Thursday, November 4, 2010

Breaking Down the IEP: Special Factors

In addition to the information that must be considered when developing any IEP document, and in addition to the required IEP content, the IDEA requires the IEP team to take into consideration "special factors" in specifically designated circumstances. Those situations give rise to additional information that often must be addressed and included in the IEP document.

Under 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(3), Special Factors to be considered by the IEP Team include the following:

Behavior needs and behavioral interventions

"In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning or that of others, [the IEP Team shall] consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior." 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(3)(B)(i).

In consideration of this special factor, the IEP team first has to determine whether the child's behavior impedes his/her learning or that of others. This determination can be based on data from a variety of sources, including teacher input, observational data, or an assessment in this area, such as a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). A child's behavior can be determined to "impede" learning based on a number of reasons. If the child's behavior results in removal from class because of disciplinary reasons, this may "impede" his/her learning because he/she is not available in the classroom to recieve instruction. If the child's behavior is disruptive, it may impede the learning of others because they lose instructional time. The team's determination with regards to this issue should be clearly documented within the IEP, so that information regarding what behaviors specifically exist and how they impede the learning of the child or others is clear to all of those developing and implementing the IEP.

Once the determination is made that behaviors exists that impede the learning of the child or others, then the IEP team is mandated to consider the use of strategies and supports to address that behavior. The IDEA refers to "positive behavior interventions and supports" as well as "other strategies."

Language Needs

"In the case of a child with limited English proficience, consider the language needs of the child as such needs relate to the child's IEP." 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(3)(B)(ii)

Instruction in Braille

"In the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, [the IEP Team shall] provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child's reading and writing skills, needs and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille is not appropriate for the child." 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)

Communication needs

The IEP Team shall "consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child's language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child's langauge and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode." 20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(3)(B)(iv)

Assistive Technology

The IEP Team shall "consider whether the child needs assistive technology devices and services." 20 U.S.C. section 1414(3)(B)(v).

Assistive Technology services under the IDEA means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. See 20 U.S.C. 1401(2); 34 CFR 300.6. Assistive Tecnology devices are pieces of equipment or other items utilized to maintain or to improve the child's functional capabilities and enable them to access their learning environment and the curriculum. An AT device can be something high-tech, like advanced computer softward or devices, or something as low-tech as a pencil grip.

The IEP team is required to consider the child's unique needs and make a determination regarding whether the child requires AT. If the child does require AT, this must be documented within the IEP. It may not be necessary for the District to write in the exact device name, but enough information should be included to specify what type of device is to be used and what purpose it will serve, as well as what services will be provided to the child (including frequency and duration) related to the device.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

News: Stipulated TRO Issued In AB 3632 Case

Educationally-related mental health services to continue, despite Governor's veto and suspension of mandate

A class action lawsuit was filed last week by the collaborative forces of various public interest law organizations in Los Angeles in response to the Governor's line item veto of funding for mental health services and suspension of the AB 3632 mandate.

More information about this issue:
Our previous blog posts: News: AB3632 Suspended... Mental Health Services in State of Chaos: Part 1... Mental Health Services in State of Chaos: Part 2...
Press Release about the Class Action (on Disability Rights California's webpage)
Public Counsel's story about the class action (on Public Counsel's webpage)
The complaint filed in the class action

As part of the class action litigation, Plaintiffs sought a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against various defendants. The Plaintiffs sought an order to require the state department of education (CDE) to take certain actions to monitor and track changes in local policies and practices related to mental health services, exercise its authority under the law to compel local education agencies (i.e. school districts) to ensure that students receive mental health services without delay or interruption, and disburse federal IDEA funds including those specifically delineated for mental health services on the same basis as they were disbursed prior to the Governor's actions on October 8th. Additionally, as to the "local" defendants, including the LA County Department of Mental Health, Plaintiffs sought a TRO requiring the continued provision of mental health services, including assessments, attendance at IEP meetings, and providing services and funding residential placements, at the same level as was previously provided in accordance with the procedures existing prior to the Governor's veto.

State Department of Education (CDE) Action and Agreement to Disburse Funds

On October 29, 2010, Jack O'Connell, State Superintendent of Schools, announced that CDE would be releasing $76 million in federal IDEA funds reserved for state level activities to county offices in order to fund educationally-related mental health services through county mental health agencies. Thus, these funds would be available to ensure the continuation of services mandated by federal law for students with disabilities.

In announcing this action, O'Connell stated "I refuse to let the Governor's misguided action prevent severely disabled students from getting the mental health care they need from qualified providers... The Governor's veto does not override federal law; School districts must still implement the IEP... yet most districts don't have the expertise to provide psychiatric and medical management of necessary medications and other mental health services..." See California Department of Education News Release; October 29, 2010

Stipulated TRO for Provision of Services by LA County DMH

Yesterday, November 2, 2010, the federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California signed a stipulated Temporary Restraining Order in this matter. Because of the assurances of disbursement of reserved funding by the CDE, funding would be available to LACDMH to provide services in accordance with the practices and procedures for distribution of funds existing before October 8, 2010. Thus, the stipulated TRO provided that LACDMH would "resume and continue to provide and monitor educationally-related mental health services... attend IEP meetings and authorize services, and complete assessments..." either until the "reserved" funding runs out or until January 14, 2011, whichever occurs first.

What does this mean?

The issue regarding funding for educationally related mental health services in California is by no means resolved. However, locally in Los Angeles County, the process for providing these services through a student's IEP will theoretically return to the same practices and procedures as before the veto by the Governor, and the subsequent chaos of the past few weeks, occurred. At least for the time being - the "reserved" funding will not last forever, and the long term problem still requires a resolution. For students and families throughout California, Mr. O'Connell's action is a step in the right direction towards ensuring stability in the provision of much needed services during this time of confusion. It means that funds will be disbursed for the provision of services through the counties. Additionally, CDE has continued to remind local school districts of their ultimate responsibility to provide students with a FAPE, and the CDE has agreed to issue directives regarding these obligations in an attempt to ensure and oversee compliance. Within the context of the class action, the Plaintiffs involved have agreed to inform CDE of any information that they obtain regarding non-compliance by a local school district of its obligation to provide or pay for related mental health services when a non-educational agency fails to do so.

For more information, please check out the following links:

Order on Stipulated TRO (as related to local defendants)

Stipulation and Notice of Withdrawal (as related to agreement with state defendants)