OSPI Provides Guidance for Families

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the agency responsible for oversight of all public schools and non-public agencies in Washington State. In addition to supporting schools, OSPI provides resources and support directed toward students and families.

OSPI upgraded its website (k12.wa.us) in July 2019. The home page provides news about current events, a calendar, and an option for Parents and Families to seek resources specific to their needs and concerns.

The Parents and Families section of the website is divided into three categories:

  • Learning, Teaching, & Testing: Information about graduation requirements, learning standards, testing and more
  • Data & Reports: Access to data specific to a school or district, financial reports and guidance about the Washington School Improvement Framework
  • Student & Family Supports: Special Education guidance and information about student Civil Rights, how to file a complaint, health and safety, English Language Proficiency (ELP) and more

Under Guidance for Families: Special Education in Washington State, the website provides this statement:

“The OSPI Office of Special Education aspires to ensure students with disabilities receive Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). About 14 percent of students overall receive special education services in the state of Washington.”

Linkages through the Special Education section of the website provide information on a range of topics. Here are a few examples:

  • How Special Education Works
  • Laws and Procedures
  • Parent and Student Rights (Procedural Safeguards)
  • Making a Referral for Special Education
  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
  • Placement Decisions and the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • Transition (Ages 16-21)
  • Behavior and Discipline
  • Disagreements and Disputes related to Special Education
  • Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC)

Each section includes state guidance under the rule of federal law (the IDEA) and provides linkages to other resources within and beyond OSPI.

A Need Assistance? link on the Special Education page provides contact information for the Special Education Parent Liaison, available as a resource to parents in non-legal special education matters. According the OSPI’s website, the liaison “serves as a neutral and independent advocate for a fair process.”

“The Special Education Parent Liaison does not advocate on behalf of any one party. Rather, the Parent Liaison exists to address individual concerns about bureaucratic systems and act a guide for anyone attempting to understand and navigate various special education or school district processes and procedures.”

To contact Scott Raub, the Special Education Parent Liaison, call 360-725-6075 or submit a message through OSPI’s Contact Us web page.

 

Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (SEPACs) Bring Parents to the Table

A Brief Overview

  • Parents and schools can learn step-by-step how to create and manage a SEPAC through the downloadable Advocacy in Action guidebook.
  • An informal webinar about SEPACs is freely available through Facebook.
  • Parents and schools who want to learn more about special education process, rights and responsibilities can reach out to PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff for guidance and training. From PAVE’s home page, click Get Help!
  • This article contains information about a special-education bill proposed in 2019 that would have required SEPACs throughout the state. Currently the option to develop a SEPAC is available voluntarily.

Full Article

Parents, school staff and invested community members can collaborate to improve outcomes for students in special education by building together a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC).

Any school district can establish a SEPAC, and anyone within the local district—including a parent—might start the work to get the group going. No legislation is required. Although a few states require districts to develop SEPACs, Washington State does not. SB 5532, which failed to pass in the 2019 legislative session, would have required Washington school districts to establish SEPACs.

Note: Conversations continue statewide about which aspects of the special-education bill may be revived in 2020. In addition to the SEPAC requirement, SB 5532 included provisions for safety-net funding for special education; requirements for teacher-preparation programs; service district advocacy; and requirements for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to participate in transition meetings for students older than 16 with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). A complete summary of the bill and information about its sponsorship and movement through the legislative process is available on the Washington State Legislature Website.

Once established, a local SEPAC is part of the local school district, not a private or independent group. It is not a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO); nor is it a parent support group. A local SEPAC addresses system-level challenges affecting students with disabilities and their families. A local SEPAC is parent-driven, and often parent-led, but there is an important role for school district staff and leaders. Ideally, membership is diverse and inclusive.

A parent center in New Jersey, in collaboration with the national Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), provides a guidebook to help families and schools work together to build SEPACs. The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (New Jersey SPAN), created the 67-page, downloadable Advocacy in Action guidebook with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education.  Debra Jennings, who serves as co-executive director of SPAN in addition to being director of CPIR, speaks informally about the guidebook and SEPAC development in a webinar available through Facebook.

According to Advocacy in Action, “Participation in a SEPAC offers the opportunity to raise questions, voice concerns, and provide direct input to school leadership and influence policy and program decisions. The great benefit of participating in a local SEPAC is that the individual needs of a child become part of ‘the big picture’ and can reach a broader community of children.”

