PHOENIX --.As students and teachers return to the classroom, parents and special education advocates want to know whether changes to the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) as well as key federal and state education laws will help or hurt students with disabilities.
In Arizona, more than 88,000 children with disabilities are entitled to specialized instruction and related services under special education laws. To help students and parents navigate the changes in federal and state law and to ensure the best outcome for students with disabilities, the Arizona Center for Disability Law (Center) provides a free statewide special education hotline.
"There is clearly a growing need in Arizona for one-to-one advocacy assistance for students with disabilities and their family members," said Jerri Katzerman, Managing Attorney for Special Education Advocacy at the Center. "The Center has been sponsoring workshops around the state this summer to educate parents and advocates about the changes in the law; however, the real need arises during the school year when parents come face to face with actual challenges in the special education process. Our special education hotline is a great resource for students and parents with questions about their rights and remedies under special education law."
In 2005, the state legislature made significant changes to the implementation of AIMS and to due process procedures that will impact students with disabilities. Under a measure signed by the Governor in May, students who receive special education services and have an individualized education program (IEP) and a child with a Section 504 plan can be exempt from the AIMS graduation requirement under certain circumstances.
In another law, Arizona moved from a two-tier to a one-tier special education dispute resolution system. The one-tier system will streamline the appeals process and will allow for all hearings to be handled by the impartial Office of Administrative Hearings.
At the federal level, changes were made in 2004 to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is the federal law designed to ensure children with disabilities in the K-12 school system obtain an appropriate public education. The new IDEA changed the way goals and objectives are developed and reported and created new disciplinary procedures for children with disabilities. The new IDEA went into effect on July 1.
"Some of the changes in the law will help students with disabilities," said Katzerman. "For example, the creation of a one-tier special education due process system in Arizona will result in increased savings for parents and school districts, as they will have to prepare for only one administrative process. Students with learning disabilities taking AIMS have more options available to them to graduate from high school. Yet federal law has created an even more complex system of rules governing special education. Parents do not have to discover the answers on their own. They can call the Center for help so that their children's rights are protected."
The Center has trained advocates available by telephone to provide information about special education rights and remedies, make referrals to community resources and to offer free legal services in selected cases. Parents and students can call 1-800-927-2260 (Voice/TTY) or (602) 274-6287 (Voice/TTY). Spanish speaking staff are available. The hotline will be staffed during the following hours:
Monday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Tuesday, 1-5 p.m.; Wednesday, 1-5 p.m.; and Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
"Calling the hotline is a great opportunity for parents of children with developmental disabilities to get free information to help their children stay in school and reach their full potential," said Diane Nydick, special education advocate. "The hotline will provide parents with practical advice and strategies on such topics as the special education evaluation process, IEP development, appropriate placement, due process rights and transition services."
This project is funded through the generous financial support of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities.