Public, Private, Charter, OH MY!

I have always worked in public schools and I grew up attending many public schools. Even now, my child goes to a public school. Fortunately, the school Killian goes to is a fantastic school and one of the best IEP schools in his district. But, I wonder what it would be like if that weren’t the case. What if his school was awful or didn’t follow through with their obligations and IEP guidelines? Would he be allowed to switch schools? What if we wanted him to attend a Christian based private school, or even home-school? (Okay okay, you can stop laughing at the idea of me home schooling. We all know THAT will never happen.)

So, what exactly are the differences in procedure and regulations for each school category? Are there any differences or all they all held to the same expectations? Would I even be eligible for in-home services had I opted to home-school?

First, let’s go over the differences between a public, private, and charter school.

PUBLIC

Public schools are free to attend and are run by local school districts. They are funded by the public and must follow all federal and state education laws. Most do not require applications to attend, only information and registration packets. No child will be denied access to attend based on having a disability. Public schools are also mandated by law to evaluate students for special education as well as legally obligated to provide classroom accommodations. Public schools are also required by law to provide special education services, IEPs, and 504 Plans . Every teacher must be state-certified. Students will be expected to meet all state academic standards and every school is accountable for student achievement under federal law. Formerly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, it is now called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

PRIVATE

Private schools are funded privately and are much smaller than public schools due to the lack of excessive funding. There is little to no government oversight so they are not eligible for the same grants that public schools can access. Applications are required and not every child applying will be able to get in since there is limited space. Private schools also require tuition which is why not many parents opt for the private school route. The national average private school tuition is approximately $10,676 per year according to the 2019/20 school year. While they are not allowed to discriminate against those with disabilities, they can can reject applicants for almost any reason. While they are not required by law to evaluate children for special needs, the local public school districts must find and evaluate kids in private school that they believe may have disabilities. They are also not regulated to provide 504 Plans and do not have to offer special education services and IEPs, however, a local school district may provide services to a child in a private school through a service plan.  Talk to your local education agency for more information. Though some private schools specialize in ADHD, Dyslexia, and other challenges. And depending on your state, teachers are not required to be state-certified.  The schools do not have to participate in state academic standards and ESSA.

CHARTER

Charter schools are a public independent school. These can either be run as a home-school program, an on-site campus, or a mix of both where kids do some classes at home and some classes on school grounds.  Charters are funded by public and/or private donors. While they must follow education law, they are allowed exemption from some of the rules. Just like private schools, charters are generally smaller and therefore require applications but some of them are free to attend. They are not allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities and can’t “counsel out” or discourage kids from attending. While they are required by law to evaluate for special needs and provide services, IEPs, 504 Plans, and classroom accommodations, please note that they may not be as well equipped with the specialists and services that your child may need to succeed like traditional public schools are. Some schools, however, are specialized in teaching kids with ADHD, Dyslexia, and other challenges. Depending on the state, teachers may not be required to be state-certified. Students are also apart of the ESSA and state academic standards.

TRADITIONAL HOME-SCHOOL

For exclusively home-school children (where parents are solely responsible for their child’s education) there are very few states that place much emphasis on providing IEP services to home-schooled children. Specialized education programs are offered to those home-school only kids. Such programs are offered by a variety of home-school organizations, such as the Home School Legal Defense Association and other large home-school support groups. However, these programs are not compulsory, nor does state or federal law require these programs. Always talk to your child’s doctor(s) and therapist(s) for assistance in creating their education plan, getting adaptive equipment, and/or assisted learning needs.

Though this is just a brief overview of the differences between these 3 school classifications, there are are many hyperlinks to lead you to more detailed information to help you choose the right school for your son/daughter.

-The Lazy Mama

IEP Parental Rights

Recently I was asked by another mom what she is allowed to ask for  and what her son is allowed to get. As a mom with a child on the spectrum, Killian has an Individualized Education Plan, otherwise known as an IEP. This is extremely important because Killian works differently than a neurotypical child and needs special breaks and assistance maintaining his focus and behavior.

First, I want to state that the legal aspects may change by state (and obviously country) so make sure you look into the benefits of your area. I am in Oregon, USA so I will be referencing what is accurate for our circumstance.

Before every IEP meeting, you will be offered a thick packet that includes procedural safeguards and parental rights. If you are not offered this, then this is your first red flag warning that the school is not following their legal responsibility and may try to get away with not abiding by the IEP.

Another helpful thing that I highly recommend if you are new to the process is to bring an experienced friend, colleague, or relative to help you with your meetings. You are advocating for your child. They are advocating for you. You are always legally allowed to have a parent advocate who can help you stand your ground if the staff tries to bulldoze you. They can also help you remember things that you may have forgotten about or not even thought about asking for.

