s needs. Of course, IEPs can be amended at any time if the student is not making progress, and, in fact, it is the school’s obligation to convene a team meeting and amend an IEP if a student is not making progress toward his goals.
Occasionally, your student may be ill and unable to attend school for an extended period of time. If your student will be absent for 14 days or more for medical reasons, he may be entitled to educational services. Massachusetts regulations provide that: “Upon receipt of a physician’s written order verifying that any student … must remain at home or in a hospital on a day or overnight basis, or any combination of both, for medical reasons and for a period of not less than fourteen school days in any school year, the principal shall arrange for provision of educational services in the home or hospital.” 603 CMR 28.03(3)(c).
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provides a form for physicians to use to request home or hospital educational services (Form 28/R, available on the DESE website). Use of the form is not required. However, any statement from your physician in support of home or hospital educational services MUST contain the following: the date the student was admitted to a hospital or was confined to home; the medical reason(s) for the confinement (with some specificity); the expected duration of the student’s hospitalization or home confinement (>13 days? >60 days?); and what medical needs the school should consider in planning the home or hospital education services.
Further, to ensure sufficiency, this additional information should be included: the student’s diagnosis (related to the absence from school); the length of time the student has been under the physician’s care; when the student was last seen by the physician; an explanation of the medical condition that prevents the student from attending school; an indication if the condition is serious and/or chronic; and, if applicable, a discussion of how the student’s medical condition affects his educational performance (e.g., strength, vitality, or alertness is significantly limited and affects access to the educational environment).
Because school districts often deny requests for home-hospital educational services based on the insufficiency of physicians’ statements, it is important to explain to your student’s doctor what information must be included.