Administrative Letter: Clarification on Requirement to Ensure Parents’ Meaningful Access to IEP Information

Administrative Letter: #23
Policy Code:  BGE
To: Public School Administrators, Special Ed. Directors, EL Coordinators/Directors, and ESOL Teachers
From: Pender Makin, Commissioner
Date:  March 12, 2019
Subject: Clarification on Requirement to Ensure Parents’ Meaningful Access to IEP Information

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees parents’ right to receive communication from their children’s schools in a language they can understand. The US Department of Education has provided guidance (PDF) clarifying that, “State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) have flexibility in determining what mix of oral and written translation services may be necessary and reasonable for communicating the required information to parents with limited English proficiency.”

For parents of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), LEAs must ensure that parents are able to understand the proceedings of the IEP meeting and access the IEP document as needed.

In a 2007 letter (PDF) to Conway Public Schools in Arkansas, the Office of Special Education (OSEP) indicated that, “while providing written translations of IEP documents is not required under IDEA, we believe in some circumstances it may help to show that a parent has been fully informed of the services his or her child will be receiving.”

A 2016 Dear Colleague Letter (PDF) from OSEP states that, “Under Title VI, all vital documents, including a student’s IEP, must be accessible to Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents, but that does not necessarily mean that all vital documents must be translated for every language in the district. For example, a timely and complete oral interpretation or translated summary of a vital document might suffice in some circumstances. A district must, however, be prepared to provide timely and complete translated IEPs to provide meaningful access to the IEP and the parental rights that attach to it. This is because a parent needs meaningful access to the IEP not just during the IEP meeting, but also across school years to monitor the child’s progress and ensure that IEP services are provided.”

This notice does not serve as legal advice, and LEAs should consult legal staff and/or the Office for Civil Rights for guidance pertaining to their specific contexts.

The Maine Department of Education would like to acknowledge and thank Maine’s special education directors, administrators, and educators for ensuring federal and state regulations for educating students with special needs are met, and for their ongoing dedication to the students and families that these processes serve.

For further information about translation/interpretation please contact April Perkins, Director of ESOL/Bilingual Programs & Title III at (207) 624-6627 or april.perkins@maine.gov. For further information about supporting students with an IEP, please contact Maine DOE’s Office of Special Services at (207) 624-6713.

Administrative Letter: Clarification Concerning Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Administrative Letter: #22
Policy Code: BGE
To: Public School Administrators, Special Ed. Directors
From: A. Pender Makin, Acting Commissioner
Date: January 31, 2019
Subject: Clarification Concerning Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

To assist and support school districts in their diligent work to document student Individual Education Plans (IEP), Maine Department of Education is providing clarification concerning least restrictive environment (LRE) and the calculation of the percentage of time that a child is with non-disabled peers (Section 9 of the IEP).

The information in this letter is our best guidance. It has been reviewed by our legal team in the Office of the Attorney General and has been confirmed by the federal Office of Special Education Programs.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The time during which a child receives instruction within the regular education setting is to be considered as non-special education time in the LRE calculation.  The physical location of the child’s program dictates the regular education setting calculation regardless of the type of instruction he or she may be receiving (special or regular education).  If the child is receiving special education services outside of the regular education setting, that amount of time should continue to be considered as time away from non-disabled children.

Further questions may be directed to the Maine Department of Education’s Office of Special Services at 207-624-6713.

Administrative Letter: Clarification About Determining the Existence of a Specific Learning Disability for a Child

Administrative Letter: #21
Policy Code: BGE
To: Public School Administrators, Special Ed. Directors
From: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed.D Commissioner
Date: December 12, 2018
Subject: Clarification About Determining the Existence of a Specific Learning Disability for a Child

The 128th Legislature passed L.D. 127 which adopted portions of Rule Chapter 101 and added the requirement that when an Individual Education Plan (IEP) team is deciding whether or not a child has a specific learning disability, then (1) general education interventions must be included in the data selected by the IEP team when it uses a process based on the child’s response to scientific research-based interventions, and (2) psychological processing data from standardized measures to identify contributing factors must be considered by the IEP team.

