Special Education is a Service, Not a Place

A Brief Overview

  • A student with a disability has the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). General education spaces and curriculum are LRE.
  • Services are generally portable, and special education is delivered to the student to enable access to FAPE within the LRE to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Federal law protects a student’s right to FAPE within the LRE in light of a child’s circumstances, not for convenience of resource allocation.
  • The TIES Center at the University of Minnesota partnered with the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington to build a resource to support families and schools in writing IEPs that support students within general education classrooms: Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education and the Inclusive IEP.

Full Article

An ill-informed conversation about special education might go something like this:

  • Is your child in special education?
  • Yes.
  • Oh, so your student goes to school in that special classroom, by the office…in the portable…at the end of the hall…in a segregated room?

This conversation includes errors in understanding about what special education is, how it is delivered, and a student’s right to be included with general education peers whenever and wherever possible.

This article intends to clear up confusion. An important concept to understand is in the headline:

Special Education is a service, not a place!

Services are portable, so special education is delivered to the student in the placement that works for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), in light of the child’s circumstances. A student with a disability has the right to FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

General education is the Least Restrictive Environment. An alternative placement is discussed by the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team if access to FAPE is not working for the student in a general education setting with supplementary aids and supports.

Here is some vocabulary to further understanding:

  • FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education. The entitlement of a student who is eligible for special education services.
  • IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The entitlement to FAPE is protected by this law that allocates federal funds to support eligible students.
  • LRE: Least Restrictive Environment. A student eligible for special education services has a right to FAPE in the LRE to the maximum extent appropriate. General education is the least restrictive, and an alternative placement is discussed when data indicate that supplementary aids and supports are not working to enable access to FAPE in general education.
  • IEP: Individualized Education Program. School staff and family caregivers make up an IEP team. The team is responsible to develop a program reasonably calculated to enable a student to make progress appropriate toward IEP goals and on grade-level curriculum, in light of the child’s circumstances. Based on a student’s strengths and needs (discovered through evaluation, observation, and review of data), the team collaborates to decide what services enable FAPE and how to deliver those services. Where services are delivered is the last part of the IEP process, and decisions are made by all team members, unless family caregivers choose to excuse some participants or waive the right to a full team process.
  • Equity: When access is achieved with supports so that a person with a disability has a more level or fair opportunity to benefit from the building, service, or program. For example, a student in a wheelchair can access a school with stairs if there is also a ramp. A person with a behavioral health condition might need a unique type of “ramp” to access equitable learning opportunities within general education.
  • Inclusion: When people of all abilities experience an opportunity together, and individuals with disabilities have supports they need to be contributing participants and to receive equal benefit. Although IDEA does not explicitly demand inclusion, the requirement for FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment is how inclusion is built into special education process.
  • Placement: Where a student learns. Because the IDEA requires LRE, an IEP team considers equity and inclusion in discussions about where a student receives education. General education placement is the Least Restrictive Environment. An IEP team considers ways to offer supplementary aids and supports to enable access to LRE. If interventions fail to enable access to FAPE, the IEP team considers a continuum of placement alternatives—special education classrooms, alternative schools, home-bound instruction, day treatment, residential placement, or an alternative that is uniquely designed. 
  • Supplementary Aids and Supports: The help and productivity enhancers a student needs. Under the IDEA, a student’s unique program and services are intended to enable access to FAPE within LRE. Note that an aid or a support—a service that enables access—is not a place and therefore cannot be considered as an aspect of a restrictive placement. Having a 1:1 to support a student, for example, does not violate LRE. This topic was included in the resolution of a 2017 Citizen Complaint in Washington State. 

Note that the IDEA protects a student’s right to FAPE within LRE in light of a child’s circumstances, not in light of the most convenient way to organize school district resources. Placement is individualized to support a student’s strengths and abilities as well as the needs that are based in disability.

Tip: Families can remind the IEP team to Presume Competence and to boost a student from that position of faith. If the team presumes that a student can be competent in general education, how does it impact the team’s conversation about access to FAPE and placement?

LRE does not mean students with disabilities are on their own

To deliver FAPE, a school district provides lessons uniquely designed to address a student’s strengths and struggles (Specially Designed Instruction/SDI). In addition, the IEP team is responsible to design individualized accommodations and modifications.

  • Accommodations: Productivity enhancers. Examples: adjusted time to complete a task, assistive technology, a different mode for tracking an assignment or schedule, accessible reading materials with text-to-speech or videos embedded with sign language…
  • Modifications: Changes to a requirement. Examples: an alternative test, fewer problems on a worksheet, credit for a video presentation or vision board instead of a term paper.

Note that accommodations and modifications are not “special favors.” Utilizing these is an exercise of disability rights that are protected by the IDEA and civil rights/anti-discrimination laws that include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (particularly Section 504 as it relates to school) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA—particularly Title II).

Related Services may support LRE and other aspects of equitable access

An IEP may include related services (occupational therapy, speech, nursing, behavioral health support, parent training, etc.). For some students, related services may be part of the support structure to enable inclusion in the Least Restrictive Environment. If an IEP includes related services, then the IEP team discusses how and where they are delivered.

A tool to support inclusion

The TIES Center at the University of Minnesota partnered with the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington to build a resource to support families and schools in writing IEPs that support students within general education classrooms: Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education and the Inclusive IEP.

The resource includes a variety of tools and recommendations for how school and family teams can approach their meetings and conversations to support the creation and provision of a program that recognizes:

  • Each child is a general education student. 
  • The general education curriculum and routines and the Individual Education Program (IEP) comprise a student’s full educational program.
  • the IEP for a student qualifying for special education services is not the student’s curriculum.

Keep in mind that IEP teams are required to include staff from general education and special education (WAC 392-172A-03095). All team members are required for formal meetings unless the family signs consent for those absences. Here’s a key statement from the TIES Center resource:

“The IEP is intended to support a student’s progress in general education curriculum and routines, as well as other essential skills that support a student’s independence or interdependence across school, home, and other community environments.  A comprehensive inclusive education program based upon these principles is important because without that focus, a student’s learning opportunities and school and post-school outcomes are diminished. In order to create an effective comprehensive inclusive education program, collaboration between general educators, special educators, and families is needed.”

Dyslexia Screening and Interventions: State Requirements and Resources

A Brief Overview

  • Washington passed a law in 2018 requiring schools to screen young children for the indicators of weaknesses associated with dyslexia and support literacy across all grades. The law took effect in the 2021-22 school year.
  • Dyslexia is a Specific Learning Disability. Students with learning disabilities are eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if they demonstrate a need for Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). SDI is key when a student isn’t keeping up with grade-level work and standard teaching strategies aren’t working.
  • The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy with “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of help for all students who need it, regardless of special education eligibility.
  • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) supports a library of screening tools and best practices. Included are handouts for families in multiple languages.
  • PAVE provides a video: Supporting Literacy for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Full Article

A child who struggles to read can quickly fall behind in school. Nearly every academic area includes some reading, and children might become confused or frustrated when they don’t get help to make sense of their schoolwork. Behavior challenges can result, and sometimes schools and parents struggle to understand why the student is having a hard time.

