Posts tagged with "FAPE"

Special Education Law – Relevant Terms

Applied Behavior Analysis (“ABA”): An intensive, structured teaching program in which behaviors to be taught are broken down into simple elements. Each element is taught using repeated trials where the child is presented with a stimulus; correct responses and behaviors are rewarded with positive reinforcement, while when incorrect responses occur, they are ignored and appropriate responses are prompted and rewarded. Continue Reading

What is “Gifted and Talented” and What If My Child Is Identified as Such?

While reading a parent’s education law guide written by attorneys here at Maya Murphy, I was initially surprised to read the following: “A child requiring special education in Connecticut includes not only children with disabilities but also those who are found to be especially gifted and talented.”[1] Indeed, “a child requiring special education” is not limited to those deemed eligible pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; see my previous post), but a child that:

[H]as extraordinary learning ability or outstanding talent in the creative arts, the development of which requires programs or services beyond the level of those ordinarily provided in regular school programs but which may be provided through special education as part of the public school program.[2]

The Regulations Concerning State Agencies go into greater depth as to what constitutes “gifted and talented,” “extraordinary learning ability,” and “outstanding talent in the creative arts.”[3]

You may be asking yourself, “But how do I know my child is gifted and talented?” The State Department of Education produced a very informative list of FAQs, one of which directly addresses this question:

Some children are able to concentrate for long periods of time at a very young age or demonstrate their gifts and talents by using a large vocabulary, constant questioning, demonstrating unusual creativity, performing advanced math calculations, and/or exhibiting exceptional ability in specific subject areas.

Not all children, however, demonstrate their potential abilities and talents in the traditional manners mentioned above. Thus, concerned parents should consult with child development specialists, such as their local school officials, pediatricians, or higher education personnel for more information.[4]

The rules governing gifted and talented (GaT) are somewhat similar to the mandates stemming from special education classifications under IDEA (and associated state law codifying its requirements). Schools districts must “provide identification, referral and evaluation for gifted and talented children.”[5] However, offering GaT programming is optional: “(c) Each local or regional board of education may provide special education for children requiring it who are described by subparagraph (B) of subdivision (5) of section 10-76a and for other exceptional children for whom special education is not required by law.[6] Thus, if you are the parent of a child identified as GaT and your school elects not to offer special programs or services, they are not denying your child the free appropriate public education, or FAPE, as is required under federal law.

However, if your school district refuses to identify, refer, or evaluate your child for GaT status pursuant to Connecticut law, it is imperative that you seek the counsel of an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding gifted education, special education, or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at pp.10.

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76a(5)(B).

[3] Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies § 10-76a-2.

[4] “Gifted and Talented – QA,” by the State Department of Education. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&q=320948

[5] Id. at § 10-76d-1.

[6] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76d(c).

What is Special Education, and Is My Child Eligible For Such Services?

The State Board of Education believes each student is unique and needs an educational environment that provides for, and accommodates, his or her strengths and areas of needed improvement. The Board also believes that a unified and coordinated continuum of educational opportunities and supports serves and benefits all students. – Excerpted from the State Board of Education’s “Position Statement on the Education of Students with Disabilities”

Every parent who has the best interests of their child at heart would most likely agree with the above statement. Making sure your child receives the best K-12 education they can is certainly the goal. However, this may appear less attainable to parents who are uncertain about the future of their disabled child, or who don’t even realize that their child has special needs.

Under Connecticut law, which mirrors federal statutes, “special education” is specifically designed instruction tailored to meet the individualized needs of a child identified as having a disability.[1] “A child who is eligible for special education services is entitled by federal law to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE)… [which] ensures that all students with disabilities receive an appropriate public education at no cost to the family.”[2] FAPE is an “unqualified right” that a school district cannot thwart or undermine due to the accompanying expenses.

