Rhode Island State House

Representative Terri Cortvriend, Representative Lauren Carson, and Representative Julie Casimiro will host an open virtual meeting next week with parents of special needs children in Rhode Island to review bills they have introduced to help parents secure appropriate special education services for their children.

The community forum, scheduled for Monday, March 8, from 4 pm to 6 pm, has been arranged in conjunction with the Arc of Rhode Island, which has joined forces with a group of over 100 Rhode Island parents who have faced challenges in securing appropriate special education services for their children.

A press release from the Rhode Island General Assembly on behalf of the reps says that the meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the proposed bills and provide feedback. For more information and to register and access a link to the meeting, visit https://conta.cc/2NLpa7W.

“The pandemic has been an extremely challenging time for all students, and especially for those who require special education services. And many parents have said their struggles to get the services their kids need long pre-date the pandemic. Our goal with all of these bills is to make sure that families have avenues to seek the help they need if they believe their children are not receiving the level of service to which they are entitled by law. Ultimately, we want to ensure that every special education student in our state is able to get the support they need and deserve so they are able to reach their full potential,” the three legislators said in a joint statement.

The legislators also held a forum with parents of special education students in October to discuss challenges they’ve been facing during the pandemic in particular, but also before it.

At this meeting, they will discuss their legislation:

· 2021-H 5833 — Sponsored by Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), this bill creates an ombudsman for special education, independent of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to ensure school districts throughout the state meet the minimum standards required to comply with individualized education programs for students with disabilities. This office would provide parents and teachers a place to bring up possible violations by districts and RIDE without the need to hire a lawyer. The office would collect data about possible violations and would have investigative powers for both districts and RIDE.  The office is modeled after the Office of the Child Advocate, which was created to collect data and investigate after injuries and deaths of children in Department of Children, Youth and Families care.

· 2021-H 5159 — Sponsored by Representative Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter), this bill designates physical, occupational, speech, and music therapies and behavioral health services as essential special services to be provided to students with disabilities during times of a declared emergency, including the current pandemic.

· 2021-H 5352— Sponsored by Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), this bill puts into state statute existing local advisory committees on special education in every school district that advise the school district on matters concerning the unmet needs of students with disabilities. The committees serve as advocates in partnership with parents, guardians or caretakers of students with disabilities to ensure that they receive the services to which they are entitled under state and federal laws. The bill would add reporting requirements.

This story was originally published on March 5, 2021.