Washington State requires dyslexia screenings and interventions. Lawmakers in 2018 passed Senate Bill 6162 to require schools to assess children from kindergarten through second grade using state-recommended literacy screening tools. The law took effect in 2021-22.

In January 2021, Superintendent Chris Reykdal called on the state to “completely overhaul early literacy and teach students using proven strategies that are grounded in the science of reading.” The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) supports a library of screening tools and best practices, with resources for families in multiple languages.

Educators, psychologists, and other professionals in related fields nationwide are participating in a movement called the Science of Reading. The goal is to share research about literacy to shift teaching strategies and improve outcomes for students.

Help with reading may be part of special education services

The federal law that provides special education eligibility and funding is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). According to theIDEA, Dyslexia is a reading disability—aSpecific Learning Disability. Specific Learning Disability is a category of eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Children with Specific Learning Disabilities often struggle to read, write, or do math. If the impact on school is significant enough, they have the right to Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), which is an important part of an IEP. The service minutes listed in the IEP describe the SDI, whose providing it, and when/where the SDI is provided.

Each area of SDI includes at least one IEP goal. IEP goals are built to support learning, and appropriate progress is required as an element of FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE is what a student with a disability has the right to.

Here’s a review of this key information:

  • IEP Eligibility is based on a student’s needs
  • Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) serves the identified needs
  • The IEP tracks learning progress with specific goals in each area of SDI
  • Appropriate progress is one measure of FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education

Reading supports are schoolwide

Not all students who need reading support have IEPs. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 320.260) requires schools to support literacy through “multi-tiered” programming. That means schools provide different levels of support for all students who need help, regardless of special education identification.

Some schools have reading programs funded by Title 1, which is part of a federal law called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Title 1 is funded to close opportunity gaps related to poverty and other measures.  

TIP: Ask about all options for reading support at your school. If a student with an IEP participates in a schoolwide reading program, then the IEP can list that program as part of the student’s services. The school is responsible to serve an identified need related to disability.

Dyslexia can be identified and supported without a diagnosis

Students do not need a diagnosis of dyslexia to be evaluated for special education eligibility. If the family has concerns, they can ask the school to evaluate the student. Requests should be in writing. PAVE provides a sample letter to help families request an educational evaluation.

Here’s a sentence to include in the evaluation request letter:

“I need my child tested for a specific learning disability. I believe there is a problem with reading that is disability related.”

Schools have tools to identify “characteristics” of dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. When those characteristics are present, the school is responsible to serve the student with appropriate interventions and instruction.

Consistent with recommendations of the Dyslexia Advisory Council and RCW 28A.320.260, qualified teachers must use best practice methods to help the student overcome the barriers of their learning disability and show meaningful progress:

“The interventions must be evidence-based multisensory structured literacy interventions and must be provided by an educator trained in instructional methods specifically targeting students’ areas of weakness.”

Structured Literacy is helping in some Washington schools

Structured Literacy comes from educational science and is a specific way of teaching the foundational skills of reading, writing, and speaking to use language effectively. Learning skills in a methodical way is especially important for children with dyslexia and for children using multiple languages.

Wenatchee School District shifted to a structured literacy approach in 2019. Many students, including those with dyslexia-type disabilities, have improved in their reading skills since the switch, according to a Seattle Times article published April 17, 2022: Fed up with lackluster reading scores, Wenatchee schools turned to science.

The article explains how Wenatchee staff got specialized training and describes the primary components of structured literacy:

  • Phonological awareness, ability to notice and distinguish different sounds in a word
  • Phonics, ability to match sounds to letters
  • Orthography, knowledge of how words and sounds are spelled
  • Morphology, knowledge of word roots, prefixes and suffixes

In a second article in its Education Lab literacy series, the Times on April 18, 2022, reported about Mercer Island, which also has trained teachers to provide structured literacy: “So far, there are signs of success: Early this year, fewer students were identified as potentially having dyslexia, an indicator that modified instruction is helping.”  

TIP: Families can ask whether their school has staff trained in structured literacy. Or ask this: What evidence-based Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is being provided to serve a student who is not learning to read with standard instructional methods?

An outside evaluation may provide additional information

If a school is unable to gather enough information to fully understand the causes and features of a student’s disability, parents have a right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for more information.

If the family is asking for an IEE because there is disagreement about the quality or conclusions of the school’s evaluation, the family can request an IEE at school district expense. PAVE provides a sample letter for requesting an IEE in this article: Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’. A school district must file Due Process to deny an IEE request.

In some situations, the family might pay for an IEE or seek one using medical insurance. In most cases, testing for dyslexia is done by a licensed educational psychologist. Neurologists and other medical professionals may also be qualified to provide a formal diagnosis.

Schools can call it dyslexia, but they don’t have to

Families and schools sometimes struggle with what to call a learning disability with features/characteristics of dyslexia. That topic was part of one family’s Due Process complaint against a school district in Washington State. In February 2022 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision. The court said schools are not required to name a student’s learning disability dyslexia. Schools can meet federal and state standards by identifying a student as having a Specific Learning Disability.

Some Specific Learning Disabilities that impact students are:

  • Dyslexia—a learning disability in reading
  • Dysgraphia—a learning disability in writing
  • Dyscalculia—a learning disability in math

Although not legally required, use of these terms is allowed. The US Department of Education on October 23, 2015, issued a Dear Colleague letter to encourage schools nationwide to do more to identify and serve students with Specific Learning Disabilities. The letter includes information about federal law—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

“The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.”

Since 2015, nearly all states have passed laws to require schools to assess students and provide support for those who need help in reading because of dyslexia.

On April 25, 2016, the US Department of Education issued guidance about the school’s responsibility to evaluate a student who is having reading difficulties. The department’s guidance is formatted as a Letter to Kelli Unnerstall of Decoding Dyslexia of Missouri. The letter includes information about when a school district (“public agency”) might pay for assessment from a medical provider:

“If the public agency decides that a medical evaluation or any other assessment is necessary to determine whether the child has a disability and his or her educational needs, the entire evaluation must be provided at no cost to the parents.”

TIP: Families can talk about their student as having a Specific Learning Disability with characteristics/features of dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or more than one. Evidence-based instruction from properly trained teachers is required, regardless of how the disability is named.

How might a student with dyslexia keep up with their class?

Schools are responsible to support students at their age, grade, and developmental level. Washington follows Common Core Standards for all students, including those who receive services through an IEP or Section 504 Plan.

OSPI’s Best Practices for Supporting Grades 3 and Above lists evidence-based classroom strategies, social-emotional supports, and how to accommodate a struggling reader at school. The top recommendations:

  • Use audiobooks to support access to grade-level curriculum.
  • Allow Assistive Technology, including audio features, voice typing/dictation software for writing, or assistive applications for spelling and notetaking.

