September 24, 2013

Webinar for Parents: Know Your Rights

know-your-rights-webinar-header
How can you work with your school to get help for your struggling child?

IEP, 504, SLD, SST, Push In, Pull Out — what does it all mean?

In this information-packed free webinar, Kelli Sandman-Hurley and Tracy Block-Zaretsky, principals of The Dyslexia Training Institute, shared a detailed tutorial on how to navigate through the school system when your student has dyslexia.

Kelli and Tracy explained the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA) and elaborated on IEPs, 504’s, appropriate accommodations, letter writing, receiving appropriate services and interventions, dispute process and resolution — as they all relate to a student with dyslexia.

Download the handouts:


(The webcam video windows featuring our presenters are not recorded by the Webinar system — just the audio and slide presentation are shown here.)

The enthusiastic response from our audience included many questions that Kelli and Tracy did not have time to address during the live session, but they have since taken the time to review all those that remained.

Read below for their answers:

It is no secret that advocating for a dyslexic child is difficult and complicated, and as expected, there was an onslaught of unanswered questions after the Know Your Rights webinar on that subject. Before I attempt to answer the most popular questions, it is important to remember that these are generalized answers. Each case is different and in order to effectively advocate, we need to be responsive to the individual needs of not only the child, but the family. We need to take into account the personalities of the IEP team and be aware of any prior experiences with the school. We need to understand what the parents want from the school – which varies widely from family to family. So having laid those ground rules, please take the following answers as guidelines and not static advice. 

What can I do if the school says my child is not 2 years behind grade level, and therefore doesn’t qualify for assistance?

This is the old standby that is used in countless IEPs across this beautiful country. There is no place in IDEA that states a student has to be two years behind. So, when you receive this response, simply take a deep breathe, smirk, and ask, “That is fascinating. Can you please show me where it states that in IDEA or our state’s educational code?” You will not receive anything, because it does not exist. Hold them accountable for backing up their claim.

The school is also not held solely to determining eligibility via the discrepancy definition. In fact, the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 allows schools to determine eligibility by, “…permitting the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining eligibility.”

The school can also use the two-pronged approach to determine eligibility. First, the student needs to have a disability– in the case of dyslexia, that is a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Secondly, that disability has to affect their academic performance. This may be where they get the idea for a two-year gap, but there is not a quantitative measure attached to the “affecting their performance” terminology.

Students with dyslexia can make this a bit more complicated by performing at an average to above average level in school. So, it may look to the IEP team like they are not failing due to their disability. When this happens you need to begin documenting the time it takes to complete homework, how much time was used to study for a test, determine if the assignments they perform well on are timed or not. You can bring that information to the IEP and submit it for consideration. A student who is simply doing well could thrive with accommodations.

So, in short, ask for the evidence to back up their statement. They are wrong.

How do we gain legislation in our state to recognize dyslexia as a disability?

There is a grassroots movement that is making progress on the legislative front to get dyslexia laws passed and/or considered at a pace I have never seen before. If you are interested in getting involved, you will want to contact the Decoding Dyslexia (decodingdyslexia.net) or Literate Nation (literatenation.org) group in your state. If your state does not have one of these branches, then you should volunteer to start one. They will mentor you through the process. All you need is the internet and a whole lot of heart, and I know you have heart!

Do laws differ in how private versus public schools need to accommodate learning disabilities?

The word accommodate in this question can be confusing so let’s start with what the word accommodate means in the education world. An accommodation is something that is put in place to even the playing field and allow the student to access the curriculum. For example, a student with dyslexia would benefit greatly by having the books on audio to learn the grade level material. This is not a modification, because they are learning the same material in a different way. If they were learning a different curriculum, it would be a modification.

Now I will answer the question of private versus public schools. All students who have a suspected area of disability are entitled to an assessment to determine eligibility for special education. It does not matter if they are in a public, private or charter school. If a child is in a private school and you suspect dyslexia or a reading problem, you need to contact your local public school district, also known as your home school district, and request an evaluation in writing. If your student qualifies for services, your home school offers those to you, but it will be at the home school district. They are not required to provide those services at the private school. However, if the student qualifies for services and you opt for a 504, if the private school takes one penny of federal money for anything, they are required to honor the 504. Other than that, you are on your own at private schools. Now that I have broken the bad news to you, I will say that I have found that private schools are more willing than public schools to try to meet the students’ needs.

My son’s school will not include accommodations in his 504 plan for his AP classes. What can I do to get him the support he needs?

This is a failure to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) and a violation of  504. If a student in AP needed glasses, they would not withhold glasses– it is the same concept. As long as the AP curriculum is not being modified and he or she is learning the same amount of material as his or her peers they have the right to use accommodations that they use in other courses. It is illegal to deny accommodations to a student with a documented disability and they cannot do it.

I requested Orton-Gillingham for my child, but our school does not have anyone trained for it. There is another school in our district that has a trial program featuring O-G instruction, but my child was not selected for it. Is there anything I can do to get my child in the program?

