Priority Issue: Special Education

2018 Legislative Session Special Education Wrap-Up

State formula funding for public special education programs will total $290.8 million in fiscal 2019, a $5.9 million, or 2.1%, increase over the prior year. The budget also included  $26.1 million for special transportation services. a $412,000 increase from FY 2018.

Kirwan Commission Special Education Cost Study
Senate Bill 187, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) of 2018, allocates funding for House Bill 1415, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education bill, or Kirwan Commission bill. This bill specifically appropriates $121,000 for a required special education study that includes a review and assessment of:
(1) available national and international data and studies on current costs of special education across the spectrum of disabilities and severity;
(2) methodologies used by top-performing countries to estimate costs of providing adequate education to students in special education; and (3) methodologies used and considered in other states that use a special education weight for estimating
the cost of an adequate education for special education students.

The study must make recommendations on the adequate level of special education funding, including the appropriate weights, in the public school funding formulas for special education; and the study must begin by September 1, 2018, and must be completed by September 1, 2019.

Special Education Data Privacy
Data on School Discipline (House Bill 1254):
MSDE publishes annual reports on suspensions and expulsions in public schools and much of the data in the reports is disaggregated at the State and local school system levels and by race/ethnicity and disability status. House Bill 1254 (passed) requires MSDE to disaggregate special education-related data by race, ethnicity, and gender.


General Assembly Enacted Major Special Education Bills in 2017

Parental Consent – Limited to Three Decisions (HB 174/SB 710) (Del. Luedtke/Sen. Conway)

This bill requires the individualized education program (IEP) team to obtain written consent from a parent if the team proposes to (1) enroll the child in an alternative education program that does not issue or provide credits toward a high school diploma; (2) identify the child for the alternate assessment aligned with the State’s alternate curriculum; or (3) include restraint or seclusion in the IEP to address the child’s behavior.

If the parent does not provide written consent, the IEP team must send the parent written notice within five business days of the IEP meeting that (1) the parent has the right to either consent, or refuse to consent, to an action described above, and (2) if the parent does not provide written consent or refusal to consent within 15 business days of the IEP team meeting, the IEP team may implement the proposed action. If a parent refuses to consent to the proposed action, the IEP team may use the dispute resolution process to resolve the matter. The bill takes effect July 1, 2017.

MABE opposed this bill, and urged adoption of the amendment to remove the category of parental consent regarding IEP team decisions to initiate a change in the child’s educational placement. (MABE Testimony)

Seclusion/Restraint – Taskforce to Update Regulations (SB 786) (Sen. Zucker)

This bill requires the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to convene a task force to examine policies and practices related to behavioral interventions in schools, including the use of restraint, seclusion, and trauma-informed interventions. The task force must report to the State Board of Education and the General Assembly by October 1, 2017 on its findings and recommended regulations related to seclusion. In general, the task force must consider the circumstances under which restraint and seclusion shall be prohibited; training requirements for school staff; minimum requirements for school system policies; and standards for monitoring compliance.

Regarding seclusion, the task force must make specific recommendations on the use of seclusion such as the types of doors and locking mechanisms and observation and safety standards. Following the task force recommendations, MSDE must propose regulations to the State Board by December 1, 2017.

The bill also requires public agencies, as defined by the bill, and nonpublic schools to report annually on the use of physical restraint and seclusion, as well as on professional development provided to school personnel related to positive behavior interventions, strategies, and supports and trauma-informed interventions. MSDE must provide guidance to public agencies and nonpublic schools and also report to the General Assembly on related matters. The bill takes effect July 1, 2017; statutory provisions related to the task force are repealed June 30, 2019.

MABE opposed this bill as introduced, and yet also acknowledged that the statute may be in need of updating relative to the more recently updated and highly regarded set of state regulations. Therefore MABE urged that any statutory changes closely reflect the regulations that now govern these practices. MABE appreciates the support of Senate Zucker for amendments to ensure significant progress in updating the standards for utilizing seclusion rooms or physical restraints of students through the development of new State regulations. (MABE Testimony)

Specialized Intervention Services – Reports (SB 1) (Sen. Conway)

This bill requires that, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, each local board of education must, by December 1 of each year, submit a report on specialized intervention services to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). The report must include information on the number of students in kindergarten through grade 3 receiving the services, the grades in which the services were provided, and the annual budget (including federal, State, and local funds) for the services. MSDE must establish guidelines for the report that each local board must submit. MSDE and each local board of education must annually post the information required under the bill on their respective websites.

