PRAGNYA organized a workshop on August 6 titled “Special Education and Advocacy”, presented by advocate Jennifer Lucas of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities Central Coast Office which was of great interest to the large audience of parent advocates and PRAGNYA allies.
Jennifer started the workshop by covering the laws that protect students with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act both protect students from discrimination based on their disabilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools must provide students with disabilities a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment,” (LRE) and creates procedural safeguards for students and parents. Though these laws are all federal protections, the California Education Code incorporates IDEA and Section 504 into State law. Jennifer reviewed the purpose and eligibility for 504 plans, which protect students who do not meet the 13 eligibility criteria for special education.
Much of the presentation was devoted to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which also stipulates that a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) should be designed to meet the student’s unique needs AND prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. To qualify, students must meet one of 13 eligibility categories AND by reason of their disability, need special education and related services in order to benefit from their education. Jennifer then reviewed the six core principles of IDEA on which special education laws are based:
Free & Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
Parent (and student, if appropriate) participation in the decision-making process
Jennifer then covered each of the crucial seven steps of the IEP process, as shown in this graphic, in detail to inform parents of their rights and responsibilities as the first and best advocates for their children:
special education is delivered through the IEP to close the gap between the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) and their expected level of performance. Some of the critical points in the seven levels included:
Assessments - Determine eligibility under IDEA or 504, identify and clarify the student’s disability needs and assist the team with developing IEP goals.
Present Levels of Performance (PLOPs) – Establish a baseline of what the student can and can’t do currently, and should describe functional, developmental, and academic performance, and
strengths and areas of need.
Goals and objectives – The IEP needs to include measurable annual goals, including academic and functionalgoals to meet individualized needs so the student can be involved and make progress in the general education curriculum.
Services – Include special education and related services and any other individualized supports that the student needs to make progress toward annual IEP goals and in the general education curriculum, be educated with their typically developing peers and participate in extracurricular and non-academic activities.
Accommodations and modifications – Need to be individualized in the IEP to create equal access and opportunity and remove discriminatory barriers. This can include extended time on tests, environmental adjustments, support with health issues and assistive technology (AT).
Placement - is based on a student’s unique needs (per IDEA); labeling and sorting is the opposite and a violation of the law. Services are provided in a continuum of placements, which can range from push-in and pull-out services in general education, to special day class, to a non-public school.
The IEP - is a legally-binding document. Before signing consent to the IEP, parents should take it home and thoroughly review it, and listen to the recording. Parents may “consent with exception;” if parent only agrees to part of the IEP, what is consented to can begin right away.
Throughout the presentation, Jennifer shared advocacy tips and strongly encouraged parents to get involved in their local SELPA’s Community Advisory Committee, PRAGNYA's Parent Support groups and other school-related advocacy groups, and start or join parent group to share resources, knowledge and/or support.