However, determining whether your child is eligible may seem intimidating, but the process is more straightforward than you would expect. As a baseline, your child must be between ages 3 and 21, and “Connecticut school districts are obligated to provide special education and related services to children five years of age or older until the earlier of either high school graduation or the end of the school year in which your child turns twenty-one years of age.”[3] Related services include “transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services… as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education” (except for surgically implanted medical devices).[4]

Next, you must establish that your child has one or more of the enumerated classes of disabilities, as found directly in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:[5]

  • Autism
  • Hearing impairments (including deafness)
  • Mental retardation
  • Orthopedic impairments
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Specific  learning disabilities
  • Speech or language impairments
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairments (including blindness)
  • Other health impairments – this includes “limited strength, vitality or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as lead poisoning, asthma, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, a heart condition, hemophilia, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette Syndrome”[6]

If your child is of the proper age and has one of these disabilities, you must next determine whether or not his or her educational performance is adversely affected. If the answer is yes, “a special education program must be developed to meet their unique educational needs.”[7] This is known as an Individual Education Program, or IEP, which will be the subject of an upcoming post.

If you are a parent with a child that has a disability, it is important that you meet with school officials to create an IEP that maximizes your child’s educational opportunities. Should you have any questions about special education or education law in general, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76a(4).

[2] “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Connecticut,” by the Connecticut State Department of Education. 2007. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Parents_Guide_SE.pdf

[3] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at pp.8-9.

[4] Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, § 602(26).

[5] Id. at § 602(3)(A)(i).

[6] See Footnote 2.

[7] See Footnote 3.

The Boundaries of a Child’s Constitutional Right to Education in Connecticut

Under the Constitution of Connecticut, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.”[1] However, to satisfy free appropriate public education, or FAPE, requirements of federal law, this doesn’t mean parents may engage in a sort of free-for-all in dictating the five W’s of their child’s educational opportunities at public expense. Rather, case precedent has established limitations that take into account the interests of the child balanced against governmental concerns of the school district.

While the Supreme Court of Connecticut has stated that “the right to education is so basic and fundamental that any infringement of that right must be strictly scrutinized,” they did not intend this to extend to any specific sort of education.[2] In other words, just because a student is eligible to participate in specific courses or extracurricular activities does not automatically grant him or her the right to do so.[3] More specifically: “Absent a legislative mandate such as that in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-76a that requires a special education curriculum for children with disabilities, a student has no constitutional right to any particular program of instruction.”[4]

By way of examples, children who are classified as “gifted and talented” are not entitled to special classes.[5] Rather, a school district has the choice to provide special services, but is not required to do so. In a fairly recent case, the Superior Court ruled against plaintiffs who asserted they were denied their constitutional right to FAPE when the Milford Board of Education elected to change their primary vocational agriculture (VOAG) program due to financial considerations. The Court explained that the school district was complying with State mandates surrounding VOAG educational opportunities for its students, and that “plaintiffs have no constitutional right to the education of their choice; they merely have a right to a ‘free public secondary’ education.”[6]

Should you have any questions about any education law matter, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] Constitution of Connecticut, Article Eighth, Section 1.

[2] Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615, 646 (1977).

[3] Wajnowski v. Connecticut Association of Schools, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, Docket No. CT 00 0432727, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3448 (December 17, 1999, Pittman, J.)

[4] Id.

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76d(c). See, e.g., Broadley v. Board of Education, 229 Conn. 1, 9 (1994).

[6] Tomasco PPA et al. v. Milford Board of Education, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2413 at 13.

Developing Your Special Education Child’s Individualized Education Program

A recent series of articles on this website provides an overview of the special education process so you, as a parent, know what to expect. You have the right to make sure your child receives a free appropriate public education (FAPE), and oftentimes that means a standard classroom environment does not meet your child’s special needs due to a disability. If your child is between 3 and 21 years of age, suffers from an enumerated disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the disability interferes with his or her classroom performance, you have the opportunity to seek special education and related services. More importantly, you can play a critical role on the planning and placement team (PPT) to evaluate your child’s special education referral to determine eligibility.

