Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Timelines Are Important!

This time of year, it is important to think about certain timelines with regard to special education and certain requests.

Once you make a request for any special education-related assessment, a school district has 15 days to give you a response and/or an assessment plan to sign. Once a parent signs and returns that assessment plan to a school district, they have 60 days to complete the assessment and hold an IEP meeting to discuss the assessment results.

You may be asking "So why does this time of year have anything to do with that?" Good question. Those statutory timelines are tolled during school holidays of 5 days or longer. That means that all timelines stop during summer break. So if you request an assessment, and sign an assessment plan, and on day 59 the school district goes into summer break. that means your IEP will take place no later than the 2nd day of school NEXT school year.

The school district can finish the process sooner, but they are not compelled to do so by law. This also goes for a direct request for an IEP meeting, which the school district must comply with within 30 days. If that 30 days goes into summer, again it will take place NEXT school year.

The moral of the story is: Be prepared to wait, or, in the alternative, make sure to get those requests in prior to 2 months before summer break if you want your meetings to happen during the "current" school year.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs)

Many people ask me about independent assessments. Mostly, the questions are:

1. Do I need an independent assessment?
2. Are independent assessments better than school district assessments?
3. Can I get the school district to pay for an independent assessment?
4. Is the school district bound by what the independent assessment says?

The most basic answer is that you are entitled to an independent assessment at school district expense in the event that a school district has done an assessment that does not meet legal standards. This includes any and all special education assessments, including comprehensive assessments, speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.

In my experience, while independent assessments are generally more extensive than school district assessments, they are not always "better." You must make sure that, prior to getting an independent assessment, you get a copy of the assessor's resume or CV and see their qualifications. Make sure that it will be them personally doing the testing, or, if not, who will be and how they are involved. Also, ask if they have redacted reports that you can look at as examples. The biggest issue that I have had with independent assessments is assessment reports that do not contain recommendations, or contain recommendations so broad they are useless in terms of aiding at an IEP meeting.

School districts must take into account an IEE at an IEP meeting, but are not bound by what the independent assessment says. As such, if you anticipate litigation, make sure the assessor you choose has experience testifying and is willing to do so on your behalf.

The Economou Law Group has extensive experience reviewing special education assessments, including IEEs, and also has direct relationships with many IEE providers in all areas. Call today at (626) 765-9607 if you think your child needs an IEE.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Special Education Assessments

The backbone of special education (aside from the IEP team) are assessments. Many parents have seen assessment reports if their children are qualified to receive special education services. However, most parents probably don't understand a lot of the information in those reports. Moreover, many parents do not get sufficient explanation of said reports during IEP meetings.

Tell me if this situation rings a bell: You're at your child's IEP meeting, and an assessment report is put in front of you for the first time. The assessor then reads the report to the IEP team. Once the reading is done, the administrator asks if there are any questions. As a parent, you don't really understand a lot of it, but you are embarrassed to ask questions because it took so long to read and everyone just wants to get out of there.

This is the case of many parents out there. However, as the most important members of the IEP team, you are entitled to a full understanding of all reports. Next time, ask for a copy of the reports in advance of the meeting. Come prepared with questions about anything / everything you don't understand, and go through those questions rather than having the assessor simply read their report. That way, you can meaningfully participate in the IEP.

The Economou Law Group has extensive experience reviewing all types of special education assessments, both for their content and legal appropriateness. If you have questions or concerns regarding your child and their assessments, call us today for your free consultation at (626) 765-9607.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Private vs. Nonpublic Schools

Parents often wish to take advantage of the environment that private schools have to offer their children. However, many times when I speak to parents, they believe that a "private" school is the same environment as a "nonpublic" school. While the terms seem to be interchangeable, for purposes of establishing special education requirements, they are different.

A private school is an educational institution which is completely private, not receiving any public funding whatsoever. These institutions are not subject to the terms enumerated in the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). As such, Private Schools do not have any enumerated special education service requirements. Many do offer certain accommodations and services for children who require special education, but legally they are not beholden to federal law as private schools.

