Firm News & Updates

Attorney Jeff Forte discusses IEE’s at SPEDNet

SPEDNet Wilton Invites Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq., of Forte Law Group, to discuss the laws and guidelines concerning IEEs and to address your child’s rights to an IEE; what constitutes an IEE; the value of an IEE and why your child may need one; who can conduct an IEE and how it is conducted; and who is financially responsible for an IEE.

Watch a part of Attorney Forte’s presentation here.

Attorney Forte hosting informational event for SPED*NET Wilton April 30 @10AM – Wilton, CT

Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs)

Who? What? Where? Why? How?

Parents of kids receiving special education services are often confused about what an IEE is and how the evaluation should be used. Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq., of Forte Law Group, will discuss the laws and guidelines concerning IEEs and address your child’s rights to an IEE; what constitutes an IEE; the value of an IEE and why your child may need one; who can conduct an IEE and how it is conducted; and who is financially responsible for an IEE.

Attorney Forte is the founding member of Forte Law Group, LLC. He is both a special education lawyer and certified child advocate. His entire practice focuses on representing families and children with special needs. Attorney Forte received his juris doctorate from American University, Washington College of Law and his certification in child advocacy from William & Mary Law School’s ISEA program.

The program will be held on Tuesday, April 30, 2019 @10AM in Wilton. RSVP at the Comstock Community Center.

Registration is free and open to the public. To register, email: info@spednetwilton.org

Town of Norwalk, school system, officials to be sued after sensitive video of a child was posted on social media

FOX61, NORWALK — A classroom video of a Norwalk elementary school student was posted on social media and now the student’s family attorney has filed a “statutory notice of claim” and a “preservation of evidence” order to prepare their lawsuit….

Read the full article here.


THE HOUR, NORWALK – On Wednesday, the Shelton-based Forte Law Group filed a “preservation of evidence” order and “statutory notice of claim” with the city and with Norwalk Public Schools, alleging that the posting constitutes a violation of civil rights, invasion of privacy, eavesdropping, voyeurism, and unlawful dissemination of intimate images, among other charges.\

Read the full article here.


PATCH, NORWALK – The parents of a Norwalk Public Schools student have threatened to sue the district after a video of their child was allegedly posted to social media by a teacher. According to the family’s attorney, Jeffrey L. Forte, the incident occurred on Jan. 18 at Jefferson Science Magnet School.

Read the full article here.


CT LAW TRIBUNE – The attorney for the parents of an 8-year-old boy whose teacher allegedly posted his misbehavior in class on social media has filed legal documents that are a precursor to a lawsuit with the Norwalk town clerk’s office.

Read the full article here.

What Does the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Mean?

Least Restrictive Environment

What Does the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Mean?

The least restrictive environment (LRE) is a legal term found within 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(5) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The LRE provision of the IDEA provides that: “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A).

LRE means that a child with a disability must be educated within the same classroom as typical mainstreamed non-disabled peers to the fullest extent possible in order to ensure that a disabled child is receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Historically speaking, prior to the enactment of the IDEA, children with disabilities were segregated and separated from mainstream typical classroom environments.

The key terms to underscore within the LRE provision of the IDEA is “to the maximum extent appropriate.” This means that the level of LRE a disabled child should receive is unique to the student’s individual needs and disability. LRE must be tied to the child’s individualized academic programming and instruction. Thus, special classes, a separate school or the removal of the child from the general mainstreamed classroom should only occur “when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” Id.

Different Types of LRE

Not all LRE cases are straightforward and the IDEA does not specifically spell out what the LRE for each type of disability should look like. Understandably so, what LRE may look like for one child with a disability is not what it will look like for another. The primary intention of the LRE provision is to ensure that a child that is receiving a special education gets included in the general education classroom environment as often and frequent as possible. Practically speaking, LRE can be divided into a few different types of examples:

Placement Continuum Chart

  • General education classroom with supports. Your child spends the entire day in a general education class. He receives supports and services like a tutor or aide, assistive technology, related services, accommodations, modifications or any other combination of these.
  • Partial mainstream/inclusion classroom. Your child spends part of the day in a general education class. He gets some individual or small-group instruction in a special education class or is pulled out of class for some services.
  • Special education class. This is a program with specialized instruction for kids with similar learning needs.
  • Specialized program outside of your school district. This includes private schools, residential programs and hospital programs.

