Connecticut Education Law Blog

Connecticut Education Law Blog

ESSA Amendments Effective October 1, 2016 Change School’s Obligations to Homeless Students

Posted in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The McKinney-Vento Act governs the way states and local education agencies (LEAs) are required under federal law to support their homeless student populations. The McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to have policies and practices in place that encourage the immediate enrollment of homeless students, remove barriers to enrollment, including transportation, ensure the full participation of homeless students in school, support school stability and require care to ensure that homeless students are not stigmatized. Following the last reauthorization of McKinney-Vento in 2001, the U.S. Department of Education issued non-regulatory informal guidance that schools have been following since to help interpret their obligations under McKinney-Vento. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) amendments effective as of October 1, 2016 not only codify the informal guidance that schools have been following, but also change in several significant ways how schools must support homeless students, including modifying the definitions of homeless students and youth, and the definition of school or origin, expanding duties for McKinney-Vento Homeless liaisons and clarifying privacy obligations to homeless students to name some.

While ESSA leaves most of the McKinney-Vento Act definitions intact, it removes “students awaiting foster care” from the definition of “homeless child or youth” effective December 10, 2016, and creates new rights for such children and youth under Title I, Part A. Many of these rights fall within the state Title I Plan provisions. LEAs receiving Title I funds must have LEA Title I plans that contain assurances that it will collaborate with state or local child welfare agencies regarding the provision of transportation to and from the school of origin, if in the student’s best interest. It is contemplated that transportation is to be paid from local welfare agency funds unless an LEA agrees otherwise. LEAs must designate a foster care point of contact, and that individual may be the McKinney-Vento liaison, assuming the person can fulfill the demands of both roles. Additionally, ESSA added a requirement that SEAs and LEAs report annually on the academic achievement and graduation rates for children in foster care as a separate subgroup to show how foster youth are performing relative to their peers.

Most notably under the ESSA Amendments, the term “school of origin” has been redefined and expanded to now include preschools and “the designated receiving school at the next grade level for all feeder schools”. Unfortunately, preschool is not defined under the ESSA Amendment.[1]

Further, the amendments require a presumption that it is in a student’s best interest to remain in the school of origin, add professional development requirements for homeless liaisons which will likely be interpreted to require some annual training, expand upon immediate enrollment requirements, add credit accrual and college readiness requirements and add a requirement that state coordinators monitor LEA’s to ensure compliance with McKinney-Vento. Additionally, the amendments clarify that information about a homeless student’s living arrangement is FERPA protected and their address and living situation is not directory information.

For further information about how ESSA impacts the rights of children in your school district who are experiencing homelessness, please consult our office with specific questions. Additional information can also be found at

[1]The definition of preschool program for federal data collection purposes is a helpful reference. Examples of preschool programs for federal data collection purposes includes head start programs receiving funding from an LEA or for which the LEA is a grant recipient, preschool programs operated or administered by an LEA, preschool special education services, operated or funded by the LEA or mandated under the IDEA; preschool programs and services administered or funded by the LEA through use of Title I or similar grants or home-based early childhood educational services funded and administered by an LEA. National Center for Homeless Education (2015). Guide to Reporting Federal Data.

New Title II Regulations Set To Take Effect in October: How They May Impact You

Posted in Americans with Disabilities Act

On October 11, 2016, less than a week away, a final rule amending the regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will take effect.  The new regulations will provide guidance to local government entities, including school districts, regarding the interpretation and application of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).  Important for educators, the regulations will help school districts determine their responsibilities to students with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) due to Section 504’s reliance on the ADA’s regulations.

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

In response to two major Supreme Court decisions narrowing the definition of what constituted a disability under the ADA, Congress took action and passed the ADAAA in 2008.  The ADAAA clarified Congress’ intent and interpretation of what constitutes a disability for the purposes of protection under the ADA.  Of importance for school districts nationwide, the ADA’s definitions and regulatory structure are relied upon for determining a student’s eligibility for, and the scope of, services or accommodations required under Section 504.  Though the ADAAA took effect in 2009 and educators may already be familiar with its provisions, these regulations will provide helpful guidance for school officials in both special and regular education matters.

