As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to know your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses. School professionals will utilize your knowledge in designing a special educational program for your child’s benefit.
Your child may be Eligible for Special education if your child:
- Has a physical, sensory, mental or emotional disability,
- Needs a special education ad determined by an evaluation.
You child must meet both qualifications in order to be eligible for special education. In Pennsylvania, all children eligible for special education have the right to a free appropriate public education.
NOTE: Children who have disabilities which substantially limit their participation in or access to school programs., but who do not need special education, may qualify for reasonable accommodations in the regular classroom under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other Pennsylvania education regulations. The rules-Called Chapter 15- that apply are different from those for students needing special education who qualify by meeting the two-part criteria listed above.
INDICATIONS OF PHYSICAL, SENSORY, MENTAL OR EMOTIONAL DISABILITY
Some indications that your child may be a child with a disability in order to meet the first part of the two-part definition are:
- Exhibition of an emotional disturbance over a long period of time which affects your child’s ability to learn
- Consistent problems in getting along with others
- Difficulty communication
- Lack of interest or ability in age-appropriate activities
- Resistance to change
- Difficulty seeing or hearing that interferes with the ability to communicate
- Health problems that affect educational performance
Your child may need specially designed instruction that is not normally needed by other children in the general education classroom to make progress in school. This need for special education is the second part of the two-part decision to qualify a child for special education services.
This process may include:
- A review of the student’s records including attendance and report cards.
- A review of the student’s vision and hearing.
- An assessment of the student’s functioning in the curriculum including curriculum-based and performance-based assessment for students with academic concerns.
- A systematic observation of the student’s behavior in the classroom or area in which the student is displaying difficulty.
For students with academic or behavior concerns, as intervention must be developed based on the results of the screening. The student’s response to the intervention is looked at closely and if screening activities have produced little or no improvement within 60 school days, the student will formally referred for evaluation for special education.
The evaluation process gathers the information that will be used to determine if your child needs special education and, if so, the types of programs and services needed. Your child may be evaluated by a school psychologist. Other evaluations may include tests by a hearing specialist for a child with a hearing problem, or an evaluation from a doctor for a child with a health concern. The evaluation must also include input from a therapist is certain related services, such as a physical or occupational therapy, may be needed.
A child may be referred for the first evaluation in several ways:
- You may ask your school to evaluate your child for special education at any time. This can be done by sending a letter to the principal of your child’s school. A “Permission to Evaluate” form will be sent to you.
- The school may also contact you and must ask permission to have your child evaluated. You must consent in writing to your child’s evaluation. School officials cannot proceed without your written permission. If permission is not received and the school continues to find that an evaluation is necessary, they may ask for a due process hearing and get approval from an impartial hearing officer to evaluate your child. More information about the due process hearings are found in the following pages.
A reevaluation is conducted at least every three years unless your child is disabled due to intellectually disabled, in which case reevaluations are conducted at least every two years. When additional data is needed to complete a reevaluation to determine whether your child continues to be a child with a disability and needs to continue to receive special education, then the school must seek your permission to perform the additional evaluation. If the school district has made what it believes are “reasonable attempts” but failed to receive your permission, it may proceed with the reevaluation. Each school district decides what “reasonable attempts” are.
Such attempts may consist of:
- Telephone calls
- Registered letters with return receipts required
- Visits to the home or parents’ place of business
In addition, if the school determines that no additional data is needed, they will notify you of this determination. All evaluations needed to determine your child’s need for special education will be provided by your child’s school district at no charge. Results of the evaluations will be made available for you review. You may also get evaluation from professionals outside the school system and send them to your child’s school. The results of these outside evaluations will be considered in determining if you child has a disability and needs special education. If you wish for the school district to pay for these outside evaluations, you must make that request in writing. If the school district refuses, they must initiate a special education due process hearing.
Evaluations must take into account that child’s English language skills and ethnic background so that the testing and evaluation will not be unfair for a child of a different race or culture. Tests must be given in the native language or mode of communication of the child, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. Evaluations must also take into account the child‘s disability to be sure the results are reliable. For example, a child with a severe visual impairment should not be given a written test with small print. The types of tests that are used in the evaluation process depend upon the educational challenges your child is experiencing. In most cases, your child may be given several tests to help find strengths and needs. Someone other than your child’s general classroom teacher may also observe your child in class. Information that you share must also be included in the evaluation.
