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Does FAPE clarity make special needs advocacy easier?

2017 proved to be a banner year for the education prospects of children with learning issues. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously establishing a new definition of what "appropriate" means in the context of the free and appropriate education that federal law requires for each child in the country.

In many school districts, what was appropriate for many children with learning or other disabilities was providing the bare minimum. The high court said that effectively meant a child could receive no education at all and said that to be meaningful, education plans must encourage students to progress.

This should come as good news for any parent who suspects their child has not received the education he or she is entitled to. However, it would be a mistake to think that the ruling alone means school districts and schools will deliver without prodding.

Every year requires a new round of advocacy

Ensuring that a child with mental or physical impairments gets necessary help has always required a great deal of advocacy on the part of parents. Obtaining accommodations that acknowledge a disabled child's needs can be difficult, as can making sure that the school does an adequate job of evalutation to set a proper individualized education program. Very often, school systems have simply taken a child's initial goals and objectives and plugged them in to each subsequent year's IEP.

That won't do under the new regime, but to foster accountability, many experts offer some recommendations:

  • Know the baseline: You can't get somewhere if you don't know where you are. Confidence that you have a comprehensive assessment of your child's current state of ability is crucial to setting appropriate new goals each year.
  • Pay attention to developmental cues: If handwriting or speech is not developing as expected, occupational or speech therapy services might be appropriate. Behavioral concerns might warrant special services, as well.
  • Review your student's work: Keep an eye on progress reports, test scores and homework through the school year to track signs of progress.

The Supreme Court ruling puts school districts on notice about what the law expects. But parents remain key to ensuring their children get the education they deserve. And in the face of questions or frustrations, parents have the right to seek counsel from skilled special education law attorneys.

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