Changes to special education regulations on hold
A prolonged effort to clarify the state's special education regulations has hit a stumbling block. Many members of the state Board of Education don't understand some of the proposed changes or the impact they would have on a student's ability to get needed services.
After a lengthy, question-filled discussion Wednesday, the board voted to hold off approval until March, after a separate, independent study is done to determine the cost of a suggestion that the "burden of proof" in special education due process hearings be shifted to parents if they initiate the hearing.
The proposal to shift the burden is not part of the changes proposed by state Department of Education officials, but represents a large percentage of the 85 letters and communications the state school board has received on the issue.
School boards favor the change because of the high cost of providing special education, especially at a time when budgets and services are being cut around the state.
Parent advocates say the shift would result in fewer students getting necessary services because parents often do not have the same access to evidence and legal help that school districts have.
Beyond that issue, several board members are concerned that proposed changes would delay students with learning disabilities from getting the help they need.
One proposed regulation would require schools provide students interventions scientifically proven to work before diagnosing a student with learning disabilities.
"Do we know all districts have those interventions in place," asked board member Pat Luke.
Luke said nothing should be as confounding as the regulations seem to be.
"I've read this over and over. ... I can't understand what you are talking about. This is a problem," Luke said.
The changes were aimed at making over-identification less likely, said Board Chairman Allan Taylor. Department staff couldn't say if the changes could make it harder for students with legitimate learning disabilities from getting necessary services in a timely fashion.
Board members want more data on the number of requests made for services as well as the number of out-of-district placements made for special education students.
"I'd like to get to the bottom of this thing," said Terry Jones, a state board member from Shelton.
This is the first major overhaul of the state's special education regulations in 30 years. The review has been under way since January 2010. Most of the other changes are technical, bringing the state's special education policies up to date with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and state law.