Introducing Thompson & Horton’s FAPE Focus

Introducing Thompson & Horton’s FAPE Focus, a series of short posts on our SpEd Law Spotlight blog to provide timely updates, practical tips, and useful reminders. First up: TEA has released the form required by HB 3928 that districts must provide to parents when there is reason to suspect a student may have dyslexia and need specialized instruction. The TEA FAQ clarifies that TEA expects districts to provide the form to parents when the district proposes to conduct an IDEA evaluation for dyslexia, refuses to conduct such an evaluation, and when the district proposes or refuses to conduct an IDEA evaluation for any other suspected disability. Districts should incorporate provision of the form into their practices starting immediately.

Despite Teacher Shortage, OSEP Says IDEA Compliance Requires Certified Teachers, No Waivers

The recent teacher shortage has caused districts to get creative regarding schedules, student grouping, and staff assignments. But just how creative can you be when it comes to the employees in your special education classrooms? The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued guidance on this topic on October 4, 2022, indicating that proper credentials will be an area of focus as we continue to navigate the post-COVID era.

Proposed Amendments to the TEA Complaint Process Are a Mixed Bag for Districts 

On September 23, 2022, the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”) issued a notice regarding proposed amendments to the sections of the Texas Administrative Code related to special education complaints filed with the TEA. The proposed rules are currently open for public comment and are the subject of a public hearing on October 6, 2022. The only major change impacting special education due process hearings would clarify that summary proceedings in hearing may only be used when both parties in the hearing agree to use the summary process. This is significant because parties are currently able to file motions for summary judgment – which allows a hearing officer to rule on the legal viability of a claim without the need for a complete hearing. This approach can be productive and cost-effective for school districts, as it permits hearing officers to sift through meritless claims without the need for a full hearing. This is currently permitted in a due process hearing without the consent of the other party, and this change would require consent.

Can Districts Still Find Resolution After a Due Process Hearing Has Been Requested?

School districts and parents across Texas are regularly working together to ensure that the needs of students are met and that the district is providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Every child is unique; likewise, every Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is just as distinct. When a disagreement arises and disputes occur, the district and parents have the ability to go through various dispute resolution processes. The Texas Education Agency encourages and supports the resolution of any dispute that arises between the parent and a school district relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of or the provision of a FAPE to a student.

Several options exist for resolving disputes at any level or stage. Some of those options include but are not limited to: ARD meetings; meetings or conferences with the student’s teacher, campus administrator, or special education director; mediation through TEA; and filing a complaint or due process hearing through TEA. Districts and parents utilize these formal and informal methods to problem solve and settle disagreements.

But once a parent has formally filed a request for a due process hearing, is there any hope left for resolution or are the parent and district forced to go through with a due process hearing before a hearing officer? The answer is, yes, there is hope for resolution before a due process hearing. In fact, the majority of due process hearing requests are resolved without a hearing.

Sports, Clubs, Competitions, Oh My! Ensuring Equal Opportunity to Extracurriculars for Students with Disabilities 

Bring on the extracurriculars! Educators, families, and students would likely agree – extracurricular activities are a significant part of education. Both the IDEA and Section 504 must provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities.  

What does this mean for school districts? A guidance from the Department of Education gives us some insight. First off, school districts should avoid denying students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in or benefit from an aid, benefit, or service because of the student’s disability. Instead, school districts must afford students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in extracurricular services and activities.   Remember that Section 504 protects the rights of students with disabilities even if that student is not eligible for services under IDEA.