Your Child’s Services are Related to their Needs, not the School District’s Availability
One of the most frustrating things I hear too often as a special education attorney is that school districts will tell parents of special education students that a service or item is not available. As school districts are well aware, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) provides that special education students must be provided with an appropriate educational program based upon the student’s complete educational needs. First, school districts must comprehensively evaluate students suspected of having special education needs. This includes, if warranted, assessments of students’ cognitive, academic, social, emotional, behavioral, communication, sensory, fine motor, gross motor, and visual needs. Following the completion of a sufficient evaluation of the student’s complete educational needs, an Evaluation Report is issued and includes recommendations for the student’s educational program to be considered by the Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) team.
After a student is comprehensively evaluated and determined to have special education needs, the student’s IEP team meets in order to develop an appropriate educational program that is based upon the student’s needs indicated in the Evaluation Report. Thus, if a student has expressive, receptive, and pragmatic speech and language needs, the speech and language evaluator should make specific recommendations for the student’s IEP. These should include measurable goals that are based upon the student’s speech and language needs in each of those areas and a baseline for the goal so that progress on the goal can be appropriately monitored. Moreover, the speech and language evaluator should make recommendations for the type, frequency, and duration of the speech and language services the student needs in order to meet their annual IEP goals. Specifically, the speech and language evaluator should recommend how many sessions per week of speech and language services the student needs to meet their annual IEP goals, as well as the length of each session. The speech and language evaluator should also determine whether the student’s services should be individually with the speech and language evaluator and/or in group with the speech and language evaluator, as well as other students.
Sadly, just today, one of my clients advised that, during the IEP meeting she attended for her son, the school district advised that it currently does not have a speech and language therapist available to provide any speech any speech and language services to her son. This young man has extremely significant speech and language needs, including identification with a Speech and Language Impairment, and he has been recommended for thirty minutes of individual speech and language services and forty-five minutes of group speech and language services per week. The school district should know that the IDEA does not provide for an exception for special education services due to the school district’s lack of available services. The school district should know that it is absolutely required to provide the special education services the student needs. If the school district lacks a required service for a special education student, it must either contract for the service through a private agency or reimburse the family for services they acquired for their child due to the school district’s failure to provide the service.
In conclusion, it is essential that parents of special education students do not accept the school district’s failure to provide special education services that their child requires due to the school district’s unavailability of services. Parents need to understand their child’s right to the services they need and pursue the school district for those services, even if it means seeking out the availability of outside agencies.
By Heather Hulse, JD, MS, MA, of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.