Special Education Related Services
In addition to specialized academic instruction, many special education students also qualify for related services. In California, related services also called designated instruction and services (“DIS”).
While “special education” is instruction specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the student, “related services” supplement the educational program and includes, but not limited to, transportation and other developmental, corrective and supportive services that are required for the child to benefit from his or her education.
In California, there are several different types of related services. These include, but are limited to:
- Speech and Language Services
- Occupational Therapy
- Physical Therapy
- Mental Health Counseling
- Psychological Services
- Adapted Physical Education
- Music Therapy
- Vision Therapy
While not every child with an IEP will qualify for related services, the IEP Team must determine whether related services are needed for the child to make progress and benefit from his or her educational program.
Once the IEP Team has decided a child needs a particular related service, it must specify in the IEP the duration, location, and frequency of the service. For example, let's assume speech and language services are offered. The IEP Team's offer should look something like this in the IEP:
18 hours per year of speech and languages services, beginning on August 31, 2020 and ending August 30, 2021. These services will be offered in a separate classroom, in a group setting.
Most school districts use their own system to create IEPs so you can expect it to not look exactly like it does above. But once you've seen the format used by the school district, it will generally always look the same thereafter unless the school district changes the computer software it uses.
Related services must be documented in the IEP and changes to the service levels must be made by the IEP Team and ideally at an IEP meeting—unless parents and the school district agree to make changes without holding a meeting.
Where can things go wrong with related services?
When it comes to related services, disputes generally come about for four reasons:
(1) The school district refuses to offer a related service in a particular area;
(2) The IEP Team disagrees about the amount of time afforded to the child;
(3) The IEP Team disagrees regarding how the services should be delivered; and
(4) The school district wants to discontinue the related service.
1. The school district refuses to offer a related service in a particular area.
If parents believe their child needs a particular related service that hasn't been provided before, they should request an assessment that supports the request rather than asking for the related service upfront. School districts should not provide related services without conducting an assessment first. (Gov. Code, § 7572, subd. (c).) Assessment data guides IEP Team's decisions about what services and supports are necessary and appropriate for a child with disabilities. Just as parents cannot get their child special education without the school district assessing first, school districts should not provide a child related services without assessment data to support the request and guide the appropriate service levels.
When a parent requests a related service, for example, speech and language, and the school district hasn't yet conducted a recent speech and language assessment, one of two things typically happen. The school district refuses to offer speech and language services because they haven't assessed and do nothing else (such as offering to assess). Conversely, the school district will likely refuse to offer the related service at that time, but take the parents' request for the related service as a request for a speech and language assessment and provide them with an assessment plan.
In my practice, I have seen numerous instances where parents asked the school district to provide a related service and the staff refused and then took no further steps including offering to assess. Unfortunately, these parents didn't know they could have asked for an assessment in the particular area and moved things forward. Please know that you can request that your school district conduct an assessment in a particular area of need.
Disputes still arise even when the IEP Team has recent assessments to inform their decision.
2. The IEP Team disagrees about the amount of time afforded to the child.
On occasion, the IEP Team will disagree about the amount of time a particular related service will be provided. Often times, the disagreement arises because the child's parents believe the school district should offer more time. Whether the school district has offered an appropriate amount of time is a question of reasonableness. What's reasonable, however, is not always easy for parents to discern. If you have questions about the reasonableness of the services the school district has offered, give my office a call to schedule a free consultation.
3. The IEP Team disagrees about how the related service should be delivered.
Related services are typically offered on an individual basis or in a group setting. An individual service would be provided one-on-one. A related service offered in a group setting, however, will include the child plus additional students who also require the related service. Sometimes the IEP Team cannot agree on the appropriate delivery of the service. If this happens, the question then becomes: What is appropriate under the circumstances?
4. The IEP Team wants to discontinue the related service.
A school district should conduct a formal assessment before discontinuing a related service. If the school district hasn't conducted an assessment and nevertheless recommends removing a particular related service from a child's IEP, this could be a problem. Just as assessments guide the IEP Team on a child's unique needs to begin services, assessments should be utilized to guide the IEP Team on whether a child no longer requires a particular service.
If the school district has conducted an assessment and recommends removing the related service based on the assessment report, three questions arise:
(1) Did the school district conduct a legally compliant and accurate assessment?
(2) Did the school district correctly interpret the assessment report?
(3) Is the school district's recommendation to discontinue the related service reasonable?