Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Knowing FAPE

School districts are responsible for providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to all qualified persons within the jurisdiction of the district.  Having a child with special needs means you need to be as familiar with FAPE as any school district administrator to ensure services to your child.  One way a person can qualify for services under FAPE is via a 504 Regulation:  any person with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.  Life activities includes caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.  Examples of impairments include any student with ADD/ADHD, asthma, allergies, chronic illnesses, obesity, vision or hearing loss, dyslexia, kidney disease, traumatic brain injury, HIV, cancer, or any number of other possibilities.  The key is that the impairment, even if it is temporary (a surgery that keeps someone out of school for a several weeks), impacts a life activity.  In this regard, the district is responsible for collaborating with the parent to develop and implement a 504 plan to serve that child.  The 504 plan is a legal document so it protects the child if the district does not meet the child's needs.

School districts are focused on serving students.  Sometimes even they need help in doing so.  However, before a district can serve a student with an impairment, they must know what the student's needs are, and sometimes needs are not immediately or obviously observed.  Help the district serve your child by identifying any special need as soon as possible.  Once the need is identified, services can begin to support your child.

Another way to qualify for services under FAPE is for a learning disability.  Your local public school district must provide a free evaluation of your child if there is reason to suspect a learning disability. In many cases the evaluation will be initiated at the request of a teacher or school administrator familiar with your child.  The law requires the school to complete an evaluation of your child within a reasonable time after you make the request. Unfortunately, federal law does not specify exactly how much time that is; the time frame may be set by regulations in your state. If not, it is generally assumed that sixty days would be considered reasonable.  If the evaluation shows that your child has a disability, the law requires that the school provide whatever special education services are needed because of the learning disability. You are legally entitled to inspect and review all educational records that the school relies on in making its determination, so you will be able to see the specific results of whatever diagnostic testing is completed by the school. Typically, students are identified for special needs services at a young age (lower elementary school), but it is not out of the question for identification to be made in middle school.  The key is to hold discussions with those who serve your child about concerns they note (even in daycare or preschool).

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