Under Pennsylvania and federal law, a child with a disability has a right to special education and related services that are provided:
- At public expense
- Under public supervision and direction
- Without charge to preschool (ages 3-5), elementary or secondary school students
- In conformity with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This means that students with disabilities who need special education must receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
FAPE includes related services that help your child get to school and benefit from the special education program. These may include:
- Special transportation
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Other services which help or support your child as your child grows and learns.
The IEP team writes the Individualized Education Program (IEP). This plan will be written at a meeting and will include a description of all the programs and services necessary to help your child be successful. The IEP team uses information that is contained in the ER to write the IEP.
As a parent, you are an IEP team member. It is important that you attend these meetings. Meetings will be scheduled to fit in with your schedule and school officials’ schedules. You will get a written notice of when, where, and why the meeting will be held and a list of the other people who are invited to attend. The IEP meeting is to be scheduled at a time and place that is mutually agreed upon by you and your school district. If the date or time is not convenient, you may ask for a change. Parents may also be included by telephone if it is impossible for them to attend the meeting in person.
- The child’s parent(s)
- At least one of your child’s general education teachers (if your child is, or might become, part of general education classes)
- At least one special education teacher
- A representative of the school district who: 1) Is qualified to provide or supervise special education programs 2) Knows about the general curriculum 3) Knows about the availability of the resources the local educational agency (LEA) can offer
- Someone who can interpret the evaluation results, who may already be a member of the team
- At your request or that of the school district, other people who know your child well or who have worked with your child. You may bring an advocate to advise you or anyone else who will be able to add information about your child’s educational experience
- Your child at age 14 when planning will be done for life after graduation, or any time before that age when you want your child to be present
- A representative from a vocational-technical school if a vocational-technical program is being considered for your child.
One person may fill more than one of the above roles. The minimum number of people at the IEP meeting should be four in most circumstances; you, the local education agency (LEA) representative, a special education teacher and a general education teacher (If your child will participate at all in general education.) The general education teacher may not attend all meetings or stay for the entire meeting time, but must be a team member.
If you choose to not attend the IEP meeting, it may be held without you.
The IEP must be completed within 30 calendar days after the evaluation team issues its Evaluation Report. The IEP plan must be put into action as soon as possible, but no later than 10 school days after the IEP is completed.
Your child’s program is reviewed every year at an IEP meeting or more often if requested by you or any other IEP team member. Additional evaluations (reevaluations) are conducted at least every three years or every two years if your child has mental retardation.
The IEP team will review all the evaluation material and will determine how your child is performing in school now. The IEP team will write annual goals and short term learning objectives that can be measured and are designed to meet the needs of your child.
- Annual goals will describe what your child can be expected to learn during the year
- Short-term objectives or benchmarks are the sequential steps your child must take in order to reach these goals.
The IEP team will determine:
- The special education services and programs to be provided to your child, which will be used to meet the individual needs of your child.
- Where, what kind of, how much and how often special education and related services will be provided. For example, the IEP may say “individual speech therapy, 30-minute periods, three times per week, in the speech room.” Special transportation which is different from the mode of transportation utilized by other children in the neighborhood, also falls under this category. For example, the IEP may say “a bus that will lift a wheelchair from the curb taking Jimmy form his home to school with a ride no longer than 30 minutes.”
- The date services and programs will begin and how long they will last.
- The tests or other methods of evaluation that will be used to decide if the student is meeting the annual goals and learning objectives and how and when this progress will be reported to you. Progress must be reported at least as often as progress is reported for general education students.
- How much, if any, the student will NOT participate in the general class, or in the general education curriculum; when your child will be in settings with other special education students only; when your special education student will NOT be studying skills or knowledge that are directly linked to the skills and knowledge studied by the children in general education.
- The adjustments in the general education setting, if any, for your child to succeed in a general education class. This could include, for example, giving the child un-timed tests or having someone help the child take class notes.
- The adjustment needed, if any, for the child to participate in statewide or district-wide tests. If the child is not able to participate, even with adjustments, another assessment will be done that will show the child’s skills. Participation in this alternate assessment will be documented in the IEP.
