Every American child is guaranteed a “free, appropriate, public education”. Unfortunately, parents of children with special educational needs are often unsure if their child is receiving an appropriate education.
AEP provides expertise to help ensure that students with special needs receive the quality education that they’re guaranteed by federal and Massachusetts law. We work to do this as rapidly, as effectively, and as non-confrontationally as possible.
AEP’s services typically revolve around the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the “master document” that specifies how a school district will address a special ed student’s unique educational needs.
Among other things, the IEP specifies:
- The services that the district will provide
- The student’s placement (the school they will attend)
- The goals that the student will meet which will demonstrate that the services and placement are effective.
The IEP is reviewed regularly and updated as needed by a student’s IEP Team to ensure that it meets the student’s needs.
AEP mission is to support parents in ensuring that the IEP process works properly: that goals, services and placement are all meet their child’s needs. Some parents ask AEP take a lead role in working with their district, while others ask AEP to provide support as they engage their district.
Areas of Expertise
There are several areas where AEP can provide expertise, as needed:
Planning begins with setting appropriate goals. While setting low goals will ensure that goals are met, they also mean that a child may not be educated to meet his or her potential. Setting the highest goals that are reasonably attainable is not just a nice thing to do for your child – it’s exactly what the law encourages. Towards the beginning of IDEA 2004, the major federal law that special education must comply with, Congress stated:
“Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children”
AEP can work with parents, and with other professionals who provide services (physicians, therapists, etc) to understand the highest goals that are appropriate for a student. When more information is needed, AEP can suggest other professionals who can help to complete the picture.
The second part of planning is in developing recommendations. AEP can coordinate with parents and other professionals to develop fact-based recommendations for the student’s school district to consider in the IEP.
Working with school districts
It can sometimes seem that school districts are stubborn or unfair – and sometimes they are – but much more commonly, they want to do the right thing but simply don’t have the right information to make the best decisions:
- School staff have a snapshot of how a student functions during the school day, but often don’t have the benefit of the insight from outside sources such as physicians, therapists, testing professionals, outside educational experts, and so forth.
- In these days of constant stress on educational budgets, staff are often overworked and simply don’t have the time to thoroughly review the information that they do have.
We prefer a fact-based collaborative approach with school districts, rather than a confrontational relationship. We rely on working with districts to ensure that they have the right information to make the right decisions per Massachusetts and federal regulations. If we feel that a district is not meeting its obligations, mechanisms are available through the Commonwealth to resolve differences – AEP can utilize these mechanisms directly, or work with attorneys depending on the complexity of the case.
Working with the district can take various forms:
- Coordinating with the district in performing an evaluation to determine whether a child is eligible for special services. In cases where the district has determined that a child is not eligible but that decision is not reasonable, AEP can work to try to reverse the decision.
- Attending IEP meetings, to either represent or support parents as needed.
- Preparing for IEP meetings – making sure that the student’s best interests will be represented during the meeting.
- Writing letters and engaging in other communications with the district to move things along, or to introduce new information, or to raise issues as they come up.
Placement in a new program (school)
In some cases, a student’s local public school cannot adequately meet his or her needs and the school district will support either placement in another school in the district that is appropriate, or fund placement in a school outside the district (typically a private school). AEP can help in several ways:
- When appropriate, developing a case that demonstrates that a change in placement is necessary.
- Coordination of the evaluation of schools to determine which placements will likely meet a student’s needs.
Dealing with a child in crisis and school staff at the same time can be very challenging. AEP can provide help as needed so that good decisions can be made and rapidly acted on by school staff, school district, and other parties.