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Look beyond the school building for resources

We often have to remind parents of children who receive special education services that it is the school district as a whole that is responsible for providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for their child. They are not limited to the resources within their child’s specific school building. This would seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how often that detail is missed when an IEP team or other school staff are trying to address the needs of a student who has a disability.

School staff will sometimes only think about the personnel that is currently assigned to that school when they are considering instructional strategies, adult-to-child support, equipment and assistive technology, behavioral interventions and supports, etc. Sometimes good ideas are dismissed because “we don’t have the resources for that.” Lack of resources is not a legitimate reason to fail to meet a child’s educational needs, but it is also a reality that resources are not unlimited.

One of the qualifications to serve as the LEA Representative on an IEP team, is for that individual to have knowledge of the resources of the entire school district or Local Education Agency (LEA). The LEA Representaive should be able to tell the team about LEA staff with special expertise who can be brought in as consultants who can provide ideas, training or help create a plan of action. Behavior Specialists and Psychologists can lead the functional behavior assessment (FBA) process and help develop positive behavior support plans. Reading specialist can help identify which reading program might be a better fit for a particular student. Specialists can also help staff better understand a particular disability, how it may impact the child in question, and offer research-based interventions and strategies that have been proven to be effective. Many school systems have staff who can conduct assistive technology assessments and help identify devices or equipment that might be appropriate for a specific child. Other specialist have much to contribute as well.  Somebody just needs to invite them in!

There may also be specialized programs offered within a school system that not everyone knows about. In a worst-case example of that, there was child who received only very limited home bound services for months due to his behavior. The school had told the parent that they had tried “everything” before removing the child from the school.  After the parent sought help from the Parent Training and Information Center, an IEP meeting was held with several Exceptional Children’s Department central office staff members present.  It turned out that the school district had three different alternative education programs that could have provided this child with a full-time education in a less restrictive setting. These programs were not considered because the people in the school building were not aware of them.

Many state education agencies also offer consultants who can be called on for help, often at no cost to the school district. There may be centralized funds that can be used to meet a student’s disability-related needs. There may also be clinicians and programs available within the local community that can help either during or outside of school hours.

The bottom line is that school teams should keep looking and asking questions until they find something that will work for the child.  When they have tried everything in the school building tool box without success, they should go out and get more tools. Giving up or settling for anything less than true FAPE is not an option.

FAQ: One-on-one assistants and LRE for students with disabilities

questions-and-answersFAQ:  Is having a one-on-one assistant the “most restrictive” setting for a student with a disability?

Answer:  No. The type of support that a student requires has nothing to do with the degree to which her educational placement is considered to be “restrictive” under IDEA, the Federal special education law.

IDEA requires that students with disabilities are served in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) where their needs can be successfully met.  The continuum of alternative educational placements that goes from least restrictive to most restrictive is based on the amount of time that the student is removed from the regular education setting and  non-disabled peers.  The continuum includes the following placement options: Regular, Resource, Separate, Separate School, Residential, Home/Hospital.  Each step along the continuum reflects less and less contact with typical children, and would be considered to be more restrictive than the ones listed before it and less restrictive than the ones listed after it.

Children can receive special education services in the regular education classroom, in a special education classroom or therapy room, or in the total school environment.  Some students receive a lot of special education services, accommodations and supports in the regular education setting and are not removed from their non-disabled peers at all.  This would still be considered to be the least restrictive placement on the continuum.

Some parents who ask about  a one-on-one assistant for their child are told that this kind of individual support would be the most restrictive setting for their child, and that moving the child into a separate classroom or separate school would actually be less restrictive.  This is simply not true, and probably reflects a lack of information on the part of the person making that statement.

If this happens to you, talk to someone who would be expected to have a greater understanding of  special education rules and regulations.  Even if you have to speak with the Director of Exceptional Children’s services for your entire school system, it will be good for them to know that there is a need to correct misinformation.  This may not get a one-on-one assistant for your child, but at least the decision would not be made for the wrong reason.  The IEP team has an obligation to consider the use of supplementary aids and services that could increase the amount of time that a child with a disability would be able to be educated with non-disabled children.