Learning standards for literacy go beyond the skill of saying or thinking the words on the page. Here’s a way to understand what this means. While reading the Common Core standard below, consider how assistive technology might help students with reading disabilities move closer to these aspirations:

“The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”

PAVE provides a video: Text-to-Speech: Supporting Literacy for Students with Learning Disabilities

TIP: Schools and families can talk about how children learn to think critically, problem solve and analyze information through schoolwork done by reading or listening.

A student with dyslexia might work on literacy two ways:

  1. SDI: Student can work on literacy at their level, with help from teachers using evidence-based Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). and
  2. Accommodations: Student can use audible formats and text-to-speech and/or speech-to-text to support reading in all subject areas, including literature, nearer grade level.

Here’s a way to talk about this two-part approach from a student rights perspective:

  1. SDI: A student receiving special education services has the right to FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE requires SDI in areas of need to help a student make solid progress. Federal law describes that as “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” (Endrew F decision).
  2. Accommodations: FAPE is required in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), which is general education in the neighborhood school, “to the maximum extent appropriate.” Access to the core curriculum is included. If technology helps the student access grade-level (or adapted grade-level) learning materials, then the school is responsible to accommodate those needs. Accommodations are part of an IEP or a Section 504 Plan.

TIP: Ask the school what audible book service they subscribe to (Bookshare, for example) and how the student can get audible books and curriculum materials. Make sure the student has headphones, a microphone, devices, and spaces to use text-to-speech/speech-to-text and audible books. All can be listed in an IEP or 504 Plan.

What other help can we ask for?

Other state recommended accommodations for students with reading/writing disabilities:

  • Provide extended time for reading and writing, especially for testing.
  • Provide fewer test/homework problems that work on the same skill.
  • Allow modified grading of spelling and grammar (consider the purpose of the task).
  • Print or record verbal step-by-step directions or allow student to take a picture or video.
  • Offer project-based learning options (oral presentation, multisensory experiences).
  • Provide a quiet place for studying and testing.

Students with learning disabilities have the right to accommodations and support to enable them to work successfully toward a high-school diploma. If a student chooses an alternative route through General Educational Development (GED) testing, they may be eligible for accommodations. A website called passged.com lists disability conditions that might make a person eligible for testing supports. Included are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.

What options do families have if they disagree with the school?

Special education law supports procedural safeguards for students and families. Included are dispute resolution options when there is disagreement with the school. PAVE provides guidance in a video: Procedural Safeguards: How to File a Special Education Complaint.

Families have the right to attend public meetings of their local school board to make requests and provide feedback.

A group of families in Easten Washington filed a petition with Change.org in February 2022, to ask for literacy improvements from the Richland School District (RSD). Included are statistics showing that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened already poor reading scores.

The petition asks for a more structured approach to literacy and makes this appeal: “As parents of Richland School District students, we are writing you to plead with you to improve our students’ reading proficiency. Every student deserves the opportunity to become a proficient reader! Reading is a foundational skill that affects one’s ability to function within our society.”

More detail about dyslexia

The state’s definition of dyslexia, adopted in 2018, is similar to a definition promoted by the International Dyslexia Association. According to Washington State’s definition:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder that is neurological in origin and that is characterized by unexpected difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities that are not consistent with the person’s intelligence, motivation, and sensory capabilities.”

Understood.org provides a video and additional materials to support understanding of dyslexia. Here’s their plain language definition: “Dyslexia is a common condition that makes it hard to work with language.”

Keep in mind that parents and schools don’t need to use the term dyslexia at all. They can talk about a student’s learning disability in reading, writing, or math in broader terms. Specific Learning Disability is defined by the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-01035):

“Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.”

The state’s definition of learning disability excludes “learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.”

The Child Mind Institute offers a Parent Guide to Dyslexia. Included are the following tips.

A young child with dyslexia may have:

  • Trouble learning simple rhymes
  • Speech delays
  • A hard time following directions
  • Difficulty reading short words or leave them out
  • Trouble understanding the difference between left and right

In school, children with dyslexia are likely to:

  • Struggle sounding out new words and counting syllables
  • Reverse letters and numbers after most students stop doing that, around age 8
  • Struggle taking notes and copying words from the board
  • Have a hard time rhyming, connecting sounds and letters, and putting the sounds of words in the right order
  • Misspell even familiar words (cmpt instead of camped)
  • Read much more slowly than peers
  • Avoid reading out loud
  • Show signs of fatigue from reading with great effort

National resources include comics and videos

Dyslexia awareness is promoted by the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), which provides resources designed to support parents, teachers, and policy makers. On its website, the agency includes state-specific information, recommends screening tools and interventions and provides research data about early intervention. Through social media, the agency in October promotes a hashtag campaign, #DyslexiaAwareness.

NCIL provides a unique resource in the format of an online or downloadable comic book: Adventures in Reading Comic Books stars Kayla, a girl with dyslexia.

Here are a few video resources:

Summer Reading Tips for Families

A Brief Overview

  • Learning Heroes provides help to figure out a child’s reading level, useful when asking for summer reading recommendations from a teacher or librarian.
  • Any format that captures a child’s imagination and makes them enjoy reading is valuable. Consider graphic novels, audio books, read aloud online videos, or e-readers in addition to traditional books.
  • Consider rewards and prizes for reading achievements. The local library might have a summer program. Read on for ideas.
  • Some students will have school-based services over the summer through Extended School Year (ESY), Recovery Services (additional services due to pandemic impacts), or something else. See PAVE’s article: ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE.
  • PAVE provides a video and an article about supporting students with specific learning disabilities related to literacy.

Full Article

Summer days offer time to focus on play, creativity, and family fun. If most days also include time for reading, children will better maintain skills they’ve been working on during the school year. Here are tips for families to keep kids engaged in reading.

Check your child’s reading level

If possible, ask a teacher for information about the child’s reading level before school’s out. This information will help you use any reading guides provided by the school or library. Here’s another option: Learning Heroes provides help to figure out a child’s reading level.

Follow your child’s lead

Ask a librarian to show you where to find books in your child’s general reading level, then turn your child loose to explore. Children will often gravitate to books that look interesting and accessible.

Don’t worry if the child wants to explore a book that seems too easy or too hard. Keep in mind that the point is to keep the child interested in reading. Sometimes children need something easy to keep it fun, and sometimes the subject of a harder book makes it more fascinating.  

Some children choose comic books or books with diagrams, which are rarely included on teacher lists but can keep kids going to the library. Consider whether guilt-free reading options might reduce battles and keep eyes engaged on the page. Any format that captures a child’s imagination and makes them enjoy reading is valuable. Consider graphic novels, audio books, read aloud online videos, or e-readers in addition to traditional books.

Pull words from the page

Some children prefer or need books that are more interactive. Here are some options:

  • A read-aloud, with an adult or child doing the reading
  • Read together and share questions and answers along the way
  • Act out a book
  • Participate in a read-a-thon
  • Check out audio books
  • Seek applications and video programs that show words and provide narration

An agency called Bookshare provides e-books for children with learning disabilities, vision problems, or conditions such as cerebral palsy.  The agency provides alternative reading options, such as braille, audiobooks, large print books, and more.