Changes to the Title II Regulations

The main objective of the new regulations is to help clarify the purpose of the ADAAA – largely, to establish that the term “disability” is to be defined broadly.  Congress’ intent was to shift the legal focus away from battling over whether an individual has a disability, and instead focus attention on determining whether qualified entities, such as school districts, have satisfied their duty to avoid disability discrimination.  To this end some highlights of the new regulations include:

  • An expansion of the definition of “major life activities,” including the addition of “writing,” “learning,” “reading,” “concentrating,” and “thinking” as a major life activities;
  • Guidance that the term “substantially limits”  must be construed broadly and in favor of coverage under the ADA;
  • The addition of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as an example of a physical or mental impairment;
  • A prohibition against considering the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures (i.e. hearing aids, medication, or assistive technology) other than ordinary eyeglasses or corrective lenses when determining whether an individual has a disability for purposes of the ADA;
  • Recognition that episodic impairments (i.e. occasional epileptic seizures) or impairments in remission can still be a disability under the ADA if they substantially limit a major life activity when active; and
  • Guidance that only individuals who have a disability or individuals with a record of a disability are entitled to reasonable modifications under the ADA.  Individuals who are “regarded as” having a disability, while not entitled to reasonable modifications, may not be discriminated against.

If you have any questions about the new Title II regulations, the education team at Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. can help.  For inquiries regarding the ADA, Section 504 compliance and more, visit, or email us at

OCR Publications Clarify District Obligations to Student with ADHD under Section 504

Posted in Regular Education, Special Education

School is back in session once again, and districts are confronting the perennial challenge of educating students with a multitude of physical, cognitive and behavioral limitations. Among these conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) stands out in both its ubiquity and its potential to thrust parents and school districts into conflict over appropriate educational programming. In fact, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has received over 2,000 complaints involving allegations of discrimination against students with ADHD in the past five years alone. The staggering number of complaints is testimony to both the elusive nature of ADHD and the difficulties school districts are experiencing in identifying, evaluating, and providing appropriate programming to students with the disorder. Absent clarification of the rights of students with ADHD and the responsibilities of the school districts that serve them, the surge in complaints and litigation is unlikely to subside in the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, school districts are beginning the new school year armed with guidance for meeting their obligations to students with ADHD under federal law. Over the summer, the OCR published a Dear Colleague letter highlighting the recurring problems school districts are facing with respect to ADHD and emphasizing the need for school districts to tailor their responses in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The letter was accompanied by a comprehensive Resource Guide outlining the applicable federal law, providing step-by-step instructions for compliance with substantive obligations, and reminding school districts of their duty to notify families of their rights and procedural protections. These publications can aid school districts in revising their policies and procedures in accordance with federal law, which will likely result in better programming for students with ADHD and a reduction in complaints and litigation.

The OCR publications detail the bases for many of the complaints by families of students with ADHD. These allegations include the failure of school districts to identify and properly evaluate students with ADHD, to provide appropriate regular or special education and related services, to educate teachers and staff regarding students’ needs, and to notify families of their procedural and substantive rights under Section 504.

School districts are reminded of their “Child Find” obligation to identify and locate students suspected of having “disabilities” under Section 504. A student has a “disability” if she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and is also protected from discrimination if the student has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. The OCR emphasizes some examples of major life activities that could be substantially limited by ADHD, including concentrating, reading, thinking, and functions of the central nervous system/brain. Once a student is identified as possibly having a disability, school districts are obligated under Section 504 to conduct an evaluation at no costs to the student’s family. The evaluation must be conducted by appropriate personnel, without undue delay, and without regard to the effects of “mitigating measures” such as medication. Importantly, OCR states its own presumption that a student diagnosed with ADHD is substantially limited in one or more major life activities, and thus qualifies as a student with a disability under Section 504 unless proven otherwise. Overall, the definition of “disability” is to be construed broadly, and the determination of whether a student has a disability should not demand extensive analysis.

A student with a disability under Section 504 is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) comprised of regular or special education and related and/or supplementary services, modifications, and accommodations. FAPE must be individually tailored to a student’s particular needs, and provided without inappropriate consideration of administrative and financial burdens. With respect to ADHD, OCR cautions against the “blanket” provision of boilerplate services to any student diagnosed with the disorder. Instead, a “Section 504 plan” should be developed and implemented by a team of administrators and staff knowledgeable of the student’s particular needs. For example, a student with ADHD-predominantly inattentive type may supports such as prompting and redirection, while a student with ADHD-predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type may require a smaller classroom setting and reduced auditory or visual stimulation. The Section 504 plan should be disseminated to all of the student’s teachers in order to ensure uniform and consistent implementation.

