If your student has special needs, you’re probably familiar with admission, review and dismissal (ARD) meetings—which bring together school and family stakeholders to make decisions related to a child’s special education services. But are you making the most of that process and advocating for your child the best way you can, especially since COVID-19 began? Dustin Rynders, supervising attorney at Disability Rights Texas, shares what parents need to know.
DFWChild: For families who are just starting on the special education pathway, can you provide some background on ARD meetings?
DR: All decisions about the education of a student receiving special education services are made by an ARD committee that includes the parent. The committee determines academic and behavioral goals, accommodations, the amount and focus of any related services, and where the services will occur. The committee can also determine if student needs assistive technology, such as a laptop, and if student needs any compensatory educational services to make up for any time when instruction didn’t meet student’s needs.
ARD meetings occur at least once per year but can occur more frequently when needed. Parents or the school can request an ARD meeting whenever the student’s plan needs reviewed or changed.
C: How has the pandemic impacted special education services and ARDs?
DR: The pandemic has created a huge need for school districts to hold ARD meetings for high percentages of students to adjust programming. They have also had to figure out how to deliver more services remotely, provide technology to students who don’t have it and support parents who are struggling to provide in-home support. While some districts held an amazing number of remote ARDs and seemed to work very hard to provide direct instruction and related services—like speech therapy—virtually, others offered little more than suggestions about where parents could find existing homeschool resources. Sometimes these disparities existed between campuses in the same districts or even teachers within the same school.
C: What’s your take on virtual ARDs?
DR: Some parents like that virtual ARDs allow them to participate without leaving office or home. Some parents do not have sufficient cell phone data plans to allow video participation in long meetings. Educators also vary in their comfort facilitating effective virtual meetings. Overall, virtual ARD meetings have worked better than virtual instruction.
C: If a student is returning to campus for the first time since COVID-19 began, how can parents ensure their child’s needs are being met and that their individualized education program (IEP) is on track?
DR: Most students will need to be reevaluated at the conclusion of virtual learning to see if they need compensatory education. Many parents will also have valuable information about how a child performed during virtual learning that ARD committees must consider in determining compensatory education and future educational services.
C: If a school determines that a child doesn’t need a particular accommodation that a parent has requested, what course of action do you recommend?
DR: As members of the child’s ARD committees, parents check “agree” or “disagree” at the end of every meeting. Whenever a parent checks “disagree,” a reconvene meeting is scheduled to allow others in the district to get involved in problem-solving the parent’s concerns. An outside facilitator can also be arranged. Parents can also use the TEA complaint process, mediation or even due process hearing system to resolve complaints.
C: How can parents ensure their children get compensatory services if their usual special education services were delayed or canceled due to COVID-19, and make sure they continue meeting their IEP goals?
DR: Parents can request compensatory education in an ARD committee if insufficient services kept their student from making meaningful progress. The parent should keep track of what services weren’t provided as well as any information showing that the child has regressed or failed to make meaningful progress because service wasn’t provided. TEA has prepared a handout for parents on compensatory services; you can find it on the TEA website, tea.texas.gov.
Schools shouldn’t take requests for compensatory instruction personally, especially during this time. Even if we work together and try to overcome challenges, what is possible in this time won’t work for all students. We have to accept that fact, put students first and plan for the challenge of helping impacted students catch up.
C: How do you recommend that families best advocate for their students right now?
DR: Families and educators should strive to be solution oriented. When something isn’t working, parents have to discuss the issue with educators to see what can be done. Everyone also has to accept that some students will need compensatory services. Parents who need more information or help navigating challenges with their child’s school can request advocacy assistance from Disability Rights Texas, drtx.org.