The new school year is just underway, and with it come many concerns and questions for parents of students with disabilities.
With the closure of 24 District schools, some students with disabilities are now attending new schools, so the District’s Office of Specialized Services has moved programs and adjusted services.
This shift can be overwhelming for some parents, so here are some tips for helping to make a smooth transition back to school.
Find the school location. You should have received notification about your child’s new school. If you are uncertain, contact the Office of Specialized Services (OSS) at 215-400-4170. Do not assume that transportation letters indicating school locations are correct. Parents should confirm the school location as well as transportation. Remember, your child has a right to start school on time, and with an individualized education plan (IEP). If you find that your child is not receiving services because he or she is in the wrong school, please contact OSS or an advocate listed below.
Determine whether transportation is needed. If you have a child with a disability, your IEP team should discuss whether specialized transportation is needed. This could be a regular education bus, special education bus, SEPTA pass, or cab. Some children may need aides for transportation purposes. Also, the District can be required, in some instances, to provide parents a transportation contract whereby the parents transport the child to school and are reimbursed for mileage.
Secure your child’s IEP and latest evaluation. Records from closed buildings should have been forwarded by the District to your child’s new school. If they were not, be sure to have a copy of your child’s most recent IEP and evaluation in hand as you start to work with school staff. If you have difficulty obtaining your child’s IEP, contact your school’s Special Education Liaison or OSS. The District maintains digital files of IEPs so that any special education teacher or principal can access the documents.
Locate ESY information. If your child participated in any Extended School Year (ESY) programs, you should have received an ESY report. If you did not receive it, contact OSS to make sure that the document gets to your child’s new school.
Request an IEP meeting. If any of these matters are not resolved, request an IEP meeting to troubleshoot remaining issues. One issue might be a loss of services. If your child is in school but there is no aide, speech therapist, or other necessary service, request an IEP meeting immediately and contact one of the advocates listed below.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is hosting several special education seminars to assist parents. The first, entitled “Tips for Going Back to School,” is Sept. 25, from 12 to 4 p.m. at the United Way Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It will include an update on special education law, focus on changes in special education programming, and provide assistance for parents and advocates as they navigate services this year. For a list of upcoming seminars go here.
If you need an advocate, here is a list:
The Arc of Philadelphia, 215-229-4550, www.arcphiladelphia.org
Parent Power Disability Rights Network, Cecelia Thompson, 1-800-692-7443, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parents Involved Network/Mental Health Association of SEPA, email@example.com
HUNE, 215-425-6203, www.huneinc.org
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, 215-627-7100, www.PILCOP.org
Vision for Equality, 215-923-3344, www.visionforequality.org
Sonja D. Kerr, Esq., is director of the Disabilities Project for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.