Understanding the various levels of LRE will help ensure your child receives the most ambitiously appropriate educational experience within the least restrictive environment.

About the Author: Jeffrey L. Forte practices special education law, child advocacy and juvenile defense. He is the founding member of Forte Law Group LLC where he exclusively represents families and children with special needs. Forte Law Group LLC has offices in Westport, Shelton and Rocky Hill, Connecticut. For more information visit www.fortelawgroup.com

 

Milestones and Forte Law Group present Connecticut program, Autism Q&A

Helping Other Families of Children with Special Needs: What Can I Say? What Can/Should I do? How Do Any of Us Move Forward?

Milestones Behavioral Services CEO Suzanne Letso, M.A., BCBA and Vice President, Clinical Operations Cresse Morrell, M.S., BCBA invite special education attorney Jeffrey L. Forte to present a Q&A program on Autism. The topics covered, in this free, open to the public discussion will be helpful for parents, grandparents, and caregivers and will include:

-Should I suggest lawyers, advocates, special education specialists?
-Will telling my nightmare moments help?
-If my advice backfires how will I face them?
-Do I suggest a child get further testing?
-Where do I turn next?

The program will be held on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm at the Milestones Orange campus. RSVP at MilestonesRSVP@mbs-inc.org or call 203-799-4110 x 660. For more information about the event, click here.

Fairfield County Bar Association publishes law article authored by Attorney Jeffrey Forte

Fairfield County Bar Association uphold the best traditions of the legal profession for Connecticut attorneys. Attorney Forte was selected by the FCBA quarterly news committee to author a scholarly law article on special education for members of the bar association.

To read the law article, please click here: https://files.constantcontact.com/f01f458f101/24c23672-9185-4508-861a-9f94adea5ebf.pdf

Special Education Child Advocate, Program Series: Ask a Professional in Norwalk, CT.

Stepping Stones Museum in Norwalk, CT has invited special education attorney and certified advocate, Jeffrey Forte to hold a parent program on special education laws. The “Ask a Professional” program will be held on Thursday, February 21, 2019 from 5:30-6:30pm at Stepping Stones, located at 303 West Avenue in Norwalk, CT. RVSP by Feb. 18 by calling 203-899-0606, ext. 268. This program is an information session that empowers parents to advocate for their child’s educational rights. Attorney Forte will cover the laws covering the IDEA, IEPs, PPT meetings, IEEs, goals and objectives and the eligibility process.

For more information, Register Here.

Divorce and Special Education Law: A Primer

By Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq.
*This law article contains endnotes with enumerated caselaw citations and annotations. Please click on the full pdf version below for a complete listing of legal endnotes.

Although the U.S. divorce rate is falling, divorce rates run much higher for couples that have a child with special needs. Family law practitioners and their clients need to be aware of what parents rights are under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) when drafting a divorce decree to ensure a child’s special education interests are appropriately addressed.

Which Parent Has the Right to Make Educational Decisions for their Child with Special Needs?

Generally speaking, unless otherwise provided by court order or state law, both parents have rights under the IDEA to address parental concerns and advocate for the needs of their disabled child’s special education and related services. “When the parents of a child with a disability are divorced, both parents are entitled to exercise their IDEA rights, unless a court order or state law provides otherwise.”

Issues inevitably arise when there is a disagreement between divorced parents relating to their child’s special educational needs and related services. This often leads to further confusion and difficulty regarding how the school district should proceed, thereby causing a three-way dispute between parent, parent and school district. Divorced parents should also be mindful of districts efforts to “divide and conquer” the parents. For this reason, as a matter of best practice, it is critical family law attorneys and divorced parents craft a final divorce decree clearly specifying which parent has “educational decision-making authority” over their child’s special education.