IN DEVELOPING THE IEP, THE TEAM MUST CONSIDER:
- Your concerns
- Whether a child exhibits behavior that interferes with the child’s learning or the learning of others and therefore needs a behavior management plan
- The needs of children with limited English language skills
- The use of Braille for children with visual problems
- The communication needs of students, including students who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Whether the child needs assistive technology devices or services to communicate or participate in the activities which are going on around the child
- Information on the following must be provided in the IEP, if appropriate for your child: children with disabilities losing many of their basic skills and taking a long time to get back those skills back once school begins again. Extended School Year (ESY) services are to be provided during breaks in the educational schedule to prevent this loss as part of a free appropriate public education.
- Special or modified physical education (adaptive physical education) for children who cannot take part in regular physical education because of their disabilities.
PLANNING FOR LIFE AFTER GRADUATION
As your child gets older, the IEP team will design a program to help your child prepare for life when your child is finished with school. This is called transition planning because planning is done through the IEP to facilitate the transition from school to the world of work or other activities in which the young adult may be involved.
By the time your child is 14, the IEP team must decide what kinds of courses your child will take. Examples include art courses, vocational courses or courses to prepare your child for higher education, which may include college.
Planning for the transition from school to adult living must begin when your child turns 16 or if the IEP team thinks early planning would be appropriate. The IEP team (including your child) must discuss what you and your child wants your child to be doing when high school is completed. These plans must include the kind of education or training your child will receive, the kind of job your child might have, where your child will live and how your child will spend time in the community.
The special education program will be completely developed before the IEP team decides where the program will be provided. The IEP team will look at different classes or schools to see where that program can be delivered. The first place it will consider will be the general classroom in the neighborhood school your child would attend if your child were not eligible for special education. The law requires that children with disabilities be placed in situations that will give them opportunities to be with students who are not disabled. This is called placing the student in the “least restrictive environment.” The least restrictive environment is the general class in the neighborhood school unless the IEP team determines that the special needs of the child cannot be met there.
The classroom chosen for your child will depend upon the amount and kind of special instruction or services your child needs. If your child will need only some instruction in special education classes, it may be possible for your child to stay in the general classroom most of the day, leaving it only for a short period of special instruction. A special education teacher may also be able to give instruction in the general classroom.
For some children, placement in a special education class for most or all of the day is necessary. Students who receive most of their school with general education students. Their opportunities might include participation in elective subjects such as art or music, belonging to a general homeroom, socializing in the lunchroom and attending assemblies and other enrichment programs with general education students.
School districts in Pennsylvania must have available the following types of classes for the placement of their children with special needs if an IEP team decides that a particular type of class is necessary. Their classes are formed around the learning needs of children who are assigned to them:
- Learning support class-for children whose greatest need is for help in academic areas such as reading, and math
- Emotional support class-for children whose greatest need is for social, emotional and behavioral help
- Life skills support class-for children whose greatest need is to learn skills that will allow them to live and work independent of their families
- Sensory support skills class-for children who require help in dealing with disabilities resulting from limited vision or hearing.
- Speech and language support class-for children who have difficulty speaking and communicating
- Physical support class-for children who need programs that consider their physical disabilities
- Autistic support class-for children with autism
- Multiple disabilities support class-for children with more than one disability, the combination of which results in needs requiring many services and much support
Children with different disability can be placed together in one class if their learning needs are similar and they can all benefit from the same level and manner of instruction.
The law requires that special education students be placed in classes with students of the same age range. At the elementary level (grades K-6), a class cannot have children who vary in age by more than three years. At the secondary level (grades 7-12), an age range of no more than four years is allowed. An exception can be made by the IEP team for an individual child based on the child’s needs. It must be explained in writing in the IEP.
