Virginia Implements New Regulations for Special Education During Federal Review

Virginia Board of Education Revises Procedures for Students with Disabilities Compliance Issues

The Virginia Board of Education made changes regarding how the state addresses compliance complaints concerning students with disabilities.

Since 2019, Virginia has been the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the U.S. Department of Education, which previously found that the state failed repetitively to resolve complaints from parents and lacked “reasonably designed” procedures for a timely resolution process on those complaints.

The regulatory modifications implemented, which seek to align Virginia with federal standards, replace outdated criteria that have not been updated since July 29, 2015.

“We’re all dedicated to ensuring that our special education communities, their families, and students are receiving the necessary support for success,” emphasized board president Grace Creasey during the Thursday meeting.

On a recent report dated March 13, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs provided the Virginia Department of Education with feedback on areas where the state’s regulations were not compliant with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

During its analysis, the office noted that the state did not meet federal standards for identifying and rectifying noncompliance issues as well as confidentiality stipulations.

It is mandatory under federal law that Virginia offers all students with disabilities a “free and appropriate public education” through personalized plans established within the Individualized Education Program.

Currently, almost 181,000 students in Virginia with disabilities benefit from this service, which is nearly 7,000 more students than the previous year.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is contemplating policy changes to enhance the provision of special education services in the state as part of a legislative and budgetary package.

As detailed in the special education legislation endorsed by the General Assembly, the legislation mandates the establishment of systems for overseeing the creation and utilization of IEPs for students with special needs. Furthermore, it mandates additional educator training for inclusive special education instruction.

The governor is also exploring the allocation of a total of $4.4 million over the next two years to establish eight regional special education family support centers, offer professional development for school staff, and provide ongoing special education coaching at schools.

Revised Regulations Overview

Several revised regulations involve substituting terms like “local educational” agency with “public” agency and revising the definitions of “business day,” “calendar day,” and “complaint” to match federal regulations and OSEP guidance.

Other amendments will necessitate case-by-case assessments by the Virginia Department of Education to determine which information should be withheld when addressing a complaint filed by someone other than the child’s parent without parental consent for revealing the child’s personally identifiable information.

Former regulations in Virginia’s law did not permit individual evaluations to ascertain the release of non-personally identifiable information to non-parent complainants, rendering them incongruent with federal statutes.

The board also resolved to adapt the regulations to specify that mediation is accessible “to parties to any dispute arising under the [Individuals with Disabilities Education] Act”.

Per feedback from parents of students with disabilities in survey responses conducted by researchers from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, these parents revealed they were inadequately informed about the state-level resources available to resolve disputes with their child’s school.

While the content of mediation discussions is confidential and inadmissible in court, the board annulled the necessity for parties to sign a confidentiality agreement before commencing mediation.

In her response to the federal office, Lisa Coons, superintendent of public instruction, discussed that a workgroup within the state agency formulated the 2024 Roadmap for Special Education, a plan guided by evaluations and recommendations from two external experts.

The plan delineates the formation of a dedicated team that reports directly to the state’s superintendent of public instruction, mandated with overseeing how school divisions offer special education services and providing assistance when required.

“We are adamant about ensuring top-notch instruction for all Virginians, coupled with robust systems for parent and family involvement, prioritized monitoring and support, and a focus on pathways for all learners beyond the classroom,” Coons stated in reply to the federal office.

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