The Legal Services and Special Education Divisions of the Office of Public Instruction in Montana have instituted the Early Assistance Program.
This program is designed to provide technical assistance to parents, school districts, and advocacy organizations in regard to the delivery of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities (10.16.3660, ARM). Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents can file complaints if they feel a district is not following administrative rules. The intent of the EAP program is to intervene prior to or at the time of filing a complaint with OPI (10.16.3662)(4)(c). At this intervention point, required by 10.16.3660(4), the EAP will gather information pertinent to the situation from parents, schools, and others who are involved with the issue and attempt to resolve the problem within 15 school days. With permission from the parents, EAP may exceed 15 days.
There are about 25 individuals available. Coupled with this is the commitment from advocates to work with us to solve problems prior to any written complaint.
With permission from the parents, EAP may exceed 15 days. The resolution process may include “telephone diplomacy,” informal mediation, and technical assistance from part-time employees who are situated around the state.
The people we have in the field are highly qualified individuals – a former state special education director, retired school district special education directors, retired special educators, college professors, former state department heads, a parent of a disabled child, and current special educators. The skills of these folks are the crux of the program. Their ability to communicate effectively with parents and schools, their knowledge of the special education process, and their willingness to face challenges all work together to ensure appropriate services are available to kids.
Montana’s Special Education Division of the Office of Public Instruction has maintained its availability and openness to schools and parents over the years. Both schools and parents know they can contact us at our desks without having to work through a series of administrative assistants or they can contact us via email. We work hard to return calls and emails as quickly as possible. The Office, from the state superintendent down, supports, cooperates and works with the EAP to ensure success. All of us are committed to the process and work to ensure parents and schools can resolve problems as quickly and effectively as possible. Parents will often contact us prior to filing any written complaint. At this intervention point, the EAP will gather information pertinent to the situation from parents, schools, and others who are involved with the issue and attempt to resolve the problem within 15 school days.