Finally, school districts are obligated to notify families of their rights and procedural safeguards under Section 504. If a parent believes her child has a disability, she has the right to request an evaluation at district expense. If the school district refuses to conduct an evaluation, an explanation must be provided, and the parent must be able to challenge the district’s decision. Similarly, a parent must be able to challenge the determination that a student does not qualify as having a disability under Section 504. Finally, if a parent disagrees with the programming implemented for her child, she must be able to challenge the adequacy of the programming before a neutral hearing officer.

The OCR Dear Colleague letter and Resource Guide should be embraced by all school districts as the new school year begins. The existing confusion surrounding ADHD and the obligations of school districts under federal law indisputably drains educational resources and has resulted in a plethora of complaints and litigation. School districts are encouraged to heed the instructions and suggestions detailed in the OCR publications, and to revise their policies and procedures related to students with disabilities accordingly. In doing so, school districts will not only preserve scarce resources and avoid costly litigation, but more importantly, they will ensure that students with disabilities such as ADHD are being provided appropriate programming and afforded an equal opportunity to receive a quality education.

The education team at Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. offers representation and guidance to school district clients across the State of Connecticut. For inquiries regarding Section 504 compliance and more, visit, or email us at

Public Act 16-67: New Hiring Requirements for Board of Education Personnel

Posted in Labor and Employment

Effective July 1, 2016, local or regional boards of education, governing councils of state or local charter schools and inter-district magnet school operators (collectively “BOEs”), are going to have to follow new requirements for hiring education personnel.  The state legislature recently enacted Public Act 16-67 (“the Act”) in response to a new provision in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”). The new ESSA provision, entitled “Prohibition on Aiding and Abetting Sexual Abuse”, is aimed at preventing school employees who have engaged in sexual misconduct with students from being passed from one school district to another, by requiring states, state educational agencies and local school districts that receive federal funding to establish laws, regulations and policies that prevent employment of school personnel where there is reason to believe that person has previously engaged in sexual misconduct with a student or minor.

Who is impacted by the new requirements?

The Act has broad application and seeks to identify potential predators earlier in the hiring process. Significantly, the Act applies to applicants, rather than those offered employment, and prohibits the employment of any applicant who fails to meet the new requirements.  The Act makes no distinction between certified and non-certified personnel, but instead applies to all “applicants for a position, including any position which is contracted for, if such applicant would have direct student contact”.  “Direct student contact” is not defined by the Act, but positions with direct student contact would include teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, behavioral therapists, coaches, food service workers, custodians, clerical/administrative support staff in the schools, and school nurses.  There are specific provisions for temporary positions (less than 90 days), substitute teachers and contractors, but even applicants for these positions must comply with the requirements for criminal and employment background checks.  Student employees remain excluded from the requirement of a criminal background check under Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-221d.

What is required under the Act?

The Act imposes significant changes on existing laws regarding hiring of education personnel, specifically impacting Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-221d (criminal and child abuse registry background checks), 10-222c (hiring policy) and 10-145 (substitute teachers). Continue Reading

Major Overtime Rule Change Effective December 1 – What You Need To Know To Prepare Now

Posted in Labor and Employment

The U.S. Department of Labor just issued its final rule, requiring minimum wage and overtime for some employees who are currently “exempt” from these requirements. Employers need to plan ahead for implementation, as the rule change could lead to seismic shifts in some payrolls.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires that employees receive minimum wage and overtime (calculated at one-and-a-half times the regular rate of pay for hours over 40) unless they are “exempt” from one or both requirements. The most popular exemptions are the so-called “white collar exemptions,” which apply to executive, administrative, and professional employees who meet rigorous criteria based on their duties. To be exempt, these employees must be paid a salary of at least $455 per week and the employer must pay on a salary basis (meaning no docking for partial workweeks, subject to limited exceptions). Doctors, lawyers, and teachers can be exempt under the FLSA even if they are not paid on a salary basis and there is no minimum salary for these employees. (The computer professional exemption has special rules under which employees can be paid hourly, but in any event, there is no computer professional exemption under Connecticut state law.)

