The Intervention Process
Most students experiencing difficulties in school will be engaged in the process of problem solving or Response to Intervention. RtI is the practice of matching student needs to high-quality instruction and interventions and then monitoring the student’s progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals. Data about the child’s response are used to make important education decisions.
Depending on the intensity and duration of instruction or specialized curriculum and services identified through the RtI process, a student may be referred to an Exceptional Student Education program. Formal and informal evaluation information, medical evaluations, and vision and hearing screening are reviewed by a team consisting of school professionals, therapists, parents, and the student. The team first determines eligibility and then develops an individual education plan, known as an IEP, which includes the student’s present level of performance, learning goals, related services, and supports the student will need to comprehend the curriculum.
If you believe your child may have a learning disability, you probably have already consulted the teacher and tried many suggestions. However, if your child hasn’t made the progress you expected and you still believe there is a learning disability, get professional help. Talking with your pediatrician may be your first step.
Individual Education Plan
An IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability. Once a child is determined to be eligible for a special education program, they can receive specially designed instruction that meets their unique needs.
A team of qualified professionals, along with the parent or guardian, determines the services and specialized instruction necessary to meet the student’s needs. The team then creates a document outlining how instruction is to be delivered and the duration of the services. After the parent or guardian gives consent for their child to receive help, these services begin immediately. Progress is monitored and is reviewed at least once a year, or more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher requests a meeting. Many parents employ a professional advocate to help determine needs and present their child’s IEP to the county’s approval committee.
Section 504 Plan
Section 504 is part of a federal civil rights law known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law specifically prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities and guarantees them a Free and Appropriate Public Education. Schools cannot exclude students with disabilities from facilities, programs, benefits, activities, or services that are provided to students without disabilities. Students with disabilities receiving ESE services, as defined by IDEA, are protected under Section 504, but not all Section 504 students are eligible for ESE.
A Section 504 plan describes the accommodations the school will provide to support the student’s education. The team that determined the student’s eligibility for Section 504 and identified the needed accommodations will write the accommodation plan. While Section 504 does not require a written plan, it does require documentation of evaluations and accommodations. Parents, teachers, and other staff members meet to discuss all relevant information about the student. If the team determines that the student does have a disability, they will then identify what types of support or accommodations are appropriate to meet the student’s needs. The accommodations are then described in a document referred to as the 504 plan. The plan provides clarity and direction to the individuals delivering services or making accommodations. Section 504 accommodation plans may be updated at any time to reflect changes and recommendations by the team. A yearly review is recommended.
Scholarship Funding: McKay and Gardiner Scholarship Programs
There are currently two state-funded scholarship programs in Florida which provide funding for students with disabilities. While the McKay Scholarship has served our Florida communities as a means to assist students with disabilities and their families, the Gardiner Scholarship was created to provide more options and flexibility.
The McKay Scholarship Program offers parents of students with disabilities the ability to choose the very best environment for their child to learn in. This scholarship gives eligible students the option to attend a participating private school, or to transfer to another public school.
A private school is regarded as an independently run school by a private organization or individuals. The instruction provided, enrollment selection and services are determined by the group running the school. Private schools are not supported financially by the state; because of this, they can aim for a particular student population, such as religious students, or students with a certain type of disability. Private elementary and secondary schools in Florida are not licensed, approved, accredited or regulated by the Florida Department of Education.
To be eligible for the McKay Scholarship, the student must have spent the past year in a public school, or has to have received specialized instructional services (SIS) under the voluntary pre-kindergarten education program, and must have an IEP (individual educational plan) or a 504 accommodation plan.
The Gardiner Scholarship Program (formerly referred to as PLSA) provides eligible students a scholarship that aids them in purchasing approved services or products that help design a customized education program. For example, the scholarship can be used towards speech or occupational therapy, instructional materials, tuition at eligible private schools, contributions to college pre-paid accounts, and much more. Unlike with the McKay Scholarship, parents may also use Gardiner funds while in a home education program. The program is directly administered by state-approved non-profit scholarship funding organizations (SFO’s). Currently there are two SFO’s participating:
A.A.A. Scholarship Foundation
Step Up for Students
The average amount of scholarship money offered depends on a number of different factors regarding the student. The grade level, county of residence and the student’s individual level of need are just some of the determining factors. The average amount offered is $10,000, but the percentage of the scholarship that is offered to the student depends on the date their eligibility is confirmed by the scholarship funding organization. The percentage of scholarship funding a student may receive in a given school year is based on the following dates of eligibility:
September 1: 100%
November 1: 75%
February 1: 50%
April 1: 25%
To be eligible for the Gardiner Scholarship, the student must meet the following eligibility criteria:
Is a resident of this state;
Is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state or will be 3 or 4 years old before September 1;
Has a disability as defined here: Autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, an intellectual disability, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, Williams syndrome or a high-risk child as defined in s. 393.063(20)(a), Florida Statutes.