Which Parent Has Educational Decision-Making Authority When Not Specifically Addressed in the Divorce Decree?

It cannot be underscored enough that the divorce decree contains an educational decision-making authority clause when a divorced couple has a child with special needs. The family law practitioner or concerned divorced parent of a child with special needs should seek to modify or amend an existing divorce decree so that such a clause is contained.

In the absence of such a clause, family law courts and/or administrative impartial due process hearing officers examine which parent has legal custody, physical custody and/or medical decision-making authority over the disabled child. Under state laws, a divorced parent that neither possesses legal nor physical custody of the child may lack standing to participate in the child’s special educational process under the IDEA.

Preventing Your Child’s Special Education Needs from Being Interrupted During and After Your Divorce.

In the practice of special education law, there are many scenarios involving divorced parents challenging the special education services of their child. Here are a few examples:

Glen is a child that is outplaced at a specialized school. Mom and Dad are divorcing. Dad cannot accept that Benjamin requires a specialized school. Dad wants Benjamin back in district. Mom wants Benjamin to stay in his current outplacement. The school district would be happy to agree with Dad because it is cheaper. Dad signs the IEP first, allowing the school district to take Benjamin back into district.

Rob is a student that successfully is secured a private outplacement at mediation paid for by the district based on violations of FAPE. In exchange for Rob’s private outplacement, the district requires both Mom and Dad sign a confidential settlement agreement. Mom and Dad are divorced. Mom refuses to sign the agreement, thereby delaying and possibly preventing Rob’s private outplacement.

Tim is a student with disabilities that is not receiving a special education. Mom and Dad are divorced. Mom and Dad share joint legal and physical custody of Tim, but Mom handles medical decisions. Mom wants the school district to initially evaluate Tim for special education services, but Dad says no and refuses to provide consent to the district.

In each of these examples all of the issues can be avoided if the divorce decree contained an educational decision-making authority clause. Thousands of dollars, family court appearances, court-appointed guardians and the emotional toll both on you and your child can arguably all be avoided if you and your family law attorney pro-actively protect your parental educational decision-making rights over your child’s special education.

Had I Only Known: Special Education Questions to Ask While Crafting Your Divorce Decree.

Admittedly, I am not a family law attorney. I have never handled a divorce. However, as special education lawyer and a certified child advocate, I have represented dozens of divorced parents relating to the educational rights their child with special needs, often times in concert with my client’s family law attorney. Here are some questions you and your family law attorney should consider when going through your divorce:

  • What parent will have educational-decision making authority over your child’s special education? Specify it in the divorce decree.
  • What parent will attend and advocate at IEP or Section 504 meetings on behalf of your child? Note that under the IDEA, both parents have the right to bring anyone they wish to an IEP or Section 504 meeting and school districts do not have any authority to prevent it. You do not want to face the possibility of having your ex-spouse show up at an IEP meeting with his or her new boyfriend or girlfriend or controversial attorney or advocate that knows absolutely nothing of the needs of your child yet have an equal seat at the table.
  • In so much as there is physical abuse or domestic violence between ex-spouses, a protective or restraining order can strategically allow a school district to prevent the abusive spouse’s personal attendance to an IEP meeting and instead participate by phone.
  • If your child’s school district is not fulfilling the IEP or Section 504 obligations and you need to hire an advocate or special education lawyer, which parent will pay for such representation? Which parent gets to decide if such representation is allowed and by whom?
  • If your child requires private evaluations, which parent will fund these costs? Which parent selects the evaluator?
  • If you decide to unilaterally place your child in a private special education school because the school district is not providing FAPE, which parent will fund the private unilateral placement?
  • Which parent has the right to obtain all of your child’s educational records under the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) with the school district?
  • Will you and your divorced spouse live in different towns? If so, this can affect costs pertaining to your child’s private outplacement. Residency requirements are included in private settlement agreements with districts.