The rule change more than doubles the salary threshold from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $913 per week ($47,476 annually). Further, these thresholds will be subject to inflationary increases every three years. Nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) may account for up to 10 percent of the minimum salary level. By contrast, discretionary bonuses do not count toward the minimum salary level.  The duties tests are not changing under this rule. The threshold for the “highly compensated employee” exemption increases from $100,000 to $134,004, but Connecticut does not recognize this exemption, so employers should not rely upon it for employees in the state.

Raising the salary threshold is expected to transform millions of exempt employees into non-exempt employees overnight. Some employers will be able to weather this change better than others. Virtually every employer in the country is subject to the FLSA, even if there is only one employee. This includes non-profits and public sector employers. In Connecticut, where the cost of living is high, the effect of this change may be lower than elsewhere in the country. It is more likely here than elsewhere that employees who meet the duties tests are already earning at least $913 per week. However, non-profit, low-profit, and government employers may find that many of their employees are subject to this rule change and these employers may have more rigid budgets that cannot withstand the impact. Employers with an annual volume of sales or business of less than $500,000 may wish to consult an employment lawyer to see if they are one of the very few employers not subject to the FLSA.

To comply with the rule, employers need to either raise salaries of affected employees to ensure they meet the threshold or begin treating these employees as non-exempt. Raising salaries is straightforward, but remember that the rule is likely to require inflationary increases, so the amount will change going forward. If employers do not wish to raise salaries, the employees must be treated as non-exempt. This means that employers must keep records of their hours worked and they must be paid overtime for hours over 40. It is legally permissible to cap hours at 40 by prohibiting employees from working overtime and some employers may choose to hire multiple employees to do what was once one employee’s job. Collective bargaining agreements may limit employers’ options.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to ensure that employees are properly exempted if they are not going to be paid overtime. Consider the following scenario. A passionate, well educated executive director of a nonprofit organization earns a salary of $912 per week – just one dollar short of the new threshold. She labors with love, working 70 hours most weeks. A disgruntled employee complains to the Department of Labor that he is owed overtime and the agency examines the payroll practices of the entire organization. The Department of Labor finds that the executive director is not exempt. It is not that she is underpaid by fifty-two dollars. It is that she is not exempt at all. She is owed unpaid overtime of more than $20,000 (more if the salary was only intended to cover a certain number of hours) all because she was paid one dollar per week too little to qualify as exempt.  She would likely also be eligible for liquidated damages, doubling the underlying liability. (There are some arguments an employer could make to apply more favorable damages calculations, but these arguments have yet to be successful in the Second Circuit.) That is the legal significance of the salary threshold and why employers must be extremely careful. For that matter, when considering the duties tests as well, employers should recognize how a small mistake in classifying an employee or a group of employees could add up to huge liability.

Employers should take time now to review their payroll practices to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal laws now and in the future. For each employee believed to be exempt, ensure that he or she meets the duties tests for the applicable exemption, is paid on a salary if required by the exemption, and is paid a salary that is high enough to support the exemption. In considering the duties of a position, employers should be concerned not with titles or job descriptions, but with how the employee actually spends his or her time. It is a good idea to update job descriptions to match reality.

Ensure that all non-exempt employees’ hours are being tracked, including time spent offsite performing work, on call, or traveling, to the extent required by law. Ensure that break periods of fewer than 20 minutes are treated as working time.

Now is a good time to change payroll practices without raising alarm that perhaps things were not done properly before. Employers can connect changes with the new overtime rule to minimize suspicion, particularly in cases of misclassification. Internal review of payroll practices should be aided by a competent labor and employment attorney, as the rules can be excruciatingly detailed. Using non-attorney human resource consultants or payroll companies for this activity is not advised, as communications will not be privileged. Changes to payroll practices, hours, or other terms or conditions of employment should be communicated to employees well in advance, ideally at least 30 days.

Our team of labor and employment attorneys can assist employers in adjusting to the new white-collar exemption requirements and ensuring compliance with all applicable labor and employment laws.  Contact us to arrange a wage-and-hour self-audit for your organization.

U.S. Department of Education Tackles Discrimination of Refugees

Posted in Regular Education

On December 31, 2015, the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter before the beginning of the new year to remind schools of the importance of providing a discrimination free learning environment. The letter specifically focused on discrimination and harassment in schools based on race, religion, and national origin in light of the large number of families fleeing violence in Syria.

