February 3, 2010
REQUIRED SERVICES FOR SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director
You asked (1) what services towns and school districts must provide to school-aged children with autism, (2) whether there is legislation mandating the services, and (3) who regulates the services provided and makes sure they are up-to-date.
Children with autism are eligible for special education and related services. Special education is mandated by both state and federal law. The laws do not require local school districts to provide particular services for children with autism. Rather, they require them to identify children with disabilities that affect their educational performance and provide them with a “free and appropriate public education” tailored to their individual needs. The laws and their regulations also impose procedural requirements for implementing this mandate.
The specific services a child receives depends on his or her disability and individualized educational program (IEP). The IEP is established by the child's planning and placement team (PPT), a group consisting of the child's parents, teachers, and educational specialists. The PPT monitors the child's educational progress and evaluates the services he or she is receiving at least annually.
The special education laws are enforced by the State Department of Education and the U.S. Education Department. Both agencies monitor the services local school districts provide to children and both agencies, along with the courts, adjudicate disputes between parents and school districts over services offered to particular children.
STATE AND FEDERAL SPECIAL EDUCATION LAWS
Both Connecticut and federal laws require school districts to identify children requiring special education, prescribe suitable educational programs for eligible children, and provide special education for any eligible child (20 USC 1400 et seq; CGS §§ 10-76a-10-76i). Since each eligible child must receive an individualized educational program appropriate for his needs, the services school districts must provide vary from student to student.
Children are eligible for special education if they have one or more of the following conditions, listed in federal regulations and incorporated by reference into state law, that affect their educational performance:
1. mental retardation,
2. hearing impairment (including deafness),
3. speech or language impairment,
4. visual impairment (including blindness),
5. serious emotional disturbance,
6. orthopedic impairment,
8. traumatic brain injury,
9. other health impairment,
10. specific learning disability,
11. deaf-blindness, or
12. multiple disabilities (34 CFR 300.8 (a)).
Federal law also allows states to include children aged three through nine who are experiencing a “developmental delay.” Connecticut law makes such children eligible for special education.
Both laws define “special education” as specially designed instruction, developed in accordance with federal and state regulations, to meet the needs of each eligible child, including related services recommended by the child's PPT. Services must be provided for children who require them from the time they turn age three until they either graduate from high school or turn 21 years of age.
School districts must also comply with special education hearing procedures, if a parent or other person responsible for a special education child requests a hearing to review the child's diagnosis, special programs, exemption from school privileges, or any other matter concerning his right to a special education.
THE SPECIAL EDUCATION PROCESS
Children with eligible disabilities have a right to special education and related services if (1) the disability adversely affects educational performance, and (2) the student needs a specially designed instructional program to address his unique educational needs. The first step in determining whether this is the case is for a parent, school personnel, or other appropriate person (such as a physician or social worker) to refer the child for special education. A referral is a written request that the school district where the child attends school evaluates whether he or she is eligible for and needs special education.
When it receives the referral, the district must convene a PPT to review the referral and determine whether the child requires special education or needs to be evaluated further. Parents must be notified of PPT meetings and have a right to participate in them. The PPT's evaluation of the child must be comprehensive enough to determine all his or her special education and related service needs. The school system must pay for any evaluation requested by the PPT.
A parent who disagrees with the results of the PPT's evaluation can ask for an independent educational evaluation (IEE) of his or her child by someone who does not work for the school district. The school system must either pay for the IEE or prove, on appeal, to a state special education due process hearing officer that its own evaluation is
appropriate. A school district may not refuse to evaluate a child or pay for an IEE because of insufficient funds. A school district must give a list of qualified independent evaluators to parents who request an IEE for their child.
If the state hearing officer finds the district's evaluation is appropriate, parents may still obtain an IEE for their child at their own expense and submit the findings and recommendations to the PPT. Regardless of who pays for an IEE, the PPT is required only to consider the IEE's results; it need not implement them. A parent who objects to the PPT's decisions may appeal through the state special education hearing process and, if still dissatisfied, to the courts.