NOTICE OF RECOMMENDED EDUCATIONAL PLACEMENT (norep)
Once you have developed the Individualized Education Program (IEP) with the IEP team, you will receive a Notice of Recommended for your child and explains your rights. You must approve the IEP and educational placement in writing for your child’s first special education placement before the school is allowed to begin implementation. If you are placing your child in a private school and are asking the school district to pay for this private school because you believe your child is not receiving a free appropriate public education, you must five advance notice to the school officials. This notice can be given at the IEP meeting or in writing 10 business days before you remove your child from public school. If you do not give this notice, the cost of reimbursement to you may be reduced or denied. If the school district gave notice of their intent to evaluate your child for special education prior to your removal of your child, reimbursement may be reduced or denied if you did not make your child available for the evaluation. Reimbursement may be reduced or denied for the private placement if a court thinks your actions have been “unreasonable.” An exception to the reduction or denial of reimbursement will be made if you are unable to read or write in English, physical or serious emotional harm to the child may result if the parent adhered to the prior notice requirements, the school prevented the parent from providing the notice to the school, or the school failed to give the parent notice of these rights and procedures.
All students receiving special education services in Pennsylvania are guaranteed the right to an opportunity to earn a high school diploma. A high school diploma will be awarded to a student who successfully completes the same courses and earns the same credits as a general education student, or who completes the special education services have the right to stay in school until they turn 21, or until they graduate with a high school diploma, whichever comes first. When a child gets a high school diploma or turns 21 years or age, that child is no longer entitled to receive special education services. If school officials believe your child’s IEP has been completed and your child is eligible for graduation, you will receive written notice. If you disagree with the notice you may begin due process (see Chapter 4). Your child may continue to attend school until due process is complete or until the date your child reaches 21 years of age.
Your Child’s School Records
All parents are guaranteed the right to see their child’s public school records without delay, with in 45 days after asking for them, before any meeting regarding an IEP, or before a due process hearing. You may be charged for the copying of these records. Parents are also guaranteed the right to ask for and receive an explanation of any information in the records. The law guarantees that your child’s school records be kept confidential. No one should see them who does not have an educational interest in your child. Someone has an educational interest in your child if that person teaches your child or otherwise is responsible for some aspect of you r child’s education. Records cannot be given to anyone outside the school system without your permission unless there is a legal reason for doing so. Your district must have a procedure for you to follow to correct the records that you feel are wrong or misleading.
Equipment and materials may be different for children with disabilities because of their individual needs, but they should be of the same quality as the equipment and materials that are purchased for students in general education classes. Each special education class must be as close as appropriate to the ebb and flow of usual school activities and located where noise will not interfere with instruction. It should be located only in a space that is designed for purposes of instruction, be readily accessible, and be composed of at least 28 square feet per student.
Behavior sometimes results from a child’s disability. When behavior caused by the disability results in the violation of school rules, inappropriate discipline by school officials is not permitted.
Programs to control or change behavior must be designed using positive approaches to help children correct or control their behavior. Positive approaches include recognizing and rewarding appropriate behaviors so that they will replace those behaviors that are inappropriate. They do not include punishing, embarrassing or isolating your child.
Discipline must not include use of mechanical restraints or physically restraining a child, except in an emergency situation where there is danger that the child will be harmed or will harm someone else. The use of restraints in those situation will trigger an IEP team meeting to review the current IEP to ensure it is appropriate and remains effective. Certain mechanical restraints, such as seatbelts, can be used to help children control their movements if the parents agree and their use is made clear in the IEP.
- Corporal punishment
- Punishment for behavior that is caused by the student’s disability
- Locked room, locked boxes, or other locked structures or spaces from which the student cannot readily exit
- Noxious substances
- Deprivation of basic rights, such as withholding means, water, or fresh air
- Treatment of a demeaning nature
- Electric shock
- Suspension or removal from classes for disciplinary reasons that form a pattern. The following provides additional information with regard to those removals.
