Friday, June 26, 2009

Fast Fact Friday: Requesting an IEP Meeting

A student's Individualized Education Plan must be reviewed
  • at least annually
  • whenever there are evaluations / assessments to be reviewed by the IEP team
  • to address lack of expected progress
  • at the request of the teacher / staff
  • at the request of the parent
Parents often don't know that they can request an IEP meeting at any time! They may be concerned about their child's lack of progress, or new concerns that have arisen, or think some information needs to be provided to the team, but be waiting for the District to call an IEP meeting!

When & Why

Parents may need to request an IEP team meeting for many reasons. Trust your instincts and judgment - if you think that the team needs to meet and possibly make changes to the program, just ask for a meeting! Here are some examples of common situations:
  • Parent obtained a private evaluation or met with the student's doctor, and recommendations pertinent to the student's program were made
  • Parent is concerned about student's failing grades, lack of progress towards IEP goals, or other indications of lack of progress in the existing program
  • Parent believes the student's needs have changed, such as that there are new behaviors the student is exhibiting
Parents can make a request for the IEP team to convene to discuss these concerns and make appropirate adjustments to the IEP. The timeline for when the District will then be required to hold an IEP meeting is determined by state laws and regulations. (In California, for example, it must be held within 30 days).

What & How

Like everything else, this request should be made in writing. Parents should send a letter to their child's school of attendance and to the school district special education office clearly requesting an IEP meeting to be convened as soon as possible.

It's a good idea for parents to give some indication of why they are requesting an IEP meeting so that the District team members can come to the meeting prepared for a meaningful discussion. If the parent is requesting a meeting to review a private report, for example, the parent should offer to provide a copy of the report for the team's review. If the request is based on a concern about the student's lack of progress, briefly document the basis of that concern.

Give the District dates and times that you are available to have the meeting, or request that they contact you by a certain date to discuss mutually agreeable dates.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Webinar Series for Parents, Parent-Attorneys and Advocates

COPAA is hosting a four part webinar series with Drs. Holden and Farrall to introduce participants to the stages of reading development, issues related to reading assessment and the principles of direct, systematic multisensory instruction. They will review how reading skills develop in typical learners with the struggle experienced by those with educational disabilities and dyslexia; and will discuss the role of Response to Intervention in designing, implementing, and evaluating interventions.

The sessions are as follows:

Part One: Learning to Read – Thursday, June 25, 2009, 2:00 -3:30 pm (Eastern)
Part Two: Reading to Learn – Thursday, July 9, 2009, 2:00 -3:30 pm (Eastern)
Part Three: Assessment – Tuesday, July 14, 2009, 2:00 -3:30 pm (Eastern)
Part Four: Direct, Systematic Multisensory Instruction – Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 2:00 -3:30 pm (Eastern)

For more information about cost and to register please go to

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fast Fact Friday: Recreational Therapy

Recreational Therapy is a related service under the IDEIA, and it includes "(i)assessment of leisure function; (ii) therapeutic recreation services; (iii) recreation programs in school and communities; and (iv) leisure education." 20 U.S.C. section 1401(26)(a); 34 C.F.R. section 300.34(b)(11). State statutes and regulations define RT more specifically.

California, for example, defines RT as including:
(a) Therapeutic recreation services, which are those specialized instructional programs designed to assist pupils in becoming as independent as possible in leisure activities, and when possible and appropriate, facilitate the pupil's integration into regular recreation programs;
(b) Recreation programs in schools and the community which are those programs that emphasize the use of leisure activity in the teaching of academic, social and daily living skills; and the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular leisure activities and the utilization of community recreation programs and facilities;
(c) Leisure education programs which are those specific programs designed to prepare the pupil for optimum independent participation in appropriate leisure activities, including teaching social skills necessary to engage in leisure activities, and developing awareness of personal and community leisure resources.
Title 5, California Code of Regulations, section 3051.15

Recreation and leisure can be areas of unique special education and related services needs for a student with a disability. These needs must be taken into consideration when developing the student's IEP. An RT assessment can be conducted by a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS), and should address how the student's functioning in the areas of physical, cognitive and social / emotional affect his/her ability to appropriately access leisure and recreational activities. Appropriate access to a leisure activity does not just mean playing the game - it means being able to understand the purpose of engaging in recreational activities with peers, understand how to choose what leisure activities give you enjoyment, and understand the rules (both official and "social" rules) of participation.