A SEPAC is parent-driven, meaning that:

  • Parents determine priorities and activities.
  • Parents strategize to seek solutions on issues that matter to them, helping schools overcome challenges and make decisions related to special education programs and services.

The guidebook emphasizes that parent-driven does not mean that parents do all the work: “District leaders participate, provide information, background, data, and support.”

Washington has a statewide Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC), and PAVE participates on that council. Staff from PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program are available to consult with parents and can provide information and resources to assist anyone who may wish to build a SEPAC. For example, PTI staff may provide a training in special education process, parent rights and responsibilities to families wanting to get more involved with their local school districts.  PTI staff can help by providing tips for collaboration and developing a partnership with the district. Ideally, a SEPAC creates a sense of shared investment toward successful outcomes for students with disabilities.

From PAVE’s home page, click Get Help!  to request assistance from PTI staff. Or call: 800-572-7368.

 

Response to Intervention (RTI) – Support for Struggling Students

Brief overview

  • Students struggle in school for different reasons.
  • RTI is an acceptable way of identifying students with learning disabilities.
  • RTI isn’t a specific program or type of teaching.
  • RTI works on a tier system with three levels of intervention.

Full Article

Students struggle in school for different reasons. Response to Intervention (RTI)  can help by combining high quality, culturally responsive instructions with assessments and interventions that are proven to work by evidence from research.

RTI was originally recognized in the 1970s as a system for helping students with potential learning problems early, instead of waiting until they fail. With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, RTI was noted as an acceptable way to identify students with learning disabilities. RTI can help students who haven’t yet been identified as eligible for special education or those who struggle but don’t qualify for special education services.

At any time during the RTI process, parents or teachers can request an evaluation for special education services.  The evaluation can determine whether a student qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or accommodations through a Section 504 Plan. RTI does not replace a school’s responsibility to evaluate students who might qualify for special education services. See PAVE’s article on Child Find, a mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

RTI’s goal is for schools to intervene before a student falls too far behind. RTI is not a specific program or type of teaching, but rather a proactive way to check in with a student to see how things are going. Data help school staff decide which types of targeted teaching would work best for the student. If a student’s progress is slow or stagnant, then teachers adjust based on the student’s needs. 

RTI has three levels, or tiers, for intervention:

  • In the general education classroom
  • In a special education classroom, resource room, or small group
  • For an individual student

RTI works best when parents are involved

Parents can monitor their child’s progress and participate in the process. Parents can talk to the school about which instructions or reinforcements are working and boost the benefit by being consistent with the same strategies at home.

As military families move from one location to another, they may notice that each school uses different techniques to implement RTI programs.  Schools will format their programs to best fit the needs of their students by using a variety of tools to improve learning for all students. Keeping up with what’s happening at school might be challenging but can help the student find success.

RTI is part of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework.  MTSS provides a method for intervention in academic and non-academic areas, including Social Emotional Learning or behavior support. MTSS is used to support adult students and professionals as well. In this video, a researcher from the American Institutes for Research, Rebecca Zumeta Edmonds, Ph.D., discusses differences between MTSS and RTI.

PAVE has an article that describes MTSS and how it can provide a larger framework for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), when a child’s behavior becomes a barrier to learning.

For more information on RTI, MTSS, and PBIS:

The Three RTI Tiers

Center on Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI)

 What is the Difference Between RTI and MTSS?

MTSS: What You Need to Know

Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) in Schools

Early Learning Transition: When Birth-3 Services End

The Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) ends when a child turns 3. A transition to a preschool plan with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) requires a new evaluation and is a team-led process:

Planning begins 6-9 months before the third birthday.

  • The Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) schedules a transition conference to design a written Transition Plan.
  • The transition includes an evaluation that is conducted by the local school district and usually begins 2-3 months before the child’s third birthday.
  • If the child is determined eligible, the child will transition from a family-centered program of early learning (IFSP) into a school-based program (IEP).
  • Parent participation is critical: You are an important member of the transition planning team!

To qualify for an IEP, the child must meet evaluation criteria under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Criteria for Birth-3 services (Part C of the IDEA) are slightly different than the criteria for Special Education programming available for ages 3-21 (Part B of the IDEA).

To qualify for an IEP: (1) The student is determined to have a qualifying disability.  (2) The disability adversely impacts education. (3) The evaluation indicates a need for specially designed instruction.