Is the subject of an IEP (individual educational plan) written in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education or has received a diagnosis of a disability as defined above from a physician who is licensed under chapter 458 or chapter 459 or a psychologist who is licensed in this state.
For more information about the McKay Scholarship Program, the Gardiner Scholarship Program, or other programs, visit our website at www.fldoe.org/schools/school-choice/k-12-scholarship-programs.
The mission of Florida School Choice is to provide resources, information and aide to students, families, institutions and communities by supporting public and private educational choice programs to ensure a successful education. For more information please visit www.floridaschoolchoice.org.
Roadmap for Parents
Although it can be a thorough and exhaustive process, “identification” or “eligibility” is only the beginning of a student’s journey in the exceptional student education program. The type and intensity of services, known as the service delivery model, and the implementation of appropriate strategies and accommodations are the most important factors relating to overall student success. It is critical that parents and guardians remain directly involved in the educational process every step of the way.
Least Restrictive Environment
The IDEA’s mandate that students with disabilities should be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with peers without disabilities is referred to as Least Restrictive Environment. The LRE mandate ensures that schools educate students with disabilities in integrated settings, alongside students with and without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate. The terms least restrictive environment, inclusion, and mainstreaming are often used interchangeably. They are not, however, synonymous concepts.
Generally, mainstreaming refers to the selective placement of special education students in one or more regular education classes. Proponents of mainstreaming generally assume that a student must earn his or her opportunity to be placed in regular classes by demonstrating an ability to keep up with the work assigned by the regular classroom teacher. This concept is closely linked to traditional forms of special education service delivery.
Inclusion expresses a commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing support services to the child, rather than moving the child to the services, and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class, rather than having to keep up with the other students. Proponents of inclusion generally favor newer forms of education service delivery.
Full inclusion means that all students, regardless of handicapping condition or severity, will be in a regular classroom or program full time. All services must be taken to the child in that setting.
Free and Appropriate Public Education
One of the most misunderstood concepts involved with IDEA is Free and Appropriate Public Education. It often causes the greatest conflict between parents and schools. FAPE is a required component of IDEA and mandates that school districts provide access to general education and specialized educational services. It also requires that children with disabilities receive support free of charge as is provided to non-disabled students. It also provides access to general education services for children with disabilities by encouraging that support and related services are provided to children in their general education settings as much as possible.
If Parents Disagree with Eligibility Findings
When a parent disagrees with the testing results or the eligibility decision, there are actions that can be taken. The first step is to voice one’s concerns at the eligibility meeting. If a positive outcome is not reached, the director of special education at the child’s school should be contacted and a request for an Independent Educational Evaluation should be made. An IEE is an evaluation by a private professional at the cost of the school system. It is essentially a second opinion by a neutral person not affiliated with the school system. After the evaluation is completed, the school will use the new data to determine whether the student meets criteria for special education services. The eligibility guidelines will not change, but the testing methods will be different. It may be helpful for parents to contact an advocate to make sure they understand their rights. After the IEE, if the parent does not agree that the school is following federal guidelines in determining eligibility, the parent can file a complaint with the state. Usually, if an evaluation reaches the point of filing a complaint with the state, attempts are made to solve the conflict through mediation.
What is a Special Education Advocate?
An advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support of, on behalf of, or in defense of, another person or cause. A Special Education Advocate does all of this for parents with children with exceptional needs. An SEA has knowledge and expertise concerning special education and its applicable federal and state laws and works within the bounds of these laws. The SEA informs parents of their educational rights and helps families negotiate and resolve disputes with the school district. This helps secure the best possible educational program and appropriate educational services for children with special needs. Local SEAs can be found using the Internet or phone book.
An SEA is not an attorney and cannot practice law or provide legal advice. If a case goes to mediation or due process, it is recommended that the services of a non-lawyer qualified representative or an attorney be used.
ABLE Act: Tax Free Savings for Disabled Children
A new law enacted in 2016, the Achieving Better Life Experience Act, or ABLE Act, allows parents of disabled children set aside funds in a tax-free savings account for their children’s education, housing and transportation. Florida Senate President, Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando – whose son Andrew has down syndrome led the charge to open the door for parents of disabled children to enjoy the same financial benefits as other parents. Gardiner fast tracked several initiatives during his two yeas leading the Senate aimed at helping disabled individuals and their parents. Besides the ABLE Act, he increased funds for scholarships for disabled students, secured funding for a learning center at UCF and set up resources of information for new parents of disabled students.