If your child has a learning or developmental disability such as autism, Southern California
SBCA can assist you pursuing the services your child needs, facing school districts and
Regional Centers. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding
advocates for special education.
Why use an advocate for special education?
The world of special education is quite technical and complicated and as this involves your
child, you want to get things right the first time. The nature of special education puts
parents in a position of facing school districts and regional centers, who often try to fund
as little as possible due to budget restraints.
Even though your child is entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education and you want your child to thrive, school districts and regional centers do not have enough money to give the needed services to everyone. For this reason parents face entities that have an inherent conflict of interest, having to assess your child and then recommend services while trying to save money. We will guide you through these interactions so that assessments of needs will be appropriate and lead to the right services. We know your rights and are experts at attending these meetings for a living, while you go to a few a year!
When do I use an attorney versus an advocate?
Advocates for special education cost less than attorneys and educate parents as the family goes through the process of intake, meetings etc. Attorneys represent parents at due process hearing with school districts, advocates usually do not. (Advocates can represent parents at Fair Hearings with Regional Centers.)
When you start your representation with SBCA, one of two things will happen:
1. With our help your child obtains the appropriate program, or
2. We turn over the case to an attorney after the IEP process has been completed. Your case is now prepared correctly to be further pursued with legal representation, in other words there will be no common parental pitfalls in your case history, enhancing your chances for a successful outcome.
When is a child eligible for special education?
A child needs to have been found to have a disability AND the disability needs to interfere with the child's education/learning.
When is a child eligible for Regional Center services?
A child needs to have been found to have a developmental delay substantially interfering with his/her functioning.
Who can/should refer a child for special education/regional center services?
Anyone can: you, the teacher, a caseworker, etc. School Districts and Regional Centers actually have an obligation to identify all children with a suspected disability. But, why wait? Put a request in writing for an assessment for all suspected areas of disability.
Does the school district have to assess once a referral is made?
Yes, you should receive an assessment plan within 15 days of receipt of your request for an assessment, outlining the evaluation plan and asking for your consent (signature) allowing the assessment. In addition to your signature, you can write on the assessment plan that you would like to receive the written results of the assessment at least one week prior to the IEP meeting and will be audio-taping the IEP meeting.
What is an IEP meeting?
An IEP meeting is a meeting during which an IEP document, an Individualized Education Program, is generated. This meeting takes place at least once a year (if you request an additional IEP in writing, then another one should be held within 30 days) and/or as a consequence of a requested assessment 60 days after the assessment plan was signed by the parent. This IEP document, outlining where the child has needs and how these needs will be addressed, is a legally binding commitment for placement and services for the special needs child. There is an order to these meetings:
1. Determination of the child's needs through discussion of the assessment results or progress on the prior educational goals.
2. Is the child eligible? (If no, the meeting ends here.)
3. What goals need to be put into place to address the child's needs?
4. What placement and services will address the child's needs?
What is an IFSP (sometimes called IPP) meeting?
Even though the timelines are different, an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) meeting should be seen as an IEP meeting in the sense that it is an overview of needs and goals and consequent needed services, but this (the IFSP) is the term for the meeting that is held with your Regional Center. This too is annual unless requested more often, and is a legally binding commitment for placement and services.
Who is responsible for funding what services?
In California, before a child turns three, Regional Centers are responsible to meet all needs of developmentally delayed children.
After age three and once a child is found eligible, the School District is responsible for funding services that address academic needs, and the Regional Centers are responsible for funding services that address self-help, behavioral and community integration needs. (Of course there is a lot of gray area here and don't be surprised if the one agency refers to the other and back.).
Children with learning disabilities are usually eligible for School District services only.
What should I do to prepare for and IEP/IFSP meeting?
Give written (at least 24-hour) notice that you will be tape recording the meeting and make a list of needs that your child has in all areas of functioning, so these needs will be addressed through annual goals that can be drafted by the team during the meeting. Be informed about existing proven interventions that would be right for your child, as many times school districts and regional centers do not volunteer that information. We at SBCA will be leading you every step of the way: in preparation, during and after these meetings.
What is the advocate's role at the IEP or IFSP (IPP) meeting?
We do many different things during the IEP meeting, but one of the most important things is to ensure that the child's needs are reflected accurately in the IEP document, that appropriate, specific, measurable goals will be written to address these needs (quite technical) which then will force the District or Regional Center to address reaching these goals through substantial services. In other words: if there is a need identified, there is a goal. If there is a goal, an intervention is required. We know how to push for certain goals that lead to certain services. We also ensure that if a District/Regional Center does not co-operate, the lack of cooperation is documented accurately, so services can be pursued beyond the IEP/IFSP process.
Do School Districts/|Regional Centers take offense to parents having advocates represent them?
Most School Districts and Regional Centers in the South Bay are used to advocates for special education being present at meetings. If they are not, it is part of our job to make the different parties feel at ease and to be seen as someone to cooperate with. It is in your child's best interest that all parties stay courteous to the maximum extent possible. Your relationship with the school district is a bit like "a marriage without the possibility of divorce"—we are going to have to make it work.
What is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)?
This refers to the educational placement that your child is entitled to and that approximates the closest to typical functioning as possible considering the child's needs. For example: a preschool-aged child with autism will most likely fair better in a preschool with typically developing children as role models with an ABA-trained shadow aide accompanying him/her during the school day, then in a Special Education setting. The General Education classroom would be the least restrictive environment (closest to the how typically developing children are educated). A Special Day Class, with only special needs children is more restrictive, less typical. Many times School Districts push for special day classes versus general education settings with a one-on-one aide, as this is much more economical for the District. This is when we would use the term LRE to advocate for the general education, the least restrictive setting.
Please note that there is no right or wrong here, it is fine if you decide the general education classroom is not for your child, but let that be because that is your opinion and gut instinct as a parent, not because it is cheaper for the District or Regional Center!
What is FAPE?
FAPE stands for Free and Appropriate Public Education, to which every child in the United States is entitled. The discussion and difference in opinions usually pertains to what is appropriate. Parents should use the word "appropriate" over the word "best" as far as what they are pursuing for their child goes.
How can I prove that a certain service or placement is appropriate?
The law says that interventions have to be research-based but by far the most effective proof for an appropriate service of program will be by getting a written opinion from an expert in the field, who has no interest in the outcome of the recommendation. Think about it, School Districts and Regional Centers have an inherent conflict of interest: they will evaluate your child and then recommend what services are appropriate?! That is like asking a medical insurance company for the prescribed treatment option!
There are many knowledgeable experts out there who will generate an unbiased opinion, that we can refer you to. Many times parents privately fund such expert assessments. Depending on where you are in your journey with the School District or Regional Center, you might be able to get the expert evaluation funded for or reimbursed by the District or Regional Center.
How can I obtain my child's records?
Make a request in writing for any and all records pertaining to your child's education and the records by law will have to be produced within five days. You might want to specify a date from which on you need the file, as many times you will be charged copying charges by page.
If you could give parents only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Prepare for hearing, so you don't have to go to hearing. In other words, create a paper trail of the evidence that you would submit for a hearing, document everything and make sure you have proof of receipt!
In my experience this has been the best way to obtain the services your child needs as quickly as possible.
If you have any additional questions about how an advocate for special education can help you and your family, please contact SBCA today.