So, you’ve made it this far: your child is deemed eligible for special education and related services, but… what happens now? The PPT will hold meetings to establish an individualized education program (IEP), which is “a written plan detailing your child’s special education program,”[1] including the following key elements:

  • Present levels of educational and functional performance;
  • Measurable educational goals linked to present levels of academic and functional performance for the coming year and short-term instructional objectives derived from those goals;
  • Evaluation procedures and performance criteria;
  • An explanation of the extent, if any, to which your child will not participate in the regular education class, the general education curriculum or extracurricular activities;
  • Modifications and accommodations your child needs to participate in the general education curriculum including nonacademic and extracurricular activities;
  • Special education and related services required by your child including transportation and physical and vocational education programs;
  • Recommended instructional settings and a list of people who will work with your child to implement the IEP;
  • The date services will begin and end, and the frequency of the identified services;
  • The length of the school day and year;
  • Statement of accommodations and modifications needed to facilitate CMT/CAPT, or district-wide testing;
  • Recommendations for participation in alternate assessments (if needed); and
  • Transition service needs.[2]

Within five days after the PPT meets and develops your child’s IEP, you must receive a copy of the plan. The same goes for any future revisions.

Keep in mind that you have the right to participate in the PPT meetings, and your school district must work with you to select a time and place that works for both sides. You must receive five days written notice of any meeting to make sure you will be able to attend. This notice includes:

  • A list of who will be attending the meeting;
  • Affirmation of your right to bring with you other individuals who are able to provide support or who have knowledge and/or expertise with respect to your child’s needs.
  • An invitation to your child to attend if he or she is 16 years of age or older (or even if the child is younger, if participation is deemed appropriate), and “the purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of the postsecondary goals and transition services for the child”[3]

If the school schedules the meeting at a time or location you cannot make, alternative methods of participation, such as a telephonic or video conference call, must be explored. However, if the school district repeatedly attempts to schedule a meeting and each time you are unable to attend, they may hold the PPT meeting without you; the school must maintain a results log documenting these attempts.

If you are the parent of a child that has a disability, it is imperative that you participate in this process so as to help maximize your child’s educational opportunities. Should you have any questions about special education or education law in general, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., pp.20.

[2] “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Connecticut,” by the Connecticut State Department of Education, pp.4. Accessed October 9, 2012: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Parents_Guide_SE.pdf

[3] Id. at 5.

Evaluating Your Child’s Special Education Needs and Services

The process by which a child is determined eligible for special education and relates services may seem intimidating or overwhelming, as there is a wealth of information that any parent of a child with disabilities needs to understand. In this latest series of school law articles, we are presenting an overview of just what happens once a child is identified as potentially eligible, and this post specifically focuses on the evaluation process.

An initial evaluation occurs right after a child’s referral for special education, which the planning and placement team (PPT) uses to determine “your child’s specific learning strengths and weaknesses and needs, and to determine whether or not your child is eligible for special education services.”[1] You have the right to participate in the PPT, and thus have the valuable opportunity to provide all relevant information related to your child’s abilities, needs, and skills. Other information that the PPT considers is that collected by the school district and its employees: “informal and formal observations, a review of homework, standardized tests and other school records and information.”[2] However, the process must be conducted in a nondiscriminatory manner (consider the disproportionate placement of minority students in special education, discussed here), and you have the right to refuse consent or revoke it at any point.

When the evaluation is complete, you will meet with the rest of the PPT to interpret the data collected ruing the study. The purpose of this meeting is to determine:

  1. Whether your child has a disability (as enumerated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA)
  2. Whether that disability has an adverse impact on your child’s education
  3. Whether your child needs special education and related services to fulfill free appropriate public education (FAPE) requirements.

However, what happens if you don’t agree with the results of this evaluation? You may consult with a qualified examiner now employed by the school district to conduct an independent educational evaluation (IEE). Determining who pays for this boils down to two situations:

  1. The school district simply agrees to pay for the IEE. The evaluation criteria of the IEE must be the same as that used by the school in its own evaluation.
  2. The school district asserts that its evaluation was proper or the IEE criterion is insufficient. It may elect to pay for the IEE or hold a due process hearing, at which the hearing officer determines the appropriateness of the school’s evaluation. If the officer finds in their favor, you may still obtain an IEE, but you are responsible for paying for it.

