5 Recent Guidance Letters on Special Education to Know About
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD
The last 12 months have been very busy for the U.S. Department of Education (US ED). US ED issued several significant guidance letters (also called Dear Colleague letters) on
special education. These letters help inform the public about the rights of kids with disabilities, which can include kids with learning and thinking differences. They also help guide school staff when providing services.
Here’s a rundown of five recent letters.
1. Online public schools, including online charter schools, must provide special education services. (August 2016)
Over the last decade, the number of online schools has grown quickly. Many kids now attend school remotely. In fact, online public charter schools are now in more than 25 states and serve more than 275,000 students.
In this letter, US ED clarified that online public schools (including online charter schools)
must provide special education services to kids who need them. (
Open a PDF of the letter.) US ED acknowledged that finding and evaluating kids who need services can be a challenge in an online school. That’s because teachers and students in these schools typically don’t meet face to face. However, kids with disabilities still have the right to services. And online schools must have policies and procedures to provide them.
2. Kids in special education have the right to behavioral supports. (August 2016)
It’s a myth that special education doesn’t include help for behavior issues. US ED reminded schools that they must provide behavioral supports, such as
behavior intervention plans, to kids who need them. If a child is repeatedly disciplined, US ED wrote, it may mean she isn’t getting the right supports. And not providing support for a child’s behavior issues could mean she isn’t receiving a
Open a PDF of the letter.)
3. Schools have to evaluate kids with ADHD for the services they need. (July 2016)
4. IEP goals must be tied to grade-level standards. (October 2015)
At the end of 2015, US ED issued an important letter on
standards-based IEPs. It told schools to make sure IEP goals are tied to grade-level standards. It’s generally not acceptable, US ED wrote, to use goals targeted below the grade a child is in. If a child is behind, goals must be “ambitious but achievable” to help her catch up. US ED made clear that the right to FAPE means a child is making progress toward grade-level standards. (
Open a PDF of this letter.)
5. Say dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia in IEPs. (October 2015)
In this letter, US ED reminded schools nationwide they can use the terms dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia in IEPs. In fact, schools were encouraged to use the terms when appropriate. Learn
more about this letter and the impact it’s had. And find out
what experts say about when and how to ask evaluators or the IEP team to use these terms.
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