Do You and Your Family Law Attorney Need to Speak with a Special Education Law Attorney?

As with any legal fact pattern, it depends on your situation. Divorced and divorcing parents, as well as family law practitioners who have concerns about the child’s special education should always connect with an experienced special education attorney to ensure the child’s educational rights are ambitiously appropriate and that the child’s IEP, school placement and related services are being delivered with fidelity.

As a matter of best practice, I require any potential client that is divorced to provide me with a copy of their divorce decree prior to entering into an attorney client relationship in order to determine what parent has standing to pursue the special educational interests of their child. Regardless of the disputes among former spouses, divorced parents are encouraged to set their differences aside for the benefit of their child’s special education during and after the divorce and continue to be empowered as their child’s best advocate.

About the Author: Jeffrey L. Forte practices special education law, child advocacy and juvenile defense. He is the founding member of Forte Law Group LLC where he exclusively represents families and children with special needs. Forte Law Group LLC has offices in Westport, Shelton and West Hartford, Connecticut. For more information visit www.fortelawgroup.com

Download PDF here for full list of annotations.

Planning For Transitioning Into Adulthood – Autism Spectrum News

With adulthood approaching for many families with special needs, we must keep in mind that we must plan ahead in order to ensure that our loved ones are learning the skills necessary to promote independence in their home, school, and community setting. Planning for transitioning into adulthood is not an easy task and one that needs to begin as early as 15 for students with special needs.

We at the Forte Law Group encourage all our families to get connected early on with resources and experts in the community that will provide guidance around transition planning. We recommend that you read an article regarding transitioning into adulthood by Dr. Solandy Forte and Aimee Haray from Milestones Behavioral Services in Milford and Orange, Connecticut. For further information about how your educational team can proactively start planning for your child’s transition contact the Forte Law Group at (203) 257-7999 or visit our website at www.fortelawgroup.com

IEP Goals and Objectives Workshop with Special Education Lawyer Jeffrey Forte in Fairfield County

What are specific and measurable IEP Goals and Objectives? What happens when your child isn’t progressing at school? What’s the differences between IEP vs. 504 Plans? Attorney Jeffrey Forte discusses these questions and more in a free workshop for parents of children with special needs on November 9, 2018 6:00pm-7:30pm 4 Research Drive, Suite 403, Shelton, CT 06484.

Fairfield County Parent Magazine publishes special education article authored by Attorney Jeffrey Forte

The September 2018 issue of Fairfield County Parent Magazine featured a leading article authored by Attorney Jeffrey Forte entitled, “Special Education Strategies for the New School Year.”

The article includes thoughtful “Back to School” tips for parents to obtain the most helpful and advantageous special education strategies for their children.

View a PDF of the full article here: Fairfield County Parent Magazine

Connecticut Parent Magazine publishes special education article authored by Attorney Jeffrey Forte

The September 2018 issue of Connecticut Parent Magazine featured a leading article authored by Attorney Jeffrey Forte entitled, “Special Education Strategies for the New School Year.”

The article includes thoughtful “Back to School” tips for parents to obtain the most helpful and advantageous special education strategies for their children.

View a PDF of the full article here: Connecticut Parent Magazine

Special Education Strategies For the New School Year

By Atty. Jeffrey L. Forte

We are past the halfway point of summer vacation and parents everywhere are crowding local stores for the annual “Back to School” shopping spree, with cute backpacks and new sneakers high on their agenda. For parents of children with special needs, however, the priorities at the beginning of a new school year may look a bit different.