This is one of those situations where the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on whether or not the school agreed that Orton-Gillingham is what your child needs to succeed academically, or if you just requested it. So, if the school agreed that O-G was the most appropriate intervention for your child, then they are responsible for making it happen during school hours and in the least restrictive environment. Now if you just requested O-G as the “best” intervention for your child, then no, there isn’t really anything you can do except ask nicely. But again, it is hard to answer without all those persnickety details.

However, the school is still obligated to provide instruction via an evidence-based program. You can request the name of the program they intend to use so that you can investigate its appropriateness. If they tell you they don’t name curricula, you can respond that they need to so that you, the parent, are involved in the process.

Lastly, sometimes it helps to drop the term O-G and just use the words to describe O-G. For example, instead of requesting O-G by name, request a program that is explicit, multisensory, and systematic –  you can get that into an IEP and then they are held to that standard. They will be hard-pressed to find a program other than O-G to fit the bill.

What types of documentation regarding my child’s education can I request from my school? For example, can I request a time log of services provided?

You can request your child’s educational record, as well as any and all learning and time logs. You should also receive these documents within a week and at no expense to you. IDEA states that you should receive it in no more than 45 days. However, this is one of those cases where you need to check your local laws. In California, the schools are required to provide the educational record within 5 business days. Here is a link to a template letter to request those records: http://www.californiaspecialedlaw.com/wiki/letters/letter-requesting-educational-file

In determining whether a child needs accommodations, who decides if/what they need? We had a private assessment and got an accommodation list, but the school is re-assessing and doesn’t think help is warranted due to passing grades. 

Remember this mantra: needs drive goals and goals drive services. The decision about eligibility and services needs to be a team decision. The accommodations need to be related to the areas that the student is struggling with and it is usually easy to identify those through testing. The most effective thing you can do in this situation is invite the private assessor to the meeting to discuss the results. The next thing you need to do is hire an advocate. It is a sad statement to make, but sometimes just having an advocate sitting at the table will change everything.

Additionally, a student cannot be denied accommodations, services, or qualification for Special Ed services (IEP or 504) because they have passing grades.

How long should we give an approach like The Wilson Reading Program before determining whether it’s helping or not?

Again, this depends. It depends on the training of the teacher and if the program is being implemented with fidelity. It depends on how often they are meeting. It depends on where the student falls on the dyslexia spectrum (from mild to profound). Let’s say the child is moderate, in the fourth grade, the teacher is properly trained and they are meeting at least twice per week for an hour– you can expect to see measurable progress within 6 months. Of course you will see progress before then, but when it comes to standardized tests you will need to wait a bit longer.

What constitutes a trained or qualified advocate?

As of right now there are no regulations regarding advocates, but there are some great advocate training programs out there:

Dyslexia Training Institute – online

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates – online

COMPASS – University of San Diego – on campus

Your advocate needs to be extremely well-versed in dyslexia: the appropriate interventions and accommodations, the processes to get the right programs, what a good  IEP looks like for a child with dyslexia (how to write appropriate goals), etc. So make sure you interview your advocate. There are great advocates out there, but if they don’t know about dyslexia their involvement could be detrimental.

Some attorneys are also advocates and it probably goes without saying they need to have a law degree and pass the bar. However, you would do yourself a favor if you hired an attorney who had worked on dyslexia cases previously.

Do schools have an obligation to provide and pay for an advocate?

Nope. No way, no how. They do have to pay attorneys’ fees if your case gets to that point.

Some school districts do have “parent advocates,” but you need to know that they are paid by the school, so most likely they are biased, either consciously or not.  Remember that they also need to know dyslexia and most of these advocates provided by the school do not.

Can I request that a special education teacher instruct my child instead of an aid?

You can request anything you would like. However, IDEA requires that a special education teacher be “highly qualified” and all that means is that they have the right degree. This is a very unfortunate piece of writing in IDEA. However, the person teaching your child should be “highly qualified” and not an aid. There are some things you can do to strengthen your request– you can request to observe whomever the school is proposing to work with your child. Here is a link to an article about how to do that: http://www.specialeducationadvisor.com/dyslexia-the-art-of-the-observation/.

My child’s school uses achievement evaluations that they have written themselves. Can I insist on using some sort of standardized achievement test for students with learning disabilities instead? 

If they are using informal evaluations on a day-to-day basis, like a rubric, then that is acceptable. If they are using these evaluations to measure progress, then no, they cannot use those and yes, you can insist they do use standardized tests.

How do you predict the new Common Core curriculum will affect those with dyslexia? I’ve heard testing will be more language/writing based. 

This is the question of the hour that no one knows the answer to yet. Only time will tell.

How often and in what time frame are 504 meetings required to be held?

There are no time lines or regulations regarding 504 meetings, other than they should be held in a reasonable amount of time. So, start documenting everything so that if you need to make a case for the withholding of FAPE due to a delay in the process, you have the proof that is was not a reasonable amount of time.

Again, dyslexia cases are all unique and they require an individualized response. My best advice is not to give up, trust your instinct, learn to negotiate, be prepared and educate everyone about dyslexia along the way.

 

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– Jenny Falke


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