"A recreational therapist utilizes a wide range of activity and community based interventions and techniques to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, social and leisure needs of their clients. Recreational therapists assist clients to develop skills, knowledge and behaviors for daily living and community involvement. The therapist works with the client and their family to incorporate specific interests and community resources into therapy to achieve optimal outcomes that transfer to their real life situation."
(From Frequently Asked Questions, American Therapeutic Recreation Association)

"Educational benefit" includes areas of non-academics! Remember that the ultimate goal of special education is to provide the appropriate instruction and services so that a student can become an independent member of society, to the extent possible. Skills related to the ability to socialize appropriately, work in groups, communicate effectively, etc, are important parts of educational benefit. The ability to access the community, including for recreation and leisure activities, is also important for students to learn.

Examples of situations where RT services may be appropriate:

Students whose unique needs include social skills deficits, such that they have an inability to access recreation and leisure independently. Students with autism spectrum disorders, for example, may have a difficult time understanding how to choose what activity to participate in, how to join a game, and how to utilize appropriate social skills to interact with others during leisure time.

Students who are in the "transition plan" phase of their educational program. Students who will be transitioning to adult life may need some specialized instruction to help them learn about how to independently access leisure and recreational activities in their community.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fast Fact Friday: Specialized Instruction

Eligibility for an IEP is contingent upon (1) the child having an identified disability under one of the eligibility categories in federal and state laws, and (2) the child requiring, by reason of that disability, special education and related services. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.8(a)(1). "Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including (i) instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and (ii) instruction in physical education." See 20 U.S.C. section 1401(29); 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(a)(1). Furthermore, special education can include related services, such as speech-language pathology, if that service is considered special education rather than a related service under state standards. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(a)(2).

What is "specially designed instruction?"

The IDEIA defines specially designed instruction as "adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction, (i) to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability; and (ii) to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of hte public agency that apply to all children." 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(b)(3).

Through the IEP process, Districts need to consider whether adaptations are needed in the content (i.e. what is being taught), or the methodology or delivery of instruction (i.e. how it is being taught) in order for the specific child's needs to be addressed and in order for that child to have access to general education curriculum. The IEP team should also consider whether the child needs "additional specialized instruction or related services" in order to make progress towards general education curriculum. See Letter to Anonymous, OSEP 2008.

"Specially designed" means designed with the specific child in mind. Specially designed instruction can include alternative methods of teaching the same curriculum to children with disabilities as to non-disabled students. It can include modified or adapted textbooks.

Under the IDEIA, special education (including specially designed instruction) should be "based on peer reviewed research to the extent practicable." 34 C.F.R. section 300.320(a)(4). In certain cases, specially designed instruction can also include specialized instructional programs, like intensive reading programs, ABA or other methodologies, etc., if these specific instructional programs are required to meet the child's unique needs and ensure access to the general curriculum.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Goals Related to General Education Curriculum

I hear lots of interesting things at IEP meetings, and recently I've heard several comments on the theme of including goals in an IEP to address general education standards.

In one meeting, a district resource teacher stated that "the law prohibited the IEP team from including goals in an IEP that were based on what would be taught within the general education curriculum."

Another teacher stated that goals related to general education were never appropriate for a student who is "severely disabled."

A district administrator stated that if all of the goals were based on regular education standards, rather than below grade level, this meant that the child should be exited from his IEP because clearly he didn't need special education.

Yet another claimed that "this district doesn't write IEP goals related to Science because no one has a Science disability."

At each of these meetings, I have patiently explained that the law requires IEP goals to address a child's unique needs in order to enable that child to make progress towards and participate in general education curriculum, and that if a child is expected to reach regular standards, but will require specialized instruction or related services to do so, then it would be appropriate to have a goal in that area. More and more, I am seeing IEP teams dismiss this request and insist that IEP goals cannot be written to address regular education standards. So, I've been compiling some information about this issue during these last few weeks of "IEP season" and I wanted to share that information with you.

What does IDEA say about this?

The IEP document must include a statement of measurable annual goals designed to meet the child's unique needs that result from the child's disability, to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.320(a)(2).

