Congress to Study Military Families and IDEA services
- This study has implications for any populations of kids who move frequently (e.g., foster children, homeless children):Congress Requires Study of Military Students with Disabilities;
Will Study Impact of Frequent Mobility on Special Education & Obstacles to FAPE
Military parents, like parents of children in foster care or who are homeless, are highly mobile, forced to move often after short periods. As they move, they may find the special education services their child receives cut or receive an IEP very different from what their child had or needs. An evaluation begun in one state may be started all over again in another when parents move, which re-sets the timeline for conducting it. While we all know these issues raise serious problems, there can be a lack of evidence to document the issues.
The new FY 2011 Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress in December 2010 will require a new study to assess these issues. (See H.R 6523, Defense Authorization Act FY 2011, section 586 (link is at end of article)). The Department of Defense (DOD) must study the “obstacles faced by military families with children with special education needs in obtaining a free appropriate public education to address such needs.” The study must shall include assessing evidence-based research and best practices for providing special education and related services; assessing timelines for obtaining special education and related services; and assessing the feasibility of establishing a DOD system to document complaints of military families when services fall short and fail the child.
This study is important because it will be the first light since reauthorization that Congress will shine on difficulties with the IDEA and special education that parents face. A number of its findings will likely be applicable to all children, particularly those who must change school districts.
DoD Study To Document Impact of Frequent Moves and Compliance with IDEA Provisions
The bill requires an analysis of the impact of frequent moves on accessing special education.
In 2004, IDEA was amended to set new rules for children whose families move. The amendments adopted were weaker than those initially proposed. Under those amendments, a child new to a school district must receive FAPE and “comparable services” until an evaluation performed and new IEP created. 20 U.S.C. 1414 (d)(2)(C)(ii). Many districts interpret this broadly and some provide inferior services. Previously, the old IEP was honored if a child moved within the same state, but the IDEA 2004 rules were made applicable to all children who move, in-state and out-of-state.
IDEA 2004 does not adequately address children who move after an evaluation has begun. The new district is supposed to coordinate with the old one, but the timelines for performing the evaluation starts over. 20 U.S.C. 1414(b)(3). (The original Senate language would not have let the new district start the clock over, but this changed in the final bill.) .
The new DoD study will examine ways to improve oversight of and compliance with IDEA’s provisions regarding moves, and in particular, the need to implement the existing IEP until the new district finalizes a new IEP. These findings will likely be applicable to all children. As of now, we have no major study of compliance with the “moving” provisions of IDEA.
The study will also assess having DoD contact a State prior to a move to ensure the district is prepared to provide the services specified in an IEP. Obviously, such a program could be extrapolated to other students who move, with other agencies providing the same service.
One Military Family’s Experience with a Move; Services Slashed in Half
Last year, I attended a Congressional briefing where three military fathers spoke about their experiences. Jeremy Hilton is a former Navy submariner who gave up his career to care for his daughter, Kate. She has hydrocephalus and associated disability issues. Jeremy's wife, Renee, is in the Air Force. They have moved seven times since their daughter was born.
When the Hiltons moved from Texas to Alabama for 10 months, Kate came with a preschool IEP and services. But the Alabama school district cut the services in half, daring the Hiltons to take them to due process. Few families in such a short-term program can afford to do so. For Kate to get any services at all, her parents had to accept the deficient IEP.
Few parents can afford to go to due process in such a situation. While school districts have law firms on retainer and budgets for expert witnesses, parents of children with disabilities, including those in the military, lack the funds to pay for these vital services.
One rarely discussed feature of military life is that enlisted personal may be low income. In 2009, members of the military redeemed food stamps at nearly twice the civilian rate. Because low income parents face even greater barriers in advocating for their children, it is important for DoD to look at this issue.
Will the DoD Study Document the Failure of School Districts to Comply with IDEA? Will its Findings Be Limited to the Military or Applicable to All Children with Disabilities?
This study is important because it will be the first light since reauthorization that Congress will shine on difficulties with the IDEA and special education that parents face. Many of the findings will be applicable to all children.
For years, parents in the military and in civilian life have expressed great concern about the failure of many school districts to comply with the IDEA and provide a good education to their children with disabilities require. The DoD Study is likely to find that military families struggle to navigate the special education maze and often have difficulty exercising their rights. Many of these findings can be generalized to all children.
All children who move frequently face similar barriers to obtaining a quality education and realizing their rights. A study that documents how this creates harm for parents in the military will also document how it creates harm for foster children, homeless children, and others who move. Likewise, as the study documents difficulties military children with disabilities have in obtaining a good education, those findings, too, can be extrapolated to all children with disabilities.
I also hope the study highlights school districts that do a great job providing services for families who move and providing needed assistance. These experiences can serve as a model for others.
What You Can Do and How To Obtain Further Information.
Pay attention to information as it is made public about the proposed DoD study. Share it with military families and encourage them to participate in the study. Share your experiences if you advocate for military families.
- More information about issues faced by military families is in my article “Overcoming Barriers Faced by Military Children with Special Needs” published by Wrightslaw, http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/mil.children.barriers.htm , and Blue Star Families, http://bit.ly/bluestardisab
- To read a detailed report about the issues parents face, see Jeremy Hilton, The Military Child and Special Education, Exceptional Parent Magazine, September 2009, reprinted at http://bit.ly/hiltonEPTo read the FY 2011 Defense Authorization Act, go to: http://bit.ly/GPOHR6523 This link should open on p.93, Section 586, but if not, scroll down. You can also read the bill on the Library of Congress website http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.111hr6523
jessicabutler@... (that’s y, not g)
Jessica Butler is the Congressional Affairs Coordinator of the Autism National Committee, www.autcom.org. She served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates in 2007-08 and co-coordinated COPAA’s Congressional Affairs Program from 2004 through 2009. This article represents only the author's views.
Copyright Jessica Butler, January 6, 2011. Permission to share, forward, and reprint this article is granted as long as credit is given to the author and the article is reprinted in full. (If you wish to edit it, please contact Jessica first.)Sandy, Illinois (alpy2@...)
Our Children Left Behind (http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com)