U.S. Department of Education Responds Favorably to Agudath Israel Comments

Mrs. Leah Steinberg, Director of Agudath Israel’s Special Education division, Project LEARN, read the document. Then she read it again. And again.

Was she missing something?

But, no: The national survey on special education completely omitted the needs of nonpublic school children with disabilities.

National Study about Special Needs

Here’s the backstory:  In April 2019, the US Department of Education (USDE) proposed a survey called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) State and Local Implementation Study 2019.  It’s been ten years since Congress last reauthorized IDEA, and it wanted to “examine how states, districts, and schools are identifying and supporting children and youth with disabilities.” Stakeholders will use the new data to make decisions about allocating future funds and services. Clearly, the results will be impactful for children with special needs.

As required by law, the USDE posted the proposed documents in the Federal Register with a request for public comment.  Mrs. Steinberg studied the documents and saw that the survey referenced home-schooled children. There were also references to charter schools. But she detected that there was no mention at all of nonpublic school children.  Yet, the IDEA clearly states that that the local school districts are responsible to “locate, identify, and evaluate” nonpublic school children with disabilities in their district. That process is called “Child Find”.

Child Find

Child Find states that all children from preschool through high school graduation, even up to age 21 or 22, are entitled to an evaluation as a prerequisite to receiving services. It explicitly includes children enrolled in nonpublic schools.

The importance of providing much-needed assessments is self-evident. But Child Find is important for another reason, too. If the outcome of the evaluation is that the child has a disability, funding is generated for children in nonpublic schools. That money can be used for supports for nonpublic school students with special needs, including professional development or even direct services.

Although the Child Find requirement for nonpublic schools has been in effect for decades, many school districts and parents are not aware of it. Often, parents don’t request evaluations from the school district and, when they do, they are often wrongly denied.  This rule now seemed so far under the radar, nonpublic schools were not even included in the national survey!

Agudah Responds

Mrs. Steinberg and Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, discussed the matter and they co-authored comments to the US Department of Education, expressing their surprise. “Free comprehensive evaluations of, and services for, students in public and nonpublic schools should take place as required by law,” they wrote. “Excluding nonpublic school student sends the wrong message — that these students are ineligible, irrelevant and undeserving.”

Agudath Israel is pleased that the USDE responded quickly and changed the survey to include nonpublic school children.  “We are very grateful to the USDE for including our children with disabilities. They are taking steps to help make sure the responsibilities for children with special needs in nonpublic schools are addressed appropriately,” says Mrs. Steinberg.  “All children should get the assistance they are entitled to under the law,” Rabbi Cohen agreed.

Moving Forward

Every school district in the United States should now better understand its responsibility to all children with special needs.  And every parent of a child with special needs should understand it, too.

If you have a child that could benefit from an evaluation feel free to contact Mrs. Steinberg and Project LEARN for assistance.  You can reach Mrs. Steinberg at 212-797-9000 x326/325 or lsteinberg@agudah.org.