For some parents, the beginning of the academic year is already kicking off with Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings — meetings that you have been planning for months and waiting to schedule all summer. As a parent of a child with special needs, you must prepare thoroughly. Here are a few pointers to help parents obtain the most helpful and advantageous special education strategies for their children.
Be sure to request your child’s school records. In particular, be certain to request any evaluations, progress reports, and proposed goals and objectives well in advance of the IEP meeting. These documents can be cumbersome and you will need sufficient time to review all the details and have time to dissect the information provided. Request that the documents be provided to you at least three to five days prior to the IEP meeting.

Consult with your outside community service providers regarding the information supplied. It is important to get their input on the results of the evaluations and any proposed goals and objectives. It is completely appropriate for you to get a second opinion from experts who know your child best.
Organize your child’s education records. It is best to create a binder to quickly access information that may be relevant to the decision-making process at an IEP meeting. It is a new school year, so this means a new binder with current information about your child’s education. This binder will come in handy when preparing for an IEP meeting or when discussing your case with outside experts, or perhaps with a special education attorney.

Communication with your child’s IEP team should never be limited to just the annual review. Be proactive and establish effective methods of communicating with your child’s IEP team on a regular basis right from the beginning of each school year, and, of course, at your child’s annual review.

As a parent, you are a member of the school team and as such should be actively and thoroughly informed about your child’s education on an ongoing basis. It is important to promote effective communication with your child’s IEP team:

Establish a daily or weekly home and school communication log (via electronic student portal or on paper.) The communication log is a method for school team members to broadly share information about the learning, social, and physical activities your child participated in across the school day (including services delivered by special service providers). As a parent, you should participate in the development of the communication log so that it captures the information that is important to you.

Set up regular parent meetings (monthly or quarterly depending upon child’s level of need) with your IEP team. Parent meetings can serve multiple functions but generally speaking can be a time for team members to share information about your child’s progress, discuss ways to promote the generalization of acquired skills in the home/community setting, share and review data, troubleshoot, and discuss changes in the home setting, to name a few.

Effectively communicating with your IEP team also means that you should be prepared to participate in the discussion about your child’s progress and/or evaluations. This means you will need to formally request (in writing) that you receive any progress reports, evaluations, data, or related documents that will be reviewed at your child’s IEP meeting ahead of time. This is a critical request and one that should be done before each and every IEP meeting.

Be sure to always formally request any methods of communication at an IEP meeting to be included on the IEP. Remember, if it is not included on the IEP then it is likely not to happen. Parents often make the mistake of not formally making these requests and leave the IEP meeting without a clear solution to the communication issue. It is important to clearly share the concern with the IEP team with regards to communication but also propose a solution by making a formal request to include the solution (e.g., communication log, parent meeting, data review meeting, etc.) on the IEP.

If you have a concern, question, or simply something to share with your school team about your child, do not hesitate to contact them. It is critical to your child’s education and overall wellbeing that you establish an open line of communication.

In my experience, some families have expressed frustration with establishing effective methods of communication with their IEP team or have encountered other stumbling blocks preventing the smooth application of special education services. If this is your case, then do not hesitate to contact an outside advocate to discuss how you can move forward with promoting effective communication methods with your child’s IEP team and making sure your child receives the education to which he or she is entitled by law.
Attorney Jeffrey L. Forte is certified in special education advocacy. For more information visit http://www.fortelawgroup.com/, (203) 257-7999. Forte Law Group is one of only a very few law firms within Connecticut that is dedicated to exclusively representing families and children with special needs.

What is School Refusal & What Are Your Child’s Educational Rights?

School Refusal Defined

School refusal is often described as a disorder of a child who refuses to go to school on a regular basis or has problems staying in school.1 Some of the criteria commonly found in school refusal matters involves a student with severe emotional distresses about attending school.2 This can include depression, somatic symptoms, anxiety and temper tantrums. Often is the case that parents are aware of the student’s absence because the child, despite the willingness to do schoolwork, persuades the parents to stay home during school hours because home is considered the safe environment.

