Pennsylvania Chapter 14 Special Education Regulations on 8/11/2008
The revised Pennsylvania Chapter 14 special education regulations became effective July 1, 2008, and we have summarized for parents the most relevant changes affecting children with disabilities.
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I. CHILD FIND
A. Child Find Generally
The general child find obligations placed on school districts under both state and federal special education law remain in place. Districts continue to have an obligation to locate, evaluate, and identify all students with disabilities who reside within their geographical boundaries, regardless of whether they attend district schools or private school. Pennsylvania did, however, make some changes in Chapter 14 in regard to how school districts must meet certain aspects of their child find duties.
Specifically, awareness activities must include written information concerning early intervention and special education services published in the district’s handbook and on the district’s website. The awareness activities must also include information regarding potential signs of developmental delays and other risk factors that could indicate disabilities.
The second change made to the child find requirements, as discussed in greater detail under “Child Find and Private Schools,” below, places the obligation of child find activities on intermediate units in regard to equitable participation services.
B. Screening As Part Of Child Find
School districts continue to have an obligation under the revised Chapter 14 regulations to establish a screening system for students that the district suspects might be eligible for special education. At a minimum, this screening process must identify and provide initial screenings for students prior to a referral to special education; provide support for teachers and other staff to assist them in working effectively with students in the general education curriculum; and identify students who may need special education services and programs. The screening process must also include hearing and vision screenings, as well as screenings to determine whether all students are performing based on grade-appropriate standards in core academics and at reasonable intervals. Although instructional support teams (IST) have not been required by the regulations for some time now, the revised regulations specifically permit school districts to use this process to meet its screening obligations so long as they follow the IST guidelines published by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
As part of the screening process, school districts may also implement a program of early intervening services for students, particularly for those students in kindergarten through third grade, designed to prevent the need for special education later in their school careers. Such early intervening services, however, have specific requirements under Chapter 14, which include addressing whether or not the student was provided with appropriate instruction in reading and math, and if not, whether the lack of instruction is the basis for the student’s difficulties in school. Early intervening services must also assess the student’s academic abilities in light of state standards, as well as behaviors in the school setting where the student is displaying behavioral difficulty, and include the provision of research-based interventions and progress monitoring.
It is important to note, however, that the screening services described in Chapter 14, including IST and early intervening services, still do not bar the right of a parent to request an evaluation at any time.
C. Child Find and Private Schools
Parentally placed private school children with disabilities are entitled to equitable participation, as opposed to an individual right to receive a free and appropriate public education that the child would receive if he or she attended the public schools. Equitable participation starts with the concept that parentally placed private school children with disabilities as a whole are entitled to receive funding that is proportionate to the number of students with disabilities attending private schools compared to the total number of students with disabilities in the local educational agency’s (“LEA”) jurisdiction. Then, after consultation between the local LEA, representatives of private elementary schools and secondary schools, and representatives of parents of parentally-placed private school children with disabilities, a determination is made as to what services will be provided with the proportionate share of funding.
Simply put, the Pennsylvania regulations have clarified that for children with disabilities enrolled by their parents in private schools, the local intermediate unit shall be considered the LEA for equitable participation services, whether or not the parents reside in any of the districts served by the intermediate unit. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the intermediate unit in which private schools are located to conduct child find activities and provide equitable services to parentally-placed private school children with disabilities.
As a note, due process is not applicable to equitable participation scenarios except for child find, and any child find complaints must be filed with the intermediate unit that serves the private school.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that despite any equitable participation requirements placed upon intermediate units, your school district is still responsible for the provision of a free and appropriate public education for all children residing within its jurisdictions, including those in private schools.
A. Evaluations Generally
With regard to evaluations and reevaluations, the main revisions in Chapter 14 are to the timelines. Specifically, under the new regulations, initial evaluations must be completed within 60 calendar days of the date the school district receives written parental consent, rather than 60 school days previously allowed. The regulations do, however, carve out an exception for the summer months. Thus, the calendar days that fall between the day after the last day of school and the day before the first day of school in the fall will not count toward the 60 day timeline. The regulations further specify that copies of the evaluation report must be provided to the parents at least 10 school days prior to the IEP meeting, unless this requirement is waived by the parents in writing.