The results of an IEE must be considered by the school district. “However, the school district is not required to agree with or implement any or all of the results or recommendations of the independent educational evaluation.”[3]

Placement in special education and your child’s IEP are not concrete. Indeed, reevaluations are made to determine several things:

  1. Whether or not your child still has a qualifying disability
  2. Your child’s present level of academic achievement as well as related developmental needs
  3. Whether or not your child still needs special education and related services
  4. Whether or not your child’s IEP requires modification

In essence, the PPT looks at the information regarding your child, and you may ask the school district to conduct additional assessments if you believe more information is necessary for making these determinations. The reevaluation process must occur at least once every three years, though the PPT may perform it more frequently. However, your written consent is required, though special circumstances permit the reevaluation without it.

If you are the parent of a child that has a disability, it is imperative that you participate in this process so as to help maximize your child’s educational opportunities. Should you have any questions about special education or education law in general, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Connecticut,” by the Connecticut State Department of Education, pp.6. Accessed October 9, 2012: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Parents_Guide_SE.pdf

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 7.

Special Education Referrals, and the Planning and Placement Team

If you’re a parent and determined that your child meets the requirements for SPED, what happens next? Rather than immediate referrals and placement, your school district will first attempt to keep the child in a regular classroom and incorporate an alternative general education program. It is within your authority to approach the school district on implementing an alternative program for your child, but should he or she continues having problems in a non-SPED classroom, a referral is the next course of action.

A referral is “a written request for an evaluation of a child who is suspected of having a disability and who may be in need of special education and related services.”[1] Various parties may submit the referral:

  • The student, if 18 years of age or older.
  • The parent, guardian, or surrogate parent of the student.
  • A member of the school’s personnel.
  • Other qualified individuals, such as the student’s physician or social worker, provided parental permission to make the referral was previously granted.

The student need not actually be attending school yet to qualify for a referral: remember, one of the qualifications for SPED under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers an age range of 3 to 21 years. Your school district is obligated to “identify children in need of special education from birth on, [a duty called] ‘child find.’”[2]

If you are not the individual who made the referral, you will receive a written notification (or notice) of it. In addition, you will have the right to participate on your child’s PPT, which is tasked with “review[ing] existing evaluation information that the school district has about your child to determine whether there is a need for any additional data or information.”[3] In other words, this is the group of individuals that determines whether the information they have on hand supports SPED placement, and you have the ability to directly impact that decision through your own participation.

The following is a list of those who typically comprise the PPT:

  • The child’s parents
  • One or more of the child’s regular education teachers (if any)
  • One or more of the child’s special education teachers/providers
  • A school district representative “who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities and is knowledgeable about the general curriculum and about the availability of resources of the school district”
  • A member of student services, such as a guidance counselor or school psychologist
  • An individual “who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results” (possible dual-role with previously listed individuals, except for the parent)
  • The student him- or herself, when warranted
  • “[O]ther individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding children.”[4]

As a parent, you have the right to refuse consent of an evaluation. Informed consent means “you must be given full and complete disclosure of all relevant facts and information pertaining to your child regarding certain proposed activities by your local educational agency.”[5] It is required in the referral process when:

(a) [Y]our child undergoes an initial evaluation to determine his or her eligibility for special education and related services, (b) before your child is placed in special education services, (c) before your child is placed in private placement, and (d) before your child is reevaulated.

Consent to an initial evaluation does not automatically extend to the additional steps listed above: rather, new consent is required before the school district may take action. However, “a parent’s failure to give consent to a reevaulation may be overridden if the school district can show that a good-faith effort was made to obtain consent and the child’s parent failed to respond.”[6] Regardless, if you reject a proposed course of action, the school district must still provide your child with a free appropriate public education, or FAPE.

