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Connecticut Special Education Law Blog

What your special needs child deserves in a Connecticut school

Some students need assistance to learn the way others do. Perhaps they are blind or struggle to hear. It's the school's job to make sure these individuals can participate in the classes they're in and have access to the same information and opportunities as other students.

These students are often eligible for individualized education plans, or IEPs. These plans are focused on the specific needs of the student and helps address them for the benefit of the student and his or her educational future.

Special education in Connecticut: What you should know

If your child has special needs, you know that you need to do everything you can to protect him or her and to make sure he or she gets a good education. Special education is provided to children in Connecticut who need that assistance.

Special education laws in Connecticut are designed to protect students who have disabilities. The laws are there to make sure your child gets the help he or she needs to make meaningful progress while working through his or her education program.

Special needs students deserve special effort from schools

When you have a special needs child, you depend on the help of many people outside your family. Educators, doctors and even therapists can help your child overcome disabilities and social issues. Education from a school and the social benefits of being around age peers are critical for the development of special needs children.

That's why the creation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is so important to special needs children in public schools. These plans create concrete goals, based on a child's current abilities, and require regular updates regarding issues and progress.

Katie's Chronicles: Interview with Theresa

The following post is part of a series of reflections and interview responses given by successful young adults with varying disabilities who have direct experience with the Connecticut Special Education system. Our interviewer and writer is Katie Feinstein, daughter of Attorney Feinstein, who is also a successful young adult living with disabilities. Katie chronicles individuals respective journeys within the system and beyond, into their adult lives. The Feinstein Education Law Group represented some of these young adults when they were students. Katie asks individuals to discuss their struggles, triumphs and perspectives as they consider their pasts and move forward into futures of hope and evolving independence.

Don't let the education system leave your child behind

If you have a child with special needs, it can be tough to determine what school is most appropriate for his or her talents, gifts and learning limitations. The ultimate goal of any parent is to ensure that his or her child gets the best education possible, and doesn't get left behind. You should challenge the child, yes, but not so deeply that educational progress is impossible.

That said, if you're like most parents of special needs kids, you're looking at a lot of options and you're probably feeling a little overwhelmed. What's the most appropriate education opportunity for your child?

Second Circuit Eliminates School Board Exclusive Control Over Methodology

IMG_1102-e1484328172885-225x300.jpgWe won a major victory on January 10th in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of A.M. v. NYC Department of Education. Attorney Andrew Feinstein argued the case as a friend of the court on behalf of COPAA.

Ever since the Supreme Court wrote, in Rowley, that methodology is generally in the discretion of the school, school officials have argued that parents have no say in the educational methods used to educate their children with disabilities. The federal regulations said otherwise.

Petition Filed with CT State Department of Education RE Access to IEE and Observation

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Access to an independent educational evaluation (IEE) and observation in school are central to a parent's ability to meaningfully participate in their child's school program. Further, an accurate evaluation is the cornerstone to the IDEA, ensuring that the Student's functional and academic deficits are identified, and setting the stage for appropriate goals and objectives and appropriate special education and related services. The procedural safeguards, contained in 20 U.S.C. 1415(B)(1), guarantee parents the right to obtain an IEE at public expense. Connecticut school districts have created highly restrictive policies that serve to frustrate a parent's ability to obtain an IEE. This is a serious abrogation of the rights of all parents. For parents of low income, these policies serve to deny their children the right to a free appropriate public education.

Please Sign Petition Regarding IEE and Observation Criteria

 Dear Connecticut Constituent: Please sign this petition asking the Connecticut State Department of Education to amend the special education regulations regarding acceptable IEE criteria and observation criteria: https://goo.gl/forms/br5ZPATHggDQtlWu2   Access to an IEE and observation in school are central to a parent's ability to advocate for a child's needs in school. An accurate evaluation/assessment is the cornerstone to a special education student's program.  If the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by their school district, federal law gives a parent the right to seek an independent educational evaluation (IEE) paid for by the school district.  Across Connecticut school districts are creating unreasonable criteria that limits a parent's ability to obtain an IEE. Similarly, Connecticut school districts are creating unreasonable observation policies that limit a parent's ability to observe and understand their child's program in school. These policies also impact a parent's ability to have an outside expert evaluate their child's school program. Thank you for signing this petition to support reasonable access to an IEE and classroom observation: https://goo.gl/forms/br5ZPATHggDQtlWu2 -The Feinstein Education Law Group

Does Meaningful vs. Some Matter?

