Key Information and Creative Questions for Families to Consider During COVID-19 Closures

A Brief Overview

  • While schools are operating, districts are responsible to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students within their boundaries with known or suspected disabilities that significantly impact access to learning. Read on to learn more about FAPE and student rights.
  • Federal and state requirements to ensure that children with qualifying disabilities can access early learning services and make the transition to school-based services if eligible at age 3 also are still in place, without waivers.
  • FAPE requirements for high-school transition services apply now, as always. PAVE’s article, High School Halt, includes more information on topics impacting graduating seniors and youth transitioning through high school and beyond.
  • How a student of any age accesses FAPE during a national health crisis is a work-in-progress. A Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) is a tool schools and families might use for temporary circumstances. PAVE provides another article describing that process: IEP on Pause? How to Support Continuous Learning with School Buildings Closed.
  • Families might be interested in attending a school board meeting to learn more about decisions being made at this time. Read on for more information about Open Meetings.
  • The final section of this article includes creative conversation starters, some ideas and prompts that might help your family prepare to talk with school staff.
  • To support well-being for family members of all ages and abilities, PAVE provides this article, which includes links to videos with simple mindfulness/breathing practices: How to Get Organized, Feel Big Feelings, and Breathe.

Full Article

With schools closed and lives disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis, families impacted by disability have unique questions. This article includes key information about student rights and creative conversation starters that family caregivers might consider when planning to meet with school staff over the phone, through written communication or over a web-based platform.

Student rights have not been waived

Students with disabilities have protections under federal and state laws. Those rights and protections are not waived during the school building closures. While schools are operating, districts are responsible to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students within their boundaries with known or suspected disabilities that significantly impact access to learning. The protections of FAPE include the right to:

  • Appropriate evaluation if there is a known or suspected disability condition that may impact educational access (Please refer to PAVE’s articles on Evaluations Part 1 and Child Find for more information)
  • Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) in areas of learning with significant educational impact from the disability and an identified need for SDI
  • Meaningful progress toward goals, which are developed to measure the effectiveness of Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)
  • Accommodations (extra time, videos with captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, other Assistive Technology…)
  • Modifications (shorter or different assignments, testing, etc.)
  • Special services (speech/language, occupational or physical therapy through video conferencing, for example)
  • Not get bullied or discriminated against because of a disability circumstance

FAPE rights related to accommodations, modifications and anti-bullying measures are protected by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and apply to all students with disabilities, including those who have Section 504 Plans and those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). FAPE rights related to evaluation process, SDI, and formal goal setting are aspects of the IEP and are protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In accordance with the IDEA, the IEP includes a description of the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. Special education attorneys Pam and Pete Wright have published books about special education law and maintain a website, Wrightslaw.com. Included during the pandemic is this page: IEPs During the COVID-19 Era: Your Parental Role and Present Levels in IEPs.

The Wrightslaw page encourages parents to read and re-read the present levels statements before meeting with the school. These statements form the basis for the student’s goals and other services. Up-to-date and comprehensive data within the present levels section of the IEP can be key to a successful outcome.

Wrightslaw encourages family caregivers to provide input for the present levels statements and to request further evaluation if the statements are incomplete or out of date. Creativity and collaboration are encouraged to allow for data collection while school buildings are closed: “Parents, never forget why you are essential members of your child’s IEP team. You are essential because your job is to represent your child’s interests. So, you need to be an active member, not a spectator. Your goal is to work with other members of the team to develop IEPs tailored to meet your child’s unique needs.”

No Waivers to Early Learning Requirements

Federal and state requirements to ensure that children with qualifying disabilities can access early learning services and make the transition to school-based services if eligible at age 3 also are still in place, without waivers.

Washington’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) provides COVID-19 guidance for families of children in early learning through the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program. Included is information about the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), how to manage a transition from IFSP to school-based services during the pandemic and tips for telemedicine appointments and protection of confidentiality.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides guidance to schools in Washington. In early May 2020, OSPI issued guidance specifically related to early childhood programs during the COVID-19 closure. In particular, the document addresses a child’s rights through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Services for children Birth-3 are defined by IDEA’s Part C, and school-based services for children 3-21 are defined by IDEA’s Part B. About 3 months before a child with an IFSP turns 3, the school district is responsible to evaluate the child to determine eligibility for an IEP. PAVE provides a general article about the early learning transition process.

