Safeguarding the Rights of Our Children

by Patricia Lillie, LDA of America President

Children with specific learning disabilities are served under all federal education laws. Two major laws impact their daily school lives — the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, replaced No Child Left Behind) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Each law provides certain rights and protections for students, but parents and advocates must be diligent to ensure those rights are maintained.

With the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the role of the federal government in the education system has been significantly reduced. State boards of education and local school districts will now have responsibility for oversight of many of the tasks formerly invested in the federal government’s U.S. Department of Education.

To respond to their new responsibilities, state departments of education are now in the process of developing guidelines and policies. The U.S. Department of Education has made it very clear that as these changes are made, parents must be informed and included as stakeholders in the process. The parents will have a voice in discussing and defining policy language.

LDA is urging LDA State Affiliates and members to get involved in the process by contacting your State Department of Education and expressing your interest in being involved as stakeholders. If unable to attend meetings, securing agendas and meeting minutes via the Internet will be helpful in staying informed. Click on LDA State Affiliates in the right margin of the homepage for LDA of America, www.ldaamerica.org, for help in locating the information you seek.

In regard to IDEA protections, news stories and LDA State Affiliates are reporting that children in some states are being denied consideration for evaluation and special education services. In other states, recent changes to the state definition of Specific Learning Disabilities and SLD evaluation criteria have eliminated a cognitive assessment as a part of the evaluation. This action results in eliminating meaningful pieces of information that describe a student’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, helps to explain why the student is having difficulty learning and provides information that can help in designing an appropriate IEP.

The late Dr. Samuel A. Kirk regarded as the Father of Learning Disabilities, cautioned attendees at a late 1980s conference in Phoenix, Arizona, that “Parents must maintain eternal vigilance in safeguarding the rights of their children.” It’s imperative that parents of students with learning disabilities and the professionals who work with them are aware of changes being made in their state relative to evaluation criteria, identification and eligibility criteria for students with Specific Learning Disabilities, the largest category of students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Eternal vigilance must be our watchwords.

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