Despite federal and state regulations in place to protect students with special needs, aspects of military life such as frequent moves lead to significant educational deficiencies for these vulnerable children. These deficiencies create undue burdens on military families and their children with special needs, significantly decreasing military retention and impacting readiness.
Many military families that have children with special needs have voiced their frustration to MOAA about the lack of consistency of special education services through their time in the military.
Some struggle to receive the bare minimum of required special education when they move state to state. This has led to formal disputes against school districts and fear of reprisal for entering such actions, with schools “waiting families out” until they move to their next duty station. Other families have faced financial burdens connected with non-public education options.
MOAA continues to support these families through advocacy efforts and other avenues. While all families have unique needs, these four steps would make a major difference in this ongoing issue and may provide a better understanding of the overall problem:
1. Find the data. The services should collect and record the number of disputes filed, and the outcome of these disputes for military families. This information should be reported to the Office of Special Needs and Congress and help inform future programs and policies to ensure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for military special-needs students. Dispute data should be collected from school district reports, state and federal courts, and the reports of families collected by installation leadership.
2. Understand the issue. The Government Accountability Office should do a study on whether military families have higher rates of disputes and loss of FAPE than the civilian population. Other considerations for this study should include:
- Accessibility barriers to dispute resolution processes
- What contributes to the loss of FAPE, and what happens when a state is found at fault for not providing FAPE
- What school districts are high-risk, and what resources they are lacking
- How 7003(d) impact aid funds are used in districts with high rates of disputes
- How to conduct oversight and enforce FAPE for special needs military students when school districts do not comply
- Efficacy of attorney support in special needs cases
3. Support continuity of education. Allow families the choice to maintain their child’s current Individualized Education Program (IEP) for at least six months after they arrive at a new duty station before any changes are made.
4. Keep parents in the loop. Evaluating a child’s educational needs requires parental consent, per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The U.S. Department of Education should direct states to document parental consent before any IEP changes are implemented for military children.
For more information on MOAA’s spouse and family advocacy work, click here.