Ethical Issues in Education: The Main Reason Why Parents of Children With Special Needs Should Be Involved in Their Child’s Education and Know Their Parental Rights in Special Education

I became an educator to have a positive impact on the world through educating, counseling, supporting and enhancing the lives of children with special needs and their families.  My career as an educator formally began in 1992.  Over the last twenty years, I have worked in three different states and five different school districts across the United States.  As time has passed, I have seen a very disturbing trend become more and more prevalent.  That trend is Continue reading

What is the Definition of the Least Restrictive Environment?

LRE is an acronym for Least Restrictive Environment.  The least restrictive environment definition in the law states that every child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is to be educated in their least restrictive environment.  Least restrictive is referring to how much the child is educated away from neurotypical peers in the general education setting. Children with IEPs must have some form of a disability that negatively impacts their ability to achieve reasonable educational benefit from the general education curriculum and structure alone.

In the United States, prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) children with disabilities were usually removed from and educated away from their “typical “peers.  This removal often led to stigmatization, isolation, discrimination and misunderstanding of children with disabilities well into their adulthood.  This law requires that special education teams carefully consider whether and how much a child with a disability needs to be educated separately from their neurotypical peers.

Each child’s LRE differs depending on their disability, their level of impairment, their educational needs, their behaviors and their learning styles.  For example, many children with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) and Physical Disabilities will benefit most from full inclusion.  Although some children with SLDs and Physical Disabilities have significant deficits that will need specialized instruction in a resource room or therapy room type of setting. Likewise, many children with moderate to severe Autism will benefit most from a self-contained program that is specifically designed to maximize the learning of children with Autism.  However, some children with Autism will be able to be included into general education for specials and for academic content.  It is not a cut and dry decision based on disability.  Each child’s individual education needs should drive the placement decision.

For some children their LRE may be a general education setting with specific accommodations and/or modifications that assist them to gain educational benefit from the regular education content.  Another child may be able to be fully included in the general education setting with support from a special educator.   Some children may need to go to a separate classroom for specialized instruction in one or more content areas.  For example, a child with a math disability may need specialized small group instruction in just that content area and may not need assistance in any other content areas.

Some children who have more significant disabilities that greatly impact their ability to learn in a general education setting  may need to be educated in a smaller special education classroom for the majority of the day. For these children there is still a responsibility to establish as much interaction with non-disabled peers as possible.  This may include attending specials, such as PE or music with their “typical” peers.  It could also mean exposure to non-disabled peers through lunch in the cafeteria, recess on the playground and/or school-wide assemblies.

Some children’s disabilities so significantly affect their ability to be educated in a regular public school that they are placed by the special education team at an out-of-district special school.  Whenever this decision is made, it is always the hope and desire that the child will gain enough skills to come back to a  public school setting in the future as to not be isolated from non-disabled peers.  Placement and service delivery decisions must always be made based on what the child’s educational needs are and what environment is the least different from a general education setting for the student to meet his/her goals and objectives adequately.

In my experience, school personnel often make a decision about where they want to place a child before the IEP meeting has even taken place, even though this should be a team discussion that involves the parents.  As a parent, you have a say in this matter.  I encourage you to ask questions about the placement recommendation and make sure you feel comfortable with the placement.  For many students it is highly beneficial to be included in the general education environment for the whole day, while other students have significant needs that require some or all of their education to occur in a different setting.  Make sure you understand what type(s) of environments your child will be educated in and that you feel this matches what your child’s educational needs are.  It is important to note that if your child’s stated education needs from the IEP require a certain type of program or a certain environment the school district is required to provide that either within their own school district or find an appropriate out-of-district placement.

What has been your experience with your child’s placement decisions?  Did you feel like you had a voice in the decision making process?  Did you want your child to be more integrated into general education or were you advocating for a more specialized program to meet their educational needs?


Building Rapport With Your Child’s Teacher Can Increase Their Overall Success

Parent teacher relationships are very important for success with your child with special needs .I have been an educator for twenty years.  While I take a break from working in the schools this year, I am able to reflect back on my career and look more closely at the ups and down and the successes and failures.  For me, being an educator has been a blessing.  I have learned so much and grown so much as an individual and as a professional.  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help people and help make the world a better place.  Both of my parents are in “helping professions” so I am sure that is where the roots were planted at a young age.

Since becoming an educator, I have lived and worked in three states across the country-Washington, Colorado and New Jersey. I have held many different positions-special education teacher, school counselor, behavior specialist, school social worker, intervention specialist and substitute teacher.  I have worked with students and teachers who were in general education, special education, gifted and talented programs and English Language Learner (ELL) programs.   I have worked in school districts in suburban neighborhoods, in poor neighborhoods and in wealthy neighborhoods.  I have worked with excellent, supportive and child-focused administrators and not so excellent administrators.  I have worked in schools where the staff was tight knit and functioned as a team and I have worked in schools where there was more of “an everyman for himself” mentality.

