FAPE: A TSBVI and District Partnership

Authors: Emily Coleman, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: FAPE, Free and Appropriate Public Education, IEP, Individualized Education Program, ARD, Admission, Review and Dismissal, ISD, Independent School District, special education, types of service, least restrictive environment, collaboration

Abstract: TSBVI Superintendent Emily Coleman explains ways that TSBVI collaborates with public school districts in order to provide FAPE for students with visual impairments in Texas.

FAPE is the cornerstone of special education in the United States and stands for a “Free and Appropriate Public Education.” (IDEA 34 CFR §300.17) When families and educators work together developing a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) through what Texans call an Admission, Review and Dismissal Process (ARD), they are ultimately working to ensure the student is receiving FAPE. For students who are blind, low vision, or deafblind, these programs can become very complicated. Due to this complexity, Texas Independent School Districts (ISDs) often engage with TSBVI to support their students.

There are three different ways TSBVI helps ISDs provide FAPE in Texas. Most commonly, we’re available for consultations to ensure the student’s program in the local district meets their needs. These consultations also help build capacity for future students to be served in their communities. In order to arrange a student consultation, an ISD may reach out to our Outreach Services Programs for technical assistance. The second most common way is by accessing our Short-Term Programs. ISDs or Teachers of Students with Visual Impairment (TSVIs) may elect this choice due to the skill specific lessons or 3-5 day educational opportunities that are available to target a student’s needs.

The most uncommon way ISDs collaborate with TSBVI to provide FAPE is by an ARD Committee referring a student to our Comprehensive Programs. This is because in addition to students receiving FAPE, they must also be served in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Within a local community, the spectrum of special education services moves from the least restrictive placement of a student who attends general education classes with non-disabled students in the district to a student who spends a percentage of their time in a special education classroom. It is more restrictive when the student spends more time, or even all of their time, within a special education setting. Residential placement in TSBVI’s Comprehensive Program is on the furthest end of this spectrum and is considered most restrictive.  

Per Texas Education Code Sec. 30.021, a student’s local ISD remains responsible for FAPE even when a student attends TSBVI. Therefore, every district can benefit from our comprehensive program as it expands the ways they provide FAPE. It isn’t that an ISD can’t provide an appropriate program for a student when they are referred by an ARD Committee; it’s just that the most appropriate program for the student may be at TSBVI. We are simply a placement option on the spectrum that a minority of students who are blind, low vision, or deafblind may need.  

TSBVI’s Comprehensive Program serves students locally and throughout the state. For those who live too far away to travel to campus daily, we offer access to a residential dorm. Students who live locally are able to go home and be with their families every night, which is a less restrictive setting than staying on our campus multiple days in a row. Districts and families of local students sometimes partner with TSBVI so they can access evening recreational opportunities.

I believe special education is the most complex, most expensive part of public education—and also the most important. Partnerships like the one between TSBVI and ISDs are unique. TSBVI has benefited from a supportive state that values these collaborations. We look forward to continuing to serve Texas in many ways, creating new opportunities in the future that empower students to succeed. For more information about all of our programs, please visit the TSBVI website.

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