South Carolina has become the first state to enter into a legal agreement with the federal Department of Education to fix its programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities.
The state has three years to bring its early-intervention programs into compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or it could face a loss of federal funding under that part of the law.
Several states have compliance agreements with the Education Department over the part of the special education law that covers school-age children. But enforcement of Part C of the law, which concerns infants and toddlers, is relatively new, said Ruth Ryder, the department’s director of the division of monitoring and state- improvement planning in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
“We haven’t been monitoring in the Part C program as long,” Ms. Ryder said last week. “We began aggressive monitoring in 1997 and 1998. We are just getting around to all of the states.”
The program now known as Part C was adopted in 1986. It requires states to provide programs to identify eligible infants and toddlers and match them up with services that help with their physical-, mental-, and emotional-development needs. All states had such programs by 1994, Ms. Ryder said.
The programs, however, are difficult to monitor, she said, because they are usually run by states’ health departments, not their education departments, and involve the coordination of numerous agencies, private vendors, and services.
Severity of Problems
According to the federal Education Department, South Carolina’s programs had several problems, including failures to: identify all of the infants and toddlers who were eligible for services; ensure that the infants and toddlers who were referred for services received evaluations in all developmental areas in a timely manner; identify all of the services needed by the children on their written plans; and conduct timely and appropriate planning for the children’s transition from Part C programs.
“South Carolina was recognizing they had a big effort ahead of them,” Ms. Ryder said. “They want to take a look at all of their systems.”
Calls to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control were referred to the officials who handle Part C, who did not respond last week.
When the Education Department identified problems, state officials volunteered to enter into a compliance agreement in April rather than face a loss of Part C funding.
To be eligible for the compliance agreement, state officials found themselves in the unusual role of having to convince the federal department of the severity of the problems in their Part C programs and explaining why they couldn’t be fixed right away.
The Education Department held a public hearing in South Carolina in May to hear from officials and families involved in Part C programs.
At the hearing, David Steele, the director of South Carolina’s early-intervention program for infants and toddlers, identified several barriers to compliance with Part C, according to the agreement.
The biggest challenges, he said, are the lack of a monitoring system over the six state agencies that deal with children under Part C, the numerous private contractors that provide services, the lack of a reliable data system, and the lack of qualified personnel.
South Carolina will provide periodic reports on its progress in fixing the problems, Ms. Ryder said.
“The state has been very sincere about wanting to fix their problems,” she said. “We will look at how they complete the progress in three years.”