There are special rules in Pennsylvania for excluding children receiving special education services for disciplinary reasons. Before a student is excluded from school for more than 10 school days in a row or 15 total school days in any 1 school year, the IEP team must meet and a Notice of Recommended Education Placement (NOREP) must be signed, because such exclusions are considered changes in placement. The exclusion of a child with mental retardation for any amount of time is considered a change in placement. The exclusion of a child with mental retardation for any amount of time is considered a change in placement and requires all of the steps mentioned above. When a student is subject to a series of removals that accumulates to more than 10 days in a year, but less than 15, these removals may be a change in placement, and if so require prior notice to the parents for approval. This determination of whether or not the series of removals is change in placement is done on a case-by-case basis. Factors such as the length of time of each removal, the total amount of time the child is removed, and the proximity of the removals to one another are used to determine if the series of removals in a change in placement. If you do not agree with the change in placement on the NOREP, your child remains in the existing placement until due process is complete. School officials may seek a court order to exclude your child from school to “override” your disapproval. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows school officials to change your child’s placement for up to 45 calendar days, without your permission, in school situations involving possession of weapon, possession or use of illegal drugs or the sale of a controlled substance. In the new 45-day education placement (called an interim alternative educational setting), your child must be able to receive the services in the IEP and continue to participate in the general curriculum. The new placement must also offer services to deal with your child’s problem behavior so It does not occur again. When a child’s placement is changed for disciplinary reasons, the IEP team (including the parents) must meet to review the IEP to decide if it is appropriate and if it contains an appropriate plan that addresses the child’s problem behaviors. If no plan is included in the IEP, a functional behavioral assessment must be done and a behavior plan developed. A functional behavioral assessment review the child’s behavior in the setting where the problems are occurring and analyzes what is happening to trigger the inappropriate behaviors. The IEP team then outlines steps to take to reduce problem behaviors and replace them with appropriate ones. If a plan already exists, it must be reviewed and, if necessary, changes.
In addition, a “manifestation determination: must be conducted by the IEP team to decide if your child’s behavior was caused by your child’s disability or is a “manifestation” of the disability. In order to determine that a behavior was not manifestation of the disability, the team must decide that the current IEP and placement are appropriate and have been put into place; that your child was able to understand the consequences of the behavior; and that your child could have controlled the behavior. Children with disabilities cannot be disciplined for behaviors which are related to or are manifestation of their disabilities.
If the IEP team decides that your child’s behavior was NOT related to the disability, your child’s placement may be changed for disciplinary reasons. You have the right to ask for a due process hearing to challenge this decision (see Chapter 4). During the hearing and any appeals, your child stays in the current placement unless the incident involved drugs or weapons or behavior that is a danger to your child or to others, in which case the child stays in the disciplinary placement for up to 45 calendar days or to the end of due process, whichever occurs first. ]
School officials may ask for an expedited hearing if they believe that the child is a danger to self or other in the current placement. In such case, the hearing officer must issue a decision within 45 calendar days.
As a parent you have a right to be notified (sometimes called procedural safeguard) that serves to protect the rights of your child who is a child with a disability or thought to be a child with a disability. Generally, the school has the duty to inform parents of these procedural safeguards:
- Upon initial referral for evaluation;
- Upon each notification of an IEP;
- Upon the reevaluation of your child who has been receiving a special education program;
Additionally the law requires parents to be informed:
- When the school proposes to change the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and the provision of a free appropriate public education or refuses your request to change the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free appropriate public education.
- Of your child’s progress toward annual IEP goals at least as often as progress is reported for students in general education.
- Of the procedures to maintain the privacy of your child’s education records. Your child’s record will be seen only by those who need to work with your child. Your school district must show you its policy about student records and confidentiality if requested. Detailed information on confidentiality will be described in the notice given you on those instances listed above.
WHAT IF I DISAGREE WITH SCHOOL OFFICIALS ABOUT MY CHILD’S EDUCATION PROGRAM?
The “Due Process” Rights of Parents
If you do not believe your child’s special education program is working, you can request an IEP meeting to discuss changing your child’s program. The IEP team may then decide that a reevaluation is needed to gather more information about your child. Anytime school officials suggest a reevaluation of your child or your child’s program, you will be contacted in writing and given the opportunity to agree or disagree. You may request an IEP team meeting, a mediation session, a pre-hearing conference or due process hearing in order to resolve differences that you may have with school officials regarding your child’s education. Once you request a due process hearing, your child’s current educational placement cannot be changed by the school district, unless you agree to a change. This is called the “stay put” rule.
When a parent disagrees with anything regarding a child’s special education program. Pennsylvania law offers the parent the opportunity to do something about the disagreement. The first step may be a pre-hearing conference if the parent does not choose to try mediation or go directly to a hearing. The school district must agree to attempt to resolve the matter through a pre-hearing conference if the parent does not choose to try mediation or go directly to a hearing. The school district must agree to attempt to resolve the matter through a pre-hearing conference, which cannot delay or deny a parent’s request to go to a due process haring. If you receive a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP) from the school district and you check the “I do not approve” line, you will have automatically requested a pre-hearing conference. Alternatively, you may request a pre-hearing conference by writing to your child’s principal.