In all of these different environments, it was always my students who were my focus.  I never saw being an educator as just a job I went to from 8-4; it was who I was 24/7.  I am a strong believer in the need to learn to adapt to the circumstances.  There were, of course, certain circumstances that were much easier to do this in than others, but I always strove to find the most effective ways to be present with my children, to educate my children and assist my children in moving forward on their own path to becoming citizens of the world we live in.  Whether I worked with a child once or for five years I saw it as my job to give them everything I could-to better equip them the learn and thrive in the world.

One of the ways I was able to be especially effective in this task was through collaborating with parents.  Many educators and parents across the country have different feelings about whose job it is to “educate” children.  I cannot say that any one way is the right way and I can tell you that the students who I have had, that have had the most success are the ones whose parents partnered with me to educate their child.  This has meant different things for different children.  Some required more time and energy than others did.  I have always established a communication system for the parents of my students and me to communicate regularly.  I have always welcomed and encouraged parents into my classroom to observe and give me feedback.  I have always asked parents to share as much as they are comfortable about their child’s struggles and success so that we can work together for more successes.

It is disheartening to me that now more than ever many parents and educators have an “us versus them” attitude.  I believe part of this is based on how litigious (or lawsuit focused) our world has become.  I also believe that both educators and parents have more and more piled onto their plates to accomplish with no more time and no more money and it is easier to be overwhelmed today.  Although I believe it is the educator’s job to reach out to the parent, if that is not happening then I encourage you to reach out to them.  In today’s fast-paced world, it can be a challenge and it does not have to be time consuming.  With the introduction of so much new technology, it is easier than ever to communicate quickly through e-mail and/or text messages.  In my experience, when a child knows that their parents and teachers are on the same page it makes a world of difference both academically and behaviorally.

If you would like to download my Top 20 Tips for Building Rapport with Your Child’s School, click here.

I would also love to hear about your experiences, both positive and negative, about parent teacher relationships..

How Parents Can Address the Most Common Frustrations With the IEP Process

Special Education Procedural Safeguards were placed into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help school districts and parents work together for the common benefit of educating children with special needs. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Recently I asked several parents of children with special needs what the most frustrating thing about IEPs was for them. The most common themes in their answers fell into two main categories:

  • schools don’t include their (the parents) input in creating the IEP
  • schools don’t follow through with the program laid out in the IEP

Both of the frustrations raised by the parents I polled can be addressed through looking more closely at the procedural safeguards laid out in IDEA.

In regards to the first issue of parental input, there are several important points that parents need to understand. First, you are a member of the IEP Team and your opinion and insight should be seriously considered during the development of the IEP. Considered does not mean that they have to implement everything you want or suggest but you should feel like you are being listened to and that your suggestions are being incorporated into the goals and objectives and/or accommodations. Second, when you walk into an IEP meeting the document that the school places in front of you is a “working document”, which means that things can be changed, added or deleted. If the school ever tells you they have designed the IEP without your input, they are not following the process correctly. Third, if you are not in agreement with the IEP at the end of the meeting or you need more time to review the IEP before signing, you do not have to sign that you agree to the program. You may request to take a copy of the working document home to read more thoroughly. Fourth, it is important for parents to understand that their child is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The key word in this acronym is “appropriate”. Appropriate does not mean the best, the most popular or even the most scientifically sound. School districts are not required to provide your child with a certain type of therapy or use a certain curriculum because it is what you or even an expert thinks is what is best.

One of the procedural safeguards afford to you is that you have the right to request an independent educational evaluation of your child if you disagree with the evaluations the school district has conducted. If you feel that the evaluations conducted by the school district were not valid or reliable or missed the mark completely, it is your right to request that another independent evaluation be conducted at the school districts expense. In order for an independent evaluation to be granted, you have to have a good argument for why the one(s) conducted by the school were not adequate.

In regards to the second frustration about school districts not following through on IEPs, this is a significant compliance issue. In the USA, an IEP is a legal document based on federal and state laws. Once an IEP has been developed and signed by the parent, the program is to begin on the date indicated on the IEP. The reason for benchmarks and measurable objectives in the IEP are so that progress can be quantified through whatever form of documentation is indicated on the IEP. If you believe that certain parts of the IEP are not being followed through upon, another procedural safeguard afforded to you is that you have the right to inspect and review any of your child’s educational records. You have the right to ask for a review of any, and all, records; including teacher notes and data, specialists’ documentation of services delivered and data and email communication regarding your child.

If you feel like there has been a violation of any procedural safeguards, it is best practice to start a discussion with your child’s case manager to see if the issues can be resolved. It is in everyone’s best interest to work together as a team, but unfortunately, this does not always occur. If you do not feel the issues are resolved promptly with the case manager, write a letter to the Principal and the Director of Special Education listing your concerns and the steps you have followed in an attempt to get them resolved. You may ask for an IEP meeting to be set up to address the issues with the administrator present for the meeting. If all of this fails, another procedural safeguard granted to you is that you or the school district has a right to file a due process claim and a right to a hearing if there are disagreements regarding the IEP or IEP process. The school district should give you a Procedural Safeguards pamphlet for your state upon signing for an initial evaluation and once a year thereafter. If you do not have one in your possession, you may ask the case manager for one. The pamphlet will contain information about who to contact if you feel the need to file a due process and request mediation and/or a hearing.