Back to School

(Posted September 4, 2015)

Article by Amy E. Slater, August 11, 2015
Excerpts from Brook Phillips, WDE Vision Outreach Services Consultant

Thinking about the start of a new school year can result in any number of emotional responses. Teachers may smile at the thought of seeing new and familiar faces, or get excited about new technology in their classrooms. Administrators may feel pride when they look at a newly redesigned accessible playground or think back on a productive staff training session. But the return to school can also be a time of concern for educators who worry about issues such as IEP implementation, behavior management, or student discipline. The following articles offer guidance to help make the return to school less stressful for educators at all levels.

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TIP OF THE WEEK: Make sure bus drivers are aware of students’ medical needs

It’s not enough to train school bus drivers to respond to students’ medical emergencies and other medical needs after the school year starts. Districts must ensure that drivers have copies of and understand how to implement students’ current individual health plans, 504 plans, emergency care plans, and other relevant documents before the bus ever leaves the parking lot.

A New York district resolved allegations that it failed to take those steps in West Genesee (NY) Central School District, 115 LRP 17584 (OCR 03/09/15), with respect to a sixth-grader with diabetes. OCR pointed out that the district reviewed its medical emergency policies and procedures with bus drivers twice a year, but it didn’t review students’ IHPs and emergency plans with them. And although the bus drivers had a binder with a copy of the sixth-grader’s documents, the diabetes plan contained within it was outdated.

The Section 504 implementing regulation at 34 CFR 104.33 requires a recipient to provide FAPE to each student with a disability. The provision of FAPE is the provision of regular or special education and related services that are designed to meet the individual educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met.

OCR found that the district could resolve the allegations by ensuring, in part, that all bus drives have copies of and review students’ IHPs before the start of the school year. To achieve compliance with Section 504, districts may also consider the following steps:

  • Appoint someone to review students’ health plans with drivers:Have someone go over each student’s plan with the student’s bus drivers before the first day of school, so drivers are fully aware of the student’s medical needs from the moment the student first boards the bus. Ensure that someone also reviews the plan with any new or substitute drivers hired during the school year.
  • Have a written policy on disseminating health plans: Adopt a policy governing distributing and reviewing students’ health plans, diabetes plans, and allergy plans to the transportation department and individual drivers.
  • Make sure drivers have copies of students’ current plans:Develop procedures to ensure that drivers always have a copy of the latest version of a student’s health plan and emergency plan. Review the plan with the student’s parents before the school year starts to ascertain whether anything has changed. Also, make sure the emergency contact information is up to date.
  • Conduct refresher courses:Run a refresher course for drivers at the beginning and middle of the school year. Review the district’s policies and procedures pertaining to student safety and medical emergencies. Include a school nurse at the meeting to discuss specific medical conditions and potential emergencies.

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TIP OF THE WEEK: Make sure staffers get notice of IEP contents before school starts

A ninth-grader approaches his high school principal on the first day of school and asks where he should eat lunch. Although the student mentions past difficulties with peers, the principal tells the student to eat in the cafeteria with the rest of the student body. Six weeks later, the student has a fight in the cafeteria that results in a three-day suspension and criminal charges for assault.

Had the district informed relevant staff members that the student had an IEP requiring him to eat lunch apart from his peers, it could have avoided the entire incident — as well as the resulting OCR investigation about its implementation failure.

As OCR observed in Durant (IA) Community School District, 113 LRP 28087 (OCR 04/22/13), students are not responsible for informing staff members about the contents of their IEPs. To the contrary, the IDEA Part B regulations expressly require districts to inform all teachers and service providers about the specific services and accommodations a student’s IEP requires them to provide. 34 CFR 300.323 (d).

Districts would be well-advised to use the last few weeks of summer break to prepare teachers, service providers, and other relevant staffers about their IEP implementation duties for the upcoming school year. This is especially important for students transitioning from one school to another, like the student in Durant, as teachers and service providers likely will be unfamiliar with the student’s disability-related needs. Here are some tips to follow in reviewing IEPs with staff members:

  • Appoint specific individuals to distribute IEP information. Designating one or more people to distribute information about students’ IEPs eliminates confusion as to who is responsible for the task. Ensure the appointed individuals understand their obligation to distribute information about students’ IEPs, as well as the specific information they must provide to each teacher or service provider.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Staff members likely will be providing specialized instruction, related services, or accommodations to a number of students with disabilities, and some of those services may take time to arrange. Make sure teachers and service providers have enough time to familiarize themselves with the contents of students’ IEPs and to arrange services for each student.
  • Encourage staffers to ask questions. Make sure all teachers and service providers are on the same page with regard to their IEP obligations. By encouraging staff members to ask questions, your district can head off any confusion about a student’s services and identify any ambiguities that may require a follow-up IEP meeting to resolve. Remember to make IEPs accessible to teachers and service providers as needed.34 CFR 300.323 (d)(1).

Amy E. Slater, Esq. covers special education legal issues for LRP Publications

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