The regulations also now specify that parents may request an initial evaluation at any time, in writing. The provision in the federal regulations that states that reevaluations may occur only once a year unless the parents and school district agree otherwise remains unchanged. When a parent makes a request for an initial evaluation, the school entity must provide the parent with a Permission to Evaluate form. The regulations do not specify the timeframe within which districts must provide this form; rather, the districts must have such forms “readily available.” If parents make the request for an evaluation orally, the school must provide the parents with a Permission to Evaluate form within 10 calendar days of the oral request.
Reevaluations are also now subject to a 60 calendar day timeline, although the regulations do not specify when the 60 day timeline begins to run. Despite the lack of specificity, the State’s revised Permission to Reevaluate form seems to suggest that, like initial evaluations, the 60 day timeline begins to run from the date the school district receives written permission from the parents for the reevaluation. Also similar to initial evaluations, calendar days during the summer months do not count toward the timeline, and the reevaluation report must be provided to the parents at least 10 school days prior to the IEP meeting unless the parents waive this requirement in writing.
B. Criteria for the Determination of Specific Learning Disabilities
Following the template provided by the federal IDEA regulations, the revised Chapter 14 regulations now include a section containing State-level criteria that school districts and intermediate units must use in developing procedures to the determine the existence of specific learning disabilities in children. Specifically, the State now mandates that in order to determine whether a child has a specific learning disability, all school districts and intermediate units must first address whether the child does not achieve adequately for the child’s age or meet State-approved grade-level standards in one or more skill areas. These areas include (i) Oral expression; (ii) Listening comprehension; (iii) Written expression; (iv) Basic reading skills; (v) Reading fluency skills; (vi) Reading comprehension; (vii) Mathematics calculation; and (viii) Mathematics problem solving.
In order to make the determination of whether a child is not academically achieving at an adequate rate, one method school districts and intermediate units may continue to use to identify the existence of a specific learning disability is a “discrepancy analysis”, which examines whether a child exhibits a significant discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement, relative to intellectual ability, age or grade (provided that such discrepancy is not due solely to other confounding variables). While this method of determining whether a child has a specific learning disability is by far the most prevalent in Pennsylvania, national concern about the discrepancy model being akin to a “wait to fail” plan, has already opened the door under the IDEA to allow alternative methods of identifying specific learning disabilities in children.
Given this, Chapter 14 also permits school districts and intermediate units to utilize “a process based on the child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention.” School districts and intermediate units electing to use a “response-to-intervention” procedure must be able to provide written documentation that the student actually received high quality instruction in the general education setting, that research-based interventions were in fact provided to the student, and finally, they must be able to demonstrate that student progress was regularly and appropriately monitored.
Although school districts and intermediate units are free to adopt either method to determine the existence of specific learning disabilities in children (i.e., a discrepancy model or a response-to-intervention model), one process or the other must be expressly selected in their policies and State plans. Ultimately, the important thing for parents is to be aware of what method for identifying specific learning disabilities is being utilized by their district or intermediate unit, as such can directly affect eligibility determinations.
A. Individualized Education Programs
Although the changes to the Chapter 14 regulations with respect to Individualized Education Plans (“IEPs”) are not as extensive as in other areas since, as before, they largely just incorporate the IEP regulations found in federal law, there are a few modifications of note.
The most obvious difference under the revised Chapter 14 IEP regulations is the great emphasis now placed on IEPs not only clearly identifying the types of supports and placement that a child will receive, but also specifying that educational programming may not be determined solely by the category of the child’s disability. Specifically, the regulations seemingly try to rectify a pervasive misconception in Pennsylvania concerning the past “disability-focused” definitions of special education program types, which some school districts, intermediate units and even parents have erroneously interpreted to mean that a child’s disability category “automatically” dictated a child’s program – as opposed to what a child might actually need for an appropriate educational program. To this end, and as is discussed in greater detail under the “Caseloads for Special Education” section of this article, Chapter 14 now includes much clearer definitions of various special education programming types.
The new regulations also reiterate that school districts and intermediate units must first consider the regular classroom with the provision of supplementary aids and services before considering the provision of services in other settings. While this mandate mostly just echoes requirements already established under federal law, the express inclusion of a “least restrictive environment” clause highlights the scrutiny that the State will be placing on programming and placement decisions that require that a child be educated outside the regular classroom. In a similar vein, the revised regulations also spell out that IEPs must now include a description of all supplementary aids and services being provided, a description of the type or types of support being proposed (relating to personnel), and the location where the child will attend school, with the added requirement to note whether or not such location is also the child’s home school.
