ASDOE to remedy lack of qualified service providers for special needs students

Part of the settlement agreement with USDOE’S Civil Rights office
fili@samoanews.com

As part of the settlement agreement with the federal government, the local Department of Education (ASDOE) has agreed to put in place by the summer of next year “student remedies” by ensuring that all students with disabilities attending public school, receive among other things, free appropriate public education (FAPE), as required by federal law.

The agreement, signed Oct. 11 by ASDOE Deputy Director Philo Jennings, addressed findings by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which received four separate complaints from parents of students with special needs, who were not provided appropriate service in accordance with federal law during school year 2013/2014.

Under the subtitle “Student Remedies” in the 11-page agreement, OCR is requiring ASDOE to conduct by June 1, 2017 a review of all disabled students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to determine whether the students are receiving evaluations and/or services from professional service providers, including behavioral evaluations and services; speech and language evaluations and services; psychological evaluations and services; occupational therapy evaluations and services; and physical therapy evaluations and services for the 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.

“The purpose of the review will be to identify all ASDOE disabled students who are not receiving appropriate disability evaluations, or not receiving all the services students need to receive a FAPE, due to a lack of professional service providers,” said OCR, which found that ASDOE lacks professional service providers for school year 2013-2014.

ASDOE is also required to provide a report of the review and the report will include information ASDOE used to conduct the review, including a student’s IEP. Additionally, ASDOE will use the information from the review to create a list of all students with IEPs who didn’t receive appropriate evaluations and services due to the lack of professional service providers for the school years - from 2014 to 2017.

Within 15 days of receiving OCR’s approval of the student list, ASDOE is required to provide notice to all parents and guardians of students on the list — including the parents of the four students who filed complaints with OCR — that apologizes to the parents/guardians for the lack of services and provides information on the ASDOE’s plan to provide evaluations and services to the individual student, and offers compensatory and/or remedial services as a result of ASDOE’s failure to provide appropriate regular and/or special education or related services during school years 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017.

According to OCR, the letter will provide parents/guardians with a minimum of 30 days to respond to ASDOE with the decision on whether to accept compensatory or remedial services. If the parent/guardian accepts the services, a group of knowledgeable persons, including the parent/guardian, will have a meeting regarding each of the students on the list. The team will then develop a plan for providing timely compensatory and/or remedial services with a completion date not to extend beyond one calendar year — unless the compensatory services requirements are so extensive as to require additional time to complete.

The ASDOE will provide the students’ parents/guardians notice of the procedural safeguards including the right to challenge the group’s determination through an impartial due process hearing.

Samoa News should point out that ASDOE's FY 2017 funding from USDOE is $3.6 million, and there are about 41 students in special education.

Samoa News has reported for two weeks now several stories on OCR’s findings as well as several provisions of the agreement. Samoa News will report later this week on the last provision in the agreement dealing with “training”.

IEP ISSUE BACKGROUND

During a news conference early this year, ASDOE officials said that among the objectives and goals of the IEP is for teachers to know how to fill out the IEP form “because it’s pretty much the whole [learning] plan for the students” following the SMART criteria. SMART being — Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic/Relevant and Time Bound.

Then Education Director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau told reporters that the IEP was one of the big issues cited by a review team from Hawaii more than a year ago. She said the review found that students’ IEPs were not updated and some of them were 5 years old but no changes has been made as well as no effort made to have the IEPs updated.

“The whole idea of the IEP is like the child’s lessons, or the focus of his lessons. If a student comes in with a speech problem, but a healthy mind, then the IEP is focused on improving the speech,” she explained. “Each of the children is assessed based on their needs. IEP focuses on teaching the children, whatever special need they have.”

“Each student has individual goals and individual objectives. And the IEP must be aligned with the diagnosis of the child or the assessment of the child,” she said, adding that the goal is to have between 75% to 80% of all IEPs up to standards before the end of each year.

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