Previously in the Youth Forum’s BIRTHDAY EDITION we identified how the delivery of services to special needs children can ultimately reduce dropout rates, teen pregnancies and juvenile and adult criminal conduct, while improving performance in school and strengthening college and labor force readiness. Below are links to additional resources, including federal, State of Illinois and Chicago information sites, plus a link to an amazing resource for our Illinois friends: Equip For Equality and its Special Education Helpline. Next time we’ll address some of the obstacles parents and children encounter in the process and share suggestions for best practices — your feedback, experiences and insight would be invaluable and appreciated. For now, however, here is a brief summary on how the law at least is supposed to work:
Federal law, the Individuals WIth Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), gives all children a right to a free and appropriate education, including the right to appropriate special education services. The federal government funds such services through grants to states. The Federal Office of Special Education administers, and the U.S. Secretary of Education oversees the states’ implementation of, the IDEA. States make grants to local governments, develop performance plans on how they will implement federal law and report on their performance to the U.S. Secretary of Education. In Illinois, it is the State Board of Education that monitors local compliance with state and federal law. Illinois is required to provide a fee appropriate education, and ensure that children in the state with disabilities receive special education services. Those services are provided by local educational agencies (which, in Chicago, is the Chicago Public School (CPS) system). Thus, CPS receives federal and state funding, and is responsible to locate children with special needs, determine their eligibility for services, and provide them with special education services. The specific steps to secure special education services, summarizing information on the Department of Education’s website, are as follows:
Step 1. The child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services. School professionals, parents or others may ask that a child be evaluated for a disability (parental consent is required). As well, the state (directly or through local governments) must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state through “Child Find” activities. The evaluation is to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.
Step 2. The child is evaluated. The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education services. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) and they can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.
Step 3. Eligibility is decided. A group of qualified professionals and the parents evaluate the child’s need’s and decide if there is a “disability,” as defined by law. Parents may challenge the eligibility decision.
Step 4. The child is found eligible for services. If the child is found to have a “disability,” as defined by law, he or she is eligible for special education services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child.
Step 5. The IEP meeting is scheduled. The school system schedules and conducts the IEP meeting. School staff must contact the participants, including the parents who must be given the opportunity to attend. School staff must tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting, who will be attending and that the parents may invite people to attend who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.
Step 6. The IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written. The IEP team discusses the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. Parents must consent to any special education and related services provided to the child, and the child is to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting. Parents who do not agree with the IEP and placement may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
Step 7. Services are provided. The school is to ensure that the child’s IEP is implemented. Parents, the child’s teacher,s and service providers are to have access to the IEP, and each service provider should know his or her responsibilities for carrying out the IEP, including accommodations, modifications, and supports to be provided to the child.
Step 8. Progress is measured and reported to parents. The child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. The child’s parents are regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their non-disabled children’s progress.
Step 9. IEP is reviewed. The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes. If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.
Step 10. The child is reevaluated. At least every three years the child must be reevaluated to find out if the child continues to have a “disability,” as defined by federal law, and what the child’s educational needs are. The child must be reevaluated more frequently if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a new evaluation.
As you may have guessed, it doesn’t always work out as smoothly in practice as is outlined on government websites. Next time, we’ll turn to some of the considerations, challenges and steps parents and other stakeholders can take to enhance their special education opportunities for their children. Until then, there are links below to additional sources of information.