Parents of children with special needs should know their options when it comes to their child’s education. Many support coordinators and district officials are as informative as they possibly can be, but sometimes parents still don’t know valuable information about the things afforded to them for their child’s education. In order to make the best choice for your child, especially when it comes to private or public education, there are things you need to be aware of. As a parent, it’s important that you understand your child’s educational rights in Arizona and keep them in mind if you pursue public education. What follows is a brief overview of things provided for students with special needs in the Arizona public education sector.
Lexington will continue this series with our next blog post to inform parents about the provisions by private institutions and how they differ from a public choice, as well as the advantages of private education and things you need to know if your child is going to receive private instruction. Keep that in mind as you read this because private programs are structured differently.
Here are the things you need to be aware of for public programs:
What You Should Know About
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that demands an education for children with disabilities be made available. Each state is required by law to offer a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) available to a qualifying student with disabilities. Signed into law in 1975, this act was a civil rights win for people with disabilities and as our understanding has expanded, the law has been amended to reflect student needs. Under the IDEA, public education institutions are required to coordinate with parents to educate their child. There are a number of rights and provisions covered under the act, but there are a few that you must know while deciding education options for your child.
- The IEP Contract – An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, must be written for a child with a diagnosed disability, which must include the district’s offer of a FAPE. Students are entitled by law to receive education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). If a school does not provide the services laid out in the IEP, they are in violation of the law.
- Remember, the FAPE is offered by the district and the services covered should not be paid for by the parent. You can choose to enroll your child in extra services, but anything covered under the FAPE should be covered financially by the district.
- The law requires that the LRE be provided to every student with disabilities. This means that districts must attempt to provide services to students in a setting that is as close to the general education environment as possible. Districts must prove that students cannot be successful in a classroom with less restrictions if they want to educate them in special education classroom.
- Assessments – In order to receive special education services, your child will have to be evaluated to determine a few things:
- Do they have a disability?
- Does it cause an impact to their education?
- Is the child in need of specially designed education?
- Consent – Under no circumstances should the district initiate an assessment for a disability or to continue/cease services without informing parents or guardians, presenting a written plan and obtaining signed consent.
- Native Language – A 1970 case set the precedent for how children should be tested to identify special needs. All children being evaluated must be tested in their native language that they speak at home.
- Handling Disputes – There are several processes in place to handle disputes between parents and districts. First, you are entitled to and should attempt to solve any issues with your child’s IEP team. After that, you may pursue a number of processes with the district special education director. If you are unable to handle the issues at that level, you may also pursue action by the state Department of Education which could be as simple as mediation all the way up to a due process hearing.
- While your child’s plan is under dispute, you have the option to keep your child in their current education program through a law called “Stay Put” which helps them maintain their current academic enrollment standing. This law also applies to district action when it comes to behavioral problems if the school would like to expel your child.
- Behavioral Issues – When behavioral issues occur that result in the district attempting to expel your child, you can invoke the “Stay Put” law. However, if the child is suspended for more than ten days, the IEP team will have to have a meeting called a “manifestation determination” to determine whether behavior issues occur as a result of their disability. If they have, the child is returned to their class learning but if the issues arise from something different, the suspension can continue. The district must still provide special education services. The meeting must happen within ten days because after that, the enrollment status of your child will change, which will be in violation of the IEP.
In order to determine if your child can receive these services, you can request that the district perform this assessment at public expense. They must either comply or provide a legal notice of action as to why they did not perform the assessment. This must all be handled within a 15 day period in Arizona. Should the district find reason to deny your request, you can still have a professional assess your child, but the evaluation won’t be at public expense. If that evaluation finds that your child qualifies, then the district must continue to provide services to them.
The district must reassess your child every three years to make sure they still need special education services. It’s important to know that if the district has enough data to show marked improvement, they can choose not to do the reassessment and choose to cease services.
That’s a basic overview of things provided to parents whose children are enrolled in public special education programs. As you can see, there are a lot of requirements for the school district to maintain an effective education for special needs students under IDEA. This list is a good resource about your options without being too long-winded.
Despite these provisions, many students with special needs end up being underserved by the school district. Often this is because there are not enough resources that the district can provide or the classrooms are too large for accurate learning that also integrate solutions for the needs of students with disabilities.
IDEA IEP Plan Or Section 504 Plan
Certain students have been diagnosed with a disability but it has not been determined to meet the assessment requirements under IDEA for public education. These students might not be covered under IDEA but will still be covered under a Section 504 plan, as we laid out in an earlier blog post. Under Section 504, students with a disability that affects how they interact or learn in an academic environment, but doesn’t necessarily hinder them, are still entitled to a FAPE with aids and services provided to help them learn. Similar to the IEP, a 504 plan must be formulated by the district and implemented for your child.
Seeking Other Options
Because the needs of each individual child can be very specific, sometimes students have to be educated outside of the public education system. Occasionally, the IEP team will even choose to look into charter or private schools as options for your child because they have better facilities to manage your child’s needs. If a student is placed by the IEP team and the district, the documentation continues to go through the team and is managed by the district in accordance to any agreements with the private school. If the district has determined that a certain private school has better facilities to provide for that student, parents can choose to voluntarily enroll their students in a private school and the district could be liable to reimburse some or all the tuition costs for that student.
For some parents, the apparent need their child has to learn in good environment for them trumps the district offerings for education. Many parents wonder if they should send their child to a private school. Private schools often offer smaller class sizes, catered curriculum, and peers that understand students with special needs. Although private education for students with special needs can offer all of those valuable things, parents must know that private programs and plans for your child are structured differently in a private education setting. These programs have their own provisions for parents to consider. With our next blog post, Lexington will discuss what the differences between public and private programs are and what parents need to know about private education.
Lexington Life Academy is a place for students with autism that have been traditionally underserved at other schools. Our members excel because we apply evidenced-based practices, standards-based curriculum, and structured learning to help them succeed. Lexington Life Academy integrates solutions for the sensory needs and behavioral challenges of our members to help them learn. If you are a parent searching for new horizons for your child with autism and their education and you have been considering private options, contact Lexington today for more information.
To read more from Lexington, check out our previous blog post.