More than six million children in the United States, ranging in age from infancy to 21 years, are eligible for special education services at no cost to their parents. The dedicated team help clients throughout Pennsylvania ensure that their children receive the special education services to which they are entitled under the law. Whether a child has a learning or physical disability, behavioral challenges, a serious illness, emotional challenges or another disability, he or she deserves a thoughtful, comprehensive and appropriate education that will facilitate a bright future. We provide full-service counseling and representation to secure special education services, including representation in all forms of disputes, such as those arising under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and other federal and state statutes.
Having your child with special needs poses a unique set of challenges to parents. Among these are making sure that your child’s school district honors his or her special education rights and complies with state and federal special education law. We devote a substantial portion of our practice to guiding parents through the process of obtaining the best possible special education services for their children.
This process often begins with requesting an evaluation to determine whether your child is entitled to special education services. Public school districts perform special education evaluations at no cost to parents, who may initiate the process by making a written request. Raffaele & Associates routinely assists parents with obtaining free evaluations, including those provided by school districts, as well as with Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) professionals unaffiliated with the school district. If your child qualifies for special needs education services, he or she is legally entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, which is an individualized program of services designed to meet your child’s unique needs.
The next step in the process will likely be the development of an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. Your child’s IEP team will include, among others, parents, current teacher, a special education teacher and a school representative. The resulting IEP will outline your child’s special education program, including annual goals and a detailed description of the programs and related services that will be used to reach those goals. Our attorneys and education consultant/advocate provide representation at IEP meetings to advocate for our clients and secure proper educational placement and services.
If a school district declines to perform an initial evaluation, refuses to provide an IEP for an eligible child, or fails to adequately follow an IEP, we are prepared to serve as advocates at a due process hearing. A due process hearing is similar to a trial in that each side presents evidence and witnesses. A hearing officer then makes a determination about the child’s special education needs. Whether we are seeking an evaluation, developing an IEP, or serving as counsel at a due process hearing, our goal remains the same: to obtain the best possible education for your child.
Children who have special education needs may be disciplined for violating their schools’ codes of conduct. However, federal and state law, including IDEA, protect a special education student when his or her misbehavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability. From the beginning, a child’s IEP should address any special behavior intervention or support strategies that a child may require. Should problem behavior arise after an IEP is in place, parents may request an IEP meeting to address strategies for dealing with the behavior. We regularly assist parents with this process.
More protective rules do come into play when a special education student is facing expulsion or suspension for more than 10 school days in a row, or more than 15 total school days within one school year. In these cases, the discipline is considered a “change in placement” and special protections apply under IDEA, including a “manifestation hearing” to determine whether the behavior resulting in the discipline was a manifestation of the child’s disability. If the behavior did arise from the child’s disability, the child cannot be expelled or suspended, and the school will be required to develop a plan to address the child’s behavioral challenges. Sometimes schools determine that a behavior was not a manifestation of a child’s disability, but the child’s parents disagree. In these cases, a due process hearing may be pursued to resolve the dispute. We represent parents and children at these hearings to ensure that their rights are protected. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding school discipline, we encourage you to contact us immediately.
While no federal statutes require school-provided programming for gifted students (also known as “gifted and talented” students), Pennsylvania have made specialized gifted services mandatory for qualifying public school students. This means that public schools in Pennsylvania must provide evaluations to determine whether a student is gifted, and if so, provide appropriate supportive services to the student. In Pennsylvania, gifted students receive a Gifted Individualized Education Plan, or GIEP. We are frequently called upon by parents to help ensure that their children receive gifted evaluations and appropriate follow-up services.
This page contains just a brief overview of the issues that parents of children with special needs face in obtaining the best possible education for their children. Whether you are just beginning the special education process or are a seasoned veteran, we can help you ensure that your child receives all of the services and support to which he or she is entitled under the law. Remember, children with special needs have special rights. We encourage you to contact us today to learn more about special education law and how we can help your child.