It’s the start of another school year. For families of students with disabilities, some extra time working with school staff before the start of the school year or early in the year can lead to success throughout the year. Here is some information we hope helps for the new school year.

IDEA, IEPs, and FAPE – Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) provides that every student is entitled to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). For students with disabilities, FAPE may require specialized instruction with additional supports, accommodations, and interventions so a student makes reasonable progress that is appropriate considering their circumstances. An Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) can be implemented for a student with disabilities who meets eligibility requirements.

Any parent or teacher can request that a child be evaluated for special education. Requests for evaluations should be made in writing and should be sent to the child’s teacher, the school psychologist, and the school administrator. The district has 15 days to conduct a review of existing data and request consent from the parent or parents for additional assessments once it receives a request. Next, the district has 60 days to complete the evaluation.

Once the evaluation is complete, the district convenes an IEP team meeting to determine whether the student meets the eligibility requirements for special education. The IEP team is made up of the child, their parent(s), at least one classroom teacher, at least one special education teacher, a representative of the local educational agency, and other professionals with specific knowledge of the student’s disability.

If the student meets eligibility requirements, the IEP team members will work together to create an IEP for the student. The IEP will note areas for student growth and contain challenging but attainable goals to measure progress throughout the school year.

School districts are required to reevaluate students once every three years. Families can nonetheless request a yearly evaluation of their student’s specific needs and can request a yearly review of their student’s IEP. Remember that the school is expected to place your students in the least restrictive environment appropriate for them.

Parents can support their students with disabilities at the start of the school year by reaching out to new teachers and introducing themselves while taking the opportunity to remind the teacher of a student’s IEP. Suggesting communication methods can also help establish a system for contact between home and school.

Preparing Your Student for Success

If your student is moving to a new school district, families can request to schedule a meeting before the beginning of the school year to review their student’s IEP. A local educational agency must develop an IEP within 30 days of determining that a child has a disability. If the student is moving to a different district, families can: (1) implement the IEP and request a meeting to review and revise the IEP to ensure conformity with the new district requirements; (2) implement the previous IEP as it is; (3) implement the findings from the previous evaluation, and request a meeting to review and revise the existing IEP; or (4) develop, adopt, and implement a brand new IEP.

If your student has an IEP, they may also have a health plan. Health plans exist where a student has a special medical need, such as significant allergies, a strict medication schedule, or wounds needing periodic attention. Be sure to request that the school nursing staff review the health plan before the start of the school year. It may be helpful to not only inform your child’s teachers of the health plan but to also provide them with specifics of the health plan to ensure your child’s medical needs are known by all professionals.

For students who struggle with transitions, the more foreshadowing and preparing you do, the better. Meeting teachers prior to the first day of school can help build positive relationships. Don’t forget to introduce your child to their “special” teachers – art, physical education, music, even lunchroom staff – the more people your child knows, the more comfortable they will be on day one. Establishing “safe” people will help them if they are struggling and give them confidence.

If your child is moving to a different school building, request time to walk through the school building with the student once the class schedule is finalized. Even students attending familiar buildings may appreciate having an opportunity to walk through and plan their schedule without other students in the building. Have your child practice moving from room to room, in imitation of how their day will progress. This may be especially helpful for students who have regulation concerns or who have physical disabilities that make it difficult to get from place to place within a large building. Find out where the gym is, the lunchroom is, any spaces where the child might receive services, and where school administrators are. If your child’s IEP includes a “calm-down” or “sensory” space, ensure your child knows where that space is and how to arrive there from any of their classrooms. Be on the lookout for anything that could present a sensory issue for your child, including wall-mounted televisions, noise levels, and smells.

Finally, be familiar with your school district’s dispute resolution policy. Generally, start by bringing any concerns to the classroom or special education teacher before bringing the issue to the attention of administrators, principals, and superintendents. Often, parents who choose to immediately escalate issues to the administration find that their relationships with their student’s classroom teachers suffer. If the problem is specifically with a teacher, it may be appropriate to reach out to the administration first.

We wish you and your children a wonderful new school year! If your family needs any help with these issues, we can be reached at 608-821-8200 or www.lawcenterwisconsin.com.

DISCLAIMER FROM THE LAW CENTER, S.C.: The posting and reading of this article/blog does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Attorneys Baker or Kostelyna, or any of our attorneys, nor does it constitute legal advice to the reader or the public. The law constantly changes and facts vary widely. Before relying on any general legal information contained herein, please consult legal counsel as to your situation.

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The Law Center