Make reading part of everyday activities

Children learn reading habits from their family, and when adults show they love to read children will often model that behavior.

Read during everyday activities. Notice and read signs and billboards while you travel around town. Ask children to read the recipe while they help prepare a meal. They can help read a text message, an email, or a letter that came in the mail. Turn on the television’s closed caption feature so a favorite show includes the words to read and follow along.

Understand reading milestones

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides guidance for teachers and families through Early Literacy Pathways. The downloadable booklet provides a chart of developmental milestones linked to literacy. An alternative place to get this type of information is from Understood.org: Reading skills at different ages.

Resource locations for summer reading

Washington’s Secretary of State provides a website page with information about a statewide Summer Reading Program. Included is a tool to find your local library.

Ask the teacher or school district what they offer over summer. Many schools partner with local organizations or offer school-supported access to digital learning applications, such as

The Barnes & Noble summer reading program is for all ages and allows any child to pick a free book from a predetermined list of books after completing the program. Visit the store to ask for a journal to track summer reading.

Scholastic Summer Challenge (Scholastic.com) has a summer reading challenge called “Readapalooza.” Kids log their reading minutes, unlock badges, and earn rewards.

Search locally online for “summer reading [your city]” or  “summer reading program near me” because many local or state-specific businesses and restaurants host summer reading programs.

Happy reading this summer and always!

Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • In Washington State, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-ETS and VR services. To seek support for a student still working toward a diploma, contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map: Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). Each TVR agency operates independently. Contact information is listed on a TVR website page, within DVR’s website.
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR, TVR, or DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process begins in middle school, when all Washington State students work with counseling staff to begin their High School and Beyond Plan.

For students with disabilities, that lengthy planning process is enhanced when the Individualized Education Program (IEP) adds a Transition Plan, required by the school year when a student turns 16.

Vocational rehabilitation agencies can be part of that process and support a warm hand-off into the world of work. PAVE provides an infographic Transition Triangle with more about the way these services can wrap around a student as they move through school and beyond.

Vocational Rehabilitation services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs.

Section 504 is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protects a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan. Students with IEPs also have Section 504 protections.

In other words, the accommodations from a student’s 504 Plan or IEP travel with them into higher education, work, and more. Section 504 and the ADA protect an individual with disabilities throughout their life. Denial of accommodation is considered discrimination under these civil rights laws.

In Washington State, vocational rehabilitation services are provided by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). TVR agencies operate with sovereignty; contact information is included within DVR’s website, on a TVR website page.

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).

Pre-ETS help students look ahead to their job options after graduation

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training.

Summer programs are available in some areas. To find the forms to enroll in Pre-ETS and for information about programs and regional counselors in your area, visit DVR’s website page called High School Transition.

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

DVR operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized.

When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Resources for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work

You can print this toolkit as a PDF! Click to download.

Looking to the future can feel exciting, hopeful, confusing, overwhelming—or all emotions at once. For families supporting a young person with a disability, it’s never too soon to begin planning to ensure a smooth process from the teen years toward whatever happens next. This toolkit supports families as they organize this multiyear project.

For a visual map of the ages and stages of high school transition process, check out PAVE’s infographic: What’s Next? High School Transition Planning Timeline.

Learn the Words

A good place to begin is a Glossary of Key Terms for Life After High School Planning, which provides vocabulary building and an overview of topics relevant to this important phase of life. 

Pandemic Impacts

A student receiving special education services has a right to education through age 21, if needed, to meet requirements and achieve readiness. Some IEP teams may determine that because of COVID-19 a student who has not yet received a diploma needs to stay in school beyond 21 to access Recovery Services, a term developed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to help students recover learning losses related to the pandemic. Decisions about Recovery Services are made by IEP teams, which include parents and students.

OSPI provides a Family Information Session on Transition Recovery, available on YouTube from June 2, 2021. The presentation slides are also available online, and families may call OSPI at 360-725-6075 with questions about Transition Recovery Services.

Earning a Diploma

To earn a high-school diploma in Washington State, students must:

OSPI provides a two-page summary of graduation requirements to support families and students. Included is this statement: “Students who receive special education services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP), also have an IEP Transition Plan, which begins by the school year when a student turns 16 or sooner. The HSBP is required to align with their IEP Transition Plan to ensure a robust planning process toward post-high school goals.”

Various state agencies collaborated to provide a guidebook: Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans.

The state’s 2019 legislature changed graduation requirements (HB 1599). Students may earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement (CAA) or a Certificate of Individual Achievement (CIA) to graduate. How a student earns a CIA is determined by their IEP team.

Students with disabilities seeking a diploma through General Educational Development (GED) testing may be eligible for testing accommodations. A website called passged.com lists a variety of disability conditions that might make a person eligible for testing supports.

Commencement Access

Regardless of when a diploma is earned, a student can participate in Commencement at the end of a traditional senior year, with peers, under a Washington provision called Kevin’s Law. Families may want to plan well in advance with school staff to consider how senior year events are accessible to youth with disabilities.

The Big Picture

The right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) includes the right to school-based services that prepare a young person with a disability for adult life. PAVE provides an overview of transition planning in a two-part video series. Part 1 includes foundational information about the rights of students with disabilities, with some content related to COVID-19. Part 2 provides key information about tools for students moving toward graduation and beyond.

Here are links to two videos, an infographic, and an article:

Various state agencies collaborated to provide a downloadable guidebook: Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. Included are career-planning tools and linkages to current information about Graduation Pathways, which changed in 2019 when the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1599.

Student Self-Advocacy

As they move toward adulthood, many students benefit from opportunities to practice skills of self-advocacy and self-determination. One way to foster those skills is to encourage youth to get more involved in their own Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). To support that, PAVE provides this article: Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future. Included is a handout that students might use to contribute to meeting agendas.

The RAISE Center (National Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-determination and Employment) provides a blog with transition related news, information, ideas and opinions. Topics in 2020-21 include how to “Be the Best You,” how issues of race and disability intersect with equity, and how “The Disability Agenda Could Bring Unity to A Fragmented Society,” by RAISE Center co-director Josie Badger, who is a person living with disability.

Student Rights after High School

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) ends when a student leaves secondary education. The protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are ongoing throughout the lifespan.

These laws provide for appropriate accommodations in public programs and facilities. To support these disability protections, The IEP accommodations page or a Section 504 Plan can travel with a student into higher education, a vocational program, or work. Often a special services office at an institution for higher learning includes a staff member responsible for ensuring that disability rights are upheld. PAVE provides an article with general information about Section 504 rights that apply to all ages: Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations.

Universal Design supports everyone

Asking for rights to be upheld is not asking for special favors. A person living with disability, Kyann Flint, wrote an article for PAVE to describe how Universal Design supports inclusion. Her article can provide inspiration for young people looking for examples of what is possible, now as ever: COVID-19 and Disability: Access to Work has Changed.

Agencies that can help

Washington State’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides services for high-school students engaged in transition planning as well as adults seeking employment. PAVE provides an article that describes Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) and more: Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools.

