This article was first published on July 26, 2022, by Sylvia Wood of TASB.
Time is running out for school districts to review, update, and upload their Special Education Operating Procedures ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
“It’s a big undertaking and not something to leave until the last minute,” said Mary McFarlin of TASB’s Student Solutions, which assists districts in complying with state and federal special education regulations. “Districts need to do this annually so they can demonstrate their programs are meeting all standards and requirements.”
Most administrators will begin to tackle this work as soon as they finish all special education evaluations and responsibilities from the previous school year. McFarlin and her team typically start getting questions from member districts this time of year about process changes or other tips to complete this requirement. Districts that are members of TASB Student Solutions can get personalized help to ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 34 C.F.R. §§300.201 in providing for the education of children with disabilities.
Regardless of membership status, below are some recommendations for getting this work done by the Aug. 31 deadline with expertise provided by McFarlin and Brandi Stapleton, director for Special Programs and Services at Lumberton ISD.
Stapleton, who completed her district’s Special Education Operating Procedures during the spring, said one strategy that was helpful was to compare the old template to the new templates to see exactly what had changed. “I highlighted all of the areas that had changed in yellow to help guide me,” she said.
Here are 10 other tips to consider:
1. Pay attention to naming conventions and the date.
This is very important this year because TEA is requiring that the templates used include the correct naming conventions as noted in the March 2022 Special Education Operating Procedures presentation. There are other templates out there, so be sure you have the latest before updating and uploading your Special Education Operating Procedures.
In addition, Stapleton said it’s important to update the date on your files. When she was doing research and looked at other districts’ Special Education Operating Procedures, she noted many had old dates, which made it difficult to determine if the files were current.
2. Understand that TEA has consolidated the composite uploads so that fewer are required.
This should hopefully make it easier for districts, but McFarlin cautioned in late June that TEA had not specifically said which link administrators should use for the uploads. She recommends that the five required composite documents are uploaded to the first link of each section. Districts may want to consult with their regional education service center for additional guidance.
3. Take extra time to review certain procedures and policies.
Take extra time this summer to review your procedures and policies related to dyslexia, particularly the training that you are providing your staff.
As of the 2021-22 school year, TEA’s Dyslexia Handbook requires dyslexia evaluations to go through the referral process required by IDEA. With that change, McFarlin noted that districts should go through their Child Find and Dyslexia Services sections carefully to be sure to include details on what the district’s annual training looks like.
4. Be aware that TEA has added two new sections that will require attention.
Those two sections require procedures around virtual learning days and communication, found under the “special factors” topic. For virtual learning days, districts should have a plan for providing a free appropriate public education for each qualified student with a disability.
For communication under special factors, districts should have a procedure in place for communicating with students with communication challenges.
5. Don’t wait until the last minute.
McFarlin recommends that you upload when ready, rather than waiting until closer to the August deadline. If TEA provides any new guidance that impacts the process, she said districts can always go back in and re-upload revised procedures.
“You don’t want to wait because there could be technical issues with the upload, especially if everyone is trying to do so on Aug. 31,” she said.
6. Don’t just copy and paste.
Both TEA and TASB offer templates to help districts complete their operating procedures, but Stapleton said it’s important to go through the wording line by line to make sure the result reflects the work being done in your district. “If you’re just copying and pasting, things won’t necessarily be put together right,” she said. “You need to review the additional procedures to make sure they are in the right place.”
7. Involve your entire team.
Rather than view the process of updating the Special Education Operating Procedures as a compliance issue, Stapleton looks at it as an opportunity to ensure district practices and policies are documented. She likes to get input from her special education teachers to ensure alignment and to minimize potential confusion for staff and parents.
“It’s so much easier when you have written procedures,” she said. “It eliminates some of the gray areas and provides clarity for everyone.”
8. If you’ve done the work, make it easily available on your website.
Many districts spend a lot of time putting together their operating procedures, parent handbooks, and other special education resources. Stapleton recommends making everything readily available on your district website so it’s easily accessible by parents and staff.
9. When policies, practices, or procedures change, update your documentation ASAP.
TEA only requires districts to update their Special Education Operating Procedures once a year, but Stapleton suggests you track changes, as they may happen throughout the school year, and revise accordingly. That way, district administrators won’t be scrambling to make all those changes the following summer.
10. Need help? Reach out.
TASB Student Solutions is designed to help districts stay on top of best practices, maintain compliance, and provide the skills, programs, and environments needed by students. If your district needs assistance, call 888.247.4829 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Sign up for the Student Solutions email list to receive the latest news and event information straight to your inbox.
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