Sunday, March 17, 2019

What would be most helpful with the IEP process?

Navigator, legal counsel, or professional advocate?

The Arc of King County is part of Investing in Student Potential, a coalition of organizations and individuals in Washington state working to improve educational outcomes and access to learning for students with disabilities. We want to ensure every student gets what they need, when they need it. The coalition is reviewing proposed legislation that affects students with disabilities. As a member of the steering committee, The Arc of King County is gathering community thoughts about the role of a special education advocate or similar position that could help with the IEP process. 
We will share what we learn with Investing in Student Potential's steering committee and use it to inform our advocacy as a chapter of The Arc for more accessible and supportive schools for students with developmental disabilities.

Providing for special education advocates is included in SB 5532. This bill has passed the Senate and will be heard in the House on March 19. The bill includes various provisions to help people navigate special education services. Shared below is the section on special education advocates.

Highlighted areas are things we have heard concerns about in informal conversations. 


Under SB 5532, the special education advocate would be a function of the nine educational service districts (ESDs) in the state. ESDs each serve dozens of school districts. ESDs allow school districts to work, plan and buy equipment collectively. The Puget Sound ESD provides programs and services to 35 school districts, 257 private schools, 9 charter schools, and one tribal compact school in King and Pierce counties, including Bainbridge Island. Collectively, 432,000 students are supported through the Puget Sound ESD. That includes up to 58,320 students funded for special education. (The state only funds special education services for up to 13.5 percent of full-time enrolled students. Services must still be provided to students who exceed the cap, but the state refuses to include them in its allocation model.)

The current fiscal note only includes funding for a single position at each ESD. It is not clear what funds will be available for the ESDs to contract with professional advocates.

What the bill says about advocates

Part III - Advocate for the child
NEW SECTION. Sec. 301. A new section is added to chapter 28A.310 RCW to read as follows:

(1)    Subject to amounts appropriated for this specific purpose, each educational service district shall contract for independent special education advocates.

(2)    The role of a special education advocate is to:
a.       Serve as a resource for a child with disabilities who is eligible for special education due to the disability and the child's parents and family;
b.       Advocate on behalf of the child for a free and appropriate public education from the public school system that emphasizes special education and related services that are:
                                                               i.      Provided in the least restrictive environment;
                                                             ii.      Designed to meet the child's unique needs;
                                                           iii.      Appropriately ambitious and reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child's circumstances; and
                                                           iv.      Addressing the child's further education, employment, and independent living goals; and
c.       Assist parents with any one or more of the following:
                                                               i.      Preparing for a meeting to develop or update their child's individualized education program
                                                             ii.      Attending the individualized education program meetings to help present the parents' concerns, negotiate components that meet the parents' goals and requests, or otherwise assist with the understanding and navigation of the process;
                                                             iii.      Attending an individual education program meeting on behalf of the child to assist in writing an appropriate program when a parent opts out or otherwise cannot attend the meeting. 

Concerns we have heard

On “amounts appropriated,” the concern is whether the service would be funded at a meaningful level. On “attending … on behalf of,” the concern is the legal implication. Concern has also been raised about whether educational service districts are independent enough, and how/whether the state would collect data that could improve the IEP process and delivery of special education services.

There has also been discussion on what families truly need and what could be provided equitably: Navigation help? Legal help? Professional advocate? Provide feedback here

Other aspects of the bill include:

  • A half day of professional learning around certain special education topics, such as why students need these services
  • The inclusion of certain special education topics in teacher prep programs, such as how to recognize students who might need special education services
  • Local education advisory committees
  • Data on least restrictive environment and out-of-district placement
  • Attendance of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation at IEP transition plan meetings and information about ABLE accounts
  • Encouragement of special education cooperative programs 
  • Creation of a statewide advisory group, to issue a report in 2021 and every 3 years afterwards

Inclusive learning, such as technical assistance or training around Universal Design for Learning, is not addressed in this bill. Nor are learning requirements on topics that help support students with disabilities - such as individual functional behavior assessments and intensive behavior supports; or multi-tiered systems of support.

When it comes to special education, Washington has lower than average graduation rates, higher than average drop out rates, and high rates of segregated learning. Washington is tied for third-most-segregated for students with cognitive disabilities. See also, K-12 Inclusion - as told in graphics.