Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

PuzzleHeadImageThe Office for Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) within the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” indicating its concern that students with
Continue Reading OSEP Dear Colleague Letter Reminds Districts to Consider Speech/Language Needs for Students with Autism

ParentsMeetWithAdministratorImageThe Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”) recently issued a guidance memorandum  providing its interpretation of when a parent is entitled to a publicly funded independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) regulations.  This SDE guidance comes in the wake of, and includes as a reference, the February 2015 Letter to Baus, issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Special Education Programs (“OSEP”).  Letter to Baus clarified OSEP’s position that if a parent disagrees with a school district’s evaluation, parents may request a publicly funded IEE even in an area not previously assessed by the school district.  Letter to Baus was previously discussed in more detail by our colleague, Gwen Zittoun.

At the outset, SDE reminds districts that under the IDEA regulation governing IEEs, school districts have only two choices when a parent requests a publicly funded IEE: (1) ensure that an IEE is provided at public expense, or (2) file for a due process hearing to demonstrate either that the district’s evaluation was appropriate or that the IEE obtained by the parent does not meet district evaluation criteria.

Continue Reading SDE Weighs in on Parents’ Right to Independent Educational Evaluations

IEPImageThe topic of independent educational evaluations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) has, now more than ever, become one of the most discussed and debated topics in special education. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”), has provided guidance on a parent’s right to receive an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”), most recently earlier this year in Letter to Baus. In summary, the Letter provides that a parent is not limited to obtaining an IEE only in the area that was assessed by the school district.

Continue Reading OSEP Provides Guidance on Parent’s Right to an Independent Educational Evaluation

DyslexiaImageLast year the General Assembly enacted Public Act 14-39, which required the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) to add “SLD-Dyslexia” as a separate primary disability category under the existing “specific learning disability” category on the individualized education program (IEP) form.  Specific learning disability (SLD) is one of the thirteen enumerated disabilities under which a student may qualify for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  While the IDEA includes “dyslexia” as an example of an SLD, neither the IDEA nor state law define dyslexia.  To address the implementation of Public Act 14-39, SDE formed a working group to develop a “working definition” of dyslexia.  SDE recently released this “working definition” in an updated Frequently Asked Questions document and the definition is also included in the revised SDE IEP Manual.

According to the working definition:

Dyslexia is included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) as a specific learning disability. Dyslexia impacts reading, specifically decoding and accurate and/or fluent word recognition and spelling. Dyslexia is neurobiological in origin and is unexpected and/or inconsistent with a student’s other abilities often despite the provision of appropriate instruction. Dyslexia results from a significant deficit in phonological processing (i.e., a persistent difficulty in the awareness of and ability to manipulate the individual sounds of spoken language).

Typically, students with dyslexia have strengths and cognitive abilities in areas such as reasoning, critical thinking, concept formation, problem solving, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and social communication (e.g., conversation). Early identification and appropriate instruction targeting the underlying phonological processing deficits that characterize dyslexia may minimize its educational impact.

Essential Clarifications:

  • Dyslexia is not primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disability; an intellectual disability; emotional disturbance; a lack of appropriate instruction; cultural factors; environmental or economic disadvantage; or limited English proficiency.
  • Early identification of the characteristics of dyslexia is critical, leading to focused, evidence-based interventions, accommodations, self-awareness, self-empowerment, and school and life success.
  • Without targeted, systematic and explicit instruction/interventions along with accommodations (e.g., accessible educational materials in content area subjects), students with dyslexia may have:
    • reduced reading experiences that may impact the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge,
    • difficulty with written expression, and/or
    • difficulty learning a second language.
  • Students with dyslexia may demonstrate additional behavioral and/or emotional reactions to their difficulty with learning to read.”

Continue Reading SDE Releases New “Working Definition” of Dyslexia for Special Education Eligibility

On December 24, 2014, the State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education (the “Bureau”), issued guidance on a school district’s ability to send student
Continue Reading Bureau of Special Education Issues Guidance on a School District’s Ability to Send Records to Out-of-District Placements

In response to the Ebola epidemic, the U.S. Department of Education (“USDOE”) has issued a letter to schools and districts providing updated guidance and resources to assist schools and communities in establishing practices and protocols related to Ebola, as well as seasonal flu.

The most comprehensive resource provided through this letter, which was issued in December 2014, is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”).  The CDC guidance outlines actions school officials may implement, in consultation with public health authorities, to further reduce the potential risk of Ebola transmission in schools.  In doing so, the CDC delineates the roles of public health officials and educators and warns against educators usurping the responsibilities of public health officials.  Specifically, this guidance clarifies and confirms that the assessment of a person’s risk of Ebola exposure and evaluation of clinical condition to determine appropriate public health actions is within the purview of public health authorities and advises that only public health authorities may determine whether, and to what extent, monitoring or restriction on movement, including the issue of school attendance, is necessary.

Conversely, the CDC guidance advises educators to develop an emergency operations plan for responding to Ebola-related incidents, including situations where a school may need to contain the disease.  To assist in this process, the CDC guidance provides educators with practical considerations and advises the review of, and compliance with, “public health codes, infection control guidance, and applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.”  Further, the guidance provides school officials with recommended actions based on a person’s identified risk level, which may be found here.

In addressing issues related to Ebola, the CDC reminds schools and districts to be cognizant and compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPPA”) and any applicable privacy laws when working with public health authorities to establish protocols for communication and implementation of recommendations relative to Ebola.

Continue Reading U.S. Department of Education Issues Guidance on Ebola for K-12 Schools

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) together with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) recently issued joint guidance regarding the obligations of public schools to meet the communication needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.  The focus of the guidance is these agencies’ interpretation that different standards exist under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for meeting the communication needs of students with disabilities and that compliance with the IDEA will not always result in compliance with the “effective communication” regulation of the ADA. This interpretation is in line with, and cites, a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision from the Ninth Circuit (covering the western states), which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review.  See K.M. v. Tustin Unified Sch. Dist., 725 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 1493 (2014).

Public schools have obligations to qualifying students with disabilities under the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the ADA.  The guidance focuses on the distinction between schools’ obligations under the IDEA and the ADA (rather than also analyzing requirements under Section 504) because many of the students affected by these provisions will be covered by the IDEA and compliance with the IDEA, including providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE), generally results in compliance with the related but distinct obligation to provide FAPE under Section 504.  Similarly, compliance with the ADA’s effective communication regulation generally will result in compliance with Section 504’s nondiscrimination requirements.

To meet the FAPE standard under the IDEA, a student’s planning and placement team (PPT) must develop an appropriate individualized education program (IEP) that is reasonably calculated to provide the student with educational benefit based on the student’s individual needs.  The IEP must contain special education and related services, including communication-related auxiliary aids and services, as needed, to meet this standard.
Continue Reading New Guidance Explains Different Standards under IDEA and the ADA for Meeting Students’ Communication Needs

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on special education titled “Improved Performance Measures Could Enhance Oversight of Dispute Resolution.” According to the
Continue Reading Government Accountability Office Report Finds a Reduction in Special Education Due Process Hearings