New law to improve IEP process

 

STATE HOUSE – Following General Assembly passage earlier this month, the governor has signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak and Sen. Alana M. DiMario to make several changes that give parents more insight and control in changes in their child’s individualized education plan (IEP), and set the wheels in motion for a much-needed overhaul of the state’s IEP regulations.

The legislation (2024-H 7721A, 2024-S 2526), which Gov. Dan McKee signed June 24, will allow parents and guardians to approve or reject changes in their child’s educational services, allow parents to observe their child’s classroom prior to placement, and would require that any documents being considered at an IEP meeting be provided to parents at least three days in advance. Those changes will take effect July 1, 2026.

The legislation was developed over the course of the past two years with input and feedback from representatives of the Department of Education (RIDE) and members of advocacy groups including Rhode Island Parent Information Network, the Association of Rhode Island Administrators of Special Education (ARIASE), the Rhode Island Center for Justice and others.

While the changes proposed in the bill are among the priorities of parents seeking changes to the state’s IEP regulations, the sponsors said they address only a few of the issues, and they are  hopeful that the wholesale regulation update also required by the bill will result in meaningful change that helps students more easily access all the services they need.

 “The IEP process can, unfortunately, feel like a fight for parents, particularly when they believe their child’s needs aren’t being met. There should be more equality among everyone at the table in an IEP meeting, and it should feel like a collaborative effort that is focused on providing kids with the resources they need to grow and learn,” said Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “The changes to the process in this bill are steps in the right direction. The biggest step forward is the mandate that RIDE begin the work of creating new IEP guidelines, to make sure the process of developing IEPs meets the needs of students, families and schools. Parents and school districts need to be partners in the education of students with special needs, and the current system often doesn’t work to create that collaborative approach.”

Said Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), “This bill is not in intended to diminish the expertise of the professionals whose job it is to create IEPs and deliver the educational services that each child needs; its intent is to strengthen the critical partnership between them and families. Parents are invaluable partners in their children’s education, helping to prepare them for school and any upcoming changes, and ensuring that they have access to information and a strong voice will benefit their students.”

Under the new law, RIDE has until July 1, 2026, to institute provisions in this bill concerning parental consent to IEP changes, three-days’ notice of documents and classroom observation. The law gives the department until Dec. 31, 2026, to review and revise its guidance related to the IEP process, and to develop statewide model forms and documents related to IEP development. The law stipulates that the redevelopment of that guidance is to include a robust public engagement process.

The sponsors noted that the recent development of a new resource — impartial IEP facilitators — is a welcome change that also supports parents through the IEP process. The free service provided by the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Office of Student, Community, and Academic Supports, offers facilitators who are trained to help resolve conflicts and to keep the meetings focused on creating a plan in the best interest of the student. The service, which grew out of legislation (2022-S 2573A, 2022-H 7536) sponsored by Sen Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) and Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), began in March. The sponsors said they hope that RIDE incorporates the lessons learned from this new mediation program into the new IEP process guidance.

 

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