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Special Education & Learning Disabilities Resources: A Nationwide Directory

Special Education Advocacy 101

by Sheryl R. Frishman, Esq.

Important Special Education Acronyms and Terms

Below are a list of special Education acronyms and terms that you should become familiar with in order to effectively advocate for your child.

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Federal special education law (cited as 20 U.S.C §§1400-1487 and 34 C.F.R Part 300)

The purpose of IDEA is "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living."

Child with a Disability Two tier test: (a) a child with mental retardation, hearing impairments, speech or language impairments, visual impairments, serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments (includes ADD), or specific learning disabilities (includes dyslexia) (b) who, by reason of the disability, needs special education and related services (emphasis added)
504 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

A civil rights law that: (a) protects individuals from discrimination; and (b) entitles children with disabilities that limit a major life activity, such as learning, to a free appropriate public education designed to meet their individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of children without disabilities are met.

§504 provides fewer protections than IDEA

No requirement that a §504 Plan be written

FAPE Free Appropriate Public Education

Special education and related services that are: (a) provided in an Individualized Education Program (IEP); (b) designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability; (c) meet state standards; and (d) are provided at public expense.

LRE Least Restrictive Environment

To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities should be educated with children who are not disabled; placement in special classes or removal from the regular education setting occurs only when the disability is so severe that satisfactory education cannot be achieved in regular classes with the use of supplementary supports; special education setting must be as close as possible to the students local school.

CPSE/CSE Committee on Preschool Special Education/Committee on Special Education

Comprised of the parents of the child, a regular education teacher of the child, a special education teacher/provider of the child, a representative of the school district (CSE Chair), the child (where appropriate), the school psychologist (New York law) and a parent member. All members of the CSE must participate in meetings, except the parents of the child can decline participation of parent member.

IEP Individualized Education Program

A written statement for a child with a disability that describes special education programming and related services designed to meet the unique needs of the child.

The IEP must include: a statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional progress; measurable annual goals that are designed to enable the child to make progress in the general education curriculum; a description of how the child’s progress will be measured; measurable post-secondary school goals.

Impartial Due Process Hearing

Procedures for parents and school district to bring a dispute in front of an Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) for adjudication.

Commonly Asked Questions
What is the role of an attorney practicing special education advocacy?
  • Guide parents through the special education maze;
  • Parent education;
  • Provide legal framework for parent’s concerns regarding the child’s special education programming;
  • Prepare a CSE meeting agenda;
  • Advocate for parents at a CSE meeting and ensure that the school district complies with IDEA requirements and state special education laws; and
  • File for a Due Process Hearing and represent parents at the hearing and possible appeals

When is it appropriate to consult an attorney specializing in special education advocacy?

  • When a parent is unsure of the child’s entitlement to special education services;
  • When a parent is confronted with roadblocks in obtaining special education services (FAPE) for the child; and
  • When a parent feels that they cannot adequately advocate for their child’s special education needs.

When should a parent call a CSE meeting/IEP Program Review?

  • When a parent has concerns regarding the child’s special education program;
  • When a school district is not implementing IEP services and related services;
  • When a student is not making progress toward IEP goals;
  • Issues regarding the delivery of IEP services can initially be dealt with at the; building level by contacting the special education teacher, related service; providers or general education teacher – call a CSE meeting when not getting a response or meeting resistance from school staff; and
  • Remember, a parent can call a CSE meeting at any time

How should a parent request a CSE meeting?

  • Always make a request for a CSE meeting in a letter addressed to the CSE chairperson;
  • Notify school district in writing if intend to bring an attorney the meeting; and
  • A parent member will attend the CSE meeting unless the parent of the child declines a parent member in writing.

    When is it advisable to have an attorney accompany a parent to a CSE meeting?
  • When a parent’s previous “reasonable” requests have been denied;
  • When a parent has a history of conflict in dealing with the CSE;
  • When a parent anticipates difficulty maintaining composure;
  • When a parent anticipates difficulty remaining focused on the CSE meeting agenda issues; and
  • When a parent is concerned that they will not confidently assert their child’s right to special education services.
How should a parent prepare for and participate in a CSE meeting?

  • Prepare a meeting agenda with the three most important things that you hope to accomplish;
  • Spirit of collaboration;
  • Listen to all CSE members;
  • Assert yourself and redirect members to the purpose of the meeting outlined in the meeting agenda; and
  • Remember, the parent is a member of the CSE and must be afforded meaningful participation.

What should a parent consider in drafting the child’s IEP?

  • Goals: focus on IEP goals. The goals are the road map;
  • Include functional goals (nonacademic routine activities of daily living) that help children function in the world;
  • Services: all special education and related services must be listed in the IEP
  • CSE team must consider for each child with a disability whether extended year services (EYS) are necessary to provide FAPE (student will suffer significant regression of skills or knowledge, followed by an insufficient recoupment during the next school year; other considerations for EYS). EYS must run for 30 days;
  • Remember, the child is entitled to receive meaningful educational benefit from FAPE but is not entitled to the best program;
  • Request that the 504 Plan be written; all accommodations and modifications should be listed on 504 Plan

What are the characteristics of good IEP goals?

  • Goals must be clear, objective, observable, and measurable: consider what you want the student to know or be able to do at the end of the academic year as a result of the IEP;
  • Consider goals in the following areas: study skills, academic (reading, writing, math); social/emotional/behavioral/; speech/language/oral motor; occupational therapy; daily living skills; physical therapy; and
  • Annual IEP goals; short-term instructional objectives and benchmarks required only for students with severe disabilities who are eligible for alternative assessments.

When can a parent request an out-of-district or private school placement?

  • Parent must first afford the school district an opportunity to put in place a free appropriate public education that meets the unique needs of the child; and
  • The school district is required provide FAPE, even if it does not have a currently existing classroom or program that is appropriate.

What is a unilateral educational placement, and when is a parent entitled to retroactive reimbursement?

  • Unilateral education placement occurs when a parent, unsatisfied with the school district's special education program, unilaterally removes the child from the current placement and enrolls the child in a private school placement at her own cost;
  • A parent seeking to recover the cost of the private school placement may seek retroactive reimbursement from the school district but bears the risk that reimbursement may be denied;
  • To be eligible for consideration of retroactive tuition reimbursement, parent must (a) afford school district an opportunity to craft appropriate program prior to removal of the child from the school district and (b) provide school district with notice of removal from current special education placement; and
  • Two-tier analysis for retroactive reimbursement: (a) show that school district placement was inappropriate (denial of FAPE) and (b) parents placement provides an education that is proper under IDEA, but does not necessarily meet all the legal requirements for a school district’s placement

What are Transition Services?

  • Transition services refers to a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that focuses "on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child's movement from post-school activities";
  • Post secondary school activities include: post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
  • IEP must include transition goals that are based on the student’s needs, taking into account the student’s strengths, interests, and preferences it should be "person centered";
  • Transition services include: "instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation";
  • Transition process begins the IEP year that the student turns fifteen; and
  • Student should be included where appropriate;
  • Consider including local agencies in transition planning; local agencies can also provide services and training; and
  • Consider opportunities in the community.

Sheryl Frishman, Esq.
Frishman & Faber
Tel: 914-898-2106

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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