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New York Education Law Blog

What constitutes 'free appropriate public education?'

If you are the parent of a child with special education needs, you face unique challenges every day. One of them is ensuring that your child gets a good education. The law ostensibly is on your side in this regard. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act states clearly that special needs children are entitled to "free appropriate public education."

A common sense interpretation of that would be that appropriateness be gauged by what results in a child developing and progressing at a rate that is close to what others achieve in the same grade level. But in the decades since the start of FAPE, interpretations have varied greatly – to a point where the question eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. And last year the high court issued a unanimous opinion on how it must be construed.

Regulators say 'no' to New York's bid for out-of-level testing

There will not be easier testing for New York children in grades 4-8. Several weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education rejected a request by the New York Education Department that would have allowed some students with disabilities to advance if they passed tests showing mastery of curriculum that was up to two levels below their actual grades.

We wrote about this idea in a post in November. We noted at the time that state officials made the waiver request over the objections of school leaders in New York City and special education advocates. Their main complaint was that the lowered expectations in such out-of-level testing would do the students more harm than good, representing an erosion of rights guaranteed by law.

Determining if end-of-school-year help is needed and what type

We are still in the middle of winter. If you are a parent of a middle or high school student, you might not be thinking much further ahead than next week. But there might be good reason to begin thinking seasonally about your child's educational well-being.

According to some experts, springtime can be one of the most challenging times of the school year. In many classes, the pressure rises. Students have big projects to complete, papers to write or major final exams loom. Depending on the challenges your child faces, you might consider enlisting extra help. Do you know what your options are and whether the school system will pay for them?

The unique dilemma that is '2e'

Every industry has its jargon. Education is no exception. Many is the kindergarten parent, we're sure, who heard at their first parent-teacher meeting that their child was "very social." What does that mean? Is my child gregarious and outgoing (something I might consider a good thing)? Or does it mean the child never shuts up (something less than ideal)?

Another term that has been around since the 1990s but which might be new to many parents is twice exceptional, commonly abbreviated as 2e. On the face of it, this sounds special. In reality, it can mean that your child is in for some significant challenges as he or she works through their school years unless the 2e-ness is identified, acknowledged and accommodated by educators. Each step has its particular hurdles and may require special advocacy efforts to see that education law requirements are fulfilled.

Standing with families struggling for education equity

Just because some students have identifiable disabilities doesn't mean they are incapable of learning. Indeed, experts estimate nearly 90 percent of students with disabilities can obtain a high school diploma and be set to go onto college or a career. Many do not, data suggests, because they lack needed support throughout the school and work continuum.

This is something that parents of special-needs children understand well. They, along with other advocates in this area – including education law attorneys – appreciate that the advancements achieved to ensure that these children have the access to equal education have not come without struggle. It is in the context of that reality that one mother has said, "What most folks don't understand is, families with children who have disabilities are in a perpetual state of fight mode."

Education Department cuts policy documents for disabled students

The Education Department announced that it has scrapped 72 documents that provide policy guidelines for working with special needs students and students with disabilities. The documents included guidelines for the rights of special-needs students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The documents were apparently cut as part of the Trump administration's efforts to curb what it deems superfluous regulations. The Education Department states that the rescinded documents were unnecessary and did not reflect current regulations.

Can 'mindset' theory help those with special mental health needs?

There was a time in education when teachers operated under hard and fast rules. The standards were set by tradition or the best information available at the time. Today, in New York and elsewhere, there is greater appreciation that one-size-fits-all solutions generally don't work and certainly don't in the context of helping students achieve their individual goals.

Individualized learning crafted to serve a student's special needs is acknowledged as a right and so federal and state laws mandate that school districts accommodate those needs. Defining needs, however, can be challenging. Working with a skilled education law attorney is how parents and students can be sure their opinions get consideration when formulating individualized education plans.

Do charter schools have to accommodate kids with disabilities?

Charter schools are public schools. They may have somewhat different programs or a specific focus that traditional schools do not, but they still have to comply with the same legal rules. That means they have to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504, the Americans With Disabilities Act and other state and federal civil rights laws.

You may have noticed that charter schools often have strict rules of conduct, require uniforms, and have other differences from ordinary public schools. In the past, that has sometimes resulted in non-compliant kids being "counseled out," or discouraged from attending. In some cases, these included children with disabilities or learning issues. The law is very clear; counseling out kids with disabilities is unlawful. If your child has a disability, they still have every right to attend any charter school they otherwise qualify to attend.

DOE: Less than half of states meeting special ed obligations

In an annual review this summer, the U.S. Department of Education found that only 22 states could be awarded the "meets requirements" designation for providing all services required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

The IDEA is our nation's premier law guaranteeing special education. More specifically, it requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to every student, regardless of disability.

Education Dept. to reduce school civil rights investigations

Under the leadership of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education will be scaling back the scope and number of its civil rights investigations into public schools and universities. In part, this is in response to Obama-era mandates said to have bogged down the department.

The acting head of the agency's civil rights office issued an internal memo with the changes. The Obama Administration had required investigators to broaden all inquiries to include the identification of systemic issues and ensure all classes of victims are known. It also required regional offices to alert agency higher-ups when receiving complaints regarding race-based, disproportionate discipline and campus sexual assaults.

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