Charter Schools and Children with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a “Dear Colleague” Letter to clarify that all students who qualify, or would qualify, in their neighborhood school District for either an IEP under the I.D.E.A., or a Section 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act – have the exact same rights for services if they attend a Public Charter School.

Therefore, if your child is enrolled in a Public Charter School, she has the same rights to special education services and/or accommodations in the charter school as she would have if she was enrolled in the general public school in her District.  Such rights run the gamut of varying special needs and disabilities, including but not limited to learning deficits, reading difficulties, autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, behavioral disabilities, and psychological disabilities.

Although these laws have always applied to Public Charter Schools, some charter school Administrations do not understand their obligations under these laws, and have misinformed parents of their children’s corresponding rights.

You can use the Department’s clarifying letter to help you obtain services if you run into an Administrator who is telling you that the obligations of the Charter school are in any way less or different from any other public school.   That letter can be found here: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201612-504-charter-school.pdf

Two other documents from the Department of Education that may also be helpful are:  (1) an FAQ on Section 504 and Public Charter Schools issued by the US Office of Civil Rights, which can be found here —  www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-faq-201612-504-charterschool.pdf; and (2) an FAQ by the same Office concerning the I.D.E.A. and Public charter schools, which can be found here —  www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/faq-idea-charter-school.pdf

If your child qualifies for services under either statute, or if you even suspect that she might qualify for such services – the fact that she attends a Public Charter School should not deter you from obtaining the services that she needs.  These laws provide powerful tools and, if necessary, an attorney with knowledge of these laws and how they apply can bring these schools to meet their obligations for your child.

 

 

Teenager with Disabilities Injured and Arrested by TSA Workers in Airport

Another sad reminder in the news, that caregivers of people with disabilities cannot presume that authority personnel will listen to or understand the caregiver’s guidance on how best to deal with a person’s disabilities.

This sad story (linked below) involved a teenager who is described as having paralysis, being partially deaf and blind, and subject to cognitive confusion.  When she didn’t understand that TSA wanted to scan her again, they grabbed her, she resisted — and they smashed her face as they threw her to the ground, and then arrested her for non-compliance.   All the while her horrified Mother was trying to explain to the authorities that her daughter didn’t understand what was being asked of her.  Instead of hearing the Mom, the police held her back during the incident.

We routinely see stories like this in the news, I wrote about one some time back involving the death of a young man with Downs Syndrome in front of his care worker at the hands of two movie security guards — all because he wanted to see a movie again and didn’t understand why they were insisting he leave.  Things escalated quickly despite the caregiver trying to tell the guards how to calm everything down.

Caregivers for people who may not understand or quickly comply when given orders need a very clear action plan in place for potential conflicts with authority figures.  We should assume that they will not be as open to our guidance as we might imagine, and we need to be well rehearsed in case of a confrontation.   I am not in anyway blaming this Mother, but perhaps had she alerted some of the TSA workers to her daughter’s issues before they got into the security line, the workers would have been more open to hearing the Mom when they encountered some non-compliance from the daughter.

It is a good idea to have a well-thought out plan, perhaps even something in writing, to give guidance when necessary.  Events like these are a caregiver’s worst nightmare.

https://pjmedia.com/parenting/2016/07/01/shocking-disabled-teen-returning-from-st-judes-hospital-bloodied-and-arrested-by-tsa/

 

 

 

 

 

What Level of Educational Benefit Must Schools Provide to Children with Special Needs?

An important case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court that could cause significant harm to children across the nation who need special education services, or it could raise the bar for children with disabilities in areas that currently provide a lesser level of services than others.

Currently, in many areas of the country — including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware — schools must provide an education that rises to a level of “meaningful benefit.”  Meaningful benefit is defined as not maximizing a student’s potential, but nevertheless providing significant learning in light of a child’s aptitude.  Thus, in areas such as ours, it is not sufficient that a child makes some progress under his program. Instead, the progress must be “meaningful” and involve significant learning.

In other areas of the country, however, the legal standard is far lower.  Schools in those areas must merely provide “some educational benefit” to children with disabilities.

The distinction exists due to different Courts interpreting the top Supreme Court cases on this issue in differing ways.  Courts applying a very literal interpretation have come up with the “some benefit” standard; Courts applying a more in depth analysis have established the “meaningful benefit” standard.

The distinction is significant.   Under the “some benefit” standard, children could be denied services in their most significant areas of need, based on the argument that they made “some progress” in some lesser area of need.  Imagine a child in high school who can barely read due to Dyslexia, and who struggles in math but is only one grade level behind — being denied effective reading supports because he has made “some” progress in math.

It certainly seems counter-intuitive that the IDEA would countenance as sufficient the provision of educational services that are NOT “meaningful” to a child.  But this is a prevailing interpretation of prior IDEA case law in several jurisdictions around the country.

Presently before the Supreme Court is a case that will require the Court to select one or the other approach, or to fashion a new approach of its own.   You can find access to the court papers in that case here:

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

I certainly support that an increased level of services must be required in the “some benefit” jurisdictions, and hope that the Supreme Court will act responsibly now that it has the opportunity to provide a single standard for all of our children with special needs across the nation.

Understand, however, that there is an equal risk that the Supreme Court rules the other way, and severely cuts the level of educational benefits children in our jurisdiction are currently entitled to.   If that should occur, our only recourse will be to convince the federal legislature to take action and make clear in the statute itself that it is intended to require that children with special needs receive an education that is at least “meaningful” to the child.