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Calls to Action

Local Schools Told to Step Up Services for Military Kids

August 28, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC (August 28, 2013) -- In response to longstanding concerns raised by military families subject to frequent relocation, local school districts have been directed to provide special education and related services for transferring military students that are "comparable" with what they received at their previous school. An estimated 23,500 children in military families have autism.

The directive was issued as guidance by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSEP) for local school districts around the nation to understand their obligations under the federal IDEA Act and their responsibilities to satisfy the IEPs of "highly mobile students," such as those in military families, migrant families or foster care, or the homeless.

Military and other highly mobile students frequently face challenges with school districts and often have very little recourse due to ongoing relocation. Due process proceedings are time intensive and the family may be required to move again before any conflict can be resolved.

The OSEP guidance, issued in a letter to state special education directors, addressed three issues specific to special needs students who move frequently during their childhoods. "While these children often possess remarkable resilience, they also experience formidable challenges as they cope with frequent educational transitions," the OSEP letter said.

  1. When special edcuation students transfer into a new school district, they must receive services that are comparable to what their last school provided. If the transfer occurs within the same state, the district must continue providing comparable services until it adopts the child's existing IEP or adopts a new IEP. If the transfer occurs between states, the new district must meet the new requirement until it evaluates the student and implements a new IEP. The letter clarifies the definition of “comparable services” to mean “services that are similar or equivalent to those services that were described in the child’s IEP from the previous school district.”             
     
  2. OSEP said the "comparable" services requirements includes Extended School Year (ESY) services typically provided during summer months. OSEP said it was aware of districts denying ESY services under the erroneous understanding that its obligations were limited to the normal school year.
     
  3. School districts should quickly complete eligibility determinations for incoming special needs students, preferably within 30 days. Because IDEA allows up to 60 days for the evaluations, a special needs student could be 50 days into the process when transferred to a new district where the entire process would have to start over from the beginning. OSEP said the old and new districts should coordinate the completion of the evaluation. In addition, new districts should not halt evaluations on the basis that they first need to implement a Response to Intervention process.

For a full analysis of the OSEP letter prepared by Jessica Butler, Congressional affairs coordinator for the Autism National Committee, click here.