Another change with the new regulations involves the formal switch from age 16 back to age 14 for school districts to begin transition planning for eligible students. The additional requirements for transition planning in Chapter 14 – such as the IEP including appropriate measurable post secondary goals related to training, education, employment and, when appropriate, independent living skills – simply mirror the mandates of the federal regulations already in effect.
A final change to Chapter 14 is the removal of the language concerning the options school districts and intermediate units have where IEP students move to a new school district either within the State or from out-of-state. All options were rendered moot by the IDEA regulations that require school districts to honor incoming IEPs regardless of where they may originate.
B. Positive Behavior Support
With respect to behavioral supports for children, the theme of change to Chapter 14 is largely reflected in the title of this revised section, where the word “Positive” has now been added, where before it was simply entitled “Behavior Support”. To this end, the Chapter 14 regulations are now replete with language additions that make clear the State’s emphasis on making behavioral support plans as affirmative and non-intrusive as possible for all school-age and early intervention children.
For example, the revised regulations not only mandate that “[p]ositive, rather than negative, measures shall form the basis of behavior support programs” as before, but also add language stating that “all children shall be free from demeaning treatment, the use of aversive techniques and the unreasonable use of restraints.” Furthermore, all behavior support programs must now include research-based practices and techniques, be based upon a functional assessment of behavior, and utilize positive behavior techniques to develop and maintain skills that will enhance a child’s opportunity for learning and self-fulfillment.
Likewise, when an intervention is needed to address a problem behavior, Chapter 14 not only retains language making clear that the types of interventions chosen for a particular child shall be the least intrusive necessary, and that certain aversive techniques remain inappropriate under any circumstances, the revised regulations also include the warning that the use of restraints is considered “a measure of last resort”, only to be used after other less restrictive measures, including de-escalation techniques, have been attempted. The use of restraints has of course been highly debated for some time, so it is not surprising that the revised regulations now also include much more guidance as to what does and does not constitute acceptable restraint employed on a child. According to the revised regulations, the term “restraint” is expressly not intended to include briefly holding a child (without force) in order to comfort him or her, guiding a student to an appropriate activity, or holding a child’s hand to safely escort him or her from one area to another. Also now specifically excluded from the definition of “restraint” are hand-over-hand assistance techniques with feeding or task completion, and techniques prescribed by a qualified medical professional for reasons of safety or therapeutic treatment (as agreed to by the child’s parents and specified in the IEP). Similarly, “restraints” would not ordinarily include devices used for therapy or safety, though again these must be agreed to by a child’s parents and specified in the IEP, in addition to being determined necessary by a qualified medical professional as appropriate.
Outside of these delineated exceptions, the new regulations flesh out in much greater detail the parameters that school districts and intermediate units must adhere to with respect to restraining a child. Restraints to control acute or episodic aggressive or self-injurious behavior may be used only when the student is acting in a manner as to be a clear and present danger to himself, to other students or to employees, and only when less restrictive measures and techniques have proven to be or are less effective. However, Chapter 14 now also mandates that any time restraints are used to control the aggressive behavior of an individual student, the school district or intermediate unit must notify parents of the use of restraint, and unless after written notice a parent agrees in writing to waive the meeting, a meeting of the IEP team must occur within 10 school days of the use of the restraint. At this IEP meeting, the IEP team needs to consider whether the student needs a functional behavioral assessment, reevaluation, a new or revised positive behavior support plan, or a change of placement to address the inappropriate behavior.
Even greater change to Chapter 14 can be found concerning the inclusion of restraints as part of an IEP. In the past, the regulations merely indicated that restraints could not be included in an IEP for the convenience of staff, as a substitute for an educational program, or employed as punishment. Chapter 14 now also adds that restraints may only be included as part of a child’s IEP when 1) utilized with specific component elements of positive behavior support; 2) used in conjunction with the teaching of socially acceptable alternative skills to replace the problem behavior; 3) staff are authorized to use the procedure and have received the staff training required; and 4) there is a plan in place for eliminating the use of restraint through the application of positive behavior support techniques. The new regulations are also clear that under no circumstances may any child’s educational program include restraints in which a child is held face down on the floor. Overall, there is much greater emphasis now being placed on making sure that in the event restraints must be used, that such is utilized not only judiciously, but also with an eye towards the use of restraints being more of a short term intervention.
One final change to Chapter 14 under this section is that subsequent to a referral to law enforcement, for students with disabilities who have positive behavior support plans, an updated functional behavior assessment and positive behavior support plan will be required. In other words, if a child is referred to the police or another similar agency, school districts must now automatically treat such as a significant “red flag” warranting a formal re-examination of the child’s positive behavior support plan.
