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Students with disabilities must know rights in face of School District budget cutbacks

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The start of this school year is markedly different from past years. Dramatic state cuts to education funding have Philadelphia and other school districts facing unprecedented budget shortfalls.

It's not clear how cutbacks will impact students with disabilities. The Education Law Center will be working with parents and school officials to monitor this.

One point remains clear: Though school budgets have changed, a student's rights have not. Here's a reminder of what parents and students with disabilities are guaranteed by law:

  • Waiting lists are illegal. Children with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) cannot be delayed in getting special education services that are part of their IEPs. A child's special education program must start within 10 school days of when the parent approves the IEP. Children with IEPs have the right to receive all the services listed on their IEPs even if staff have been laid off or transferred.

  • There should be no gaps in the delivery of services. If a child's IEP says she will get 45 minutes of speech therapy per week, then that is the weekly mandate. Her speech therapist could quit or be laid off, but her school must find a new therapist immediately. If a child is not getting the services on the IEP, the parent should first talk to the principal to work things out. If unsuccessful, a complaint can be filed with the state's Bureau of Special Education. Complaint forms are available by calling 1-800-879-2301 or visiting http://bit.ly/spec-ed-complaint.

  • The school must complete a child's special education evaluation within 60 calendar days (minus the summer months) of when the parent gives their written permission for the evaluation to begin by signing a "Permission to Evaluate – Consent Form" (or PTE). Parents should receive the form within 10 days of when they request an evaluation. If the parent doesn't receive it, or an evaluation (or re-evaluation) is not done within 60 calendar days of when the parent gives their consent, a complaint can be filed with the state's Bureau of Special Education.

  • Parents must receive written notice before their child's special education program or placement is changed. The parent must approve or reject the change on a "Notice of Recommended Educational Placement/Prior Written Notice" (NOREP/PWN). Children in inclusion classrooms should not be moved to a special education classroom just because the school no longer offers supports available in the regular classroom. Children in special education classrooms should not be moved to regular classrooms because the school closes its special education classroom.

  • School staff cannot tell parents of children with IEPs that a child cannot receive a service because there is no funding or staff to provide the service. Parents should also not be told that the school will have to take away services from another child in order to give them to their child.

Here are some organizations that can help parents with special education issues:

  • The Arc of Philadelphia – Special Education Advocacy Team: 215-229-4550

  • Bureau of Special Education ConsultLine: 1-800-879-2301

  • Disability Rights Network of PA (DRN): 1-800-692-7443; or 1-877-375-7139 (TDD)

  • Hispanos Unidos para Niños Excepcionales (HUNE): 215-425-6203

  • Parents Involved Network of Philadelphia (PIN): 267-507-3860

  • Parent Education Network (PEN): 1-800-522-5827

  • Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP): 215-627-7100

  • Vision for EQuality: 215-923-3349

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