Subsequently, on August 30, 2017 the Department posted a notice that the passage of L.D. 127 eliminated the requirement that psychological processing data from standardized measures to identify contributing factors must be considered only as available and as determined to be relevant by the child’s IEP team.

To further clarify this, the legislature determined that psychological processing data must be considered when a child is evaluated for a specific learning disability. The legislation is not explicit on whether or not psychological data must point to a specific learning disability. Therefore, after consulting with counsel, the Department affirms the requirement that psychological processing data must always be part of the consideration of a pattern of strengths and weaknesses in the determination of the presence of a specific learning disability.  Psychological processing data may not, however, be a stand-alone threshold that precludes consideration that a child has a specific learning disability.

For further information please contact the Maine Department of Education’s Office of Special Services at 624-6676.

Administrative Letter: Change in English Learner Identification and Exit Criteria

Administrative Letter: 20
Policy Code: IHBEA
To: Public School Administrators
From: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D. Commissioner
Date:  October 29, 2018
Subject: Change in English Learner Identification and Exit Criteria

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states are required to develop uniform statewide policies for identifying and exiting English learners (ELs). In light of this requirement, the Maine Department of Education has sought to review and refine its policies in order to best meet the needs of its students. Over the past year and a half, the Department has collected stakeholder input from around the state regarding its definition of English language proficiency. Additionally, the Department has conducted extensive analysis of assessment data to determine the level of English language proficiency needed in order to succeed academically on par with non-EL peers.

Following the completion of the review and analysis, Maine’s definition of English language proficiency is now a composite proficiency level (CPL) of 4.5, as measured by WIDA ACCESS for ELLs and WIDA Screener Online. All ELs who attain a composite proficiency level of 4.5 or higher on ACCESS for ELLs will be exited from English learner status. Students who achieved a CPL of 4.5-4.9 in 2017 or 2018 will be retroactively exited as of November 1, 2018. Districts will not need to take any action to exit these students, as the Department will do so automatically.

However, districts must take action to exit recently identified students who are no longer eligible for EL services based on the change in identification criteria. Any student who was identified as an English learner with a WIDA Screener Online CPL of 4.5 must be removed from EL status. To change a student’s status in the state student data system, the student’s district superintendent must submit a request for change in English learner identification, including the student’s Language Use Survey and WIDA Screener Online score report. All requests for change in English learner identification must be submitted by November 9, 2018 to ensure accuracy of 2018-19 ACCESS testing rosters. Please note that if a student identified as an EL has already been administered ACCESS for ELLs, he/she must achieve a CPL of 4.5 or higher on ACCESS for ELLs in order to exit.

ELs with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the state alternate academic assessment are administered Alternate ACCESS for ELLs. Please note that the exit threshold for Alternate ACCESS for ELLs has not changed and remains a CPL of P2.

After an EL demonstrates English language proficiency by attaining a CPL of 4.5 or higher on ACCESS for ELLs, federal and state regulations require that schools monitor the student’s academic progress for two years. If during that two-year period a continued need for English language acquisition services becomes apparent, the student must be provided services. Note that in such cases the student will not be designated as an EL in the state student data system and will not be administered ACCESS for ELs.

This Administrative Letter is a supplemental update to Administrative Letter 11, which provides more extensive information about the requirements for serving ELs, including more details on Maine’s EL identification policy.

To assist districts in communicating with students and families about Maine’s new definition of English language proficiency, the Department has developed a student and family guide, translated into the state’s top ten languages.

If you have questions or would like further information regarding serving ELs, please contact April Perkins, ESOL/Bilingual Programs, at april.perkins@maine.gov, (207)624-6627.

Administrative Letter: 2018-2019 Clarifications Regarding Private School Approval and Publicly Funded Private School Students

Administrative Letter: #19
Policy Code: LBC
TO: Private School Administrators; Public School Administrators
FROM: Robert G. Hasson, Jr., Ed. D. Commissioner
DATE: October 2, 2018
SUBJECT: 2018-2019 Clarifications Regarding Private School Approval and Publicly Funded Private School Students

In accordance with 20-A M.R.S. Chapter 117, the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) requires private schools seeking approval status to be approved annually.
In early July of this year, guidance was provided to all private schools with Department updates regarding the 2018-2019 school approval process.