According to OSPI guidance, “School districts are expected to move forward with initial Part B evaluations as specified in the Early Childhood Transition from Part C to B Timeline Requirements. School districts must make reasonable efforts to comply with the requirement and may utilize alternative means for conducting virtual assessment and IEP team meetings, such as telephone or videoconferencing.”

Communication is key

How a student of any age accesses FAPE during a national health crisis is a work-in-progress that requires communication and collaboration between schools and families. On its website page titled Special Education Guidance for COVID-19, OSPI provides links to numerous documents that guide schools in best-practice for outreach to families.

On May 5, 2020, OSPI issued a Question & Answer document to address special-education delivery. “This is a national emergency,” the document states, “and districts should be communicating with families and making decisions based on student need and how those services can be provided. There is no one right way to provide services.”

IEP and Section 504 meetings are encouraged, and teams can build different versions of the documents to support at-home learning now and in-school services when buildings reopen. A Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) is a tool schools and families might also use for temporary circumstances. PAVE provides an article describing that process, with linkages to the plan’s template: IEP on Pause? How to Support Continuous Learning with School Buildings Closed.

OSPI notes that health and safety are top priority and that some aspects of a student’s program may not be possible to implement during the crisis. Discussion about Compensatory Services to make up for elements of FAPE not provided during the closure will require a review of documentation.

Keep notes about student learning

Schools and families are encouraged to keep notes about student learning and access to education and/or special services during days that schools are providing educational services to all students. Parents can ask the district to define its official dates of operation. When a school is officially closed, the district is not responsible to provide FAPE, according to OSPI guidance.

State guidance related to the provision of FAPE aligns with federal guidance issued since the pandemic began. On March 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued a fact sheet describing the federal rights of students with disabilities:

“If the school is open and serving other students, the school must ensure that the student continues to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), consistent with protecting the health and safety of the student and those providing that education to the student.”

Families can reach out to School Boards and Counselors

Families are meeting these emergency circumstances from a wide range of places economically, medically, emotionally, and logistically. School districts statewide have different staffing arrangements and approaches, and Washington schools are locally managed and overseen.

Families might be interested in attending a school board meeting to learn more about decisions being made at this time. Families have the option of making public comment at meetings to share thoughts or concerns. School board meetings are required monthly and must follow the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (Chapter 42.30 in the Revised Code of Washington).Families can reach out to their local district for information about how and when school boards meet. The Washington State School Directors’ Association provides a guidebook about the rules for Open Public Meetings. The rules apply in any meeting space or platform.

For additional support, families might consider reaching out to the school counseling office. The president of the Washington School Counselor’s Association, Jenny Morgan, provided comments in a May 7, 2020, webinar moderated by League of Education Voters. She said school counselors provide a broad range of services, from academic advising to social and emotional support. The American School Counselor Association provides a handout describing the roles of a school counselor.

Morgan says school counselors are uniquely trained to address the academic, career, and social/emotional development of all students through a comprehensive school counseling program. “We are advocates for your child’s educational needs,” she says. “Please do not hesitate to reach out to your school counselor for assistance and support. We are here for you.”

Creative conversation starters

Here are some ideas and prompts that might help your family prepare to talk with school staff. Keep in mind that some answers will not be easily provided, and conversations are ongoing.

  • My child struggles to understand social distancing. What strategy can we use to teach and practice this skill so it will be ready to use when schools reopen?
  • What social story does school staff have to share that will be accessible for my student to understand the coronavirus and why we need to stay home and practice good hygiene?
  • How can the school help my student cope with a high level of anxiety, grief, fear (any emotion that significantly impacts a student’s ability to focus on learning)? Which school counselor can help?
  • My child is turning 3 this month. Who can we talk to at the school district to help get our child ready for preschool? 
  • My student does not want to do school right now. How can we work together to motivate my student to participate in learning and do the work?
  • My student wants to cook, research cars, talk about space flight, do craft projects, walk in nature, play with the family dog, plant a garden … right now. How can we make sure that continuous learning objectives match my child’s natural curiosity?
  • My student loves to play the drums (or something else specific). How can drumming and music (or any interest) be part of the math (or other subject) assignment?
  • The homework packet, online platform, etc., is not accessible to my child. How can we work together and create a learning plan that will work for our family at this time?  
  • My child has a health condition that creates a greater risk for COVID-19 exposure. What could school look like for my child if buildings reopen but my child cannot safely re-enter a traditional classroom?
  • My student is in high school. How can we work together to make sure that the IEP Transition Plan and the High-School and Beyond Plan align? Can we invite the school counselor to our next meeting if we need more help?
  • Can my student do a self-directed project or an alternative assignment to earn a grade or meet a specific objective? Is there a modified way to demonstrate the learning, perhaps through a video, an art project, or a conference with the teacher?
  • Who is the transition counselor assigned to our school by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR)? What tools and people can my student work with right now to explore career options and prepare for adult life?
  • What can school staff do to make sure that my student’s current education includes progress toward independent living goals? (Note: PAVE’s article, High School Halt, includes more information on topics impacting graduating seniors and youth transitioning through high school and beyond.)