Nonpublic schools, on the other hand, are institutions registered with the CA Department of Education, that do receive public funding. Most often, the nature of these schools are that they are entirely populated with children who are qualified to receive special education services in a certain area. As such, they are one of the most restrictive placements in the continuum of special education placements. However, they are required to follow the federal and state laws as they receive public funding.

Knowing the difference between these two terms for special education purposes may be necessary, especially if a school district is offering your child placement in a nonpublic school. The Economou Law Group can aid in determining the need for nonpublic placement based on your child's records, and also the appropriateness of nonbpublic placements throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. Call today at (626) 765-9607 for your free records review and consultation.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Consent and Agreement in IEPs

One of the biggest issues that Parents routinely bring to me is the issue of consent to their child's IEP. The situation frequently occurs where you've just had a long meeting with a lot of information presented, and then the IEP administrator plops down the consent page in front of you for signature. As a parent, you're not sure about all the information you've heard, but you feel tremendous pressure with a table full of people staring at you. What do you do?

The majority of parents, in my experience, sign right then and there whether or not they understand or agree. If you've been in that situation, trust me you are not alone.

As a parent, you are the most valuable member of the IEP team (according to both federal and CA state law). You have to be afforded meaningful participation in all IEP meetings, which means your full understanding and agreement with all provisions. Unfortunately, many times this doesn't occur for whatever reason.

I advise all my clients, and anyone who I speak to on this topic, to take the IEP document (along with any and all assessments) home with them to review prior to signing their consent. This doesn't necessarily mean to have them reviewed by an attorney, but just to go over them in more detail so that you understand all provisions. If you have specific questions, write them down and ask for a follow up IEP meeting to discuss them. That way, when you sign consent, you are providing consent and agreement rather than just feeling pressured into signing at the end of a long meeting.

The Economou Law Group has extensive experience in reviewing IEP documents, assessment reports and records for children with all disabilities. If you feel that an attorney review is necessary, we offer free record review and consultation. Call us today at (626) 765-9607.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Educational Records

One of the best ways to determine appropriate progress (or inappropriate progress) for your child is to review their educational records. I advise all my clients to purchase a three ring binder and organize all of their child's educational records in chronological order for easy review and organization.

The reason for this structure is simple. Any person that has ever attended an IEP meeting knows that, at the very best, the school district in question is looking at your child's IEP from the year prior and their current offer. They are not viewing your child in terms of the entirety of their academic career. However, in order to truly know an ineffective or effective program for a child, review of more than one year's school records is frequently necessary.

More times than I can count, parents have said to me "I know that my child is not performing appropriately, but the school district says they are making progress toward their goals." With the child's entire file at your fingertips, you have information to support your contention. All you have to do is make the request, and the school district has to provide those records to you within 5 days.

The Economou Law Group offers free records review and parent consultation, and will make that request on your behalf, along with organization and review of scholastic records for any and all legal issues. Call today at (626) 765-9607 for your consultation!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Transportation and Special Education

Transportation by a school district for your special education child is, many times, a large point of contention. Many times parents want their child transported to school from home simply due to being qualified for special education services. Unfortunately, this is not what is required by law.

The law states that a child is entitled to transportation services by a school district if they necessitate those services to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). That is convoluted, but more specifically, the question is: Can your child access their educational services without transportation?

The law states that a child is entitled to transportation in the event that their personal safety requires such, or in the event that their offered placement is a significant distance from their home. Many times, school districts will offer school to school transportation, where a parent transports the child to their home school, and the school district then transports to and from that location. In other, more significant situations, the school district might have to arrange special transportation for a specific student due to their severe needs.

The Economou Law Group is experienced in dealing with issues relating to student transportation, and can aid with determining what is appropriate to meet your child's needs. Call today for your free file review and consultation at (626) 765-9607.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Certifications / Qualifications of Service Providers

Often, Parents (rightfully) want to know the qualifications of the service providers educating their children. I have experienced two responses to requests for qualifications: 1) The school district simply provides parents with a copy of the service provider's resume / CV to review, and that is the end of the quandry; or 2) The school district refuses to provide the qualifications, simply stating that the service provider is qualified to do whatever they are doing.

