TIPS FOR PROFESSIONALS SERVING THE SPECIAL NEEDS COMMUNITY
Far too often the success of an Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting relies on the content of reports and assessments. District professionals understand the need for educational supports and related services for students with special needs, but they must also work within the “fiscal parameters” set by the school district. This ever-growing budget challenge sends many parents in search of private assessment reports to bolster their chances of securing needed services for their children. Private providers, and their reports, are often a key factor in securing benefits for a student with special needs. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you draft your reports and assessments.
It is important to avoid words such as “best,” “most,” or “maximize” when referring to development or potential.
Use of “best,” “most,” or “maximize” will likely open the door for the district’s dismissal of your recommendations as a “best-case scenario.” Consider using instead “appropriate,” “at a minimum,” or “least restrictive setting.” These terms embody fundamental concepts of the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and their use has specific meaning to school district administrators.
As a physician or therapist, it is natural for you to suggest the course of services that will lead to the best result for the client. However, under the IDEA your client is only entitled to an “appropriate education” – NOT the “best” education or an education that is geared to “maximize potential.” Many courts still define an “appropriate education” as “access to an education” or a “basic floor of educational opportunity.” Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U. S. at 189. For purposes of conferring “some educational benefit,” the substantive obligations of the IDEA are not satisfied by a program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress, as a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 580 U.S. at ∗14-15 (Mar. 22, 2017, No. 15-827).
When suggesting an alternative to a district’s proposal, avoid the use of “greater progress” or “more progress” when presenting a services plan.
As an expert for the parents, your report will be used to advise the IEP team and possibly even a hearing officer or judge about the inadequacies of the public school program and the strengths of the program suggested by the parents. If you believe that a specific proposal will work for the child, it is essential that you firmly state the reasons for your recommendation. “Greater” or “more progress” suggests that the district alternative will work for the child, albeit less effectively. Judges and hearing officers may interpret this to mean that the school’s offering, although not optimal, IS appropriate, making it very unlikely that the parents will prevail in a due process challenge.
Be specific about the amount of services recommended (frequency and duration of visits per week) and differentiate between individualized versus group placement.
Parents and physicians approach the IEP from the perspective of creating or maintaining a specific offering of services. Districts, on the other hand, approach the process from a goals perspective. As a result, reports drafted by district personnel are intentionally vague as to frequency of services and group versus individual placement. It is vital that a private professional’s report set out the minimum duration and intervals for a service and whether or not the service should be administered on an individual or group basis. Spell out the child’s unique needs to build your case for the proposed service plan. Where possible, present your findings first as a goal followed by a recommendation for a services program necessary to achieve the desired result.
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