During the school closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, families with students of all ages and abilities are figuring out strategies for coping with the disruptions. Additional articles from PAVE provide information about working with the school to design a Continuous Learning Plan, preparing for a virtual meeting, student rights during the School Shutdown and How to Get Organized, Feel Big Feelings, and Breathe during the crisis.

Behavior and Discipline in Special Education: What to do if the School Calls Because of a Behavior Incident

Some disabilities make it difficult for students to manage their behavior in ways that schools expect or require. Sometimes the school calls parents, recommending the student go home. Parents need to know that students have specific rights when they are sent home because of behavior: An official suspension triggers access to disability protections.

For example, schools are responsible to provide behavioral support, sometimes called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), to students with identified behavior disabilities that significantly impact access to learning. Schools also are responsible to evaluate students who may be acting out because of an unidentified disability. Another protection for students with disabilities is a specific due process called Manifestation Determination. A Manifestation Determination Hearing is required if a student with disabilities is excluded from school for 10 or more days because of behavior.

This video provides information about disability protections and what to do if the school is calling to have a student taken home. PAVE has a comprehensive article with additional information: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.

A key federal resource about disability rights related to school discipline was released Jan. 9, 2020: The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in collaboration with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), provides the 46-minute YouTube video: Students with Disabilities and the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in K-12 Public Schools.

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future

A Brief Overview

  • By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. You can attend any time, and leading your own meeting is a great way to learn important skills.
  • If you need more help at school or aren’t learning what you need to learn, then your IEP might need some fixing. Your voice matters on the IEP team.
  • A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
  • Read on to learn more about the parts of an IEP and how to get more involved in your own education.

Full Article

If you are a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), read this article to find out how you can be a leader on your IEP team. Your future is counting on you!

By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. From that year on, your school program is matched to your long-term goals. It’s important to plan your time carefully so that every school day gets you closer to where you want to be when you are an adult. 

Learn to be a self-advocate

 An advocate (pronounced ad-vo-cut) is someone who asks for something in a public way. Public schools get money from the government, so they are considered public entities. When you ask the school to provide you with something that you need to succeed, then you are being a self-advocate.

The word advocate can also be an action word (a verb), but then it’s pronounced ad-vo-cate (rhymes with date). You advocate for yourself when you ask for what you need to succeed.

Here’s another way to use this hyphenated word: You can say that you “practice self-advocacy.” Leading your own IEP meeting is a great way to practice self-advocacy and develop important adult skills.

Your Transition Plan focuses on where you want to go

 The part of the IEP that focuses on your adult goals is called a Transition Plan. The Transition Plan is added to the IEP by the school year when you turn 16. The plan includes details about:

  • when you plan to graduate (you can stay in school through age 21 if your IEP goals require more time)
  • what jobs you might choose
  • whether college is part of your plans
  • what lifestyle you imagine for yourself (will you drive, cook, shop, live alone?)
  • how school is getting you ready for all of that

The Transition Plan is all about you and your future. You can start taking charge of your future by going to your IEP meetings. You may want to lead all or part of the meeting, and you have that right.

The law says it’s all about you

Your rights as a student with an IEP are part of a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA says that schools must include family members and students on the IEP team. If you don’t play on the team, you can’t win the game, right? This is more important than a game—it’s Your Life!

