Students Ages 3 to 22 Get Access to Services After DRM Intervention

Posted on March 20, 2021

Utilizing the systemic complaint process, DRM alerted the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) to two major issues affecting students with disabilities. Decisions in both cases were issued earlier this year. First, a regional office of Child Development Services (CDS) was failing to serve all of their students ages 3-5, with statewide implications. And second, the MDOE’s position that students with IEPs aged-out of eligibility at the end of the school year in which they turned 20 was not in line with federal law.

Addressing Systemic Issues within CDS

After hearing from multiple families regarding a lack of services in CDS York, DRM decided to file a systemic complaint to ask MDOE to investigate and remedy the apparent systemic failures to ensure that eligible students were receiving access to necessary early intervention services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In the Report and Corrective Action Plan that MDOE issued after the investigation into CDS York, MDOE found that “approximately 20% of students served by CDS-York (about 99 children) are not currently receiving their full special education services, as required by their individual IEPs,” 88 of which were sitting on some form of waitlist. In determining that CDS York committed systemic violations in failing to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all their students, MDOE directed CDS York to remedy the issues with a detailed Corrective Action Plan. Among requirements for staffing and training, the Plan includes:

  • “CDS-York must immediately create new program placements, either independently, or in partnership with local public school districts.”
  • “CDS-York is required to conduct an audit of all special education files for students with disabilities where instruction and/or related services have not been fully provided since March 30, 2020 and provide a report of the audit to the Maine DOE.”
  • “CDS-York is required to schedule an IEP meeting for every student whose child did not receive full IEP services, as soon as possible after completion of the audit in step one of this corrective action plan,” including, to “[d]iscuss whether compensatory services are now warranted, based on the student’s present levels, for the failure to fully implement the student’s IEP and/or provide FAPE.”

According to recent statements by CDS, they are rapidly expanding capacity with 80 new program spots to be open by April 15th in Saco and Arundel. DRM believes that MDOE’s action in addressing CDS York is a great start, and we are hopeful that MDOE will use this model to address similar issues statewide.

If your student is affected by waitlists or otherwise unable to access the services in their CDS education plan, you can contact your local CDS office to schedule an IEP meeting. At the IEP meeting, you can discuss your student’s program and potential need for compensatory services.

Addressing Maine’s Improper Practice of Terminating Eligibility for Special Education Prematurely

At the other end of the age spectrum, DRM’s systemic complaint with MDOE regarding transition-age students resulted in swift action by MDOE to put Maine in line with the law.

Within weeks of receiving DRM’s complaint, MDOE issued Administrative Letter 1 on January 21, 2021, entitled “Change in the Ending Age for Special Education Eligibility – Effective Immediately.” The letter states:

After consulting with counsel, the Department has concluded that terminating eligibility to a free, appropriate public education at the end of the school year in which a student turns 20 pursuant to 20-A M.R.S. § 5201(1) years is inconsistent with the IDEA as interpreted by the First Circuit in K.L. v. Rhode Island Board of Education, 907 F.3d 639 (2018).

Effective immediately, Maine will implement the “federal standard” and provide FAPE to eligible students until their 22nd birthday.

Prior to the issuance of the Administrative Letter, Maine’s practice had been to exit eligible students from special education at the end of the year in which they turned 20. What has not changed is that students’ eligibility for special education ends when they meet the criteria to graduate with a regular high school diploma consistent with state standards.

DRM is heartened to hear anecdotes from the State and stakeholders that folks are not interested in ‘two years of the same’ and are instead committed to focusing on a robust transition from secondary school. For students in grade 9 and above, their IEPs are already required to include a Transition Plan. And, IDEA regulations make clear from the start that the purpose of the law is “[t]o ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” [1]

Too often, students’ Transition Plans are written broadly without concrete steps for the student to make progress towards post-secondary education, meaningful employment, and independent living. The transition years for eligible students should be embraced by IEP teams as an opportunity to set clear goals and follow through on a strong transition.

Families with students who may have been told they were on the verge of “aging out” should contact the school district to schedule an IEP meeting to discuss the student’s transition plan as part of “a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.”[2]

[1] 34 C.F.R. § 300.1 (emphasis added).

[2] 34 C.F.R. § 300.43.

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