Special education and civil rights in Colorado
Often, parents come talk to us about their special education matter and end up deciding that it costs too much to hire an attorney. Often, we talk to parents in situations where a child's education has been wrecked for years, often beyond repair. We wish we could have helped them sooner. This raises questions. When do you need an attorney or parent advocate? When would an attorney add value to your child's life that outweighs the cost?
Every parent dreams of what his or her child will grow up to be. Will my child become an NFL player, a concert pianist, or perhaps win the Nobel Prize? No parent ever wishes that his or her child would be born with a disability, even though the parent knows that dreams may not become reality.
You leave the doctor’s office more confused than when you walked in! You have more questions to ask, but your head is swimming. There is no way the doctor could be right—or could she? Being told that your child has a disability or developmental delay is hard news for any parent to take and involves a grieving process as well as tough decisions to make. Each child and his or her condition is unique; different disabilities take a different path. So what do you do now? How can you best help your child, whom you now know has special needs?
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required by federal statute for students with special needs in order to understand what accommodation, modifications, special education support and educational goals a specific child needs. The IEP process can be tedious, yet if you are equipped with the proper tools, is a maze that can be navigated. PEAK Parent Center is the Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) for the State of Colorado. It reports that the number one most-sought-after help is on the IEP for a child with disabilities.
Our understanding of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) comes partly from statute and partly from case law. It brings parents both hope for what schools can provide for a child, and disappointment at the relatively low bar for education.
Bullying is inevitable. Whether it occurs in toddlerhood when children are learning to use “safe hands,” or when older adolescents engage in cyber-bullying, most children will hit an adversarial situation at some point in their young lives. Parents struggle to ensure that children are equipped with the proper tools to navigate a hostile world. But what if you are the mother or father of a special needs child? The atmosphere quickly changes and is even more frightening.
Interactions between parents of children with disabilities and school districts can go wrong in so many ways: refusal to evaluate a child; inadequate IEP; not carrying out the IEP; harassing or bullying the child; refusing access to extracurricular activities; and many more. This frustrates parents and students. When this happens, what can you do?
How do you support your child with disabilities? In what ways is the school district required to help? Navigating the maze of IDEA and Section 504 can be intimidating. Some of the work you can do on your own (see the blog series “Access to Justice for My Child with Disabilities”) but there are also ways an attorney can help.
Even when schools put in place an IEP or Section 504 plan for your student, they may not address extracurricular access. This can make it hard for your student to participate in extracurricular events. After a government report found that students with disabilities do not have equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, the Office for Civil Rights issued Section 504 guidance.
How much effort do schools have to make to get a parent to an IEP meeting? The Ninth Circuit answered this question in June of 2013 in a Hawaii case, Doug C. v. State of Hawaii Dep’t of Education.
Getting a good evaluation for a child with disabilities can be a challenge. Mark C. Weber’s article, “All Areas of Suspected Disability,” published in 2013, provides valuable insight into the current state of the law on evaluating children with disabilities. If you have a child where an inadequate evaluation is an issue, this is worth reading. Courts have stepped into the area of tension between the requirements of IDEA and the low-level “reasonable benefit” standard we got from the Supreme Court, and usually held in favor of parents when children have not been evaluated properly.
One challenge in figuring out what religious speech is permitted for students is that it depends on whether the school is trying to prevent the speech or allow it. A January 2013 Second Circuit case, A.M. v. Taconic Hills Central School District, gives some insight, though it is a summary order that is not precedential.
Sometimes when school boards worry about endorsing religion, they go too far the other way. This seems to have happened when fourth-grade J.G. was not allowed to hand out his Easter Egg Hunt invitations. A Florida federal court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of his student speech in Gilio v. School Board of Hillsborough County on October 5, 2012. It reasoned that J.G. was likely to win his arguments that the school had violated his constitutional rights.
On August 29, 2012, the Eighth Circuit decided in favor of Child Evangelism Fellowship in Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Minneapolis Special Sch. Dist. No. 1. It reversed the denial of CEF’s preliminary injunction where it had tried to stop a school district in Minnesota from limiting school facility access for a Good News Club.
Parents (and even educators) are often confused about the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP, and when each is appropriate. To choose between them, first the school and parents must find out whether the student has a disability as defined by statute. Then, they must decide what the school’s educational obligations are under each statute. The school must meet its obligations to provide a student with a disability the appropriate educational support. Finally, parents should know that their rights are different under each statute.
Moss v. Spartanburg County School District Seven, a June 2012 Fourth Circuit case, expands possibilities for religious education for public school students. The main educational paradigms in the United States are public school, private school, and home school. Conventional wisdom holds that religious education takes place more effectively in the second two. But released-time is a viable option for religious education within the public school paradigm.
In released-time, a public school student is released from campus for a class period to take religious instruction off-campus. While such programs must meet certain requirements, when they do so, they are consistently held constitutional. Typically, the students do not get credit for classes, and at least one case, Lanner v. Wimmer, was critical of the credit option.
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