Every parent has the right to participate in all decision-making meetings held in order to create an IEP for their child. These meetings are backed by  FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) and include the child’s eligibility, evaluation, educational placement, and anything else pertaining to their education. In the case there isn’t a parent available for these meetings, a surrogate parent should be appointed by the district to help represent the child adequately. It is very important that you or the child’s other parent be at every meeting but we understand that life can get in the way. In the case of needing to find a parent replacement, you need to let the IEP staff know at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. There is a sign-in sheet that everyone needs to sign prior to the meeting’s start.

In the case of any changes in identification, evaluation, and educational placement initiated by the school district, the parent has the right to receive prior written notice. You should also receive a written notice of the date, time, and location of the meeting either in the mail or sent home in your child’s backpack.

Parents also have the right to provide an informed, written consent for the special education IEP before the assessment process or the provision of special education and related services. This consent is also necessary before any changes are done to the program already in place. Parents should only supply their consent once they have a clear understanding of the IEP team proceedings. NEVER SIGN BEFORE READING AND UNDERSTANDING EVERYTHING FULLY! Also, parents should be provided with an interpreter if their native language is different from English or in case they are deaf. Keep in mind; parents also reserve the right to refuse the evaluation or educational placement of their child. Parents have the right to disagree with any proposals presented to change their child’s placement. When a disagreement surfaces, the child should remain in their current program until resolved. If a disagreement arises, parents are free to seek voluntary and impartial mediation to help find a mutually agreed-upon solution regarding the child’s special education IEP.

Every parent reserves the right to audit the school’s educational records regarding their child’s IEP records. If at any time you need or would like another copy, they must provide every paper in the IEP file. In the case of any complaints concerning the provision of FAPE, to the child, parents have the right to a hearing. During the hearing, the parent can request that an advocate, attorney, or if appropriate, their child be present. Furthermore, parents have the choice to make the hearing public. Making the hearing public could aide in your case by drawing the attention of the media and fellow parents to push back at the school and fight for your legal rights, holding the district and officials accountable. It would also let other IEP parents know that something may be up and should look into their child’s plan to make sure everything is being honored.

Children enrolled in special education have specific rules regarding their suspension or expulsion. If these instances extend for more than ten days, an IEP meeting should be called to assess how their disability could be contributing to the child’s misconduct. Additionally, the participants should discuss the potential for an alternative placement as an alternative. The parent is an essential member of the IEP team and therefore, should actively participate in the progress of their child’s education and performance. IDEA guarantees the rights of parents formulating the necessary educational programs and decisions that will benefit their child. It is, therefore, important for parents to exercise their rights responsibly to guarantee the success of their child. The world of special education is a big one. This means there’s a lot of information parents should be aware of describing the intricacies of service, schools, behaviors, and tips and tricks to gaining proper opportunity. The more information you have, the better equipped you will be to make future decisions for your child with special needs to ensure their success. Special Education Resource was explicitly created to help parents of children with special needs find the information and assistance necessary to help their child reach their excellence.

IEP COMPLIANT OPTIONS FOR PARENTS

  1. School District Complaints: Search your district’s website and look for whatever formal grievance procedure they have, and file one. Ask to present it at the next school board meeting if you are comfortable public speaking. Take some folks with you for moral support. Again, having a parent advocate is super important.
  2. If you live in an area where the county oversees education, I would look and see if there is a county-level complaint above the school district level complaint.
  3. State Compliance Complaints: Each state should have a State Department of Education website where this information will be available. However, a compliance complaint is just that–about compliance. Most often it means that you did not receive the IEP Meeting Invitation 10 days before the meeting. Or that they did not complete the evaluations within the mandated 60 days. If you have great data and documentation that the team is not following the IEP as written, you can try filing a compliance complaint. But do not be surprised if they bump you back to using your Procedural Safeguards.
  4. State Complaints-Professional Boards: Again, this will vary from state to state. But there are state licensing boards for nurses, OTs, PTs and certifications for teachers. You should know that if you file a complaint against a professional and that person belongs to a union, that union will defend them. That is why people pay union dues. Again, just letting you know what you are up against. You also will have to demonstrate that the offender actually violated state laws regarding their profession, their state’s practice act, or similar.
  5. FERPA complaints– A friendly reminder that educational records are governed by FERPA, not HIPAA. And of course, you’re going to have to read through FERPA and discern which portions were violated. According to the USDOE website: A parent of a student under the age of 18 at an elementary or secondary school or a student who is at least 18 years of age or attending a postsecondary institution at any age (“eligible student”) may file a written complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) regarding an alleged violation of a school’s failure to comply with his or her rights under FERPA.  A parent of an eligible student generally may not file a complaint under FERPA, as the rights afforded to parents are transferred to the student when he or she becomes an eligible student. Here is FERPA information for Parents, and FERPA information for Students. How to file a complaint is linked at the beginning of this bullet point.
  6. Office of Civil Rights Complaint– OCR is a federal office, therefore federal laws apply. That link will explain how to file a complaint. OCR complaints must be completed within 180 days of the last event.