DVR’s website includes a section with information about Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR), which is available for people with tribal affiliations in some areas of the state. Each TVR program operates independently. Note that some TVR programs list service areas by county but that sovereign lands are not bound by county lines. Contact each agency for complete information about program access, service area, and eligibility.

Services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are provided by Washington’s Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (CDHY), which was formerly called the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss (CDHL). This statewide resource supports all deaf and hard of hearing students in Washington, regardless of where they live or attend school.

Services for individuals who are blind or living with low vision are provided by Washington’s Department of Services for the Blind (DSB). Youth services, Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), Vocational Rehabilitation, Business Enterprise Program, and mobility and other independent-living skills are served by DSB.

The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) also has a variety of school-to-work and waiver programs that support youth. PAVE provides a video to support families through the DDA eligibility process. An article provides further detail: How to Prepare for a DDA Assessment.

Not all youth with disabilities are able to access employment-related services through DVR, TVR, DSB, or DDA. A limited additional option is Goodwill, which provides access to a virtual learning library. Students can take classes at their own pace for skills development. Employment skills, workplace readiness, interviewing skills and more are part of the training materials. To request further information, call 253-573-6507, or send an email to: library@goodwillwa.org.

Graduation’s over: Why is school calling?

Schools are responsible to track the outcomes of their special education services. Here’s an article to help families get ready to talk about how things are going: The School Might Call to Ask About a Young Adult’s Experience After High School: Here’s Help to Prepare

Benefits Planning

A consideration for many families of youth with disabilities is whether lifelong benefits are needed. Applying for social security just past the young person’s 18th birthday creates a pathway toward a cash benefit and enables the young person to access Medicaid (public health insurance) and various programs that depend on Medicaid eligibility.

The Washington Initiative for Supported Employment (gowise.org) provides benefit planning information and resources through a program called BenefitU.

When a person 18 or older has a disability, family members may want to stay involved in helping them make decisions. Supported Decision Making (SDM) is the formal name for one legal option. Washington law (Chapter 11.130 in the Revised Code of Washington) includes Supported Decision Making as an option under the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act. The law changed in 2020 when the state passed Senate Bill 6287. The changes took effect Jan. 1, 2022. PAVE’s article about Supported Decision Making has more information about this and other options for families to support an adult with a disability.

Sample Letter to Request Evaluation

A Brief Overview

  • Washington State requires special education referrals to be in writing (WAC 392-172A-03005). Anyone with knowledge of a student can write a referral.
  • The state provides a form for making a special education referral, downloadable from a website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. The form is not required—any written request is valid.
  • Schools are responsible to provide families with a referral form in their native language and to provide qualified interpreters so families can participate in all meetings to discuss their student’s special education eligibility and services.
  • Another option is to write a referral using the sample letter at the end of this article.
  • Evaluation process and family/student rights are described in the special education Procedural Safeguards, updated in 2022.

Full Article

When a student is struggling in school and there is reason to suspect the challenges are disability related, anyone can refer the student for an educational evaluation. If the evaluation shows that the student is eligible, services are provided through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Washington State requires special education referrals to be in writing (WAC 392-172A-03005).

 If someone who knows the student asks for an evaluation, the school is responsible to:

  • Document the request
  • Record the date the referral was made
  • Provide a referral form in the person’s native language
  • Respond to the request within 25 school days

If the person asking for the evaluation cannot write, the school is responsible to support them to complete the referral.

The school must provide a referral form in the native language of the person making the request. Schools are required to provide qualified interpreters to support parent participation in the referral process and for all meetings where a student’s eligibility and/or educational services are discussed. See Parent Rights Information Sheets, downloadable in many languages.

Here’s a summary of evaluation timelines:

  • The school has 25 school days to respond to a referral.
  • After a parent/caregiver signs consent, the school has 35 school days to evaluate the student.
  • If eligibility is found, the school has 30 calendar days to write an IEP and seek parent/caregiver consent for services to begin.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the guidance agency for Washington State. OSPI provides a form for making a special education referral, downloadable from a website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. Families may use OSPI’s form, a form provided by their school, or their own choice of format to write their request for a student to be evaluated. PAVE’s sample letter at the end of this article is an option.

A non-discriminatory evaluation is part of the protections for a student with a known or suspected disability that may significantly impact their access to education (Child Find Mandate). Child Find protections are part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Child Find applies whether there are academic and/or non-academic school impacts.

PAVE provides more detail about IEP eligibility and evaluation process: Evaluations Part 1: Where to Start When a Student Needs Special Help at School.

The clock starts ticking when a request is made

The school has 25 school days after the initial request date to decide whether to evaluate the student who was referred. School days are days when students attend school. The school district lets the family know their decision through a formal letter called Prior Written Notice (PWN), which is described in the Washington Administrative Codes (WAC 392-172A-05010).

Often the school and family meet to discuss the referral and how the student is doing. If all agree to proceed with an evaluation, parents sign consent for the testing to begin. The family can ask questions about what the evaluation will include. Evaluating all areas of suspected disability and educational impact is important to learn as much as possible about the student’s strengths and needs. Information from the evaluation is used to build the services program if the student is found eligible for an IEP.

If the school says no to the evaluation and the family disagrees, they have dispute resolution options that are described in special education Procedural Safeguards, updated in 2022.

Parent consent is required

When the school agrees to evaluate the student, staff must promptly seek parent consent to begin the evaluation process (WAC 392-172A-03005).

Generally, parents sign a form that lists what the school will include in its evaluation. Parents can ask for additional areas to be evaluated to make sure the school gets data for all areas of concern. Families can ask for more information about what the evaluation will look like, where it will take place, how long it will take, and who will participate. The school and family can creatively plan the evaluation process if accommodations are needed. For example, if a student isn’t able to attend in-person school, the evaluation can be done in alternative locations.

After a parent signs consent, the school has 35 school days to finish the evaluation and meet with the family to talk about the results. The deadline may be extended if the family agrees, particularly to accommodate needs of the family or student.

The 35-day deadline does not apply if the student is unavailable for the evaluation or enrolls in another school district before the evaluation is finished (WAC 392-172A-03005).

For students found eligible for services, the school develops an IEP within 30 calendar days and requests parent consent for services to begin. The school and family meet to review a DRAFT version of the IEP and write a final version together before consent is signed. School staff provide a Prior Written Notice (PWN) with a summary of the meeting, agreements, and timelines before services start. PWN requirements are described in WAC 392-172A-05010.

Special Education is a service, not a location within the school

A request for a special education evaluation is NOT a recommendation to remove a student from the regular classroom and move them into an exclusive learning environment. Federal and state laws require that students receive education and services in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent possible to meet their needs.

Decisions about placement are made by the IEP team, which includes the family. The IEP team is responsible to consider the child’s circumstances and capacities as its top priority—not pre-built programs or district resources.

Special Education is a service, while LRE refers to placement. PAVE’s article provides further information: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place. Another article provides detail about parent participation in special education process: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.