The IDEA is a unique law because it says you get what you need in order to access school and learning. Getting an education that is specially designed just for you is called an entitlement. What you are entitled to is called FAPE, which means Free Appropriate Public Education.

You can become a leader on your IEP team by learning more about FAPE and how to talk about what it means to you. Public education is free for all school-age students in the United States, but consider this question: What makes your education appropriate?

Here are some questions to help you think and talk about FAPE:

  • What is it like to have a disability?
  • What about your disability makes school hard?
  • What do you need at school that helps you learn?
  • Are you getting better and better at the skills you need to be good at?
  • Are your teachers helping you see what you do well?

If you are learning important skills at school, and your learning is helping you build on your strengths, then you are probably getting FAPE. If you need more help or aren’t learning the skills that you need to move forward, then your IEP might need some fixing. Keep in mind that the school is responsible to provide you with FAPE. You have the right to ask for FAPE.

Learn what your IEP can do for you

Here’s a starter kit to help you understand what your IEP says and how you can ask for changes. When you go to your IEP meeting, you have the right to ask the teachers and school administrators to help you read and understand your IEP.

These are some important parts of an IEP:

  • Category of Disability: This is on the “cover page” of the IEP document. It lists the type of disability that best describes why you need individualized help at school. You should know this category so you can understand how and why teachers are supposed to help you.
  • The Present Levels of Performance: This is the long section at the beginning of the IEP that describes how you are doing and what the school is helping you work on. The beginning of this section lists what you are good at. Make sure that section is complete so you can be sure the teachers help you build on your strengths.
  • Goals: When you qualified for an IEP, the school did an evaluation. You showed that you needed to learn certain things with instructions designed just for you. To help you learn, the teachers provide Specially Designed Instruction. They keep track of your progress toward specific goals in each area of learning. You can learn what your goals are and help track your progress. A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
  • Accommodations: You can ask for what you need to help you learn in all the different classrooms and places where you spend the school day. Do you learn better if you sit in a specific part of the classroom, for example, or if you have a certain type of chair? Do you need to be able to take breaks? Do you do better on tests if you take them in a small, quiet space instead of the regular classroom? Do you need shorter assignments, so you don’t get overwhelmed? Helping your teachers know how to help you is part of your job as an IEP team member.

Get Ready for Your IEP Meeting

You can get ready for your IEP meeting by looking over the IEP document.  You may want to ask a family member or a teacher to help you read through the document. If you don’t understand what’s in your IEP, plan to ask questions at the meeting.

PAVE provides a worksheet to help you prepare for your meeting. It’s called a Student Input Form. You can use this worksheet to make a handout for the meeting or just to start thinking about things you might want to say. If you don’t want to make a handout, you might draw pictures or make a video to share your ideas.

These sentence starters might help you begin:

  • I enjoy…
  • I learn best when…
  • I’m good at…
  • It’s hard for me when…
  • I want more help in these areas…
  • I like school the most when …
  • Teachers are helpful when they…
  • I want to learn more about …
  • It would be great if…

You may want to think about your disability and how it affects your schoolwork. You could work on a sentence or draw a picture to help the teachers understand something that is hard for you. These might be the parts of a sentence that you can personalize:

  • My disability in the area of …
  • makes school difficult because…

Your handout can include a list of what you want to talk about at the meeting. Here are a few ideas, but your options are unlimited:

  • A favorite class, teacher or subject in school?
  • A time during the school day that is hard for you?
  • Your IEP goals?
  • Something that helps you feel comfortable and do well?
  • Something you want to change in your school schedule or program?
  • Graduation requirements and when you plan to graduate?
  • Your High School and Beyond Plan? (see information below)
  • Anything else that’s important to you?

High School and Beyond Plan

Maybe you started talking about what you might do after graduation when you were in middle school. Washington State public schools are required to help all students begin a High School and Beyond Plan by 8th grade. Ask a teacher, a school counselor and/or your parents if you haven’t started one of those: It’s required so you can graduate from high school.

It’s never too soon to think about what you want to do in the future. When you start building an IEP Transition Plan, it’s critical to think and talk through your ideas and how you see yourself moving forward. Here are some starter questions: 

  1. Where am I now? (strengths, interests, abilities)
  1. Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations)
  1. How do I get there? (goals, courses, activities, helpers, accommodations)

Here are some additional questions to help you plan:

Jobs, Trades, & Work

  • What jobs would be a good fit?
  • What training and/or supports will you need?
  • Does your IEP include community work experience?