Personnel is a new section in the regulations. In this section several definitions are incorporated, including that of instructional paraprofessional, personal care assistant, and educational interpreter. The new regulations also set forth qualifications for each of these positions.
An Instructional Paraprofessional is school employee who works under the direction of a certified staff member to support and assist in providing instructional programs and services to children with disabilities and eligible young children. Such support and assistance includes one-on-one or group review of material taught by certificated staff, classroom management and implementation of positive behavior support plans. Services may be provided in a special education class, regular education class, or other instructional setting as provided in the student’s IEP. Effective July 1, 2010 instructional paraprofessionals must have: (1) completed at least two years of postsecondary study; or (2) possess an associate degree or higher; or (3) meet a rigorous standard of quality as demonstrated through a State or local assessment. Guidance should be forthcoming about what constitutes “Meet a rigorous standard of quality as demonstrated through a State or local assessment.” In addition, instructional paraprofessionals must provide evidence of 20 hours of staff development activities related to their assignment each school year. This twenty hour requirement must be met between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 and annually thereafter.
A Personal Care Assistant provides one-to-one support and assistance to a student, including support and assistance in the use of medical equipment (e.g., augmentative communications devices; activities of daily living; and monitoring health and behavior). A personal care assistant may provide support time to one student at a time. Personal care assistants do not have the same requirements to be qualified as instructional paraprofessionals. They do, however, have the same requirement of 20 hours of staff development related to their assignment.
An Educational Interpreter is an individual who provides students who are deaf or hard of hearing with interpreting or transliterating services in an educational setting. To serve as an educational interpreter, an individual must provide evidence of: (1) a minimum score of a 3.5 on the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA); or (2) be a qualified educational interpreter; or (3) be a qualified transliterator under the Sign Language Interpreter and Transliterator Act. In addition, educational interpreters must complete 20 hours of staff development related to interpreting. So, an individual will need to provide evidence of one, two, or three, above, and complete 20 hours of staff development in order to be an educational interpreter.
D. Access To Instructional Materials
Under the IDEA, Congress required the Secretary of Education to establish and support a center to be known as the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC). NIMAC is a central repository which is responsible for processing, storing and distributing textbooks and core instructional materials in specialized formats such as Braille, audio, or digital text, and large print formats pursuant to the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (“NIMAS”). The NIMAS is the standard that facilitates the creation of accessible content. The purpose of the NIMAS is to help increase the availability and timely delivery of print instructional materials in accessible formats to blind or other persons with print disabilities in elementary and secondary schools.
In the new regulations, the Board of Education has adopted the NIMAS. Agencies must, in a timely manner, provide print instructional materials in specialized, accessible formats (e.g., Braille, audio, digital, large-print) to children who are blind or other persons with print disabilities. Agencies act in a timely manner in providing instructional materials if they take all reasonable steps to ensure that children who are blind or other persons with print disabilities have access to their instructional materials in an accessible format at the same time that students without disabilities have access to the instructional materials. Along these lines, receipt of only a portion the instructional materials in alternate format that includes material covering the chapters being taught currently is considered timely. In addition, if a child requiring the specialized materials enrolls in school after the start of the school year, an agency must take steps to ensure that the child receives the specialized materials within 10 school days of the date the determination is made that the materials are necessary.
E. Extended School Year Services
The Chapter 14 regulations for extended school year services (“ESY”) remain largely unchanged from before, aside from specific timelines being added for ESY determinations to be made for students with more severe disabilities.
Specifically, where a child has a severe disability such as autism / pervasive developmental disorder, serious emotional disturbance, severe mental retardation, degenerative impairments with mental involvement or severe multiple disabilities, school districts must 1) notify parents of the annual review meeting to encourage their participation, 2) have such IEP meeting no later than February 28th of each school year, and 3) issue a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP) to parents no later than March 31st of each school year.
For students that do not necessarily have a “severe disability” as defined under this section, school districts must still consider a student’s eligibility for ESY services “in a timely manner” at an IEP meeting. While not defined, “in a timely manner” likely means that a school district’s ESY decision must be made far enough in advance of the ESY period that parents have time to challenge the decision at an expedited due process hearing should they so desire.
