Phantom rule could leave special needs kids, parents in limbo
State officials thought they’d had a rule in place since 2013 requiring school officials to respond within 15 days when a parent requests that a child be evaluated for special education services.
Now it turns out the rule was never filed properly with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office. Some parent advocates saying that means families have no recourse when school officials drag their feet.
Because some of the rules passed by the Vermont Board of Education are not the same as those posted on the Secretary of State’s website a new rule-making process must take place in order for the 15-day standard to go in effect, officials said.
The state Board of Education and Agency of Education say they are swamped with implementing Vermont’s Act 46 school district consolidation law, and don’t have time to deal the special education rules.
Now they’re asking local school districts to meet the 15-day response time as a “best practice.” But parent advocates say that gives them less power to challenge inaction by schools.
“The difference between best practice and a rule is that a rule is a procedural safeguard for parents’ rights,” said Karen Price, the family support director with Vermont Family Network.
With a rules violation, parents could enter a formal complaint process, Price said. When looking to cure a deviation from best practice, “a parent is relying on the good faith on the part of the school,” she said.
When a parent suspects their child may need special education services, the first step is to ask for an evaluation to see if the child is eligible. Price said that before the state board added the 15-day rule there was no defined timeline for schools to respond to parents’ requests.
“It has been a long-standing problem that parents that suspect their child has a disability and they make a request then never hear back,” Price said. “It happened a lot.”