Today's Law As Amended

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AB-967 Special education: COVID-19 Special Education Fund.(2021-2022)

As Amends the Law Today

 It is the intent of the Legislature that all of the following occur:
(a) Pupils with disabilities receive timely access to instruction and services required pursuant to state and federal law, in order to make continued progress in light of the disruptions to public education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
(b) Assistance is provided to local educational agencies to ensure that pupils receive the support described in subdivision (a) in a timely, efficient, and equitable manner, with a focus on the prevention of disputes through all of the following:
(1) Proactive communication, collaborative problem solving, and family support.
(2) The resolution of any disputes in a timely and low-cost manner, and the use of voluntary informal dispute resolution processes when appropriate.
(3) Efforts to engage families who face language barriers and other challenges to participation in the process described in this subdivision, including dependent children, nonminor dependents, youth who are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court pursuant to Section 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and are subject to an order for out-of-home placement, and adult pupils with disabilities.
(c) The state have a coherent, efficient, and equitable continuum of special education dispute prevention and resolution grounded in the common goal of success for all pupils, and with an emphasis on, and investments in, the prevention and lowest level resolution of conflicts.

SEC. 2.

 Article 9 (commencing with Section 56845.5) is added to Chapter 7.2 of Part 30 of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Education Code, to read:

Article  9. COVID-19 Special Education Fund
 For purposes of this article, the following definitions apply:
(a) “Alternative dispute resolution” means a process that is less formal than a due process hearing or related mediation, or written state complaints, and that is intended to maintain positive relationships between families and local educational agency staff by promoting collaboration toward solutions. Alternative dispute resolution is a voluntary method of resolving disputes and may not be used to delay or otherwise abridge any right established by state or federal law, including procedural safeguards. Alternative dispute resolution practices include activities on the less formal end of the continuum of dispute prevention and resolution, including proactive communication, collaborative problem solving, and family support, aimed at the prevention of, and early intervention in, disputes. Examples of alternative dispute resolution strategies include facilitated individualized education program meetings, parent-to-parent assistance, ombudspersons, collaborative negotiation, and informal local mediation.
(b) “COVID-19 school disruptions” means the period of time, commencing on or after March 7, 2020, during which normal school operations were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the local educational agency in which the pupil was enrolled.
(c) “Local educational agency” means a school district, county office of education, or charter school.
(d) “Parent” means the parent, guardian, or other educational rightsholder of a pupil. If a pupil is 18 years of age or older, “parent” means the pupil.
(e) “Pupil” means an individual who had an individualized education program during the COVID-19 school disruptions or an individual whose determination of eligibility for an individualized education program was delayed due to the COVID-19 school disruptions.
 (a) There is hereby established in the State Treasury the COVID-19 Special Education Fund. The moneys in the fund shall be used by the department, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for purposes of providing matching funds, on a one-to-one basis, to support local educational agencies in conducting activities to prevent and intervene early in conflicts, conduct voluntary alternative dispute resolution, and provide services to pupils with disabilities relating to individually determined impacts to learning associated with COVID-19 school disruptions, as provided in subdivision (b).
(b) Moneys from the fund may be expended by the department to support a local educational agency for all of the following purposes:
(1) For the prevention of, and early intervention to resolve, conflict, including, but not limited to, parent education regarding special education processes and rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1400 et seq.), parent peer support, language access provided as a supplement to that required to be provided by local educational agencies pursuant to state and federal law, and collaboration with family empowerment centers and other family support organizations.
(2) For developing a plan to identify, and conducting outreach to, families who face language barriers and other challenges to participation in the special education process.
(3) For conducting informal conflict resolution and voluntary alternative dispute resolution processes.
(4) For individualized education program services related to COVID-19 school disruptions that are agreed to through the individualized education program process or through agreements, including settlement agreements, reached through voluntary alternative dispute resolution.
(c) One-time funds expended pursuant to this section shall not be used to supplant existing expenditures or obligations of the local educational agency and shall be restricted to expenditures that will not be included in the local educational agency’s ongoing maintenance of effort requirement for purposes of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1400 et seq.).
(d) Funding made available pursuant to this article shall not be expended for, or used to match expenditures for, attorney’s fees.
(e) An appropriation made for purposes of this section shall be available for expenditure by local educational agencies subject to the expenditure deadlines established for these funds.
 In order to access funds described in Section 56845.6, a local educational agency shall submit an application for funding to its special education local plan area. The special education local plan area shall verify in writing that the conditions set forth in this section have been met and shall submit the application, including the written verification, to the department on behalf of the local educational agency. Applications related to multiple pupils may be submitted as a group. To be eligible for funding, the local educational agency shall provide evidence to the special education local plan area that all of the following conditions have been met:
(a) A plan to identify families who face language barriers and other challenges to participation in special education processes and whose pupils have experienced significant disruption to their education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(b) Efforts to conduct outreach to parents identified in the plan described in subdivision (a).
(c) Efforts to ensure that parents are provided notice of procedural safeguards established in state and federal law and are informed that alternative dispute resolution is a voluntary process.
(d) A good faith effort to resolve any dispute through the individualized education program process using informal dispute resolution strategies.
(e) For disputes that are not resolved through the individualized education program process, voluntary alternative dispute resolution strategies to resolve a dispute.
(f) Good faith efforts to reach an agreement through voluntary alternative dispute resolution within 60 calendar days of the initiation of the dispute resolution process, at no cost to the parent, with the goal of reaching agreement in an efficient manner that allows services and supports to commence at the earliest possible date. This subdivision does not affect any other timelines for the resolution of disputes in state or federal law.
(g) Individualized determinations of pupil needs using all available evidence of pupil needs and services provided.
(h) Any dispute and any agreed upon services are related to COVID-19 school disruptions.
(i) Involvement of a special education local plan area, family empowerment center, or other organization acting as a neutral facilitator or mediator during the dispute and resolution process, when that involvement is needed to resolve a dispute.
(j) Local funding spent for eligible purposes, as described in subdivision (b) of Section 56845.6.
 (a) The department shall, within 60 days of the operative date of this article, issue guidance to assist local educational agencies in identifying factors to consider when conducting individualized determinations of any need to address impacts to learning or for services related to COVID-19 school disruptions, consistent with state and federal law, including examples of strategies to monitor pupil progress for purposes of conducting this individualized determination.
(b) Within 30 days of the operative date of this article, the department shall notify each local educational agency of the amount of funding for which it is eligible to apply for, based on an appropriation made by the Legislature for this purpose, divided by the number of pupils with disabilities in each local educational agency, and shall establish application deadlines for these funds.
 This article shall not be construed to do any of the following:
(a) Abridge any right granted to a parent under state or federal law, including, but not limited to, the procedural safeguards established pursuant to Section 1415 of Title 20 of the Unites States Code.
(b) Require that alternative dispute resolution be used to resolve a dispute.
(c) Imply that conflicts should not be resolved in the individualized education program process.
  Implementation of this article is contingent upon an appropriation of state or federal funds for this purpose in the annual Budget Act or another statute.
SEC. 3.
 If the Commission on State Mandates determines that this act contains costs mandated by the state, reimbursement to local agencies and school districts for those costs shall be made pursuant to Part 7 (commencing with Section 17500) of Division 4 of Title 2 of the Government Code.