Even when a special education program has been well planned and implemented, there are times when things just do not work. For example, the child may not be making progress in academic areas, may continue to have serious behavior problems in school or may not have progressed in a life skills program. Here are some steps parents can take to help improve the situation:
Talk with the child’s teacher or other school staff, either by phone or, if possible, in person. Find out if the teacher sees the same problems and if the teacher can think of any changes in the classroom that might help. Ask to see any assessments that have been done and copies of the child’s work and test results. Are all services on the child’s IEP being provided? Is the class overcrowded? Are there certain subjects or times of day that seem particularly hard for the child in class? Are the teaching strategies working for the child? Is more help needed? Are there ways the family can help by working with the child at home?
Write to the teacher and request an IEP Team Meeting to discuss whether changes in the child’s IEP would help.Keep a copy of the letter. At the IEP Team Meeting, the family can raise many of the same issues that it discussed with the teacher and other staff. The family can also explore whether the goals and short-term objectives in the IEP need to be amended; whether the child is making the progress that was expected; whether additional or more frequent related services are needed; and any other areas of concern about the child’s program and placement.
If the situation does not improve, the family should write to the special education supervisor and request a “Pre-Hearing Conference.” Keep a copy of the letter. The school district must schedule the Pre-Hearing Conference within 10 calendar days of its receipt of the written request. A sample letter for requesting a Pre-Hearing Conference is included in this booklet. The PHC is an optional step, but it provides a chance to meet with school officials to try to improve the situation for the child.
Parents should take a friend, neighbor or advocate with them to the PHC, if possible. At the Conference, the parents should:
- Discuss their concerns for the child and their view of the situation;
- Review the child’s current IEP and ask about his or her progress in reaching IEP goals and objectives;
- Find out if others agree with the family’s concerns and if they know how to correct the problems;
- If no one seems to have the answers, perhaps the child needs to be re-evaluated. An instructional evaluation may identify better strategies to help teach the child, or a behavior assessment might show what changes are needed to the behavior program. Remember, all needed evaluations must be done without cost to the family.
- If evaluations will be needed, work out a prompt schedule with school officials, and a date to meet again to review the evaluation results and make necessary changes to the program;
- Try to reach agreement on any changes that can be made to the child’s program and IEP on a short- or long-term basis while re-evaluations are being done or a hearing is being held.
If parents cannot reach agreement with school officials, or have already had several IEP meetings, they can request mediation or an impartial hearing. Mediation can be very helpful for families. It offers a quick and informal method for resolving disputes, and the state Mediation System reports an 85% success rate. If the parents and the school district agree to mediate, a trained and impartial person is assigned by the state to meet with each side separately, and then both sides together, to help find a resolution. Neither the district nor the parents can bring an attorney to the mediation session; this helps to keep the mediation process informal. If the district agrees with the parent, the agreement is list on the child’s IEP and is binding on the district. For more information, contact the Office for Dispute Resolution at 1-800-992-4334.
If parents believe that their child is not getting the services already listed on the IEP, the school district is not complying with timelines or procedures, or the district is otherwise violating the child’s legal rights, they should file a complaint with the State’s Division of Compliance, Monitoring and Planning (DOC).
The family can send DOC a letter explaining their concerns and attach copies of any relevant documents, such as the child’s IEP. The state has 60 calendar days to investigate and issue a written report that states whether the law has been violated, and what is needed to correct the problem. DOC is supposed to follow-up to assure that all “corrective action” has been completed. The letter should be sent to:
Division of Compliance, Monitoring and Planning
PA Department of Education
Bureau of Special Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Parents can also call the state’s Special Education Consultline at 1-800-879-2301 if they have questions concerning their child’s special education program or the laws that relate to getting the services in their child’s IEP. The Consultline also assists parents with the complaint process, and may refer the parents to outside agencies and support services.
Information provided by: Special Education in a Nutshell, 2002Edition, The Education Law Center-PA