Services for special education students include modifications and accommodations that are individualized and appropriate for each child as per the development of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Failure to provide these necessary supports that are agreed upon in the IEP, can have negative consequences for the child with regard to their disability and in their functioning. This can manifest for the child behaviorally, emotionally, socially and physically and can lead to disputes between the student and the school system.
This article will address some disputes that typically occur in school systems and relate to whether or not the individualized needs of special education students have been effectively addressed.
Special Education: Student Needs Disputes - Expert Article
If warranted, school districts often provide behavioral, social and emotional support for children. This support is often provided through behavioral intervention services such as with the support of an ABA specialist, with a 1:1 aide, or with regular counseling from a school mental health professional. These supports help students to alleviate anxiety, deal with traumatic experiences, improve coping skills, and enhance executive functioning. If these supports are not in place, there is the potential to exacerbate aggressive behavior, as well as escalate mental health issues such as depression, anxiety as well as suicidality.
School districts regularly assess the academic needs of students, especially when they are having difficulty keeping up with academic demands. Educational supports such as resource room, additional redirection, smaller class sizes, as well as modifications of extra time or a special location are some examples of supports that can be put into place to address academic and attentional needs of students. If it is determined that a student is eligible to receive support due to a learning disability or an attentional deficit, and the child does not receive it, there is the potential for the student to lack substantial progression or to regress academically.
Considerations During the Assessment Process
When assessing the effectiveness of interventions for students with special needs, it is important to consider the following:
- The identification of the individualized special education services and how those services will be implemented and delivered;
- The effectiveness of the implementation and delivery of the services to the individualized needs of the child (i.e. online, via phone or virtual conferencing, or in person via a group or individual setting);
- The manner and method in which the effectiveness of the special education services are being assessed;
- The manner and methodology used to monitor and re-evaluate the identified services;
- The frequency of service modification based upon the child’s response to the identified and implemented modifications. Have these modifications led to improvement or acceptable progress?
Another aspect to consider when evaluating the delivery and implementation of special education services is how this process is impacted during school closures. At times, school closures may be necessary due to natural disasters such as hurricanes or other severe weather conditions, violent disasters such as school shootings or criminal threats, or public health crises.
The U.S. Department of Education as well as state education departments have published a number of documents providing guidance to School Districts regarding special education during school closures. These documents indicate that special education services are not required to be provided during school closures. However, if a district continues to provide educational services to the general student population during a school closure, the school must take the necessary actions to provide students with disabilities with equal access to the same opportunities as those without special education needs. If special education services are provided remotely, school districts must take precautions to ensure that each student receives their services as per their Individualized Education Plan to the extent that this is possible.
Once schools reopen, decisions are required to be made on an individual basis by teams of service providers, as to the need for compensatory educational services. Compensatory services may be necessary to make up for lost time and support. These services can be implemented by added repetition of services, a longer school day, extended eligibility after age 21 or 22 (depending on the state), etc.
Effective Delivery of Special Education Services During School Closures
What is best practice when considering the delivery of special education services during school closures?
- Members of school teams, students, and parents should work together cooperatively to determine the best way services will be delivered during the school closure. Parents or school team members can request an IEP team meeting to discuss any concerns related to the delivery and implementation of services. While IEP teams may not meet face-to-face, they can be held by telephonic or video meetings to discuss how services can be provided.
- It is best if school professionals and parents are in regular communication regarding any questions or concerns about the effectiveness of school services and modifications during this time. An IEP meeting can be requested by either the school district or the parent if there are any concerns about the child’s progress.
- To effectively address parental concerns and enhance communication between the school system and the student, a system whereby parental complaints can be reported, received, and communicated can be developed and implemented.
- If a child has an upcoming re-evaluation, this may be postponed. However, some evaluations can be done remotely via video or through questionnaires. School districts will often communicate how these evaluations are being conducted during unprecedented or atypical times when the regular assessment methods are not possible. Both parents and school professionals can communicate to determine the best possible means of assessment for re-evaluation.
Once schools re-open, there are several ways to evaluate disputes regarding the implementation and effectiveness of special education services. First, it is beneficial for students with a disability to have an IEP team meeting to discuss the transition back to school and to determine whether the student is eligible to receive compensatory educational services after an extended school closure. The following issues should be considered.
- The length of time the student’s school was closed;
- The documented services, modifications, and accommodations which were deemed appropriate for the student;
- Were the documented services provided? If so, were they implemented in the typical fashion or using an alternative method?
- Were alternative methods used, and were these methods as beneficial for the student as the methods normally used to serve the student?
- If these alternative methods were not as effective, how was the time lost compensated?
- What percentage of the student’s IEP-required instruction and services did the student receive?
- Are there any other supports that would be appropriate for the student which would be accessible given the circumstances?
- Are there any indications that the student regressed or lost any specific skills during the school closure?
Additionally, the IEP team should discuss whether the actions during the school closure caused the student to require either extended school year services or any additional specialized instruction or services. School districts and parents should work together cooperatively, in accordance with the student’s IEP to develop the most effective plan possible, even during unusual circumstances. The guidelines delivered by the U.S. Department of Education are viable resources during such times.
INVESTIGATING SPECIAL EDUCATION DISPUTES
When services are provided consistently and appropriately, there is an avoidance of negative consequences such as reactive behavior, mental health issues, or regression of academic progress that often lead to disputes. A clinical psychologist can assist attorneys in assessing the needs of special education students, the appropriate methods of implementation, as well as the effectiveness of the support in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
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Dr. Staci Weiner is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist with nearly 20 years of experience. She applies her expertise to forensic casework involving claims and personal injury litigation related to the diagnosis, identification, and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults in schools, mental health, and community settings. Dr. Weiner completed her doctorate in School/Clinical Psychology at Pace University, where she now teaches doctoral level Cognitive Behavioral Therapy classes as an adjunct professor. She is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist in New York State. She is a member of the American Psychological Association and National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.