Parents can appeal decisions and/or seek a 504 plan

If a student is evaluated and found not eligible for an IEP (or if the school refuses to do an evaluation), the family has the right to dispute the decision using Procedural Safeguards.

If they disagree with the district’s evaluation or its findings, the family may seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), which is done by an agency outside of the school district. The district must pay for an IEE or deny the request using Due Process. See PAVE’s article: Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’ to Your Request. The article includes a sample letter to request an IEE.

Another option if a student doesn’t get an IEP is to develop a Section 504 Plan, which accommodates a person with a disability that impacts a major life activity (learning, walking, speaking, writing, socializing…). Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities against discrimination throughout their lives. See PAVE’s article about Section 504 rights, which also protect students who qualify for an IEP: Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations.

Sample letter for a special education referral

Below is a sample letter to write a request for a special education evaluation. You can copy and paste the text of this sample letter into your word processor to build your own letter.

The state provides an alternative form, downloadable from OSPI’s website page titled, Making a Referral for Special Education. Your school district is responsible to provide a form, in your language, for you to submit your written request. These formats are your choice—any written request is valid. If you cannot write, you can ask for an evaluation by telling the school and they can write the request with you.

Submit your written request through email, by mail, or by hand delivery, to the special education/special services manager at your school’s district office. You may submit additional copies to school administrators and/or a school psychologist—the person who manages evaluations for your school. Be sure to keep copies of all of your communications with the school in an organized, safe place.

From:

Your Name

Your relationship to the student

Your phone number

Your email address

The date you submit the request

To: [name of person and/or district],

I am requesting a full and individual evaluation for NAME, (birth date: 00-00-0000), for assessment as a special education student as stipulated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA, Public Law 108-446), and in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A). My child is being evaluated for the first time [or include information if student was previously evaluated or received IEP or Section 504 services].

My student attends [name of school] and is currently in [grade level]. We speak [language] in our home, and we need a qualified interpreter for all meetings where our child’s eligibility and services are discussed.

I have concerns that (NAME) is not receiving full educational benefit from school because of their struggles with [brief summary of biggest disability-related concern].

I understand that the evaluation is to be in all areas of suspected disability, and that the school district is to provide this evaluation at no charge to me. My reasons for requesting this evaluation are: [be as specific as you can/note that OSPI’s form suggests possible academic and physical/behavioral concerns]

  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.

Here are some areas where [name] is struggling:

  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.

Based on what I know about my student, here are some supports that I think are needed:

  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Use bullet points.

[Name] has been medically diagnosed with [Diagnoses, if available… Or you might write: Name is awaiting a medical evaluation for … Note that a medical diagnosis is not required for schools to conduct an educational evaluation and to find a student eligible for services].

I have attached documentation from [list any outside providers who provided letters or reports]. Please take note that [Dr. NAME] recommends [highlight any specific recommendations from those attached documents] because [reason].

I understand that I am an equal member of the team for development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and that I will be involved in any meetings related to evaluation, identification of disability, provision of services, placement, or other decisions regarding my child’s access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). I would appreciate meeting with each person who will be doing an evaluation before [NAME] is tested so that I might share information and history. I will expect a copy of the written report generated by each evaluator so that I might review it before the team meeting.

I understand you must have my written permission for these tests to be administered, and I will be happy to provide that upon receipt of the proper forms.

I appreciate your help in behalf of [NAME].

Sincerely,

Your Name

CC: (Names and titles of other people you give copies to)

Please Note: PAVE is a nonprofit organization that provides information, training, individual assistance, and resources. PAVE is not a legal firm or legal service agency, and the information contained in this handout is provided for informing the reviewer and should not be considered as a means of taking the place of legal advice that must be obtained through an attorney. PAVE may be able to assist you in identifying an attorney in your area but cannot provide direct referrals. The contents of this handout were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education. The contents do not represent the policy of the US Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Government.

Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process

This training has information about how to support a child’s behavior at school. When behavior gets in the way of learning, schools are responsible to figure out what the child is trying to communicate and to teach the child what to do instead.

The process of figuring out why a child is acting out is called a Functional Behavioral Assessment—FBA for short. A Behavior Intervention Plan—BIP for short—is a working document that the school and family build together and review regularly to make sure the child is supported with positive reinforcement and encouragement for meeting behavioral expectations. This training will help you know how to participate in the FBA/BIP process.

Schools are guided by the state to use best practices when evaluating and serving students with special needs. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the state educational agency in Washington State. OSPI’s website is k12.wa.us. A page called Model Forms for Services to Students in Special Education has links to downloadable forms schools use to develop IEPs, Section 504 Plans, and more.

Here are links to OSPI’s model forms for:

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Sample Letter to Request a Functional Behavioral Assessment

When a student’s behavior gets in the way of their learning and/or the learning of others, the school is responsible to figure out how to support behavioral expectations. One way to do that is to assess why the student might be acting out and use that information to consider how positive behavioral interventions might teach the student what to do instead.

The end of this article includes a sample letter to ask the school to begin a specific evaluation called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). Data from the FBA is used to build a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

PAVE provides a video training called Behavior and School: How to Participate in the FBA/BIP Process.

Ideally a school will notice if a student’s behavior has patterns of disruption and begin the FBA/BIP process before a student with disabilities is disciplined. PAVE provides an article: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.

A teacher or school administrator might alert parents and request consent to begin an FBA. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the state agency for Washington schools. OSPI provides guidance about discipline in a Technical Assistance Paper (TAP #2). Included are best practices for schools to follow when there are persistent behavioral concerns:

  • Develop behavioral goals in the Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Provide related services needed to achieve those behavioral IEP goals (specific therapies or counseling, for example)
  • Provide classroom accommodations, modifications and/or supplementary aids and supports (a 1:1 paraeducator, for example)
  • Provide support to the student’s teachers and service providers (staff training)
  • Conduct a reevaluation that includes a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)
  • Develop a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP), as defined in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-01031

Manifestation Determination

If an FBA process begins after a student has been excluded from school through a disciplinary removal (suspension, expulsion, or emergency expulsion), families can review their procedural safeguards to understand rules related to a special education process called Manifestation Determination.

Here are the basics: When a behavior “manifests” (is directly caused by) a disability condition, then there is recognition that the student has limited fault for violating the student code of conduct. Management of behavior is part of the special education process. A Manifestation Determination meeting is to talk about how a student’s services can better serve their needs to prevent future behavioral episodes that are getting in the way of education.

Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) may not be excluded from their regular educational placement, due to discipline, for more than 10 days in a school year without the school and family holding a Manifestation Determination meeting. According to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-05146),thestudent’s behavior is considered a manifestation of disability if the conduct was:

  • Caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the student’s disability
  • The direct result of the school district’s failure to implement student’s IEP

When these criteria are met, the school is responsible to review and amend the student’s services to ensure that the behaviors are addressed to prevent future escalations. If there isn’t a BIP, the school is required to develop one by initiating an FBA. If there is a BIP, the school is required to review and amend it to better serve the student’s needs.