Today the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 a case about the level of education benefit a special education student must receive for a school district to provide an appropriate education under federal special education law.
Under federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), children with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Back in 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court held in Rowley that a student's individualized education program (IEP) must be "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." The Court elaborated that the education a child receives must confer "some educational benefit" and that the benefit must be sufficient to provide each child with "access" to education that is "meaningful." Post Rowley federal appeals courts have been divided over how much benefit a child must receive under his or her IEP in order to receive FAPE.  Is it "some" educational benefit or is it "meaningful" educational benefit?  Whereas at least six circuits adopt versions of the "some" benefit, two circuits apply the other standard that may require a greater degree of educational benefit, a "meaningful" benefit.  The U.S. Supreme Court will now hear argument and possibly resolve the split of authority. Last year in Endrew F. the 10th Circuit ruled a Colorado child with autism and ADHD received FAPE because the public school IEP provided "some educational benefit".   The 10th Circuit court denied the parents request for reimbursement at a private school.  The 10th Circuit also acknowledged that several other federal courts of appeals have adopted a higher standard that requires an IEP to result in a "meaningful educational benefit" however the in their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court argued that when discussing that it was a close case, the 10th Circuit did not address whether parents would prevail under the "higher standard" adopted by other circuits. When you start analyzing the rabbit hole of educational benefit it is hard to distinguish between "some educational benefit" vs. "meaningful educational benefit".  Does one term create a higher standard? How do we define the difference?  How do we make it operational? Rather than dance around the issue of some vs. meaningful, perhaps we ought to focus on the required elements of IDEA:
  1. Evaluation drives statement of needs.
  2. The statement of needs drives the drafting of goals and objectives, which should be challenging yet attainable.
  3. The goals and objectives drives services.  The services need to address the goals which need to meet the needs.
  4. If the goals prove too easy or too hard, the district has the obligation to change those goals.
If school districts were held responsible for following this process with integrity, the whole issue of the level of educational benefit recedes into the woodwork. Endrew F. will likely to be argued sometime early next year in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Education Ruling: OK To Shut Out Disabled Kids?

 By Andrew FeinsteinFeatured in the Hartford Courant on September 10, 2016Judge Thomas Moukawsher issued a monumental ruling Wednesday in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, finding that Connecticut's system of funding education is irrational and unconstitutional. As to his basic findings, Judge Moukawsher is to be applauded.The excellent decision came, however, containing a very dark poison. Judge Moukawsher proposed that certain children with severe disabilities be denied a public education. He says, "The call is not about whether certain profoundly disabled children are entitled to a 'free appropriate public education.' It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts." He claims, inaccurately, that "no case holds otherwise, and this means that extensive services are not always required."This triage proposal is at odds with what the litigants argued in the case and diametrically opposed to federal civil rights law. The judge proposes discriminating against the severely disabled. Yet, discrimination based on the severity of disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Judge Ellen Bree Burns addressed this issue head-on in Messier v. Southbury Training School. Federal ADA regulations provide that a public entity, such as a school board, may not provide different benefits or services to individuals with disabilities or to any class of individuals with disabilities than is provided to others unless such action is necessary to provide qualified individuals with disabilities with benefits or services that are as effective as those provided to others.Judge Burns wrote that courts have repeatedly held that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination based on the severity of disability. Specifically, she held that the state violated the ADA by failing to provide profoundly or severely disabled individuals with the same array of services as those provided to other less handicapped individuals, thereby discriminating solely on the degree of disability.Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court came to the same conclusion. The question of whether ADA covers discrimination among disabled individuals was clearly confronted in Olmstead v. L.C. Indeed, Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, criticized the majority for finding that "discrimination occurs when some members of a protected group are treated differently from other members of that same group." Responding to this allegation, the Supreme Court majority called Justice Thomas' contention "incorrect as a matter of precedent and logic."Numerous other federal courts and the U.S. Department of Education have held that it is illegal to discriminate against the most disabled. This policy is not only mandated by the language of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is also sound, just and humane. For years, individuals with disabilities have been shunned, segregated and placed out of sight in institutions. By deeming the disabled as the other, we strip them of their humanity and feel free in removing their basic human rights.Judge Moukawsher deems it economically infeasible to provide comprehensive special education services to those with severe disabilities. He decides that they are hopeless or worthless, and certainly not worth the expenditure of public resources. The judge has no idea what thoughts, dreams, hopes and loves reside in the heart of an individual who cannot speak or who cannot control his or her physical movements. Yet, ignorant of the basic humanity of an individual with a severe disability, he wants to deprive them of educational services. Shame on him.Equally frightening is the underlying notion that the level of societal expenditures on an individual ought to be based on that individual's potential contribution to society. We cannot, of course, predict with any accuracy what an individual may offer to the world. Beyond that, this notion could lead to a termination of benefits for the elderly, as well as the disabled. It is a notion out of the selfish and stern philosophy of Ayn Rand.We must, as a society, reject such an approach. We need to focus on unlocking the potential of all our citizens. We need to focus on the contributions made by each of our neighbors. Only by helping those most in need can we create a just society.
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