wcsLink has solicited WCS Student Support Services, attorneys, and advocates, respectively to respond to the FAQ they get from parents of children in special education. Check back often, we will be adding on to our list!
The following Frequently Asked Questions were submitted by WCS Student Support Services Department:
Q: What should I do if I have a concern about my child’s development or learning?
A: You can find more information about Child Find at the Williamson County Schools webpage.
Q: How does my child become eligible for special education services?
A: You can find more information about eligibility for special education services at the following Williamson County Schools webpage here.
You can find further information about each federal and state identified disability at the following State of Tennessee webpage (which includes State of TN defined disabilities of Functionally Delayed and Intellectually Gifted) by clicking here.
Q: What is the difference between Section 504 and special education eligibility?
A: Both Section 504 and special education are under federal laws. Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Special education is under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Eligibility requirements are different for each. Special education eligibility is described in previous question. Special education is defined specifically by federal and state laws. For Section 504 eligibility, a student must have a documented mental or physical impairment that impacts a life skill. Examples of life skills are eating, breathing, walking and talking. There must also be a substantial impact documented in the educational setting. Both processes require teams of individuals to meet and review documentation for eligibility and to develop a plan of support for the student in the educational setting.
Q: Where can I go to find community resources?
A: You can visit the Vanderbilt University website for the Tennessee Disability Pathfinder for more information about resources.
Q: How are supports and services considered for individual students with disabilities?
A: In keeping with the mandate from IDEA, Williamson County Special Education seeks to provide the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for all students. This means the door to schools, classrooms, and school activities are open to every student and they are afforded every opportunity to be included with their non-disabled peers. A continuum of services is available for each student based on the IEP team decision on the placement of those services – either in general education or special education setting. The focus is on giving each student the help he/she needs to learn.
Q: How do I know what my rights are as a parent of a child with a disability?
A: As a parent of a child eligible for special education there are many procedural rights and safeguards. You may access the entire IDEA Notice of Procedural Safeguards at the Tennessee State Department of Education/Special Education webpage. Click here for English and here for Spanish.
Q: What is available for my son/daughter after high school?
A: Student on an IEP can remain in school through their 22nd birthday; for example is a student turns 22 even one day after the school year begins, he/she can complete the school year. The focus is not on academic classes, but on functional life experiences and job exploration. Students will experience a number of job samplings and will increase their time at job sites and although there is never the promise of a paid job, that is always the goal.
Q: How can I get the services of the behavior consultant for my student?
A: When a student displays problematic behavior the first responder would be his/her tem at the school. That team consists of his special education teacher, his general education teacher, the school counselor, the administrator, the school psychologist and others as needed. This team will design a behavior plan and begin the process of collecting data. After an appropriate intervention period, the data will be reviewed and changes to the plan might be suggested. If no apparent change in behaviors is noted the school psychologist may invite the behavior consultant to join the team. The parent will be invited to a meeting and the team will discuss the need for Functional Behavior Assessment. The parent will need to agree and sign permission for this to occur.
Q: What is a Functional Behavior Assessment and when should I ask for one?
A: A Functional behavior Assessment is a process used to determine the function of the behavior. It is a process, not a test. It involves an interview with the staff, the parent and the student. It also consists of enough observations to determine what is reinforcing the behavior, or what makes it happen over and over. The next step is to look at behaviors that can be taught, or reinforced to encourage the appropriate behavior to occur again. Data continues to be collected and evaluated.
The following Frequently Asked Questions were submitted by Wendy Tucker. Wendy is parent on wcsLink’s Parent Advisory Committee and an attorney. She has been representing students with disabilities since 2005.
Q: Do I have to agree to what the school system people tell me?
A: No. While it is ideal for you and the school system to work together as a team to develop an Individualized Education Plan that is appropriate for your child, you should be a valued and involved member of that team. You should listen to the school personnel with an open mind, as their goal is the same as yours- an appropriate educational plan for your child’s specific needs. However, if you feel that your concerns are not being addressed, that your input is not being valued or that the school is not offering your child the free, appropriate education to which he/she is legally entitled, you have the right to pursue that.
Q: Can I ask for things in my child’s IEP that do not deal with school related matters?