The Department of Education emphasized that the United States must welcome these refugees while also being committed to safeguarding the safety and security of the American people during this time of heightened fear and anger. One important aspect the Department of Education highlighted was ensuring that a student’s ability to learn was not affected due to inappropriate school conduct or discrimination.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin for public and private agencies that receive Federal funding. While Title VI does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on one’s religion, discrimination against persons who belong to a religious group based on their actual or perceived characteristics is a violation of Title VI.

The letter speaks to both K-12 and higher education institution’s duty to provide a safe learning environment, and limiting behavior that causes hostile environments. It additionally clarified that protecting free speech means allowing students, staff, and community members to express speech, even if it is at odds with the institution’s beliefs.

Some examples the Department of Education gave for helping facilitate the appropriate environment included encouraging students to express disagreement in a respectful manner, clearly communicating that harassment and bullying will not be tolerated, and creating opportunities for cultural groups to engage with each other and the school community.

The Department of Education acknowledged the difficulty of the work, but reiterated that schools have a responsibility to challenge past efforts, and welcome the refugees by working together to prevent discrimination.

New Special Legislation Requires Principals To Certify DCF Training Has Occurred and Increases Penalties For Failing To Report Suspected Abuse

Posted in Regular Education, Student Matters

School employees who fail to report child abuse may face tougher penalties for failing to report such incidents to DCF or the police as a result of a law passed by the General Assembly.

Public Act 15-205, An Act Protecting School Children, increases, from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony, the penalty for a mandated reporter who fails to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), if the (1) violation is a subsequent violation; (2) violation is willful, intentional, or due to gross negligence; or (3) a mandated reporter had actual knowledge of the abuse, neglect, or sexual assault.

The Act expands the reporting requirement for school employees and subjects violators to the penalties described above.  It also clarifies that the mandated reporter law protection applies to high schools students who are over age 18.  The Act requires school employees to report to DCF suspected sexual assault of any student who is not enrolled in adult education by a school employee.  It also establishes the factors on which a mandated reporter may base his or her suspicion.  Under the Act, it is a class D felony for anyone, other than a child or a student who is not enrolled in adult education, to intentionally and unreasonably interfere with or prevent such reporting or conspire to attempt to do so.

By law, (1) DCF must make available educational and refresher training for all mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect and (2) school employees must participate in the training course when hired and the refresher training every three years.  Under the Act, the principal for each school under the jurisdiction of a local or regional board of education now must annually certify to the superintendent that school employees complete such training and the superintendent must certify compliance to the State Board of Education (SBE).

The Act extends DCF’s investigation and notification requirements under existing law in reported child abuse or neglect cases to include cases of reported sexual assault of students by school employees.

It requires each local or regional board to (1) update its written policy, by February 1, 2016, to include the new school employee reporting requirements and (2) establish a confidential rapid response team, by January 1, 2016, to coordinate with DCF to ensure prompt reporting.  It also prohibits the boards from hiring noncompliant or convicted employees who were terminated or who resigned and requires SBE to revoke the certification, permit, or authorization of anyone convicted of certain crimes.

In addition, it (1) expands the list of suspected sexual assault crimes that school employees must report to DCF; (2) establishes the factors upon which a mandated reporter’s suspicion or belief may be based; (3) applies the original Act’s enhanced penalty of a class E felony to specific circumstances; (4) exempts children and any students who are not enrolled in adult education from the crime of interference with a mandated reporter’s duty to report; (5) extends DCF’s existing child abuse and neglect investigation and notification requirements to reported sexual assault cases; (6) eliminates the underlying Act’s provisions on SBE’s noncompliance investigation, the related forfeiture of state grants, and the child abuse and neglect investigation account; (7) establishes the membership of the confidential rapid response team; (8) broadens the range of criminal convictions for which rehiring is prohibited and the state’s attorney notification is required; and (9) makes various technical and conforming changes.

Effective Date: October 1, 2015; however, a provision on DCF’s training program (§1); provisions on rapid response teams (§9); rehiring prohibitions (§12 & 13) are effective July 1, 2015.

Superintendent of Schools’ Newsletter Regarding Budget Referendum Did Not Violate Election Laws

Posted in Regular Education

A Superior Court Judge recently held that a superintendents’ newsletter sent to parents which discussed a referendum does not violate Connecticut General Statutes §9-369b if the referendum has not yet been scheduled to take place.  In this case a complaint was filed alleging that the Bethel superintendent of schools used municipal funds to distribute a newsletter about a budget referendum, in violation of C.G.S. §9-369b.  The statute only prohibits distribution of such information when a referendum is legally “pending.”  As of the date of the superintendent’s newsletter on April 24, the referendum had not yet been scheduled to take place.  Because the superintendent’s April 24, 2015 newsletter was distributed before May 14, 2015, when the budget referendum qualified as “pending” under the local Charter, C.G.S. §9-369b did not apply.  The State Elections Enforcement Commission dismissed the complaint.