Education after high school

  • Do your personal goals include college or technical school?
  • What accommodations will you need?
  • Have you contacted Disability Support Services on campus?

Living arrangements

  • Will you live with family, a friend or on your own?
  • How will you cook, clean, shop, & get around town?
  • Does your IEP have goals for Independent living?

Community experiences

  • What will you do for fun?
  • Will you join a club or support group?
  • How will you make friends and keep in touch?

It’s never too soon to plan ahead!

Setting goals and making some plans now will help your school and family help you make sure you’ve got the right class credits, skills training and support to make that shift out of high school easier.

Being a leader at your IEP meeting is a great way to build skills for self-advocacy and self-determination, which is another great two-part word to learn. Self-determination means you make choices to take control of your life. At your IEP meeting, you can practice describing what helps you or what makes your life hard. You get to talk about what you do well and any projects or ideas that you get excited about. In short, you get to design your education so that it supports your plans to design your own adult life.

Here are links to more ideas and tools to help you get involved in your own future planning:

The Center for Change in Transition Services has a toolkit for youth

Youthhood.org also has resources designed just for you

 

Sample Letter to Request an IEP Meeting

When a student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the school is required to review the program every year. The annual review date is listed on the cover page of the IEP document. Family members/caregivers can request additional meetings, and this article includes a sample letter that families can use to formally request an IEP meeting.

An IEP meeting request letter can be submitted to school staff and to district staff. Family participants have the right to invite guests to the meeting for support and to provide additional expertise about the student. Best practice is for the school and parents to communicate about who will attend the meeting. The school’s meeting invitation will list attendees and can clarify when the meeting will start and end and the purpose or agenda for the meeting. PAVE provides an article about how families can prepare for a meeting by creating a handout for the team.

In accordance with the IDEA and state laws, the IEP team includes an individual who is knowledgeable about district resources. Sometimes a school principal or other staff member fulfills that role. Families or school staff can request attendance by someone who works in the district’s special education department.

The requirement for an annual IEP review is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that entitles students with qualifying disabilities to special education services. PAVE has an article that describes key principles of the IDEA. One priority of the IDEA is parent participation, and schools are responsible to invite parents to meetings at which a student’s special education program or placement is discussed. The Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-03100) provides detail about the requirements for parent participation in IEP process. When a student is 16 and/or postsecondary goals are being discussed, schools are required to invite students to their IEP meetings.

The IDEA requires schools to evaluate special education students every three years to determine whether they continue to qualify for services and whether the IEP needs to be adjusted. PAVE provides an article about evaluation process. Family participants or school staff can request a re-evaluation sooner if there are concerns. PAVE provides an article with a Sample Letter to Request Evaluation.

Parents can request to meet with the IEP team any time of year if they have questions or concerns. Here are a few examples of reasons parents might request an IEP meeting:

  • new diagnosis or information about a student’s disability
  • frequent disciplinary actions
  • academic struggles
  • lack of meaningful progress toward IEP goals
  • behavior plan isn’t working
  • placement isn’t working
  • parent wants to discuss further evaluation by the school or an independent agency

Under the IDEA, family members and/or caregivers who participate on the IEP team have the right to request an IEP meeting any time there are concerns.

For a comprehensive article about the IEP and how to participate on the IEP team, visit PAVE’s article called Get Ready for School with IEP Essentials. PAVE also provides a short video overview of the IEP and an article about SMART goals and progress monitoring.

Below is a sample letter families and caregivers can use when writing a request for an IEP meeting:

Your Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip
Date

Name (if known, otherwise use title only)
Title/Director of Special Education/Program Coordinator
School District
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Dear Name (if known, otherwise use title only):

I am requesting an IEP meeting regarding the program for my (son/daughter), NAME, (BD: 00-00-0000). I have some concerns that I believe need to be addressed by the entire team. I understand that I will be involved in scheduling so that I can participate fully as an equal member of the IEP team and that I will be notified in writing when a meeting is arranged.

My hope is that this meeting will provide an opportunity for collaborative problem solving. I want to make sure (NAME’s) IEP provides enough support for improvement and learning within (her/his) capabilities. I look forward to discussing my specific concerns about: (add specific concerns here).