Request FBA formally, in writing

Family caregivers can request an FBA/BIP process any time there are concerns that a student’s behavior is a barrier to their education. Families have the right to participate in all educational decision making for their students. See PAVE’s article: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.

Make any request for an evaluation in writing. This is important because:

  1. There will be no confusion about how/when/why request was made.
  2. The letter provides critical initial information about what is going on with the student.
  3. The letter supports a written record of family/school interactions.

If the family wishes, they can attach information from outside providers with their request. For example, if an outside therapist or counselor has recommendations for behavioral interventions at school, the family has the option to share those. The school district is responsible to review all documents and respond with written rationale about how the information is incorporated into recommendations. Families may choose to disclose all, a portion, or none of a student’s medical information. Schools may not require disclosure of medical records.

Family caregivers/guardians must sign consent for any school evaluation to begin.

The FBA/BIP might prevent a shortened school day

According to OSPI, serving a student through a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is a priority. OSPI discourages schools from reducing the student’s schedule because of behaviors:

“District authorities should not use a shortened school day as an automatic response to students with challenging behaviors at school or use a shortened day as a form of punishment or as a substitute for a BIP. An IEP team should consider developing an IEP that includes a BIP describing the use of positive behavioral interventions, supports, and strategies reasonably calculated to address the student’s behavioral needs and enable the student to participate in the full school day.”

Special Education is a service, not a location within the school

Please note that a request for behavioral support is NOT a recommendation to remove a student from the regular classroom and move them into an exclusive learning environment. Federal and state laws require that students eligible for special education services receive their education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate.

Special Education is a service, while LRE refers to placement. PAVE’s article provides further information: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place.

General education classrooms and spaces are the least restrictive. A child may be placed in a more restrictive setting if an IEP team, which includes family participants, determines that FAPE is not accessible even with specially designed instruction, accommodations, modifications, ancillary aids, behavioral interventions and supports, and other documented attempts to support a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) within the general education environment.

If the student was removed from their previous placement prior to a manifestation determination meeting, the school district is responsible to return the student to their placement unless the parent and school district agree to a different placement as part of the modification of the student’s services on their IEP and BIP.

Sample letter to request an FBA

Below is a sample letter family caregivers can use when requesting a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). You can cut and paste the text into your choice of word processing program to help you start a letter that you can print and mail or attach to an email. Or you can build your letter directly into an email format. Be sure to keep a record of all requests and correspondence with the school.

Your Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip
Date

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

Dear Name (if known, otherwise use district person’s title):

I am requesting a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) for my [child, son, daughter], NAME, (BD: 00-00-0000).

I have concerns that (NAME) is not receiving full educational benefit from school because of their struggles to meet behavioral expectations due to their disability circumstances. Their condition includes [brief summary of any diagnoses], which makes it difficult to [brief summary of the challenges]. I believe this has become a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed with a positive behavioral support plan so my child with special educational needs can receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

I understand that the FBA will look for triggers and seek to understand what is happening in the environment when my child’s behaviors become problematic. I have learned that these are “antecedents” that the school can identify through data tracking. I hope we can begin to understand how [name] may be trying to communicate their needs through these behaviors. Here are some of my thoughts about what might be going on:

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

I look forward to discussing the results of the FBA and working with school staff on development of a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP). I hope we can choose a small number of target behaviors to focus on in the BIP. I understand that we will work together to identify replacement behaviors that the school can teach [name] to do instead. I hope these will be skills we can work on at home also. I look forward to learning how we can partner to encourage the learning that I know [name] is capable of.

I have attached documentation from [any outside providers/therapists/counselors who may have provided letters or reports or shared behavioral recommendations].

I understand that I am an equal member of the team for development of educational services and that I will be involved in any meetings where decisions are made regarding my child’s access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). I will also expect a copy of the FBA and a draft of the BIP before our meeting.

I understand you must have my written permission for this assessment to be administered, and I will be happy to provide that upon receipt of the proper forms.

I appreciate your help in behalf of [child’s name]. 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: PAVE is a nonprofit organization that provides information, training, individual assistance, and resources. PAVE is not a legal firm or legal service agency, and the information contained in this handout is provided for informing the reviewer and should not be considered as a means of taking the place of legal advice that must be obtained through an attorney. PAVE may be able to assist you in identifying an attorney in your area but cannot provide direct referrals. The contents of this handout were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education. The contents do not represent the policy of the US Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Government.

ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE

A Brief Overview

  • Extended School Year (ESY) services help a student with a disability maintain skills in academic and/or functional areas, such as speech/language, occupational therapy, or behavior.
  • Due to COVID-19, the school and family may also discuss Recovery Services when they discuss ESY. A student may be eligible for Recovery Services if they have experienced learning gaps related to the pandemic. Read on for information about differences between ESY and Recovery Services.
  • The Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines whether a student needs ESY and/or Recovery Services. Family members participate in the decision. PAVE provides an article: Parent Participation in Special Education Process is a Priority Under Federal Law.
  • Services may be provided when school is not normally in session, but not always. Sometimes they are built into the school day. Typically, they are provided during summer. Holiday breaks and after school are options too.
  • Parents can keep notes about any loss of skill during a break from school. By tracking how long it takes to recover a skill, parents can provide data for a discussion about whether additional services are necessary.
  • ESY and Recovery Services are different, and one does not exclude the other. Both are provided at no cost to the family.

Full Article

With summer coming, some parents worry that a child’s progress at school might be erased by the break. Some families may also worry that their child is on the verge of acquiring a new skill and that progress will be disrupted by an extended break. Parents can request a meeting with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to review progress and address the concerns. PAVE provides an article with a sample letter to help families request a meeting that isn’t part of the required annual IEP review process.

The team uses existing data and can plan additional evaluations to decide whether the student needs extra instructional time. The student might need supplemental instruction in an academic subject or to maintain a skill in speech/language, occupational therapy, behavior or another area being served through the IEP.

The critical question for the IEP team: Will learning be significantly jeopardized if additional services are not provided?

Extended School Year (ESY) is available for students in special education if there is evidence that without extra instruction they will fall significantly behind in specific skills. Falling behind is formally called regression.

Recovery of skills is called recoupment. A school will provide ESY if regression or likelihood of regression is significant and extra instructional time is needed for recoupment of skills. ESY services help a child maintain skills already being taught and are not provided to teach new skills.

ESY is not the same as summer school

Families often think of ESY as a summer program, but it’s not the same as summer school. A summer-school program might be structured to accommodate a student’s individualized ESY program. ESY and Recovery Services are individualized to serve the needs of a student eligible for special education. The program is structured to fit the student, not the other way around. See PAVE’s video about a student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): FAPE Fits Like a Proper Outfit.

ESY is usually provided when school is not normally in session, but not always. The IEP team may decide that the services will be most helpful if built into the school day. ESY also can be provided during holiday breaks or as an extension of the typical school day.

Conversations about ESY can happen any time the IEP team meets to discuss progress and goal-setting. If ESY is determined necessary, the IEP document includes an amendment with specific ESY objectives. When an IEP team determines a child eligible for ESY, the school district alerts parents in a Prior Written Notice (PWN) before implementing ESY. If transportation is needed for delivery of ESY services, the district provides transportation.