A: You can ASK for anything. However, the law only requires school systems to provide services that allow your child to access the school, curriculum and extra-curricular school activities. Therefore, if you are requesting a service that is not needed to access school, the curriculum or extra-curricular school activities, the school is under no legal obligation to provide that service.
Q: How often do IEP meetings take place?
A: The law requires at least an annual IEP meeting. However, a meeting can be requested by any team member at any time if there is a change in circumstances or if there is some concern.
The following Frequently Asked Questions were submitted by Holly Lu Conant Rees. These questions refer to the topic of Independent Educational Evaluations.
Q: What if I disagree with the school’s evaluation?
A: If you disagree with an evaluation done by the school system, you can ask the school to pay for an evaluation done by an outside evaluator, which is called an independent educational evaluation, or IEE. You should make this request in writing. The school is allowed to ask you what you disagree with in the evaluation, but you are not required to answer.
When you request an IEE, the school has two options:
- They can grant your request, and agree to pay for the IEE OR
- They can start due process proceedings and ask for an administrative hearing to uphold the evaluation they did.
The school MUST take one of these two actions. The school must act without “unnecessary delay” although there isn’t a specific timeline.
If the school grants your request, they must give you a list of people who are qualified to do the evaluation in question. The people on the list cannot be school system employees. You are not required to use one of the people on this list. You make the choice about who performs the evaluation. However, the person you choose MUST have the right credentials for performing the evaluation.
Sometimes the school will tell you that you have to use someone who already has a contract with the school. It is true that setting up a contract with an outside evaluator can take time. But the school is not allowed to set conditions on whom you select to do the IEE, beyond making sure that the person has the right credentials. The school also can require that you use a person within a general area (as long as there are several people you can choose among): i.e., the school would not be required to pay for a speech/language evaluation in Atlanta, if there are qualified speech language evaluators in Middle Tennessee.
When the evaluation is complete, the evaluator will give the results to you and to the school. You can ask the evaluator to give you the results first, before giving them to the school, but s/he is not required to do so.
Once the school has the results in hand, the results must be considered by the school in making any decision related to the free appropriate public education, FAPE, of the child. This does NOT mean that the school has to agree with the results, or set aside the results of their own evaluation.
You have the right to request an IEE for any individualized evaluation done by the school system. The right does NOT apply for tests or screenings done for all students, such as reading screeners done at various points during the year. The right DOES apply for functional behavioral assessments (FBA), assistive technology (AT) assessments and related service assessments, such as occupational or physical therapy. If the school had to ask for your written consent before doing an assessment or evaluation, that’s an indication that the right to an IEE would apply. You can’t ask for more than one IEE in a particular area over a year, unless the school did more than one evaluation in that area.
Q: Do I have to let the school do an evaluation first before I ask for an IEE?
A: Yes. In most circumstances, the school gets “the first bite of the apple,” meaning that they get a chance to do their own evaluation first, before your right to request an IEE is triggered. If you refuse to give the school permission to do an evaluation, you will not be able to ask the school to pay for an IEE.
If you’ve asked the school in writing to do their own evaluation and they refuse, make sure that you have their refusal in writing. Ask for prior written notice, PWN, which is the paper you should receive at the end of every IEP meeting, and any time the school either proposes or refuses to take an action.
Some advocates believe that in this situation, your right to request an IEE paid for by the school would be triggered.
Q: What if I want to pay for an IEE?
A: You always have the right to pay for an outside evaluation. Just as with an IEE which the school pays for, the school must take any outside evaluation under consideration, as long as the person who did the evaluation has the right credentials. Again, the school isn’t required to change their minds based on an outside evaluation. This is true whether you paid for it, or whether the school paid for it.
If you do seek an outside evaluation, make sure you know what tests or assessments the school has already done for your child. Some tests can’t be repeated within a certain length of time, so it will be important to give that information to the evaluator.
When you pay for an IEE, it’s your choice whether you give the results to the school. Some advocates believe strongly that families should pay for outside evaluations so that they have more control over how the results are used. However, many families don’t have the resources to pay for IEEs, which is why the right to have the school pay is built into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, the law that governs special education.
Holly Lu Conant Rees is the mom of a young man with a developmental disability and his own lawncare business, and has been working with and on behalf for families with children with disabilities for more than two decades. She, however, is not an attorney, and nothing in this article should be considered as legal advice. If you have questions about how this information applies to your child’s specific situation, please consult your legal representation.