The upcoming articles will focus on the initial evaluation process, as well as the product of the PPT if the parent agrees to go forward with a SPED program and the child’s eligibility is upheld: the individualized education program, or IEP. If you are the parent of a child that has a disability, it is imperative that you participate in this process so as to help maximize your child’s educational opportunities. Should you have any questions about special education or education law in general, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Connecticut,” by the Connecticut State Department of Education, pp.2. Accessed October 8, 2012: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Parents_Guide_SE.pdf

[2] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., pp.10-11.

[3] See Footnote 1.

[4] See Footnote 1.

[5] See Footnote 2 at 11.

[6] Id at 11-12, citing 34 C.F.R. § 300.300.

The Disproportionate Representation of Minorities in Special Education Classes

This past July, a new law went into effect here in Connecticut that requires the State Department of Education to identify school districts that “disproportionately and inappropriately identif[y] minority students as requiring special education because such students have a reading deficiency.”[1] Under this statute, the term “minority student” takes on the public’s common understanding: any student that is non-white or of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.

In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that struck down de jure racial segregation, noting that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”[2] Since then, many great strides have been made to offer free, appropriate public education to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and disability. In the realm of special education, Congress has enacted various statutory schemes that provide comprehensive protections for children with mental or physical disabilities. This occurred most notably in the form of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which “ushered in an era in which the federal government became active in financing and regulating special education services provided by local districts.”[3]

The goal was noble: ensuring that students with disabilities would receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) on par with students in regular classrooms. Unfortunately in practice, African American and Hispanic students are being disproportionately identified as having emotional behavioral disorders and intellectual disabilities, and are thus “more likely to be served in special education classes and residential placements more than their peers.”[4] One study in Massachusetts, for example, revealed that while African Americans represented approximately 12.4% of the total U.S. population, they were “approximately 1.3 times (approximately 30%) more likely than non-African American students to be found eligible for special education.”[5] Hispanic students received similar results.

What is the source of this improper labeling? As a New York Times columnist mused, “the students are being placed in special education because educators are misinterpreting behavior problems and misunderstanding cultural differences.”[6] Connecticut was not innocent in this respect, as one civil rights lawyer dubbed “Connecticut’s dirty little secrets in education.”[7] As further highlighted in the same Times article:

  • Hartford: Hispanic students were “more than four times as likely as whites to be identified as having a learning disability.”
  • Norwalk: African American students constituted 36% of the special education population, but was only 25% of the total student population.
  • West Hartford: African American students were “more than five times as likely as whites to be diagnosed as having an emotional disturbance.”
  • Windham: Hispanic students constituted 58% of the total student population, but represented 64% of the special education population and “nearly 70 percent of students classified as having a speech or language impairment.”

Other reasons cited include subjectivity in decision-making that allows for bias and misinterpretation of cultural cues – such as “bad” as a slang for “cool” being misread by an evaluator as exposure to “negative influences.”[8] In this example, the social worker involved stated, “It really started to speak loudly to the fact that people involved didn’t understand our community.”

Nonetheless, Connecticut’s Public Act 12-116 § 90 is certainly a step in the right direction to ensure that minority students are not inappropriately and disproportionately placed into special education programs when it is not warranted. Only time will tell whether meaningful progress will be made, or whether litigation will be necessary because such progress is “uneven” or “moving too slowly in the desired direction.”[9]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you are a parent who believes that your child has been improperly placed as a special education student, it is imperative that you are aware of your rights and consult an experienced school law attorney. Should you have any questions about special education or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] Public Act 12-116 § 90(a).

[2] Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 495, 74 S. Ct. 686, 692 (1954).