Differences in Eligibility

IDEA Part C
(Also called Early Intervention -IFSP)

IDEA Part B
(Also called Special Education – IEP)
25% or 1.5 SD (Standard Deviation) Below the mean in one area of development – OR- 2 SD (Standard Deviation ) below the mean in one or more areas of development – OR –
Diagnosed physical or medical condition that has a high probability of resulting in delay  1.5 SD below the mean in two or more areas of development

Qualifying Disability Categories for IEP:

  • Developmental Delay (ages 3-8)
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Deafness
  • Speech/Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

A child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP:

  • May qualify for a Section 504 plan, which provides accommodations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when:
    • The disability significantly limits one or more major life activities.
    • The student needs accommodations to access the general education curriculum.
  • May qualify for other services like Head Start, co-operative pre-school, paid pre-school or day care with early achievers, play-to-learn programs, and other early learning opportunities in a community setting.

Use this checklist to help track your family’s transition steps:

6-9 months before the child’s third birthday:

  • The Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) starts talking about transition.
  • The FRC transmits your child’s records to the school system, with your written consent. The most recent IFSP and evaluations/assessments are included.
  • If your child is potentially eligible for Part B services, a transition conference is scheduled.
  • Community resources are located.

Transition Conference:

  • Parent’s rights in special education are explained.
  • Options for early childhood special education and other appropriate services are discussed.
  • A transition time line is developed.
  • A transition plan is written into the IFSP.

Evaluation:

  • If you agree, you sign consent for evaluation.
  • Records from Early Intervention Services are received at the school.
  • Information from the family is considered.
  • Evaluation is completed, and the eligibility meeting is held within 35 school days so that an IEP can be developed before the child’s third birthday.

IEP Meeting:

  • The IEP meeting is scheduled with a formal written invitation with date, time and location.
  • Discussion and decision-making include the family, the FRC (with parent permission), and an early childhood special education staff member.
  • Eligibility for special education is decided.
  • If the child is eligible, the Draft IEP is brought to the team meeting and you will have the opportunity to agree or disagree.
  • You receive a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards.
  • If you agree, you sign consent for services to begin.

The IEP in action:

  • The child makes the transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood Special Education or another pre-kindergarten arrangement, if chosen.
  • The IEP is in place by our child’s third birthday.
  • The team of professionals and parents continue working together to resolve any issues that arise.
  • All IEP team members communicate during this time of change.

What’s Next when Early Childhood Services End at Age 3?

A Brief Overview

  • Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. Families are served with an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). An IFSP ends when the child turns 3.
  • A child who qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) receives those services at school. Not all children who qualified for an IFSP will quality for an IEP. An IEP is for children ages 3-21, or until high-school graduation.
  • Families may transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of an IEP team. This can feel like a big change. The information in this article can empower parents.
  • Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating early about what the child might need to do well.
  • Read on to learn what parents need to know when a young child with special needs makes the transition from Birth-3 services into preschool or another program.
  • A parent-support agency called Informing Families provides a 12-minute video to guide parents through the early-learning transition process. 

Full Article

When a child is born with a disability or the family realizes early that an impairment might impact a young child’s ability to learn and develop at a typical rate, the family can get help from the state. Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) is managed by Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

Services for families with infants and very young children include family-focused, home-based support. When a child is ready to graduate from those early-learning services, the school district determines whether to conduct an educational evaluation to see whether the child qualifies for school-based services. If a child qualifies, the family and school district work together to generate an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can begin at age 3 in preschool.

A child who qualifies for an IEP receives those services at school. Families transition from getting in-home help for their child with special needs to participating as members of the IEP team. The goals change, and parents help teachers and school staff talk about what the child needs to successfully access school and learning. This transition can be disorienting to some families. Read on for more detail.

Early Intervention can start from birth

Early intervention services are guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), under “Part C” of the IDEA. The U.S. Department of Education manages a federal grant program under the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that helps states manage early intervention programs to support infants and young children and their families.

Part C services are available for infants and young children who:

  1. Experience developmental delays, which are medically diagnosed to impact cognitive, physical, communication, social-emotional and/or adaptive skills
  2. Have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in a developmental delay

Washington’s ESIT program assigns agencies in each county to serve as a “lead agency” to coordinate early learning services and testing. The lead agency works with service providers and the family to review a child’s medical record, discuss any observations by caregivers, and conduct screenings to see what’s going on and whether the issues of concern meet criteria under Part C for early intervention. 

