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Ask the Attorney with John Brower, J.D.   [Back to Ask the Attorney]

Question: Our child is a student with high functioning autism. After attempts to mainstream our child that were not very successful, we agreed to a change in placement to a self-contained classroom for emotionally impaired children. Our decision was based entirely on the classroom teacher, who we knew to be very experienced and had taught children with autism. Two weeks before school started, the teacher left. Now we have a teacher with no experience and no supports in place for my son. What can we do?

Answer:  Teacher selection is totally within the control of the school administration. That is why the selection of an appropriate program and placement independent of the classroom teacher is so important. At the same time, under IDEA a parent can, via the IEP process, request that the childís teacher be trained in their child's disabilities.

At the same time, if any new program and placement is proving to be inappropriate, then the parent or the school staff should, in writing, request the IEP Team immediately meet to consider modifications or changes to the IEP. Such changes could include more staff training, a full time para-professional assigned to the student if the studentís behaviors present a risk to the student or those around the student, a Functional Behavior Assessment and resultant Behavior Modification Plan, etc. However, parents need to know that if the IEP Team refuses to make the requested changes, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the current placement that the parent recently agreed to will remain in effect while any dispute is resolved via mediation or a hearing.

Your question also addresses one of the major issues facing special education. That is, what is an appropriate placement and program for students with autism who are able to function at higher levels? In these students, the classic autism manifestations are more muted, but they frequently exhibit a significant lack of social skills and other issues which can result in significant behavior issues. Many of the experts I have consulted with regarding students with high functioning autism (HFA) and students with Aspergerís do not see an ED/EI classroom as an appropriate placement. In fact, some of the experts are of the opinion that an ED/EI placement may be harmful to the student.

The demand of parents with HFA students for more appropriate placements and programs comes at a time when school districts are just beginning to respond to the growing number of successful court actions by parents that require expensive ABA and similar intensive therapies to be considered part of an appropriate program for autistic students. Now, the parents of the higher functioning students, and their experts, are telling the schools that the classic self-contained autistic or ED/EI are not appropriate for the student who is able to function at a higher level, but at the same time the higher functioning students still needs significant supports, including highly trained teachers and support staff.

Hope you find these generalized comments helpful.

John F. Brower, JD
Education Law Center, PLLC
Law Office of John F. Brower
Brighton, MI

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