In Appendix A to Part 300, at Question 4, the Office of Education stated that a public agency is not required to include in an IEP annual goals that relate to areas of general curriculum if the child's disability does not affect the child's ability to be involved in and progress towards the general curriculum in that area.

Nowhere in the law is there a statement that a child's IEP cannot or should not include goals related to the general education curriculum. Further, there is no disclaimer stating that the requirement that goals be included to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general educaiton curriculum does not apply if the child is severely disabled.

When should the IEP address general education curriculum standards?

An IEP should include goals for areas related to the general education curriculum if the student requires special education or related services in order to make progress or participate in that specific area.

Remember that the IDEA defines special education as specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of the child. Specially designed instruction is defined as adapting as approrpiate to the needs of the child, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children. 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(a)&(b).

Look at your state's or district's expected standards for each grade level. (Click here for California Content Standards). Each state has content standards for each grade level that define what students are expected to learn in each academic content area. The question is not whether the ultimate goal is for your child to reach the same level at the end of the school year as the other students; the question is whether your child's disability impacts his/her ability to reach that level. If it does, then it may be appropriate to include a goal for that skill. Look to current evaluation data to determine what areas of the curriculum may be affected by your child's disability.

Start addressing this in the Present Levels of Performance (PLOP), and use that information to determine if a goal is needed. The IEP's statement of PLOP must include the student's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance including how the student's disability affects the student's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. 34 C.F.R. section 300.320(a)(1). For each area under PLOP, there should be a statement of how the student is currently performing as related to the grade level expectations based upon the content standards. This information can come from a variety of sources, including assessment data, classroom records, standardized testing, teacher input, progress reports, etc. Look at the PLOP to determine where there are areas where there is a "gap" between the grade level expectations and the child's functioning level.

What is the importance of including general education expectations in the IEP?

There is a preference in law and policy for including students with disabilities to the maximum extent possible in the regular education setting. Addressing general education curriculum expectations for students with disabilities, however, goes beyond the LRE debate. This issue is about the underlying goal of the IDEA to end the practice of "lowering expectations" for students with disabilities. Its about the ultimate goal of ensuring that students are educated in such a way that they are prepared for the world when they leave high school.

The IDEA "findings" state that "the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by... having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet the developmental goals and the challenging expectations that have been established for all children and... be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives..." 20 U.S.C. section 1400(c).

No Child Left Behind reiterates this finding, noting that its purpose is to "ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." It goes on to indicate that this purpose can be achieved by "meeting the educational needs of low-achieving students, including students with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. section 6301.

Reflect on these considerations as you consider the appropriateness of IEP goals related to general education curriculum. A district team member once told me that the only way she would write an IEP goal related to a grade level math standard for a particular student was if the expectation was reduced from learning 30 numbers (as stated in the standard) to learning 15 numbers. When this kind of determination is made arbitrarily because of a misguided belief that grade level goals are not permissible, rather than based on any information about the child's actual levels of functioning, it is not conducive with meeting the purposes of the IDEA. Certainly, an arbitrary assumption that simply because a child is disabled, he could not possibly be expected to reach the grade level standard, is not "having high expectations for such children."

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is the "I" in "IEP." The IEP must be individualized for the specific child based on his/her specific unique needs, strengths and levels of functioning, and considering information regarding how that child's specific disability affects his/her ability to progress in and participate in the general curriculum. The IEP must ensure that the child is able to make progress and receive a meaningful educational benefit. We should all be wary whenever we are told that "this district doesn't write those goals" or that inclusion of general education standards would "never be appropriate." Ultimately, whether the IEP should include a goal that is related to a general education content standard is an IEP team decision, and should be based on the specific scenario rather than any preconceived notions about the issue.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fast Fact Friday: Who is Required at IEP Team Meetings?

Under the law an IEP "team" is made up of one or both of the parents, at least one regular education teacher of your child if they are participating in a regular education setting, at least one special education teacher or provider, a representative of the district, someone who can interpret the instructional implication of any evaluations being reviewed and at the discretion of the Parents, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, and if appropriate the child.

Example: If your child had more than one regular education teacher only one needs to be present at the meeting.

An IEP team member does not need to attend in whole or in part if the parent and the district agree that the attendance is not necessary because the member's area of curriculum or related services will not be modified or discussed in a meeting.

