As students kick off the new school year and settle into their back-to-school routines, several families at NH chartered public schools were informed of changes to their children’s Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that they did not expect.
Upon returning to school, numerous families were told that their children’s special education services would be altered; some students will have different schedules and others will be bused to local public schools to receive services, losing valuable instructional time.
We heard from families in Nashua, but this is also happening in other districts including Manchester, Merrimack, and others.
Families are upset that their children’s special education services will alter without their approval.
In Nashua, the district is justifying these abrupt changes using an audit that they claim shows the local charter schools are not providing appropriate services. We are in the process of filing a Right to Know request to obtain a copy. However, we are skeptical of the audit and findings because per the federal Department of Education, districts control how services are provided to charter school students. This audit may show that Nashua-area charter public schools and others are struggling to provide appropriate special education services; however, the district may be throttling services to the students enrolled in charter schools.
In addition to federal and state law, New Hampshire special education is governed by rules that are written by the state Department of Education and adopted by the state Board of Education; they are found in chapter Ed 1100, Standards for the Education of Children with Disabilities, most recently adopted in 2017.
There is also a guide to supplement the rules as a resource to parents, educators, and others.
Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are just that, custom plans for each student. Districts cannot make a one-size-fits-all policy change to all IEPs; this goes against special education protocols. It may also be discriminatory to a protected class of students.
Mandatory transportation to a different location for services violates the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of a Free and Appropriate Pubic Education (FAPE) that all public schools must follow for special education and may be a violation of state law RSA 186:C-15.
IEPs must specify where the services take place, the particular school and location within the building.
A different location for services may also necessitate that the student work with unfamiliar support personnel and other students. Families should question how any change to their child’s IEP may impact the child’s paraprofessional, academic, and behavioral support. They should question if there are changes to the group size and students their child will be with for services; LRE requires that the child should be learning with his or her peers. Families should question how much time is lost in transportation time, who will supervise during the transportation, and all the details of how, who, where, and what will happen as a direct result of the district’s proposed change.
Families must also receive Written Prior Notice (WPN) of no less than 14 days prior to IEP meetings. If notice is sent to families without that prior notice, it is another violation of FAPE requirements.
What Can Families Do?
It is important that families recognize the authority they have set by federal and state law in determining their child’s Individualized Education Plans. Families at a Manchester charter school faced similar blanket policy challenges in 2016 and successfully worked together to have their children’s previous IEPs restored. They shared their notes with SCNH to support other families. The more that charter school families coordinate and work together, the more effective they will be resisting these changes.
- If families do not receive Written Prior Notice of the change prior to their first IEP meeting of the year, they may choose not to sign the new IEP.
- Families can insist that the IEP meeting occur when it is at a mutually convenient time, not only at the district’s determination.
- Families have the right to reject the proposed IEP that includes violations of standard special education protocols. They may opt to file complaints or pursue due process hearings.
- Families should respond to all requests for consent, even if it is to refuse the consent.
We also encourage parents to attend school board meetings for the districts in which their charter school is located. Tell board members what is happening. If it is excused-away because of budgets or audit findings, insist on seeing the documentation.
We will continue to monitor this situation in Nashua as the school year progresses.