Because the point at which a referendum is considered “pending” varies from Town to Town, districts should consult with legal counsel to make certain they do not run afoul of the State Campaign Finance laws when they issue such statements.

IEP’s Must Align with State Academic Content Standards

Posted in Special Education

On November 16, 2015, the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter providing guidance concerning the alignment of an individualized education program (IEP) with the state standards for academic grade-level content. The Department of Education stated that in adhering to federal laws requiring that all students within a state have the same academic content and standards for achievement, an IEP for an eligible child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must therefore align with the state academic content standards for the particular grade in which the student is enrolled.

Under the IDEA, an eligible child with a disability must be provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Accessing FAPE includes providing a child with a variety of services designed to meet their specific educational needs presently and in the future, as well as prepare the child for future employment opportunities and independent living situations. In order to achieve FAPE and provide these necessary services for a disabled child, the IEP must be designed to allow the child to access, be involved, and make progressions within the general education curriculum set forth by their state.

Part B of the IDEA however references “specially designed instruction.” Specialized instruction allows an eligible disabled student to access the general curriculum by adapting the content and teaching methods to best serve the unique needs of the student. This requires the IEP team to make individualized decisions regarding what services and methods of instruction will best allow the student to reach the goals set forth by their IEP in conjunction with state standards.

The Department of Education did acknowledge that there is a small population of children with significant cognitive disabilities that may prohibit their achievement from being measured in comparison to the state standards. In these instances, alternative academic achievement standards may be created. These standards must still align with the state’s academic content standards, however the alternative standards can take other forms. For example, in order to reach a goal of performing the entire activity at grade level, an alternative standard could be requiring mastery of the introductory and pre-requisite skills required to perform the activity. The Department of Education suggests that the IEP team create ambitious goals that may seek to close the gap between the child’s current academic level and the grade-level standard the state sets.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, research has shown that when provided with appropriate instruction and services, children with disabilities can make great academic progress and strive toward grade-level general curriculum achievement. It is therefore very important that an IEP team carefully evaluate the unique needs of a particular child and create an IEP with appropriate goals and instruction methods to achieve those goals outlined while adhering to state academic content standards.

U.S. Department of Education Issues Guidance Regarding Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Dysgraphia

Posted in Special Education

On October 23, 2015, the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter providing guidance on the unique educational needs of students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. Despite generalized hesitancy to use these specific conditions in the evaluation and individualized education program (IEP) process, the U.S. Department of Education stated that there is nothing in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or the regulations of the department that would prohibit using these conditions in IDEA evaluations, eligibility determinations or IEP documents.

When determining eligibility, the comprehensive evaluation must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies to ascertain all relevant material regarding the functional, development, and academic information of the student. In conducting this assessment it is therefore very important to understand the nature and extent of the specific disability and the subsequent needs of the student.

Students with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia have unique educational needs. Inclusion of these conditions on an IEP is of great benefit to educators as it affords them an opportunity to understand the condition underlying the disability determination. This allows for appropriate accommodations, modifications, and support systems to be implemented in accordance with the IEP in order to best serve these unique needs and reach the goals listed on the IEP.

While there have been requests to create a comprehensive guide for common accommodations for specific learning disabilities such as these, the IDEA does not provide this guidance. Instead the Department of Education suggests seeking assistance from other venues such as the National Center on Intensive Intervention, Center for Parent Information and Resources, and National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.

In recent years the Connecticut General Assembly has passed laws specifically pertaining to dyslexia as a learning disability. In Connecticut, dyslexia is now considered a “primary disability” on the standardized IEP form utilized by planning and placement teams throughout the state. Also, the Connecticut Department of Education is now responsible for providing teachers, boards of education, and parents or guardians information regarding dyslexia and how to detect and recognize the disability. While dyscalculia and dysgraphia are not yet recognized as primary disabilities in Connecticut, the guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education suggests that they are conditions that should be disclosed in both eligibility determinations and IEP documents to assist educators in better serving the distinctive educational needs of students with these particular conditions.