Example: If you're having a meeting to discuss OT services the SLP does not need to be there.

An IEP team member may be excused from attending the IEP meeting if the meeting involved modification or discussion of the member's area of the curriculum or related services if: (1) the parent and district consent to the excusal; and (2) the member submits in writing to the parent and IEP team, input into the development of the IEP prior to the meeting.

Example: If during the IEP meeting LAS services will be discussed the SLP does not have to attend if Parents consent to the excusal beforehand and the SLP submits her recommendations in writing before the meeting.

References: 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(1)(C)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Budget Cuts, Summer School, and Your Kid's IEP

On May 28th Los Angeles Unified School District became one of many districts across the country to announce that it was cancelling summer school due to budget cuts. Students who would normally be able to attend enrichment programs or intervention programs to address reading or math deficits will be denied such opportunities this year, and most likely next year. LAUSD's cuts mean that only credit-replacement classes for high school students (at a limited number of campuses) will be offered as "regular education summer school."

LAUSD will still of course be offering Extended School Year ("ESY") programs for students whose IEPs include such a program. ESY is mandated in the federal regulations and in California special education laws, so while summer school can be "cancelled," ESY cannot. However, Districts across the country are "limiting" ESY, and more and more parents are hearing for that a program is not available, ESY would not be appropriate, or their child does not require it. We are hearing from parents that say the District checked off a box that says the student "does not require ESY" without even discussing it, or that say that Districts are suddenly making it very difficult for students to "qualify" for ESY.

Here are some ways the budget cuts and summer school cancellations could affect your special needs child:

1) If your child is in an inclusion program (general education) during the regular school year, the District may not have a similar setting available during the summer because regular summer school has been cancelled.

* This is probably the biggest way that parents are going to see a direct impact of the cancellation of summer school. If the school district is only offering SDC's over the summer, and your child is typically in a general education setting, it may not be appropriate for him/her to attend the district's ESY program.

* The lack of an appropriate ESY setting isn't the end of the discussion, however. The IEP team needs to first consider whether the student requires ESY. If the student requires ESY to prevent regression in skills, then the IEP team needs to look at what should be offered and what will be appropriate. Deciding a student doesn't qualify because the District's program isn't appropriate is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

* If the District agrees that the student requires ESY, but admits it has no appropriate setting to offer, then the District is in a difficult position. You may be able to locate a private regular education program for summer school that will provide the continuation of stucture and interaction with peers that your child requires, and you may then be able to advocate for the District to fund such a setting.

* Furthermore, just because the District's placement option doesn't work for your child does not mean that the child is entitled to nothing over the summer. Look at the specific areas in which your child may regress, and see if he/she requires continuation of related services, even if he/she is not attending a summer school classroom setting. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc can be available even if the student does not attend ESY.

2) If your district has limited ESY participation by applying a difficult "standard," you may have a difficult time demonstrating the need for a summer program.

* The typical standard is California cases is that ESY must be provided if the student requires instruction / services during the summer in order to prevent regression that is beyond what a typical student would experience during the break from school. Another possible standard include looking at the nature and severity of the disability, for example considering the fact that a student with autism may need a continuity of structured participation in a classroom setting.

* School districts are applying a more stenuous analysis for the "regression/recoupment" standard. Parents may be faced with IEP teams that say there is "no proof" that the child will regress more than what is typical, or may use indications that the child is meeting IEP goals during the regular school year as indication that ESY is not needed.

* Parents are going to need to come to the IEP meetings armed with information and recommendations to assist them in advocating for ESY. Does your child have an extremely difficult time transitioning to new environments? Argue that this is an indication that the nature of his / her disability requires continuity of services during the summer, and that without ESY the transition to the following school year will cause serious regression. How did your child do after winter break? Previous summer breaks? Use this information as support for ESY this year. Remember that educational benefit is about more than academics, it encompasses "nonacademic" areas like social skills, behavior, etc, and these areas may be good focal points for articulating how your child will regress if not provided appropriate ESY support.

Finally, in general parents should anticipate that this may be happening to their child, and review the IEP document before school gets out. Unfortunately, you may find that the IEP already says your child is not eligible, or the previous IEP may not even speak to ESY. If you need to call another meeting to discuss ESY, now is the time to do it in order to ensure that this issue is brought up before it is too late for this summer.