The impact on a child that exhibits school refusal characteristics can be disastrous for both the student and parents. Depression, anxiety, bullying, substance abuse and dropping out of school can be real concerns. A working parent may also have to take family leave or unpaid sick leave to stay home with their child that is showing school refusal tendencies. That is why it is imperative if your child is exhibiting signs of school refusal to immediately be proactive in collaborating with your school district administrators and/or a certified child advocate or special education attorney so that a therapeutic school reintegration program is part of your child’s IEP.

 

Your Anxious Child’s Educational Rights

School refusal cases are complex. It often involves a labyrinth of understanding local school policies and rules, state and federal statutes and education regulations. School refusal cases may also lead to truancy issues. In Connecticut, “truant” means a child age 5 to 18, who is enrolled in a public or private school and has four unexcused absences from school in one month or ten unexcused absences in any school year.3 The enforcement and investigation of Connecticut’s truancy laws are handled by local and regional boards of education, local police and courts.4

Excessive absenteeism can also trigger various legal protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The IDEA defines “Child Find” as the state having policies and procedures to ensure that all children with disabilities who are in need of special education and related services are located, identified, and evaluated.5 Section 504 also provides that a school district must conduct an evaluation of a student who, because of handicap, need or are believed to need special education and related services.6  Excessive absenteeism may also lead to complications with IDEA eligibility determination, placement decisions and delivery of services, such as the location, frequency and willingness of the student.

 

Emotional Disturbance

Once a child is found with challenges that may include failing grades, excessive absenteeism and/or behavioral concerns the child may be determined eligible under the IDEA pursuant to the disability category of Emotional Disturbance (ED). Emotional Disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance7:

  1. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors.
  2. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers or teachers.
  3. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  4. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associate with personal or school problems.

Common errors can include the failure to identify a student with the qualifying disability of ED under the IDEA, a misdiagnosis, failure to refer for initial evaluation or the complete lack of conducting a comprehensive evaluation. The blame may also be placed on the parents by claiming that there is an issue in the home setting itself.

 

Addressing School Refusal in the IEP

There are a number of ways and strategies to address school refusal in the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Homebound tutoring is an essential program that needs to become part of the student’s IEP while school reintegration strategies are put into place. Short term goals and objectives should be specific and measurable with regards to homebound tutoring. Student and parent counseling should also be considered as a related service. In addition, positive behavior supports and interventions that address school refusal behavior should also be considered.8 Reevaluations that address the why and what regarding the student’s absenteeism may also be necessary, including psychological, psychiatric, risk assessment and social skill evaluations. Lastly, private placement at a therapeutic based school that emphasizes academic programming may also be warranted along with specialized transportation.

 

To conclude, school refusal matters are challenging. School districts that do not provide an ambitiously appropriate program for a student’s disability related to absenteeism may qualify for rights under the IDEA.

For more information about school refusal, call 203-257-7999 or email jforte@fortelawgroup.com to schedule an appointment with special education lawyer and certified child advocate, attorney Jeffrey Forte of Forte Law Group LLC.


1https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/school-refusal

2Wanda P. Fremont, M.D., State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, Am Fam Physician. 2003 Oct 15;68(8): 1555-1561. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1015/p1555.html

3Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 10-198a

4https://www.cga.ct.gov/2000/rpt/2000-R-0957.htm

534 CFR 300.11; 20 USC 1401(3); 1412(a)(3)

634 CFR 104.34

734 CFR 300.8(c)(4)(i)

834 CFR 300.324(a)(2)(i)

Child Anxiety, Depression, School Refusal and Your Child’s Educational Rights – presentation in Milford, CT

Forte Law Group and Woodhouse Academy are hosting a free workshop for parents of children with anxiety and school refusal challenges on March 20th from 6:30-7:30pm at Woodhouse Academy in Milford. The program will cover:

-Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues in youth.
-What is School Refusal and What is Truancy.
-School Refusal, Child Find and IDEA Eligibility.
-Addressing School Refusal in the IEP.
-Therapeutic School Solutions and Academic Programming.