Will New Policies Help Disabled Students?

Students in Vermont can now qualify for special education services more easily. A regulatory change went into effect on July 1 that allows students with functional skill gaps to qualify. According to Karen Price of Vermont Family Network, a federally recognized support center in Vermont for families of children with disabilities or health problems, this move has been nearly two decades in the making due to a change in federal definition interpretation.

Prior to now, a child could receive special education services if their academic performance has habitually fallen in the bottom 15%. Allowing for functional skill deficits, and in particular social or behavioral impacts that prevent a child from succeeding, means more students could qualify for supports in the classroom. A student with high-functioning autism or dyslexia, which are often diagnosed later, may be able to access help sooner.

While an adverse effect in functional skills can be more difficult to prove than comparing grades, the child’s team will need to show there is a consistent deficit when compared to peers that seems likely tol persist over time.

Families can ask for an evaluation if they think their child may now be eligible for services. According to Price, an examination cannot be postponed by law because schools are closed during summer vacation.

Families can request a records review for those who recently tested but didn’t qualify. In this case, no additional testing is required, but eligibility will be determined by reexamining the evaluation results through a different lens.

Price believes that this new interpretation of unfavorable affect will identify the same students as before.

Furthermore, Vermont has adopted a program called multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), which is a framework designed to target kids who are falling behind in key areas at more regular intervals and provide interventions. MTSS works by assisting every student, including those requiring special education service. The idea is that, over time, MTSS will meet students’ requirements while reducing the need for special education services.

Disabled students in the United States have the right to a free and appropriate public education. However, in many cases, schools aren’t equipped to provide resources. When there isn’t enough support, disabled students often fall through the cracks.


Barton, April. “Special Education Eligibility Just Expanded in VT.. Can Your Student Now Receive Support?” Burlington Free Press, 6 July 2023, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/vermont/2023/07/06/vermont-expanded-special-education-eligibility-what-rule-change-does/70378728007/.

“IDEA.” NCLD, The United States Department of Education, 22 June 2022, https://www.ncld.org/get-involved/learn-the-law/idea/.

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