The pre-hearing conference will be held within 10 calendar days of your request, unless school officials wish to go directly to a hearing and not hold the pre-hearing conference. You have the right to bring a friend, independent evaluator, advocate or lawyer to the conference. At the pre-hearing conference, you and the school officials will try to work out the differences you have about your child’s identification, evaluation, provision of a program or educational placement. Ideally, you will reach a solution that will satisfy both sides. If you cannot reach agreement at the conference, you have the right to ask for mediation or a special education hearing.
Even when parents and school officials try their best to develop and carry out an appropriate program for a child, disagreements can occur. An alternative to a due process hearing is mediation. Mediation is a free, voluntary, confidential procedure designed to help parents and school officials reach an agreement. Mediation may take place at any time during or before the due process cycle. However, mediation cannot be required process and may not serve to delay or deny a parent the right to a due process hearing. If you and school officials agree to try mediation, the Office for Dispute Resolution will arrange for a neutral, specially trained mediator to meet with both sides to hear both points of view regarding the disagreement, separately and together, and to better understand each position. Neither school officials no parents may include a lawyer at a mediation session. The mediator will not make a decision on the disagreement. Rather, the mediator will help both parties to reach an agreement. The agreement will be put into writing and incorporated into the student’s IEP after an IEP team meeting. You may request help in mediation from your school administrator by calling the Office for Dispute Resolution at 1-800-992-4334.
You may request a special education hearing anytime you have concerns about your child’s program, placement or evaluation. A special education hearing is held within 30 calendar days after the request, before an impartial hearing officer. An extension can be granted by a hearing officer beyond 30 days if necessary. The officer cannot work for the school district or local intermediate unit. You may be represented by legal counsel and accompanied and advised by individuals with special knowledge or training in the problems with children with disabilities.
Each side may have witnesses and may ask questions of the others side’s witnesses. Prior to the hearing date, you may ask the hearing officer to subpoena anyone from the school district whom you believe has information important to your case. Witnesses testify under oath.
Both sides may give the hearing officer written material to consider. A list of material to bus at a hearing must be given to the other side at least five business days before the hearing. Any information given to the hearing officer to consider must also be given to the school district.
The hearing must be held a t a reasonably convenient time and place for you. The hearing will be closed to the public unless you ask the hearing officer to open the hearing to the public. A transcript of what was said during the hearing will be made, and a copy provided to the parent.
Whenever requesting a due process hearing, you or your lawyer must five the following information to school officials in writing:
- The name and address of the child and the name of the school the child attends
- A description of the problem
- A proposed solution to the problem. The commonwealth has developed a form for school districts to provide to parents for this purpose. This is available in your school district’s administrative office.
The hearing officer will listen to both sides and then make a written decision. The decision will be mailed to you and school officials within 45 calendar days after the receipt of your request for the hearing, unless an extension has been granted by the hearing officer. If you are not satisfied with all or part of the hearing officer’s decision, you may file an appeal to a three-member appeal panel. You will be sent the procedures and timeline for filing the appeal with the officer’s decision.
If you disagree with the decision of the three-member appeal panel, you may file an appeal in court. You may file your case in commonwealth or federal court. Commonwealth court cases must be filed within 30 calendar days after the appeal decision.
If you believe your child’s rights are being denied, the law provides a way for you to file a complaint. You may file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education, division of compliance, Monitoring and Planning, 333 Market Street, Harrisburg PA 1716-0333. An employee from the Division will investigate the complaint and send a written decision to you and school official within 60 calendar days of receiving your complaint, except if exceptional circumstances exist.
The concept of special education is simple. If a child has unique needs that require special education as a result of a disability, those needs are to be determined and a program to meet those needs designed and carried out. However, the procedures and processes involved in designing this special program and carrying it out are complex and may seem cumbersome. Everyone involved must remain focused on meeting each child’s individual needs. When parents and school officials successfully keep this objective in mind, the likelihood of providing quality education programming dramatically increases.