Since then, in a collaborative effort to align current statutory requirements with the needs of private schools and execute an appropriate and consistent business process, the Department has made several decisions which revise or clarify the previous guidance. These decisions are outlined in the paragraphs below.

  1. The current private school annual report, pursuant to 20-A M.R.S. § 4801(2-A), requires affirmation that a private school approved for the receipt of public funds participates in the development and approval of a regional school calendar. However, some private schools receive students residing in different career and technical education (CTE) centers or regions, so it is unclear how a private school’s calendar could be aligned with more than one different regional calendar. While the Department strongly believes in the value of expanding student access to CTE and removing barriers that prevent otherwise-interested students from exploring or accessing CTE, the current statutory language is not entirely clear, and thus private schools will not be required to respond to that item on the form for the 2018-19 school year. The Department will be engaging in significant policy discussions surrounding access to CTE in the coming year in order to gain more clarity in this area.
  2. Private schools seeking approval for the receipt of public funds were asked to affirm, on the annual school approval report, that they would work with the school administrative unit of residence to ensure that all publicly-funded students take the State assessments. While the Department does not see this requirement as being anything more than 1) an acknowledgment of the importance of ensuring that all students who are educated at public expense are assessed and 2) a commitment to cooperate with efforts in this area, private schools will not be required to respond to that item on the form for the 2018-19 school year.
  3. As a reminder, the public school administrative units have an obligation to ensure that all students who are educated at public expense by private schools take the state assessments, are screened for English learner status and provided, when eligible, with appropriate English language acquisition support services, and are included in truancy data. The Department plans to provide details and technical assistance about these obligations over the coming year.
  4. School approval includes the requirement that all private schools provide attendance data on their publicly funded students in the NEO information system, and this will not change. Private school attendance reporting is linked to the ESSA requirement to report chronic absenteeism for all publicly funded students and must be submitted. While attendance data is not overtly listed on the private school annual report and checklist, the statutory language requiring private schools seeking approval for the receipt of public funds to “in accordance with time schedules established by the commissioner, report[] to the commissioner the information the commissioner may require” is. This language comes from 20-A M.R.S. § 2952, and is directly linked to school approval by Section 2951, which states that “a private school may be approved for the receipt of public funds for tuition purposes only if it:  . . . [c]omplies with the reporting . . . requirement[] in section[] 2952.”

Attendance Data and School Approval Deadline
Currently, every private school that seeks tuition from an SAU is already entering information into the student information system for each student for whom they seek public funds. The attendance data entry is comprised of the number of days in the reporting period that the student is enrolled, the number of days they were present, and the number of days of excused absences. This data needs to be certified quarterly, with an initial 2018-19 submission due date of October 15.  More details about attendance data submission, and a helpful training manual document, can be found in NEO Student Attendance Reporting and Attendance Manual Entry Guide.

In order to align calendars, the Department will allow a new overall 2018 deadline of October 15 for the annual report and documentation, NEO staff entry, and first reporting of attendance data to be submitted by private schools. As stated in previous guidance, the 2018-19 private school approval year as printed on approval certificates will mirror the public school approval year – July 1 through June 30. Please note that this will move the FY 2020 private school approval annual report submission deadline to an earlier date than what has previously been identified, to be announced in future guidance.

Finally, as a reminder, notification was given in the Spring of 2017 that out-of-state private schools seeking approval for the receipt of public funds for FY 19 (2018-19) would be required to complete basic school approval, which includes, at a minimum, Maine Department of Education criminal history background checks for all employees. There are, as of this date, no out of state schools that have notified the Department of their intention to seek this approval.

Please contact Pamela Ford-Taylor, Maine DOE School Enrollment Specialist at 207-624-6617 or Pamela.Ford-Taylor@maine.gov with questions or comments about school approval.