…and aide, and speech therapist, and behavior tech and counselor and school nurse…?
Jean Murrell Adams, Esq.
We’ve all read about the current teacher shortage—especially among special education instructors. But our clients also report absentee aides, speech and occupational therapists, mental health counselors, school nurses and even bus drivers and “lunch ladies”. Schools cannot comply with IEP requirements or guarantee student safety without sufficient staff. Many children are losing ground academically, behaviorally, and socially. What can parents do to ensure their children are getting the education and services that they need and are entitled to by law?
What are parents reporting? Parents (and even some teachers) tell us that they are very concerned about the lack of trained school staff. They report overcrowded classrooms causing increased stress on teachers, more rampant and severe bullying, missed school due to lack of transportation, safety concerns—particularly for students who are nonverbal or medically fragile, improper educational placements and increasingly severe academic, behavioral, and mental health challenges—including anxiety, depression and mood disorders.
Although their IEPs require a 1:1 aide, some students are forced to share aides with the whole class or to forego help altogether. Staff report that County Office of Education Programs serving students with severe needs are being shuttered. Some schools demand that parents accept Zoom services such as speech and occupational therapy even if the child’s needs (and the IEP) require in-person services. Other schools have replaced trained, experienced special education teachers with non-credentialed, unqualified staff. (At least one school district dispatches untrained classroom aides instead of credentialed teachers for home instruction). Throughout the pandemic, parents have generally been patient and understanding. However, well into another school year, that patience is running out.
What can parents do?
- Don’t wait—Demand!If you suspect that your child is not receiving services or supports as required by their IEP, demand to review a copy of all service provider records regarding your child. Put your demand in writing, and send it to your child’s case carrier (usually their special education/resource teacher) or the school district’s special education administrator with proof of receipt and a copy for your records. Remember, you have the right to inspect and review all education records with respect to your child’s identification, evaluation and educational placement and the provision of FAPE to your child. Send a 2nd demand letter if you don’t receive a response within 5 school days. Don’t forget to include the date on both letters.
- Trust but verify. While you’re awaiting the school’s response to your demand letter, check the credentials of all teachers and service providers to ensure they are qualified to work with your child. Start by googling “teacher credential look-up” for your State to verify licensure and credentialing. Repeat this for all service providers. Generally, 1:1 aides and paraeducators are unlicensed and therefore may not show up on these websites.
- Site-Check.You will likely need to get finger-printed but it may be worth it to qualify as a “room” parent. This will allow you to enter the classroom on a regular basis and observe your child. If you’re unable to perform the duties of a room parent or class trip volunteer, make friends with other parents in your child’s classroom who can provide “boots on the ground” information. Request frequent updates regarding your child’s progress and prepare for and attend all parent/teacher conferences.
- Take Control.To the extent finances permit, fund tutoring, speech, counseling, private school and other services until your child’s school complies with their special education obligations. Keep track of all expenses, including tuition, mileage, room and board and any books or equipment. Obtain independent evaluations either self-funded or at school district expense. You should notify your child’s charter school or school district if you plan to self-fund any educational or related services.
- Focus on facts—not fear.Many parents share their “fears” that their children are not getting the placement, instruction and services that they need. Parents (for good reason) are concerned about safety in the classroom and on the bus. But as attorneys, we understand that judges will base their decisions on provable facts—not fears. Parents can gather facts by reviewing service records, checking teacher credentials, site-checking and through independent evaluations. With this data in hand, parents can file a special education compliance complaint with their State Department of Education. If the violations are severe, parents should seek legal advice from an experienced special education law firm, such as ADAMS ESQ.
As we recover from COVID-19 crisis and school closures, ADAMS ESQ’s social justice circle is continuing to fund academic screenings at no charge to qualifying children with special education needs in California and Nevada. For more information on this program, contact us today at: firstname.lastname@example.org or reach us toll-free at: 1-800-785-6713. You also may want to read and repost our past blogs: “Hey! Where’s my ESY?”, “Forget About the Toilet Paper—Grab that IEP!”, “IEP Alerts for Parents” , “Special Education Teaching is Really Hard!”, “The ‘FREE’ in FAPE”, Doubling-Down on Special Education and Look Before You Leap! 5 Things to Know Before Leaving Your Child at School During a Pandemic.