A Practical Guide to the Law to Extend Special Ed Eligibility
June 16, 2021
Many students with autism experienced substantial learning loss in the previous 15 months of their educational entitlement. More specifically, those who are approaching graduation were not able to prepare for the transition to greater independence, employment opportunities, and adult services. To address these missed opportunities, the Legislature and Governor moved swiftly to pass and enact a law that allows for an additional year of special education and related services. The following information will help you understand whether your child qualifies for an extra year and how to work with your district to access it.
Does this law apply to my child?
This law applies to your child if your child:
- Requires special education and related services
- Turns 21 during one of the following school years*
*Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the eligible years and omitted the 2020-21.
How do I use this law to get an additional year of instruction?
If this law applies to your child, how easy it will be to access depends on whether your IEP team agrees that your child requires an additional year of instruction.
If your IEP team agrees that this law applies to your child and that they require an additional year of instruction, the process should be a relatively simple, 2-step process:
- Set up a meeting with your IEP team
- Tell your IEP team that you believe your child requires an additional year of instruction, as described in this law
If everyone is in agreement, the school should be able to include a plan for the subsequent year’s instruction in the IEP, including whatever transition services are appropriate for the student.
If you expect resistance from your IEP team, it may be more difficult to get your child the additional year of special education and related services. You should still follow the two steps described above, setting up a meeting and telling the IEP team that your child requires the additional year. You can put yourself in a stronger advocacy position with the following strategies:
- Bring Letters – Bringing letters from doctors, clinicians, or professionals who work with your child and support your request for an additional year of instruction and service can have a big impact on the outcome of the IEP meeting. Remember to provide copies of the letter(s) at least a week in advance to ensure that all members of the IEP team have a chance to read and understand them.
- Ask for a Reason – You can ask your IEP team to articulate why they think the additional year of special education and related services are not required for your child. Certain considerations, such as staffing or budgetary concerns, are improper reasons to deny a child special education and related services. Instead, the IEP must be drafted such that the services and placement are appropriate for the child, and the IEP enables the child to make educational progress.
- Bring Support – If you expect resistance, consider bringing a friend, a family member, or a trusted professional who works with your child. Having someone familiar and supportive participate in the meeting may help you remain calm and communicate your points more effectively.
Parents and school administrators are each integral parts of the IEP team, and disagreements on what is required and appropriate may arise. However, in the event of a dispute, a parent does not need to defer to school staff simply because they are educational professionals. This law describes the dispute resolution process available to parents when they disagree with other members of the IEP team.
As a general matter, parents have the same rights, privileges, and remedies around the special education and related services, including transition services, provided under this law that they would have pursuant to State Law, State Board of Education regulations, and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA).
If there’s a dispute around what services the school should provide, or whether the school should provide an additional year of instruction and services at all, there are three options available for parents:
Will I Have to Pay for the Additional Year?
If parents secure an additional year of instruction for their child, they should not be the ones paying for that instruction. Primarily, the funds for special education and related services, including transition services, provided under this law will come from the federal government. However, if that funding is not sufficient to cover the cost of services, the state must appropriate funds from the Property Tax Relief Fund to reimburse school districts for these costs. In any event, parents should not bear the cost of the extra year of instruction and services.
Experience Our Power of Connection
Have questions? Autism New Jersey recognizes and has expertise in the complexities of special education, transition, and adult services. If you have any questions, call our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the chat/messaging feature at the bottom of your screen.