A. Caseloads for Special Education
Chapter 14 has consistently included caseload requirements which restrict the number of students assigned to any one teacher, depending upon the level and type of support received by the students. The maximum number of students permitted on a special education teacher’s caseload under the revised regulations remains essentially the same as it was under the previous version of Chapter 14. The only real changes made to the caseload provision are the removal of part-time support, and the maximum caseload numbers associated with such support, and the replacement of the term resource support with supplemental support. As such, there are now three levels of support: (1) full-time support (special education supports and services provided by special education personnel for 80% or more of the school day); (2) itinerant support (special education supports and services provided by special education personnel for 20% or less of the school day); and (3) supplemental support (special education supports and services provided by special education personnel for more than 20% but less than 80% of the school day).
Maximum caseload numbers for itinerant support and full-time support remain the same as they have for the past several years, while maximum caseload numbers for supplemental support are identical to the old resource support numbers. Thus, the maximum teacher caseloads range, depending upon the type of support, from 12 to 65 for itinerant, 8 to 20 for supplemental, and 8 to 15 for full-time. Under certain circumstances, however, school districts may request approval from the Pennsylvania Department Education for a caseload chart that varies from the one set forth in the regulations.
In addition to modifying the definitions for the levels of support, the revised regulations also expand the previous definitions for each of the types of support available to students including, blind and visually impaired support, deaf and hard of hearing support, emotional support, learning support, life skills support, multiple disabilities support, physical support, and speech and language support. More specifically, each type of support now includes a description of the kinds of needs that the support is meant to address. These expanded definitions should prove helpful to parents and other members of the IEP team in ensuring that a child’s needs are truly being addressed in his or her program.
The definitions of three of the types of support available to students, however, go much further than including a description of the kinds of needs that the support is meant to address. Specifically, the definition of autistic support, blind and visually impaired support, and deaf and hard of hearing support actually include needs and/or services that the IEP must address. For instance, the definition of autistic support now requires that the IEP of a student receiving this type of support address the verbal and nonverbal communication needs of the child; social interaction skills; the child’s response to sensory experiences and changes in the environment; and the need for positive behavioral support. For students who are blind or visually impaired, the IEP must now include a description of the instruction to be provided to the child in Braille, or the extent to which Braille will be used for the student’s learning materials. Finally, for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, the IEP must include a communication plan to address language and communication needs, academic levels, and assistive technology and services.
B. Least Restrictive Environment
The regulations now include a specific section on least restrictive environment (“LRE”), whereas the state regulations had previously incorporated by reference the LRE language found in the federal regulations. Now, the state regulations themselves provide that students with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment, and that each school entity must ensure that to the maximum extent appropriate, and as provided in the IEP, the student with a disability is educated with non-disabled peers. School entities must also ensure that students with disabilities are educated outside the regular education class only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in the regular education class cannot be achieved satisfactorily with the use of appropriate supplementary aids and services.
If a child can, with the full range of supplementary aids and services, make meaningful progress towards his or her IEP goals, the student cannot be determined to require separate education just because he or she cannot achieve at the same level as classmates who do not have disabilities. Nor can a child with a disability be determined ineligible for placement in a regular education classroom solely because of the nature or severity of the child’s disability or solely due to administrative convenience or because educating the child in the regular education classroom would necessitate additional cost. The regulations also specify that school entities are required to provide access to a full continuum of placement options.
As discussed in the IEP section of this article, while these LRE provisions do not actually reflect a change in the law, they do give emphasis to the scrutiny that the State will be placing on programming and placement decisions that require that a child be educated outside the regular classroom.
V. PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS
Previously, the Pennsylvania regulations provided three means of dispute resolution: mediation, prehearing conferences, and due process hearings. The new regulations do away with prehearing conferences as a means of resolving disputes and contain several changes in the procedures for due process hearings.
First, as previously set forth in the federal regulations, while a school district or early intervention agency may still initiate a due process hearing to proceed with an initial evaluation or reevaluation if a parent refuses consent or fails to respond to the proposed evaluation or reevaluation, an educational agency cannot initiate a due process hearing or mediation if a parent fails to respond or refuses consent to the initial provision of special education services. However, it is important for parents to remember that the federal regulations also provide that if a parent refuses to provide consent for an initial evaluation or the initial provision of services, the school district will not be held to be in violation of the requirement to provide FAPE to the child. Therefore, parents should carefully consider the consequences of withholding such consent.
