Monday, April 2, 2012
Myth vs. Reality
A recent teleconference titled Special Education: 30 Myths in 30 Minutes, facilitated by Thomas Mayes, legal consultant at the Iowa Department of Education, was designed to lay foundational information for serving children with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan. Both an IEP and a 504 plan are written legal documents that serve to “level the playing field” so to speak for children in the public school system so they have the same opportunities to succeed as students without special needs. Rather than go into detail of all 30 myths, I have highlighted a few of the most common.
Myth 1: In an IEP meeting, the goal of the IEP team is to reach consensus regarding decisions made for the special needs child. Reality: The goal of the IEP team is to WRITE an IEP. The IEP must be drafted in accordance with IDEA’s procedural requirements. Decisions are made in accordance with what is best for the educational needs of the child. Decisions that are not in agreement can be challenged through mediation or due process.
Myth 2: Para educators can be used to provide instruction. Reality: Teachers teach. Para educators help teachers or other licensed professionals. Para educators do NOT teach. This includes the use of a Para educator in a collaborative teaching situation.
Myth 3: A free and appropriate public education (FAPE) stops at 3:30 PM. Reality: A free and appropriate public education may include extra and co- curricular activities. The law is clear that the child with special needs must have an equal opportunity for participation in such activities. This includes field trips, end of the year trips, and any sports. The law does not guarantee playing time or a starting position; just an equal opportunity to participate.
Myth 4: Special education is really for ALL children who need a little extra help with their learning. Reality: Special education is for children who need help with learning because they have a disability, not solely for other reasons. If Sarah does not have an identified disability but she wants to take her test in the resource room where it is quiet, this is not acceptable. Sarah can be given other options of testing places.
Myth 5: Response to Intervention (RTI) is special education. Reality: RTI is effective education that is NOT limited to special education and should not be used as a replacement or delay of services or testing.
Myth 6: No student with an IEP can earn any grade higher than a C+ because that would not be fair to the other students. Reality: The law stipulates that accommodations be made for a child with a disability. Such accommodations are likely to help provide support for that student so that he/she can show their knowledge/learning of the subject area content in a different way. A blanket rule on grading kids with IEPs or 504 plans is intentional disability discrimination. If modified grading is suggested, support by the AEA or other advocacy organization should be given to help ensure such discrimination does not occur.
Myth 7: The school can refuse to pay for something that will help level the playing field for my child because it is too expensive. Reality: Regardless of the expense, if the purchase would be necessary to meet the requirements of FAPE, the district must provide the tool. If the item is NOT necessary for FAPE, the district is not bound to purchase the tool. The district can consider cost options and select the less expensive option as long as FAPE is met.
Myth 8: My child has a weighting of Level 3. Therefore, my child must go to Level 3 math, Level 3 Reading, and Level 3 science classes in the Level 3 classroom. Reality: The Level system is strictly a finance mechanism. The levels are determined by a child’s needs, but the levels do NOT determine a child’s programming or placement. Basing a child’s programming or placement on a “Level” or “Weighting” is illegal.
Thomas Mayes cited authorities for each myth he discussed. The various authorities he referenced included the Iowa Administrative Code sections, the US Constitution, and the United States Code. Mr. Mayes is always inviting of questions and can be reached at the Iowa Department of Education at 515-242-5614 or by e-mail at Thomas.Mayes@iowa.gov.