Today’s posting will hopefully lay to rest a misunderstanding that seems to plague special education in California. I can only presume that, like many other “urban myths” that root themselves in special education lore, at some point in time, somebody somewhere in California conducted a training seminar on speech-language assessment and services within special education and miscommunicated something that has now led to speech-language specialists throughout the state making improper conclusions to the detriment of some children in need of speech-language services.
The problem is this: the distinction between who is found eligible for special education on the basis of a speech-language impairment (“SLI”) and who qualifies for speech-language services as a student already eligible for special education under any other category. Eligibility for special education as SLI is not required in order for a child otherwise eligible for special education to receive speech-language services in order to benefit from his/her IEP.
The critical piece of legislation, which gets erroneously cited in speech-language assessment reports all the time, is 5 CCR 3030(c). Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3030 describes all of the criteria for each of the eligibility categories under which a student may qualify for special education and related services. These categories include Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”), Other Health Impaired (“OHI”), Emotionally Disturbed (“ED”), and many others, including SLI. The critical thing to understand here is that the 3030s describe who can receive special education and on what basis, not what services they will get.
What ends up happening, though, is a child will be assessed for special education purposes and a speech-language assessment will be conducted. In the course of the overall assessment, even though the child is found eligible under some category other than SLI, because he did not score below the 7th percentile on two or more speech-language assessments, the speech-language specialist will determine that he doesn’t qualify for speech-language services according to 5 CCR 3030(c). It is a complete and utter misapplication of this Code, which deals strictly with eligibility under SLI and not what services an otherwise eligible child should receive.
A typical example of this would be a child who is eligible for special education pursuant to 5 CCR 3030(g) for autistic-like behaviors (in special education in California, a medical or psychological diagnosis cannot be made by the school psychologist, so this section of the code provides alternative language and defines the criteria by which a special education eligibility category can be identified for a child exhibiting the symptoms of autism), but who is relatively verbal. While his scores may hover just above the 7th percentile on the speech-language tests he was administered, they are still very low and his low language functioning compounds his other problems arising from the other needs arising from his handicapping condition.
In this example, anyone in their right mind can see that the child needs pragmatic (social) language intervention and help with idiomatic and figurative (non-literal) language. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t get jokes, and he doesn’t understand clichs and colorful sayings, such as “Clear as mud.” This makes it difficult for him to participate in group projects with peers and understand the writings of Mark Twain. He needs goals that address these areas of need and speech-language services in order to benefit from his IEP.
No subsection of 5 CCR 3030 drives the selection of services that any child gets, only whether or not a particular child is eligible and, if so, under what category. The IDEA mandates that children who are eligible for special education, regardless of what category they qualify under, receive whatever supports and services are necessary in order to afford them a FAPE.
Specifically, the federal regulations found at 34 CFR 300.320(a)(2) state that IEPs must include for each child measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs that results from the child’s disability.
An eligible child is a child who requires, as a result of one or more handicapping conditions, special education and related services in order to receive educational benefit. 34 CFR 300.39 “Related services” is described at 34 CFR 300.34. In none of this is there anything that suggests that the only way that an otherwise eligible child can receive speech-language services is if he is also found eligible as SLI.
In fact, 34 CFR 300.304(c)(6) states that, when evaluations are conducted for special education purposes, they must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Congress understood when it crafted the IDEA that you don’t individualize a child’s program by resorting to “cookie-cutter” strategies that are based on a kid’s eligibility category.
The IDEA is the skeleton of special education law. It establishes the basic framework and minimal standards. It is left to the states, if they want any federal special education dollars, to add the flesh to the bones by creating their own state-level legislation that explains how each state will implement the requirements of the IDEA. While states are free to add more obligations to their schools than what the IDEA requires, they are prohibited from reducing the protections offered to students and parents under the IDEA lest they sacrifice their funding.
What this means for speech-language services to special education students in California is that the IDEA basically says each eligible child must get whatever he/she needs in order to receive educational benefit, regardless of what type of services are required and regardless of the applicable eligibility categories. That’s the whole concept of individualizing a child’s education plan based on his/her unique educational needs.
There is nothing at the state-level that reduces this federal mandate, nor could there be unless California were to choose to go it alone to cover its special education costs and we all already know that California can’t pay its bills even with the federal funding it receives. It absolutely cannot afford to give up its federal special education funding.
We’re curious to know if there are any other state-level debacles involving misinterpretations of the law happening elsewhere. Readers are encouraged to post comments to this posting about such misinterpretations that may be occurring where they live.