The following was included in TCTA's 2017-18 Survival Guide, the ultimate reference tool for Texas educators, and is current as of September 2017 but is subject to change.

Free and Appropriate Public Education

Federal law governing the education of students with disabilities requires that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Due to the inclusion of special education students in regular classrooms, more educators need to know the requirements of the federal IDEA 2004.

Eligibility

The law provides that a child shall not be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor is:

(A)    lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including in the essential components of reading instruction (as defined in section 1208(3) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965);

(B)    lack of instruction in math; or

(C)    limited English proficiency.

Specific learning disability

A student cannot be labeled with an SLD if the child’s low achievement is due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) stated in comments accompanying the federal regulations that “whether a child has received ‘appropriate instruction’ is appropriately left to state and local officials to determine.”

Additionally, the reauthorized law and regulations indicate that the traditional way of determining whether a child has an SLD, the “discrepancy” model, in which a severe discrepancy between IQ and achievement is found, is no longer in favor. The regulations provide that states must adopt criteria for determining whether a child has an SLD, and the criteria cannot require schools to use the discrepancy model, but instead must permit the use of a process based on the child’s response to intervention. Accordingly, states can permit the use of discrepancy models, but it is more likely states will use other models, such as the research-based “response to intervention.” For further information on RTI, click here.

Help for struggling learners 

The reauthorized IDEA allows schools to use up to 15 percent of the federal special education funds they receive to develop and implement coordinated, early intervention services for students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade 3) who have not been identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment. 

Personnel

Federal law states that paraprofessionals who are “appropriately trained and supervised” can “assist” in providing special education and related services. State law clarifies that aides can only be used to support special education instruction. Special education instruction can be provided only by properly certified professionals, even in disciplinary alternative education programs. State rules require aides who work with special education students to be certified.

Referral for special education services

State rules clarify that if a student continues to experience difficulty in the general classroom after the provision of intervention, district personnel must refer the student for evaluation for special services. TEA has further clarified that a child need not advance through each tier of an RTI system before a special education referral is made. Generally the district must conduct an assessment of the referred student within 45 school days of receipt of written consent for the evaluation from the parent/guardian. Certain exceptions apply when parent consent is given close to the end of the school year.

The Individualized Education Program team must then meet to develop an IEP for the child within 30 days of the evaluation (or determination that the child needs special education services). The IEP must be implemented “as soon as possible” after the IEP team meeting, meaning without delay.

Who must attend IEP team meetings?

Federal law requires that at least one regular education teacher be a member of the IEP team (or ARD committee) if the student is or may be placed in a regular education setting. 

However, the law provides that members of the IEP team/ARD committee are not required to attend meetings if the parent of the student and the school district agree that the attendance of such member is not necessary because the member’s area of the curriculum or related services is not being modified or discussed in the meeting. If the member’s area of the curriculum is being discussed, the member can still be excused by submitting written input on the development of the IEP prior to the meeting.

The law also allows the parent and the school district to agree to make changes to an IEP after the annual IEP meeting without convening another meeting, but by: making the changes in writing, allowing the IEP team to meet via conference call or video, and requiring school districts to consolidate IEP team meetings as much as possible.

Which regular education teacher must be on the IEP team (ARD committee)?

TCTA-initiated legislation provides that the regular education teacher who serves as a member of a student’s ARD committee must, to the extent practicable, be a regular education teacher responsible for implementing a portion of the student’s IEP.

What must the IEP contain?

The IEP must contain a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child. These are tools that will help school personnel work more effectively with the child and could include special training for the child’s teacher. The IEP must include enough information to enable teachers to understand what is required to effectively implement it. TCTA-initiated legislation passed in 2013 specifies that a student’s Behavioral Intervention Plan is also considered to be part of the IEP.

TEA model IEP form

TEA developed a model IEP form that includes only information required by state or federal law for school districts to use, if desired. Find the form on the TEA website.

Who gets the IEP?

Federal regulations require that the child’s IEP must be accessible to each regular education teacher and anyone else responsible for its implementation as soon as possible after it is finalized and before beginning work with the child. (Texas rules require that each teacher of the child must have access to relevant sections of the IEP.)

Each teacher who will provide services to the child must be informed of his/her specific responsibilities related to implementing the child’s IEP and the specific accommodations, modifications and supports that must be provided for the child in accordance with the IEP. Schools and teachers have continuing obligations to make good faith efforts to assist 
the child in achieving the IEP goals and objectives.

IDEA resources

Find more information on IDEA online:

Federal regulations, state laws, and SBOE and commissioner rules for special education on the TEA website.

U.S. Department of Education resources, IDEA 2004.

Tool Kit on Teaching and Assessing Students with Disabilities.

State law regarding special education (Texas Education Code, Chapter 29).

See also:

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Removal/Change of Placement of Students With Disabilities

Special Education