By Ramona Hattendorf, Investing in Student Potential communications team and Director of Advocacy at The Arc of King County
Ever wish you could influence the rules that govern special education?
Over the next two weeks, you have an opportunity to weigh in on proposals to improve them in Washington state.
Recent proposed changes to the Washington Administrative Code touch on early learning, parent participation, transition plans, and more. You can read an overview here. We also highlight proposed changes below that could especially impact families.
Written or phone comments must be submitted by January 20. Public hearings are scheduled for January 13 at 3:30 pm, and January 20 at 9 am. This is an important opportunity to share how you experience special education.
Send in comments by January 20:
- Email Glenna Gallo, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org (please include “Rules” in email subject line), or
- Mail to OSPI, Attn: Glenna Gallo, PO Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504, or
- Fax to 360-586-0247
- Comments can also be submitted by phone, 360-725-6075; TTY: 360-664-3631
Better rules, easier navigation
Last year, the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) offered stakeholders an opportunity to share what they would like to see changed in special education WACs. Areas that advocates weighed in on included parent participation; special education preschool; eligibility for services; restraints and isolation; and disproportionality. Many suggestions focused on challenges families experience securing services, and ways to curb disproportionate discipline or other removals.
OSPI took the comments and proposed changes. Some of the stakeholder requests made it in; others did not. You can read a summary of comments here, along with OSPI’s responses.
WACs are rules that agencies adopt and follow to implement laws passed by the legislature. In the case of special education, they explain to school staff what they must do to be legally compliant; they also explain to families and other community members how the system works and what to expect. Well-written WACs clarify responsibilities and help ensure the underlying policies and civil rights are upheld. WACs must align with the intent of legislation.
State agencies get to write and approve WACs for services they administer or supervise, but they must publish proposals and host a public comment period.
Below, we spotlight proposed changes that may be of interest to families in the areas of parent participation, early learning, navigating IEPs and services, universal design for learning, restraint and isolation, and discipline and removal of students.
If you choose to comment: Say who you are and what your concern is; whether the proposed change meets that concern; and what you would like OSPI to do. If you like a proposed change, be sure to let them know! Sharing a personal story will have impact and help OSPI better understand how families and students are experiencing special education. This is a public hearing, so comments will become part of the public record.
PARENT PARTICIPATION – PROPOSED CHANGES
Access to information
WAC 392-172A-03100 – Parent participation. (3)(c) Include whatever action is necessary to ensure that the parent understands the notification being provided, including providing the notification in writing in a parent’s native language when necessary for the parent’s understanding and arranging for an interpreter for parents who are deaf or hard of hearing or whose native language is other than English.
WAC 392-172A-03100 – Parent participation. (4)(b) Identify any other agency that may be responsible for providing or paying for transition services and request consent as defined in WAC 392-172A-01040 from the parent/adult student to invite a representative from the outside agency to the IEP meeting.
WAC 392-172A-03100 – Parent participation. (7)(b) Documenting the language in which families prefer to communicate and whether a qualified interpreter for the student’s family was provided in accordance with RCW 28A.155.230.
WAC 392-172A-05001 – Parent participation in meetings (4) Each school district must document the language in which families prefer to communicate and whether a qualified interpreter for the student’s family was provided at any meeting under this section, including meetings related to a student’s IEP, school discipline, and truancy, in accordance with RCW 28A.155.230.
Observation of placement
WAC 392-172A-05001 Parent participation in meetings. (2)(e) A parent of a student eligible for special education services may request permission to observe their student’s current educational placement, and to observe any educational placement proposed or under consideration either by a parent or a group that makes decisions on the educational placement of the parent’s child, in accordance with applicable school district policy and state law.
WAC 392-172A-05001 – Parent participation in meetings. (5) A parent may request consent to record meetings under this section, in accordance with applicable school district policies and state law. Any recording that is maintained by the school district is an “education record” within the meaning under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 34 C.F.R. Part 99
Summary of early comments: Advocates sought stronger protections of parents’ right to participate, including requiring districts to provide written materials for meetings ahead of time – including the IEP – so parents have time to read, process, and prepare for the meeting as an equal member. Advocates also sought a requirement that districts arrange for reasonable accommodations for parents with disabilities ahead of time, or for parents requiring language support. And while proposed rule revisions note parents may request a recording and may ask to observe classroom settings, advocates noted that parents are already making these requests and are being denied; advocates asked for regulations to prohibit unreasonable denial.
EARLY LEARNING (AGES 3 TO 5) – PROPOSED CHANGES
Define “regular early childhood program”
WAC 392-172A-01152 – Regular early childhood program. “Regular early childhood program means a program that includes at least fifty percent non-disabled children (i.e., children who do not have an IEP). Programs may include, but are not limited to, the following: Head start; early childhood education and assistance program (ECEAP); kindergarten; preschool classes offered to an eligible prekindergarten population by the public school system; private kindergartens or pre-schools; group child development centers; or child care.”
Clarification on LRE in preschool
WAC 392-172A-02050 – Least restricted environment. “(3) The public agency responsible for providing FAPE to a preschool child with a disability must ensure that FAPE is provided in the least restrictive environment where the child’s unique needs (as described in the child’s IEP) can be met, regardless of whether the local education agency operates public preschool programs for children without disabilities.
(4) For children ages three to five, a general education environment is a regular early childhood program.