This second approach is problematic for a number of reasons. While the law entitles parents to review their child's scholastic records, it is curiously silent regarding qualifications of service providers. Attempts to litigate the matter directly are scarce, and generally speaking a school district will provide qualifications to avoid a pending litigation, but why have to go that far? 

Recently, I have been provided with information regarding several "Autism Specialist" programs, which amount to little more than paying a fee and getting a certificate. Aside from being abhorrent in nature, these simply add fuel to the fire of concerns regarding certifications and qualifications of educators working with children. 

I recommend making a written request to a school and school district to review the qualifications of any personnel you feel (as a parent) are questionable that are working with your child. Sign and date the request, and keep a copy for your records. If, within a reasonable time, you don't receive a response, a compliance complaint with the CA Department of Education may be filed to involve a higher authority. While the law on this matter is not conclusive, providing CDE with a number of concerns may make it to where this has to be directly addressed. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Child Find Obligation

Under both federal and CA state law, school districts are under a direct mandate to seek out and provide special education assessment to those children it has any suspicion might need special education services.

School districts sometimes use this mandate incorrectly to withhold special education assessment and services. While it is acceptable for a school district to provide services short of assessment in lieu of special education when it feels there is no evidence to warrant such an assessment, the US Department of Education has stated directly that if there is any significant evidence of the need for special education, a school district must assess.

The Economou Law Group has extensive experience working with parents whose children have not been properly assessed and qualified for special education services. If you feel that your child is not being serviced appropriately, call today at (626) 765-9607 for a consultation.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Layers of an Individualized Education Program

Students who have been found eligible for special education support services are required to be provided with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) by their local school district. Three important sections of an IEP are:

-          Present Levels of Performance (PLOP):
o   Through looking at where a student currently is functioning, it will be possible to identify specific areas of need. These specific areas of need will dictate the subsequent sections of the IEP document. Additionally, through comparing a student’s PLOP year after year, it will be possible to determine whether or not progress has been made by that student.

-          Prospective Goals:
o   Based upon the current PLOP, and the identified areas of need within those PLOP, it will be possible to determine what specific goals should be created for that student. Goals should be created for every deficit that a particular student has exhibited. Examples of possible goal areas are as follows: reading, writing, math, behavior, attention, gross motor, fine motor, expressive language, receptive language, pragmatic language and articulation.

-          Classroom Placement and Related Services:
o   This is the section of an IEP document that the team will generally pay the most attention to. However, it is important to understand that a student’s classroom placement and related services should be dictated by the two sections reviewed above. An appropriate classroom placement and related services will be determined by the identified areas of need and the subsequently created prospective goals.
§  Examples of possible classroom placements are: general education, general education with resource support, a special day class placement (mild to moderate or moderate to severe), a non-public school setting, a residential treatment center placement, as well as possible home/hospital placement.
§  Examples of possible related services include: behavior intervention services, occupational therapy services, physical therapy services, health services as well as language and speech services.

The Economou Law Group has extensive experience working with parents whose children have not been properly assessed and qualified for special education services. If you feel that your child is not being serviced appropriately, call today at (626) 765-9607 for a consultation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

OHI: Other Health Impairment

There are a wide variety of special education qualification categories defined by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These include Autism, Speech and Language Impairment, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment (OHI), along with many others. OHI is a classification that on the surface is not very descriptive, so with that in mind, we thought it may beneficial to outline the unique needs that this specific category provides for. According to federal law, OHI is described as follows:

Other health impairment means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that—
(i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and
(ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance. [§300.8(c)(9)]
Students whose educational performance is adversely affected by attention concerns within the classroom based upon one of the above described conditions, such as ADD or ADHD, will qualify for special education support services through the category of OHI. Once a Student has been found eligible for special education support services, the school district will be obligated to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that will allow that Student the opportunity to progress within his educational environment.

 The Economou Law Group has extensive experience working with parents whose children have not been properly assessed and qualified for special education services. If you feel that your child is not being serviced appropriately, call today at (626) 765-9607 for a consultation.