When a child is found eligible for services, a Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) manages the case. The FRC helps to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Each plan is unique and may involve individualized instruction, therapy services and supported access to community resources. The plan is designed around the needs of the child and family and is not based on a predetermined program model.

Family-based, early learning services end on the child’s third birthday. A new educational evaluation is required to see whether the student qualifies for an IEP under “Part B” of the IDEA.

Part B services are available for children ages 3-21 (or until high-school graduation) who:

  1. Have a qualifying disability in at least one of 14 federal qualifying categories
  2. Are significantly affected by that disability at school (“Significant Educational Impact” is determined with evidence and data)
  3. Require specialized instruction to overcome the barriers of that disabling condition

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

Autism

Deaf-blindness

Deafness

Emotional Disturbance

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Specific Learning Disability

Speech / Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment/Blindness

Developmental Delay (ages 0-8)

 

Note that the disability category of developmental delay can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based, IEP services through age 8.

Helpers get creative during “Part C-to-B Transition” planning

The FRC helps the family and school district get ready. Often this is referred to as “Part C-to-B Transition” planning, so it’s helpful when families understand that Parts C and B come from federal law, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), designed to ensure that children with disabilities get the help they need to be successful at school and prepared for life.

For families who have received services through the state’s early-learning program (ESIT), Part C-to-B Transition planning starts at least half a year before the child’s third birthday. Providers, teachers, school administrators and the family start thinking and collaborating about what the child might need to do well. The work includes a “Transition Planning Conference,” which happens about 90 days before a child turns 3. The participants at this meeting write a plan for what services or community supports the child might receive. 

Each plan is unique and designed to respond to individual needs. A child’s plan might indicate need for a specific child-care setting or medical-based therapies. The plan might include a referral to a specific, state-funded special-education preschool program through Head Start or the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP, pronounced “E-Cap”). A transition plan also can name local playgroups or parent-support networks to connect the family to community resources. If a child’s educational evaluation has determined that the child is eligible for an IEP, then information about that is included.

Not all children who qualified for early-learning support will qualify for an IEP. Children who are not eligible for IEP services might be eligible to receive accommodations and support through a Section 504 Plan.

Early learning isn’t the only pathway to an IEP evaluation

Children who didn’t receive early-learning interventions can also be evaluated to determine whether they qualify for school-based services that can start as young as age 3 and can continue through age 21, or until a student graduates from high school.

Anyone with concerns about a child can refer the child for an educational evaluation. These referrals usually come from parents, teachers, medical providers or early-learning specialists. When a concerned adult formally requests an evaluation from the school district (best-practice is to make the request in writing), then the district is bound by the IDEA to respond to that request within 25 school days. PAVE provides a comprehensive article about the evaluation process.

The school district has a responsibility under the Child Find mandate of the IDEA to seek out and evaluate children with known or suspected disabilities who may need services. 

When a school district agrees to evaluate, parents sign consent for the assessments to begin. The IDEA requires schools to complete an evaluation within 35 school days. For a child receiving early-learning services, the first IEP meeting is required on or before the child’s third birthday.

Families may invite whomever they want to an IEP meeting. For example, they can invite the Family Resource Coordinator (FRC), a family member, a friend or any other support person. 

If the school district does not conduct an educational evaluation, or if the evaluation indicates that the child doesn’t qualify for school-based, IEP services, parents have the right to disagree with the school’s decision. The family can request a written statement that describes the school district’s position, with any information or data that was used to justify the decision.

Parents have rights to disagree through a variety of dispute engagement options. PAVE provides comprehensive articles about evaluation, IEP process and Procedural Safeguards, Student and Parent Rights.

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center provides technical assistance and can help parents understand how to participate in their child’s learning. Got to: wapave.org/get-help or call (253) 565-2266, 1-800-5-PARENT ext.115

The Arc of Washington hosts local Parent-to-Parent (P2P) programs across the state. Families can request a “support parent match” to talk with another parent who has already navigated this process. Visit Arcwa.org for more information.

Additional Resources:
Informing Families – informingfamilies.org
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – k12.wa.gov   
OSPI Early Childhood services –  k12.wa.us/Specialeducation/earlychildhood
Early Intervention Resources in English and Spanish – ParentCenterHub.org
Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families – dcyf.wa.gov

If you are concerned about a child’s development: