Friday, February 8, 2008

Arc of Indiana public testimony-Article 7

I’m Jennifer Akers with the Arc of Indiana. I have a nine year old daughter, Grace, who receives special education supports and services. I’d like to speak with you about the proposed changes to Article 7 regarding parental consent. The Arc supports the Family Voices position paper on this, and all other issues.

Families want to partner with schools to ensure their children have an appropriate education; however, when they attend a case conference, it’s not unlike the scenario here. The parents sit alone, and the school professionals greatly outnumber them. A single parent can find herself across the table from a school principal, a variety of therapists, a school psychologist and several teachers. The law intends for the parents’ voice to be equal, but it often doesn’t feel that way to them.

The proposed language in Article 7 will put families at an even greater disadvantage.
Currently, the case conference committee meets, and the group outlines the supports and services that will meet the child’s unique needs and ensure the student’s educational progress. Once implemented, the parent must consent to any changes to the program. The school can not arbitrarily change the agreed-upon plan.

However, the current proposed language changes that. In the new model, the school no longer needs the parents’ consent on most changes to the student’s plan. The school might only need a parent’s approval if there is a change of the child’s placement, and perhaps not even then. Furthermore, the definition of “placement” would be altered.

The proposed language for change of placement would narrow the definition to only a change along the continuum, or not define it at all.

Families feel the definition of change of placement should remain as it presently reads in Article 7. Currently, any change in the location, length, frequency or duration of a student’s services as agreed upon by the child’s family and school officials in a student's individual education plan would require parental consultation. This should not change; parents should not be taken out of this decision-making process.

Of further concern is the fundamental change facing families who do not
agree with a school’s decision to change their child’s educational plan. The
requirements that families must request meetings, initiate mediation
and request due process creates a tremendous burden for families and
thus an "unlevel" playing field wherein schools and their vast legal
resources hold a tremendous advantage over individual families.

Families would like to seek resolutions to disagreements, but if a compromise can not be met, one-sided changes to the IEP should not be made by school officials alone. If there is an impasse, the existing plan should remain in place, and it should be the burden of the school to initiate mediation or due process.

If the language for consent and change of placement are approved as proposed by the State Advisory Council, then the provision of prior written notice becomes a critical issue. Currently, notations in the IEP can serve as prior written notice of a school’s intentions. Families feel that Prior Written Notice should be a separate document and include a list of all suggestions put on the table for consideration, whether each idea was accepted or rejected, and the rationale for the decision. This requirement encourages effective communication and offers a way to document the settlement of each item.

The federal Office of Special Education Programs has a model document and recommendations for this provision. Families would like to see Indiana utilize this document as part of Article 7. It will help families better advocate for their children and their education.

Families would like to see Article 7 strengthen efforts for parental involvement, not undermine them. When schools and parents work together as equal partners to improve the educational outcomes for children with disabilities, everyone benefits.

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