Continuum of alternative placements in preschool listed
WAC 392-172A-02055 – (3) The continuum of alternative placements a public agency providing special education and related services to a preschool child with a disability may include, but is not limited to, the following:
(a) Providing opportunities for the participation of preschool children with disabilities in preschool programs operated by public agencies other than school districts (such as head start or community-based child care);
(b) Enrolling preschool children with disabilities in private preschool programs for nondisabled preschool children;
(c) Locating classes for preschool children with disabilities in regular public elementary schools; and
(d) Providing services and instruction in the home.
(4) If a public agency determines that placement in a private preschool program is necessary for a child with a disability to receive FAPE, the public agency must make that program available at no cost to the parent.
Transition from 0-3 supports to preschool
WAC 392-172A-02080 – Transition of children from the Part C program to preschool programs.
(2) (b)Within fifteen school days following the transition planning conference, a determination whether or not to evaluate the student for Part B will be made. The district will provide prior written notice of the decision that complies with the requirements of WAC 392-172A-05010.
Summary of early comments: Proposed changes align with advocates’ requests. Washington state is one of the most segregated when it comes to disability segregation, starting with preschool. Many families report they were only offered segregated settings and no option was discussed for placement in a regular early childhood program, with supports. Additions to the WAC align with federal law and guidance sent to states in 2015 and again in 2017.
NAVIGATING IEPS AND SERVICES – PROPOSED CHANGES
Service eligibility clarification
WAC 392-172A-01035 – Child with a disability or student eligible for special education services. (1)(e) Special education services may not be solely based on the disability category for which the student is eligible.
WAC 392-172A-03005 – Referral and timelines for initial evaluations. (1)(c) Each school district must have a referral form for requesting an initial evaluation available to the general public and provide it upon receipt of an oral or written request in the requestor’s native language or with the support of a qualified interpreter when needed.
(1)(b)(B)(ii) For students who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate achievement standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives for the areas in which the alternate assessment will be administered; and
(1)(b)(B)(iii )Documentation that the parent(s)were informed, as part of the IEP process, that their student’s academic achievement will be measured on alternate standards and how participation in an alternate assessment may delay or otherwise affect the student from completing the requirements for a regular high school diploma.
Transition plan alignment
(1)(k)(iii) A description of how the postsecondary goals and transition services align with the high school and beyond plan.
Summary of early comments: Some requests made it into the proposals. Others asked for more to be done around timelines for referrals, evaluations, and reevaluation to make sure students could access needed supports without undue delay. Advocates also asked for clarifying language around independent evaluations; there was concern districts were inappropriately controlling scope and access.
UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING – PROPOSED CHANGES
New section, defining UDL
WAC 392-172A-01197 – Universal design for learning. Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all students based on research showing how students learn. The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove and reduce barriers to learning and provide each student with opportunities to be successful through instructional flexibility that can be adjusted.
Summary of early comments: Advocates appreciated the addition of UDL, but also sought ways to incentivize it. As COVID-19 has shown, implementing UDL is necessary for access for students with disabilities.
RESTRAINT AND ISOLATION – PROPOSED CHANGES
Addition to prohibited practices:
WAC 392-172A-02076 – Prohibited practice. (2)(j) Prone, supine, and wall restraints. A student must not be subjected to the use of prone (lying face-down) and supine (lying face-up) restraint, wall restraint, or any restraint that interferes with the student’s breathing.
WAC 392-172A-02105 – Emergency response protocols. (1)(d) Any staff member or other adults using isolation, restraint, or a restraint device must be trained and certified by a qualified provider in the use of trauma-informed crisis intervention (including de-escalation techniques) and the safe use of isolation, restraint, or a restraint device.
WAC 392-172A-02110 – Isolation or restraint. Conditions. (1)(f) Any staff member or other adults using isolation must be trained and certified by a qualified provider in the use of trauma-informed crisis intervention (including de-escalation techniques), and also trained by the district in isolation requirements, or otherwise available in the case of an emergency when trained personnel are not immediately available due to the unforeseeable nature of the emergency.
(2)(c) Any staff member or other adults using a restraint must be trained and certified by a qualified provider in the use of trauma-informed crisis intervention (including de-escalation techniques) and such restraints, or otherwise available in the case of an emergency when trained personnel are not immediately available due to the unforeseeable nature of the emergency.
Summary of early comments: Improper use of restraint and isolation, failure to capture data around its use in private placements, and disproportionate use on students of color were all raised in early comments. While some of the requests made it into the proposed changes, in general advocates asked for more work to be done to safeguard students and end harmful and at times deadly practices.
DISCIPLINE/REMOVAL OF STUDENTS – PROPOSED CHANGES
WAC 392-172A-07010 Monitoring. (2) Procedures for monitoring school districts and other public agencies may include any or all of the following: … (iii) Racial and ethnic disproportionality with regard to the identification, placement, or discipline of students receiving special education services.
WAC 392-172A-07040 – Significant disproportionality. (2)(a) Require the school district to review and, if appropriate, revise the policies, procedures, and practices used in the identification, placement, or discipline of students receiving special education services to ensure that the policies, procedures, and practices comply with the requirements of the act.
Summary of early comments: Advocates also sought additional disaggregation of data to better understand intersectional issues of disability (in both special education and 504 settings), English language learners, and students of different races and ethnicities.
Remember, if you choose to engage, comments are due by January 20.