[3] “Special but Unequal: Race and Special Education,” by Matthew Ladner and Christopher Hammons. 2001: http://www.dlc.org/documents/SpecialEd_ch05.pdf

[4] “The overrepresentation of African American students in special education,” by Latanya Fanion. July 22, 2010: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-overrepresentation-of-african-american-students-special-education

[5] “Disproportionality: A Look at Special Education and Race in the Commonwealth,” by Matthew Deninger. Pp. 1, 4. September 2008: http://www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/Edbrief_final.pdf

[6] “Special Education and Minorities,” by Avi Salzman. November 20, 2005: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/20ctspecial.html

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

Special Needs Trusts in Connecticut

A special needs trust is set up for a person with special needs to supplement any benefits the person with special needs may receive from government programs. A properly drafted special needs trust will allow the beneficiary to receive government benefits while still receiving funds from the trust. There are three main types of special needs trusts, but first it is important to understand how a typical trust works.

What is a trust?

A trust is really a relationship between three parties — a donor, who supplies the funds for the trust; a trustee, who agrees to hold and administer the funds according to the donor’s wishes; and a beneficiary or beneficiaries who receive the benefit of the funds. Often, but not always, the donor’s wishes are spelled out in a document that gives the trustee instructions about how she should use the trust assets. Trusts have been used for estate planning for a long time, and are highly useful tools for ensuring that a donor’s property is administered as he sees fit. One of the reasons trusts are so popular is that they usually survive the death of the donor, providing a low-cost way to manage the donor’s assets for others when the donor is gone.

What is a Special Needs Trust?

A special needs trust is a trust tailored to a person with special needs that is designed to manage assets for that person’s benefit while not compromising access to important government benefits. There are three main types of special needs trusts: the first-party trust, the third-party trust, and the pooled trust. All three name the person with special needs as the beneficiary. A “first-party” special needs trust holds assets that belong to the person with special needs, such as an inheritance or an accident settlement. A “third-party” special needs trust holds funds belonging to other people who want to help the person with special needs. A pooled trust holds funds from many different beneficiaries with special needs.

What kinds of Special Needs Trusts are there?

The reason there are several different types of trusts has to do with regulations regarding Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a government program that assists people with low incomes who have special needs. In order to qualify for SSI, an applicant or beneficiary can have only $2,000 in his own name. If the person has more than $2,000 in his own name, (typically because of excess savings, an inheritance or an accident settlement), the government allows him to qualify for SSI so long as he places his assets into a first-party special needs trust.

The trust must be created by the beneficiary’s parent or grandparent, or by a court, but it cannot be created by the beneficiary, even though his assets are going to fund the trust. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for his benefit, and when he dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of his medical care. These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving SSI and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiary to retain his benefits while still being able to use his own funds when necessary.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments.

The third-party trust functions like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect an SSI beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. But a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in her trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.

Pooled Special Needs Trust

A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust. Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in her account reimburse the government for her care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Anyone can establish a special needs trust and, if the trust is properly drafted to account for tax planning, in certain situations gifts into the trust could very well reduce the size of the donor’s taxable estate. As if these are not enough reasons to create a trust, elderly people who are attempting to qualify for long-term care coverage through Medicaid can transfer their assets into a properly drafted third-party special needs trust for the sole benefit of a person with disabilities without incurring a transfer-of-assets penalty, allowing the elder to qualify for Medicaid and making sure that the person with disabilities is taken care of in the future.

Of course, every person with special needs is different, which means that every special needs trust is going to be different as well. The only way to determine which special needs trust is right for your family is to meet with a qualified special needs planner to discuss your needs. If you have any questions regarding this topic, or any special education law matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

What are Special Education Related Services?

Your child’s need of related services will be determined by your child’s Planning and Placement Team (PPT) or Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Services shall be implemented as part of his or her IEP. Your child’s school district is responsible for the costs of implementing related services pertaining to your child’s needs. This is part of the school’s requirement to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE, by definition, includes related services.

The following are examples of related services:

  • speech-language pathology and audiology services
  • interpreting services
  • psychological services
  • physical and occupational therapy
  • recreation, including therapeutic recreation
  • social work services
  • counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling
  • orientation, mobility and medical services (except that such medical services shall be for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only)

If you have any questions regarding this topic, or any special education law matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.