ESY is not an enrichment program. It is not provided for credit recovery. It is also not a “compensatory service,” which is provided by the district when a student’s services have not met requirements for a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

ESY services might include 1:1 instruction at home, at school or at a district office. A student could also receive ESY as part of “related services” at a provider’s office. (Occupational and speech therapy are examples of related services.) Computer- and home-based learning are additional ESY options. Like all IEP programming, ESY is individualized. Service delivery is designed by the IEP team, and sometimes creative problem-solving is needed.

If the IEP includes ESY services and the family moves during the summer, the new school district is responsible to provide the services as they are designed in the IEP or in a comparable way.

The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) includes information about ESY in sections 392-172A-02020.

How are decisions made about ESY and Recovery Services?

The IEP team decides whether a student requires ESY and/or Recovery Services by meeting to review the student’s program goals and progress. PAVE has an article about goal-tracking. Parents or teachers may have notes about any loss of skill during a past break from school.

By making notes about how long it takes to recover a skill after a break, parents can contribute important data. Sharing that information earlier in the school year is ideal, so there is ample time for a review of data and any additional testing. Attendance information also is helpful because some disabilities create illness conditions that keep a child out of school long enough to fall significantly behind.

The school and family discuss whether the lost skills and extra time required to regain them is likely to create a significant barrier to progress toward IEP goals and learning in the future. This will justify whether recoupment is required to reverse or prevent regression. Those are the key words in ESY decision-making.

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) has an article about ESY and lists the following as evidence that a school might consider:

  • Documented problems with working memory from assessments
  • Demonstrated need for constant reinforcement over time, even during the regular instructional day/year
  • History from a previous year of losing skills and struggling to regain them after a school break
  • Need for constant reinforcement of a behavior support program when a student is at risk of being moved to a more restrictive environment without substantial progress around behavior

How are Recovery Services different?

The term “Recovery Services” was designated by Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to describe additional special education services for students who lost progress or failed to make appropriate gains in learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like ESY, Recovery Services are designed to meet the needs of individual students and are provided based on an IEP team decision. A difference is that Recovery Services do not follow the same process related to regression and recoupment. The IEP team, which includes family participants, discusses how the pandemic affected the student’s access to learning and opportunities and whether extra services are necessary to get the student back on track.

Here is how Recovery Services are determined through an IEP team discussion:

  • What did the IEP team hope the student would accomplish by now? (Expected progress, skills, and services if there had been no pandemic)
  • What did the student accomplish or access? (Actual progress or regression and services delivered)
  • What is the gap, and how can the team design Recovery Services to fill that gap?

In summary, the goal is to help the student get to where they likely would have been in their learning if there hadn’t been a pandemic.  

State and federal dollars have been allotted to support student recovery, including through the American Rescue Plan. School districts are required to submit a formal plan before accessing these federal funds. Districts have been required to seek public comment and to share their plans publicly. Information about these requirements is described in a publication from OSPI: Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery Plan: Planning Guide 2021 For School Districts, Tribal Compact Schools, and Charter Schools.

OSPI’s guidance provides detail about state requirements for districts to consider social emotional learning, student well-being, and equity issues related to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on different populations—not just academic recovery.

TIP: Families impacted by trauma, death, or other challenges during the pandemic can review their district’s Recovery Plan and consider whether their student’s needs are being met. If there are concerns, meet with school and district staff to request a more individualized, equitable approach. Needs related to specific losses and trauma can be discussed in the context of an IEP Recovery Services Plan.

For more information and guidance about accessing materials in a language other than English, visit OSPI’s website: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance & Resources.

What does LRE have to do with these additional services?

Special Education has Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as a primary feature. In accordance with the IDEA, a school district is responsible to provide instruction in the least restrictive setting to the maximum extent appropriate.

Accommodations and supports are provided to allow for LRE. Therefore, LRE is part of the school’s obligation to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). For some students, routine is paramount. Parents and teachers can discuss whether a break in routine might jeopardize the student’s ability to remain in their current classroom/placement. If yes, then ESY or Recovery Services might be needed for the student to continue accessing school in the Least Restrictive Environment.

What can parents do if they disagree with the school?

Parents who disagree with school decisions have the right to dispute those decisions. PAVE has an article about Procedural Safeguards and options when families and schools disagree. PAVE also provides a video about how to file a Community Complaint, which is one dispute resolution option.

Which students might be eligible for ESY?

ESY is not mandated for all students with disabilities and is not required for the convenience of the school or a parent who might need respite or daycare. There are no federal regulations on ESY eligibility. DREDF, a parent-information center in Berkeley, Calif., lists standards established by a range of legal rulings:  

  • Regression/Recoupment: Likelihood of regression or anticipating that it will take a long time to get a skill back can make a child eligible for ESY. A student doesn’t have to fully lose a skill or experience a long delay in recovering the skill to qualify.
  • Degree of Progress toward IEP Goals: Very slow progress toward IEP goals can meet criteria for ESY. Trivial progress toward goals does not meet the standard of FAPE, as established by a 2017 supreme court ruling.
  • Nature and/or Severity of Disability: Determination is not limited to a specific category of disability. However, students with more severe disabilities are more likely to be involved in ESY programs because their regression and recoupment time are likely to be greater than students with less severe disabilities.
  • Emerging Skills/Breakthrough Opportunities: If a critical life skill is not completely mastered or acquired, ESY services may ensure that the current level of skill is not lost over a break. A few examples of critical life skills: beginning to communicate, learning to read or write, self-care. 
  • Interfering Behaviors: Some students receive positive behavior support as part of the IEP. When considering ESY, the IEP team would determine whether interruption of such programming would jeopardize the student receiving FAPE.
  • Special Circumstances: Sometimes there are special circumstances that prevent a student from learning within the regular school schedule. Districts have different definitions of what constitutes a special circumstance. Parents can ask for a copy of district policy and refer to WAC 392-172A-02020.

No sole factor determines whether a student qualifies for ESY or Recovery Services. IEP teams review a variety of data, including informed predictions about what is likely to happen in future based on past experiences. A student who has received ESY in a previous year is not automatically entitled to those services again, and a student who wasn’t eligible in the past is not automatically denied.

Summary and Additional Resources

Some students require special education and related services longer than the regular school year in order to receive FAPE. ESY can minimize regression, so a child can catch up or recoup those skills. Parents who have concerns can discuss eligibility criteria with the IEP team. The sooner ESY and/or Recovery Services are discussed, the sooner data can be collected and reviewed. Parent may need time to consider all options and to collaborate with the school.

As part of its Model Forms, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a downloadable document that IEP teams can fill out and attach to the IEP when a student qualifies for ESY services. To access the PDF directly: Extended School Year (ESY) addendum.

A website called Great Schools.org provides additional information about ESY and downloadable forms about IDEA requirements.

Wrightslaw.com provides information about the IDEA and legal findings on a variety of topics.