MABE supported this bill with amendments, in the context of recognizing the importance of the services at issue, but requesting amendments to establish an interim study of the complex statutory and regulatory issues, and the reporting requirements relating to specialized intervention services and to the federal, state and local funding being provided for such services. The House proceeded to amend the Senate bill and House bill (HB 286) to include much more onerous reporting requirements and MABE ultimately urged the adoption of the SB 1 as introduced. (MABE Testimony)

Burden of Proof

In 2015, the General Assembly considered and rejected legislation to place the burden of  proof on the public agency (local school system or MSDE) in special education-related due process hearings held to resolve disputes about the identification, evaluation, or educational placements of children with disabilities or the provision of a free appropriate public education (Senate Bill 390/House Bill 344). MABE strongly opposes such legislation, and supports the Supreme Court decision in a Maryland case (Shaffer v. Weast (2005)) which maintains that parents should meet the burden to contest the IEP developed for their child (MABE Testimony).

While the “burden of proof” bill has failed to pass in multiple legislative sessions, several other special education-related bills have become law; and are intended to make significant improvements in the delivery of and communication to parents regarding special education programs and services.

Other Recently Enacted Special Education Legislation

In 2016, bills passed to authorize the parents of a child with a completed individualized education program (IEP) or individualized family service plan (IFSP) to request that the IEP or IFSP be translated into the parents’ native language, if that language is spoken by more than 1% of students in the local school system. School personnel must provide the parents with the translated document within 30 days after the date of the request. These bills took effect July 1, 2016 (HB 86/SB 421)

Also enacted in 2016, HB 551 requires the IEP team to provide a parent who disagrees with a child’s IEP or special education services with, in plain language: (1) an oral and written explanation of the parent’s right to mediation; (2) contact information for receiving information on the mediation process; and (3) information regarding pro bono representation. The parent may request this information at any IEP team meeting. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) must make staff available to assist a parent in understanding the mediation process. The bill took effect July 1, 2016.

And HB 895/SB 823 passed in order to extend the reporting deadline for the Task Force to Study the Implementation of a Dyslexia Education Program from December 30, 2015, to December 30, 2016, and extend the termination date of Chapter 411 of 2015, which established the task force, from June 30, 2016, to June 30, 2017. The bill also adds to the membership of the task force and adds to the task force’s mandate by requiring that it (1) make recommendations regarding how the terms “dyslexia” and “targeted students” should be defined and (2) determine the components and costs of successful dyslexia education programs established in other states. The bill took effect June 1, 2016.

In 2014, House Bill 413 passed to require each local board of education to develop and publish on its website a list of all special education service delivery models in the local school system; and the new law ensures that parents are provided a verbal and written explanation of the parents’ rights and responsibilities and the procedural safeguards in the IEP process. Similarly, legislation passed to require each local school system to provide to parents of a child with a disability verbal and written information about access to habilitative services (Senate Bill 701/House Bill 798).

A Commission on Special Education Access and Equity was created by legislation in 2013 (House Bill 1161). The Commission was charged with studying the extent to which parents and guardians of students with disabilities are made aware of their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and State law and regulations, and ways to improve the awareness of these rights; the effects of workload, caseload, and paperwork requirements related to the special education process on the ability of educators to provide a free and appropriate public education, and potential methods for mitigating these factors; and the disparity between the parties in special education due process hearings and potential methods for improving the process.

Importantly, the Final Report of the Commission on Special Education Access and Equity made several recommendations for further actions to improve the delivery of special education services, but did not recommend shifting the burden of proof.

To learn more, read MABE’s testimony opposing legislation to shift the burden of proof to the school system, or visit the MSDE web page for the Commission, and read the Commission’s Final Report.

For more information, contact John R. Woolums, Esq., MABE’s Director of Governmental Relations, at or 410-841-5414.