One large incentive for schools to follow through with IEP procedures and guidelines and well as proving the services that were agreed upon in the meeting is to keep their funding. Schools are given grants and support through educational foundations and government means. If they are found guilty of not following these rules then their grants and funding gets pulled.

At any time during the school year, you may request an additional IEP meeting to follow up on your child’s progress or make changes to the plan. If revisions are made, then they have 60 days to implement those changes (30 days for preschools) and 30 days to respond to your revision requests.

You are your child’s biggest tool in their tool belt.  You are going to be the one who makes the biggest impact in their life. Never stop fighting for them and for yourself. And most importantly, never be afraid to ask for help.

-The Lazy Mama

Organization In Diagnosis

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I got when Killian was in the testing stages was to get 2 binders. One for medical and one for school. That has been the best suggestion I have ever gotten.

This life filled with multiple doctors, multiple therapists, and many school meetings is very chaotic and hard to keep track of. With all of the Release of Information forms, waiting for each office to be able to communicate with each other, having a binder with me at each appointment filled with progress notes and visit summaries has made each appointment not only faster, but much easier because I already have all of the current information on my child at the ready for whoever is needing it.

For every IEP meeting I go to, I have both medical nad education binders that I can pull from. My education binder has current IEP papers, notes about things that I want to discuss with the teachers and therapists, and any notes or suggestions from his medical team.

For each binder you should have a binder sheet protectors and tabbed section dividers.

For the medical binder, I have a sheet of paper on the front with every doctor’s and therapist’s business card glued to it. On top it has my son’s name and age. Each year he has a different binder. I have found that having a couple of ROIs for each office is important and a time saver whenever a new doctor, therapist, or school personnel is in need of one. Communication is vital in order to get the proper care for your child.  I also have a copy of my son’s insurance card in the binder in case my parents or another family member are needing to take him to an appointment that I am unable to make. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often. Plus, if anything were to ever happen to me, my husband will have all of the contact information for everyone on Killian’s care team and be able to get up to date with what he will need to be doing.

For the IEP binder, have a paper on the cover of the binder with your child’s name, age, grade, teacher’s name, and school name. You should have 6 tabs and label them as the following:

  1. Communication-  Have a contact sheet with everyone’s name, email address, and phone number. For Killian, I have the principal, SPED (special education) director, teacher, instructional assistant, SLP, and OT’s information. Next, a communication log. This is important so you can keep track of all meeting times and any notes from phone or email conversations.
  2. Evaluations- Start this section with any referrals or requests for evals followed by your consent to eval. Next come the evaluation reports. If your child has any private evaluations from therapists, include a copy of those here as well. These will come in handy when the school therapist(s) are needing to evaluate your child and come up with goals for the year.
  3. IEP- At the beginning of every IEP meeting you should be offered a copy of your rights and procedural safeguards. If you have not received these, you need to make sure to obtain a copy immediately and let the SPED director know that they were never given to you. In this section you will have a copy of your child’s IEP and written prior notice in front of each new copy of an updated IEP. IEPs need to be updated annually unless you or the school staff believe that changes need to be made to either create or revise accommodations.
  4. Report Cards/Progress Notes- federal law states in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) that you need to be updated on your child’s progress towards the upcaming IEP meeting. You can always create a goal tracker for your child and keep it in this file.
  5. Sample Work- Use this section to file samples of your child’s homework or classwork that show signs of progress or concern. It’s a good idea to file samples at least monthly. It will also be a helpful reminder to you of all of the good work you are doing for your child.
  6. Behavior- Start this section with a copy of the school’s code of conduct. Some teachers may have also sent home class-specific behavior plans and rules. Keep copies of these here too.If your child has a behavior intervention plan or behavior contract (504 Plan), file it next in this section. This is also the place to file disciplinary notices, if your child receives any. Why keep these in your IEP binder? Because kids have additional rights and protection if the behavior they’re disciplined for could be related to their disability.

Make sure to have some blank binder paper and a pen/pencil as well in your binder. This will come in handy to make any notes or reminders about hings that come up during the IEP meeting.

Hopefully, this was helpful and will leave you feeling a little bit less frazzled when the time comes for meetings and appointment.

-The Lazy Mama