Approximately 6,500 of the 46,000 students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools have a disability. There are Federal Laws that protect these 6,500 bright and unique children. Federal law requires the Seattle Public School district to provide services to these children in a “least restrictive environment.” What does “least restrictive environment mean? Simply, these children should be mainstreamed, or included in general-education classes and curriculum as often as possible. Your special needs child must have an organized plan outlined in what is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP defines the individualized objectives of a child who has been found with a disability, as defined by federal regulations. In all cases, the IEP must be tailored to the individual student’s needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (e.g. speech therapists) understand the student’s disability and how the disability affects the learning process.

The IEP describes how the student learns, how the student best demonstrates that learning and what teachers and service providers will do to help the student learn more effectively. Developing an IEP requires assessing students in all areas related to the known disabilities, simultaneously considering ability to access the general curriculum, considering how the disability affects the student’s learning, forming goals and objectives that correspond to the needs of the student, and choosing a placement in the least restrictive environment possible for the student.

A recent audit estimated that more than 30 percent of Seattle students with disabilities are in a more restricted environment than the law requires. The district’s model is also expensive and disrupts families, they wrote, because special education students are often in schools outside their neighborhood because of their disabilities.

Communication between the parents, teachers, paraprofessionals and principals is imperative. For starters, everyone must be on the same page with respect to the child’s IEP. For example, let’s say your fourth grader is autistic. Do you know your child’s teacher? Does she have a behavioral aide? What is her teacher’s name? Is she mainstreamed? Or is there a pull-out to a special education class for math, science, art, or all of the above? As a parent, you should know the answers to those questions. You should know the following facts:

– the amount of homework your child receives each week,

-whether the behavioral aide is present with her for the appropriate amount of time each week,

-the time of day each week your child receives speech therapy, sensory integration therapy, visual therapy, etc.

-the date and time of each IEP meeting.

– (If English is your second language)-is an interpreter present at each IEP meeting?

Each and every child has the right to a free and appropriate education. When that right is violated, you will need an attorney to take action .

Below are some examples of matters that may require an attorney’s assistance:

-Helping your child get the education and accommodations they need in their classroom

-working with parents and helping them understand the IEP process

-attending an IEP meeting

-attend a Mediation between your child and your school

-conduct training to educate parents about your rights under state and federal law

If you have a child with special needs, it is imperative that you are involved in each stage of the IEP process. For example, if your child is diagnosed with Autism, you must know everything you can about your child’s teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, ABA Therapy, and behavioral aide and their interaction/intervention with your child. You must also know which classroom your child attends. Is he/she mainstreamed? Is he/she pulled out for math? Does he/she have a behavioral aide? Does your child have an IEP? Are there measurable goals within the IEP? When is the triennial meeting?

If you believe your child has been deprived from a free and appropriate education, or if you have questions about your child’s IEP, please do not hesitate to seek assistance from an attorney or other appropriate advocate. After all, your child deserves every educational opportunity Washington’s public school systems provide.

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