Under the old regulations, Pennsylvania had a two-tier administrative process whereby a hearing officer’s decision could be appealed to a panel of three appellate hearing officers. The new regulations have done away with Appeals Panels, however, changing Pennsylvania’s system to a one-tier process. Therefore, hearing officer decisions now must be appealed to either a federal district court or Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. While an administrative appeal was a fairly simple and relatively inexpensive process, appeals to court will likely be more costly to both parents and school districts.
The regulations also incorporate the requirement of a resolution session found in the federal regulations, and note that the resolution session is available to parents of both school age and eligible young children with disabilities. Resolutions meetings are mandatory, unless waived by both parties, and provide an opportunity to resolve the issues prior to going to a due process hearing, much like prehearing conferences did under the old regulations. Pennsylvania’s Chapter 14 regulations also now specify that parent advocates may attend resolution meetings.
The revised regulations also change the timeline for a due process hearing, thus providing the parties with ample time to attempt to resolve the issues prior to proceeding to hearing. Specifically, the due process hearing timeline has been changed from within 30 days after a parent’s or school district’s request for a hearing to after the conclusion of the resolution meeting or after one of the parties withdraws from mediation or the parties agree to waive the resolution meeting. The timeline for a hearing officer’s decision being issued has also been changed from 45 days after the parent’s or school district’s hearing request to 45 days after the resolution or mediation session ends without resolution or agreement. In the case of an expedited hearing, the hearing officer’s decision must now be mailed within 30 school days of the district’s receipt of the hearing request, rather than within 45 days, as previously stated. A party may request an expedited hearing when either a disciplinary removal from school or Extended School Year services are at issue.
The regulations also now include a pendency provision for mediation, stating that unless the parents and the school agree otherwise, the child who is the subject of mediation shall remain in his or her current placement until the mediation process is concluded. Previously, pendency had applied only when a due process hearing was requested.
It is interesting to note that although the language regarding disciplinary placements did not change in the revised regulations, the citations to the federal law did, and this change in citation appears to change the law with respect to disciplinary removals of students with mental retardation. Previously, Pennsylvania regulations stated that a removal from school is a change of placement for a student identified with mental retardation unless the student’s actions were drug or weapons offenses as specified in the federal regulations, allowing for the student to be placed in an interim alternative educational setting for not more than 45 days.
Rather than limiting the federal regulations applicable to students with mental retardation to these particular circumstances, however, by citing to all of the discipline provisions in the federal regulations rather than the specific section pertaining to 45-day interim alternative settings, the revised Pennsylvania regulations appear to apply all of the discipline procedures found in the federal regulations to students identified with mental retardation. This could mean that school districts may be able to remove a child with mental retardation for any disciplinary violation for up to 10 days, or for more than 10 days so long as the behavior was not a manifestation of the child’s disability. However, given that the regulations continue to carve out an exception for students with mental retardation, it is more likely that the disciplinary procedures related to placement in interim alternative educational settings for drug and weapons offenses and the infliction of serious bodily injury are the only disciplinary provisions meant to be applicable to children with mental retardation by the new Pennsylvania regulations.
VII. EARLY INTERVENTION
The revised Chapter 14 also includes several changes to early intervention (ages three to five) services. Similar to school aged children, all evaluations and reevaluations must be completed, and evaluation/reevaluation reports issued, within sixty calendar days from the date on which the intermediate unit received parental consent. The most significant and troubling changes to early intervention, however, relate to placement options and caseloads.
With regard to placement options, the language relating to typical preschool programs and special education preschool programs may result in intermediate units taking the position that they no longer have the obligation to fund typical preschool placements. Specifically, the new language in Chapter 14 describes the typical preschool placement option as “services provided in a typical preschool program with non-eligible young children,” while the special education preschool placement option is described as “services provided in a special education preschool program funded by the early intervention agency.” Whether intended by the legislature or not, the inclusion of the words “funded by the early intervention agency” in regard to special education preschool programs, but not typical preschool programs, will undoubtedly lead to placement disputes between parents and intermediate units, at least with respect to who needs to fund the placement.
The caseload limits previously associated with early intervention have also been removed, and replaced with a caseload limit of 20 to 40 students for itinerant teachers, 25 to 50 students for speech therapists, and a class size limit for early intervention teachers who provide specialized instruction of 6 to 11 students.
On a positive note, the revised Chapter 14 regulations now require intermediate units to consider whether or not a student requires services over breaks in the early intervention calendar, where the student demonstrates issues with regression of skills during those breaks, and an inability to recoup those skills after the break.