1) I am confused about all the changes in special education law. Where can I find current information?

Special education law can be difficult to follow because it changes so often. New research, new national goals and new politicians elicit new adjustments.

Here are some resources to help you become familiar with current national trends and the requirements of new laws that govern special education in our nation.

2) If my child is found to have a learning disability, what are the school's responsibilities?

The whole process of eligibility for special education services can be confusing but it is important for you to inform yourself about your child’s rights and the obligations of the school system.

In order to be found eligible for special education services under the label of specific learning disability, a student must meet two requirements. The first requirement is that she must demonstrate a processing deficit. The presence of a processing deficit is determined through testing during the educational evaluation. The second requirement is that a student must exhibit a discrepancy between her ability and achievement. During the evaluation, her ability level (also called her "potential to learn") will be determined, as will her level of academic achievement. Students without learning challenges have essentially evenly matched levels of ability and achievement. Children with learning disabilities are so affected by their processing deficits that they are not able to achieve to their abilities. Special education services are designed to close that gap between achievement and ability.

Even if a student does have a processing deficit, the discrepancy between her ability and achievement may not be great enough for her to qualify for special education services at the time. This most often happens with younger students because it is easier for students to compensate for processing deficits in the earlier grades. One thing that is important to remember is that even if your child was found ineligible for special education services one year, it is within your legal rights to request that she receive another educational evaluation, as long as it has been at least one calendar year from the previous evaluation. If she does have a processing deficit, it may be discovered through another round of testing that the gap between her ability and achievement increased enough to now qualify her for services.

If a student does not qualify for special education services under IDEA, it does not automatically disqualify her from receiving services under Section 504. The following article provides good explanations of the differences between the two types of legislation and the criteria a child must meet in order to qualify for a 504:

3) Where can I find information for parents about special education laws?

The following links provide information for parents:

State and local laws and regulations often differ somewhat from federal regulations. Contact an attorney, advocate or other person knowledgeable about special education laws that apply to your school district. School systems naturally want to serve students well, keep within the bounds of the law, and spend taxpayers’ money carefully. When serious disagreements arise as to what is appropriate within special education regulations, it is important for parents to have solid legal advice. A special education advocate, either a lawyer or another person well-versed in the law and experienced in advocating for children, can be called upon for assistance. To find an advocate, check LD Online’s Yellow Pages or look in your telephone book. You might also ask an organization for a referral. Go to LD OnLine’s LD Resources and Parent Advocacy Resource Centers.

4) How does IDEA 2004 impact a child who is receiving special education services at this time?

IDEA 2004 regulations are still quite fluid at this point. The final regulations are due out in the summer of 2006. States are interpreting the new laws and then trying to disseminate the information to local schools, which then implement the changes. Here are some current resources that may be helpful to you when interpreting how (or if) these changes are going to impact your child:

5) My child has a disability and I would like her to begin physical therapy. Is it possible to have the school district pay for this?

If your child has a disability which requires physical therapy, she should also have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). When an IEP is developed the student has the right to related services, as appropriate, including physical therapy. These are written into the IEP and are provided without cost.

If your child is without an IEP, contact your school's administrator and get the ball rolling on the eligibility process. The following articles describe the steps in the evaluation process:

If your child is ineligible for services or you are dissatisfied with the services provided, you can contact your primary care physician and ask for a referral for physical therapy with a private therapist.

6) My son's school would like to place him in a self-contained classroom. I don't agree. What can I do to make sure my child has the best possible learning environment?

School districts are required to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their non-disabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, to the maximum extent appropriate. This is commonly referred to as the least restrictive environment (LRE).

To become more familiar with the law, check the following sites for information about the legal aspects of Special Education.

If you believe the school's decision is not in the best interest of your child, you may wish to contact one of the following organizations specializing in advocacy and legal rights of parents. These organizations can provide advice for your specific situation.

7) I tried to read about NCLB and its impact on my LD child, but I am confused. Is there any information about this law that is easier to read?

Like many complex federal laws, The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) can be confusing. Fortunately, a Parent's Guide to NCLB was published by the U.S. Department of Education. It includes an overview of the law, explanations of key terms and provisions, ways the law can help your child and an NCLB checklist for parents.

Another website, Wrightslaw, provides excellent information on legal issues in special education for parents. It is hosted by Peter Wright, a lawyer with expertise in special education law. Here, you can read and get information on the federal laws that govern special education as well as interpretations, commentaries and cases involving those laws.

The following link will take you to the section specifically about NCLB.

8) What does "adversely affecting educational performance" actually mean when considering speech services for a child? Does a child have to be failing to be considered eligible for speech services?

"Adversely affecting educational performance" is a phrase from the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The interpretation of this phrase has been debated for many years. Many students are doing fine academically, but still have a speech impairment. Because school systems often include adequate oral communication as part of their performance standards, children with only a speech impairment can receive services.

For more information about IDEA and Special Education, visit the following sites:

You may find helpful information from the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA).

9) If my son's therapist is absent, can a substitute with no special training fill in and work with students?

School systems do not always provide a substitute therapist for short term absences. In some cases, paraprofessionals work with a child. This gives the child more opportunities to work on a particular goal, but the paraprofessional must be supervised by a certified individual. Typically, if there is a substitute therapist, it is a licensed one. If you have further questions about your district's policies, speak with your therapist directly or the district director of special education services.

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