Compensatory Education for Special Needs Students

W. Stephen Parker
W. Stephen Parker
Middle/high school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Teacher working with young boy on identifying pictures using plastic letters.

The discussion of compensatory education, (comp. ed.) usually begins when a parent or guardian feels as if their special needs child has been slighted in some way in reaching their educational goals. These goals are found in the students Individual Education Plan and have been previously agreed upon with all of the student’s stakeholders. While one would hope that such situations are few and far between, the fact is that on occasion this does occur and the comp. ed. plan is in place to help bridge the educational gap that has been created.

What is Compensatory Education?

When we say compensatory education, what exactly are we talking about? Compensatory education by definition is an educational fund put in place to help a child to get caught up where deficiencies have been found in meeting IEP goals. This fund is designed to help a child when a school district has been found out of compliance in providing FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for a period of time. The design of comp. ed. is to help a child that has been determined to be behind, to bridge that gap, and get back on the level set up by the student’s IEP.

How Does a Student Qualify for Compensatory Education?

In deciding if a child qualifies for comp. ed., a determination must be made that the student has been denied their FAPE. Once this determination has been made then further steps can be taken to determine qualification for comp. ed. Determining a student’s qualification is usually conducted through a due process hearing. The due process hearing usually is presided over by a hearing officer or, in some cases, the courts. Determining a child’s qualification almost always involves an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). This evaluation can be productive in determining if the child does in fact qualify for compensatory education. Most of the time an independent, qualified outside entity will conduct the IEE. Usually the school district will pay the compensation for the testing.

How is the Amount Determined?

Once a determination has been made that the child does in fact qualify for comp. ed., the next question is how much should the award be. Some of the factors that make this determination are:

  1. What deficiencies does the student have that are related to the student’s school or other circumstances?
  2. How far behind is the student, and how long should it take to get caught up?
  3. What services need to be provided in order to help the student get caught up?
  4. Who will administrate these services and for how long?
  5. Will some of the services be online, and if so, does the home the child resides in have adequate internet access?

These are just a few examples of things to be taken into consideration when determining the amount of comp. ed. there should be given for the student. It is important to note that consideration of the amount is to bring the student back to where they would have been had FAPE not been denied to the student.

What can you Spend Compensatory Education On?

What exactly comp. ed. funds can be spent on should be spelled out very clearly in the settlement agreement. Some of the things that comp. ed. can be used for are:

  1. Internet access at home if it is determined to be non-existent or limited.
  2. Special tutoring either in the home or in another appropriate setting.
  3. Transportation to an educational facility to receive instruction.
  4. Therapy, if it is deemed necessary, to help the student toward getting back on track.
  5. Payment for technology if deemed necessary to help the student.
  6. Evaluations, including vocational evaluations, depending on the situation.

There are a few things that are not usually included in comp. ed., including, for example, college tuition or payment for a vehicle for the student or family of the student. Again, as stated about what comp. ed. can be spent on, it is equally important to spell out in the agreement what these funds cannot be spent on. The clearer the settlement agreement, the less chance of problems down the road for everyone involved. Most importantly, a good, clear settlement agreement can go a long way in ensuring that the student has the best possible chance of getting caught up through comp. ed.

With recent issues related to COVID-19, there are sure to be some cases for comp. ed. brought up by parents. While most school districts have gone the extra mile to help all students during this trying time, invariably some students have fallen through the cracks. In the case of special needs students, if it is proven they need help, regardless of “who is at fault”, every means available should be used to help these students.

And while hopefully all of us have made every effort during the pandemic, we must be willing to accept the fact that some have fallen behind. It just might be that comp. ed. will be one way to help bridge the gap for our special needs students, even if there was really no fault of anyone, including the school. We are all in uncharted waters going through this pandemic. It is imperative that we use all available means to weather this storm and work together to rebuild anywhere deficiencies have occurred. Our students deserve this, and it is our duty to provide in the best possible way that we can.

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