  • Use bullet points if the list becomes long.
  • Use bullet points if the list becomes long.
  • Use bullet points if the list becomes long.

I have attached documentation from (list any outside providers who provided letters or reports and highlight any specific recommendations from those attached documents).

I hope that a copy of the IEP draft will be provided to me before our team meeting so that I will have the opportunity to review the document and prepare for the meeting.

I’m also requesting copies of (any other documents you wish to review before the meeting: evaluation reports, teacher progress notes, state curricula…).

I appreciate your help in behalf of my son/daughter. If you have any questions please call me at (telephone number) or email me at (email address, optional).

Sincerely,

Your Name

CC: (Names and titles of anyone else you give copies to)

You can email this letter or send it by certified mail (keep your receipt), or hand carry it to the district office and get a date/time receipt. Remember to keep a copy of this letter and all school-related correspondence for your records. Get organized with a binder or a filing system that will help you keep track of all letters, meetings, conversations, etc. These documents will be important for you and your child for many years to come, including when your child transitions out of school.

Please Note: It is the policy of PAVE to provide support, information, and training for families, professionals, and interested others on a number of topics. In no way do these activities constitute providing legal advice. PAVE is not a legal firm or a legal services agency. This message and accompanying documents are covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2521, and contain information intended for the specified individual(s) only. 

The contents of this document were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education. The contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

 

 

 

IDEA: The Foundation of Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that was passed in 1990 and has been amended. The IDEA provides children with qualifying disabilities, from birth to age 21, with the right to a free public education that is specifically designed to meet their unique, individual needs.

Some important concepts carried over from the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. That was the first United States law that required schools to provide Special Education to all children with disabilities. PAVE has an article about special education history.

This article provides an overview of the IDEA, which is unique as a law that provides an individual entitlement. Entitlement means that a child with unique needs gets those needs served on an individual basis, not based on a system or program that’s already built and available. The strengths and challenges of a specific student are assessed, and a team including family members and professionals works together to design a program.

The local school district is responsible for providing the program—specialized instruction, services, accommodations and anything else that the team has identified as necessary to provide the student with access to an appropriate education.

FAPE is an important acronym to learn!

The first principle of the IDEA is the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, FAPE. Figuring out how to provide FAPE is the work of the school and family team that supports a student with a disability. PAVE provides a video Introduction to Special Education that includes more information about FAPE.

Progress measurements are guaranteed under the IDEA to ensure that the student finds meaningful success, in light of the circumstances of disability. If a neighborhood school cannot provide the services and programming to guarantee FAPE, then the school district is responsible to create a program and placement that does meet the student’s needs. PAVE has an article about the placement decision process.

The federal law drives how states design their own special education policies and procedures. Title 34, Part 104 is the non-discrimination federal statute under the Office for Civil Rights Department of Education. In Washington State, rules for the provision of special education are in Chapter 392-172A of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

The IDEA considers the whole life of a person with a disability

The IDEA is written in three parts: A, B and C. Part A describes the general goals and purpose of the law. The right of a child with disabilities to receive an education that prepares that child for adult life is stated in Part A: ​

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society…

“Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

Part B of the IDEA covers children ages 3 through 21—or until graduation from high school. Students who receive services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are covered under Part B. The six principles listed at the end of this article describe IDEA’s Part B protections.

Part C protects children Birth to age 3 who need family support for early learning. ​The disability category of developmental delay overlaps early learning and IEP and can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based services through age 8. PAVE has an article about the transition between Part C and Part B services.

To qualify for an IEP, a student meets criteria in one of the IDEA’s 14 disability categories:

  • Autism: A student doesn’t need a medical diagnosis to be evaluated in the area of autism. If features from the autism spectrum of disability may significantly impact access to education, then the school can assess those features to determine eligibility and special education needs.
  • Emotional Disturbance: Anxiety, Depression, Serious Mental Illness and/or behavior disabilities can fall under this category, which Washington schools often refer to as Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD). PAVE has an article about mental health in school.
  • Specific Learning Disability: Issues related to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia or other learning deficits can be educationally assessed. A formal diagnosis is not required for a student to qualify under this category. A Washington law taking full effect in 2021-22 requires schools to screen for dyslexia: See PAVE’s article about dyslexia.
  • Other Health Impairment: ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and other medical diagnoses are captured within this broad category, often shorted to OHI or Health-Impaired on the IEP document.
  • Speech/Language Impairment: This category can include expressive and/or receptive language disorders in addition to issues related to diction. Social communication deficits might qualify a student for speech services.
  • Multiple Disabilities: Students with complex medical and learning needs can meet criteria in this category.
  • Intellectual Disability: A student with Down Syndrome or another genetic or cognitive disorder might meet criteria in this category.
  • Orthopedic Impairment: OI refers to physical disabilities that impact access to education.
  • Hearing Impairment: Note this is a separate category from deafness or deaf-blindness, as educational testing and identified needs may differ.
  • Deaf blindness
  • Deafness
  • Visual Impairment/Blindness
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: Brain Injury Alliance of WA is a good place for resources to better understand TBI and how to support a student with medical and educational needs.
  • Developmental Delay (ages 0-8): This category can qualify a child for early learning (Birth-3) services in addition to IEP services through age 8. By age 9, a new evaluation may determine eligibility in another category for IEP services to continue.

Educational evaluations ask 3 key questions

The disability must have an adverse impact on learning. Not every student who has a disability and receives an evaluation will qualify for an IEP. Following procedures described by the IDEA, school districts evaluate students to consider 3 key questions:

  1. Does the student have a disability?
  2. Does the disability adversely impact education?
  3. Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

When each answer is yes, a student qualifies for services. In each area of eligibility, specialized instruction is recommended to help the student overcome the impact of the disability in order to access FAPE. PAVE provides comprehensive articles about evaluation and IEP process.

IDEA’s Primary Principles:

  1. Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Students with disabilities who need a special kind of teaching or other help have the right to an education that is not only free but also “appropriate,” designed just for them. Under IDEA rules, schools provide special education students with “access to FAPE,” so that’s a common way to talk about whether the student’s program is working.
  2. Appropriate Evaluation: The IDEA requires schools to take a closer look at children with potential disabilities. PAVE has an article about the Child Find Mandate. There are rules about how quickly those evaluations get done. The results provide information that the school and parents use to make decisions about how the child’s education can be improved. See PAVE’s article about evaluation process.
  3. Individualized Education Program (IEP): An IEP is a dynamic program, not a packet of paper. PAVE provides a short video overview of IEP process. The document that describes a student’s special education program is carefully written and needs to be reviewed at least once a year by a team that includes school staff and parents/guardians. Every student on an IEP gets some extra help from teachers, but the rest of the program depends on what a student needs to learn. Learning in school isn’t just academic subjects. Schools also help students learn social and emotional skills and general life skills. By age 16, an IEP includes a plan for life beyond high school, and helping the student make a successful transition into life after high school becomes a primary goal of the IEP.
  4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The IDEA says that students should be in class with non-disabled classmates “to the maximum extent appropriate.” That means that regular classrooms and school spaces are first choice as the “least restrictive” places. If the school has provided extra help in the classroom but the special education student still struggles to be successful, then the IEP team considers other options, such as a structured learning classroom. The school explains placement and LRE in writing on the IEP document. PAVE has an article about LRE.
  5. Parent and Student Participation: The IDEA and state regulations about IEP team membership make it clear that parents or legal guardians are equal partners with school staff in making decisions about their student’s education. When the student turns 18, educational decision-making is given to the student. The school does its best to bring parents and students into the meetings, and there are specific rules about how the school provides written records and meeting notices (WAC 392-172A-03100).
  6. Procedural Safeguards: The school provides parents with a written copy of their rights at referral and yearly thereafter. A copy of the procedural safeguards is available online from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the guidance agency for Washington schools. Parents may receive procedural safeguards from the school any time they request them. They also may receive a copy if they file a Citizen Complaint or Due Process. Procedural safeguards are offered when a school removes a student for more than 10 days in a school year as part of a disciplinary action. When parents and schools disagree, these rights describe the actions that a parent can take informally or formally. PAVE provides a webinar called Parents as Partners that describes some of the procedural safeguards and offers communication strategies when parents and schools disagree.

PAVE provides information, resources and, in some circumstances 1:1 support through our Parent Training and Information (PTI) center. To get help, reach out through our Help Request Form or by calling 800-572-7368.