39.0016 Education of abused, neglected, and abandoned children; agency agreements; children having or suspected of having a disability.—
(1) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term:
(a) “Children known to the department” means children who are found to be dependent or children in shelter care.
(b) “Department” means the Department of Children and Family Services or a community-based care lead agency acting on behalf of the Department of Children and Family Services, as appropriate.
(c) “Surrogate parent” means an individual appointed to act in the place of a parent in educational decisionmaking and in safeguarding a child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and this section.
(2) AGENCY AGREEMENTS.—
(a) The department shall enter into an agreement with the Department of Education regarding the education and related care of children known to the department. Such agreement shall be designed to provide educational access to children known to the department for the purpose of facilitating the delivery of services or programs to children known to the department. The agreement shall avoid duplication of services or programs and shall provide for combining resources to maximize the availability or delivery of services or programs. The agreement must require the Department of Education to access the department’s Florida Safe Families Network to obtain information about children known to the department, consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g.
(b) The department shall enter into agreements with district school boards or other local educational entities regarding education and related services for children known to the department who are of school age and children known to the department who are younger than school age but who would otherwise qualify for services from the district school board. Such agreements shall include, but are not limited to:
1. A requirement that the department shall:
a. Enroll children known to the department in school. The agreement shall provide for continuing the enrollment of a child known to the department at the same school, if possible, with the goal of avoiding disruption of education.
b. Notify the school and school district in which a child known to the department is enrolled of the name and phone number of the child known to the department caregiver and caseworker for child safety purposes.
c. Establish a protocol for the department to share information about a child known to the department with the school district, consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, since the sharing of information will assist each agency in obtaining education and related services for the benefit of the child. The protocol must require the district school boards or other local educational entities to access the department’s Florida Safe Families Network to obtain information about children known to the department, consistent with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. s. 1232g.
d. Notify the school district of the department’s case planning for a child known to the department, both at the time of plan development and plan review. Within the plan development or review process, the school district may provide information regarding the child known to the department if the school district deems it desirable and appropriate.
2. A requirement that the district school board shall:
a. Provide the department with a general listing of the services and information available from the district school board to facilitate educational access for a child known to the department.
b. Identify all educational and other services provided by the school and school district which the school district believes are reasonably necessary to meet the educational needs of a child known to the department.
c. Determine whether transportation is available for a child known to the department when such transportation will avoid a change in school assignment due to a change in residential placement. Recognizing that continued enrollment in the same school throughout the time the child known to the department is in out-of-home care is preferable unless enrollment in the same school would be unsafe or otherwise impractical, the department, the district school board, and the Department of Education shall assess the availability of federal, charitable, or grant funding for such transportation.
d. Provide individualized student intervention or an individual educational plan when a determination has been made through legally appropriate criteria that intervention services are required. The intervention or individual educational plan must include strategies to enable the child known to the department to maximize the attainment of educational goals.
3. A requirement that the department and the district school board shall cooperate in accessing the services and supports needed for a child known to the department who has or is suspected of having a disability to receive an appropriate education consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and state implementing laws, rules, and assurances. Coordination of services for a child known to the department who has or is suspected of having a disability may include:
a. Referral for screening.
b. Sharing of evaluations between the school district and the department where appropriate.
c. Provision of education and related services appropriate for the needs and abilities of the child known to the department.
d. Coordination of services and plans between the school and the residential setting to avoid duplication or conflicting service plans.
e. Appointment of a surrogate parent, consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and pursuant to subsection (3), for educational purposes for a child known to the department who qualifies.
f. For each child known to the department 14 years of age and older, transition planning by the department and all providers, including the department’s independent living program staff, to meet the requirements of the local school district for educational purposes.
(c) This subsection establishes standards and not rights. This subsection does not require the delivery of any particular service or level of service in excess of existing appropriations. A person may not maintain a cause of action against the state or any of its subdivisions, agencies, contractors, subcontractors, or agents based upon this subsection becoming law or failure by the Legislature to provide adequate funding for the achievement of these standards. This subsection does not require the expenditure of funds to meet the standards established in this subsection except funds specifically appropriated for such purpose.
(3) CHILDREN HAVING OR SUSPECTED OF HAVING A DISABILITY.—
(a)1. The Legislature finds that disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our public policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.
2. The Legislature also finds that research and experience have shown that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by:
a. Having high expectations for these children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible.
b. Providing appropriate exceptional student education, related services, and aids and supports in the least restrictive environment appropriate for these children.
c. Having a trained, interested, and consistent educational decisionmaker for the child when the parent is determined to be legally unavailable or when the foster parent is unwilling, has no significant relationship with the child, or is not trained in the exceptional student education process.
3. It is, therefore, the intent of the Legislature that all children with disabilities known to the department, consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, have available to them a free, appropriate public education that emphasizes exceptional student education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living and that the rights of children with disabilities are protected.
(b)1. Each district school superintendent or dependency court must appoint a surrogate parent for a child known to the department who has or is suspected of having a disability, as defined in s. 1003.01(3), when:
a. After reasonable efforts, no parent can be located; or
b. A court of competent jurisdiction over a child under this chapter has determined that no person has the authority under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including the parent or parents subject to the dependency action, or that no person has the authority, willingness, or ability to serve as the educational decisionmaker for the child without judicial action.
2. A surrogate parent appointed by the district school superintendent or the court must be at least 18 years old and have no personal or professional interest that conflicts with the interests of the student to be represented. Neither the district school superintendent nor the court may appoint an employee of the Department of Education, the local school district, a community-based care provider, the Department of Children and Family Services, or any other public or private agency involved in the education or care of the child as appointment of those persons is prohibited by federal law. This prohibition includes group home staff and therapeutic foster parents. However, a person who acts in a parental role to a child, such as a foster parent or relative caregiver, is not prohibited from serving as a surrogate parent if he or she is employed by such agency, willing to serve, and knowledgeable about the child and the exceptional student education process. The surrogate parent may be a court-appointed guardian ad litem or a relative or nonrelative adult who is involved in the child’s life regardless of whether that person has physical custody of the child. Each person appointed as a surrogate parent must have the knowledge and skills acquired by successfully completing training using materials developed and approved by the Department of Education to ensure adequate representation of the child.
3. If a guardian ad litem has been appointed for a child, the district school superintendent must first consider the child’s guardian ad litem when appointing a surrogate parent. The district school superintendent must accept the appointment of the court if he or she has not previously appointed a surrogate parent. Similarly, the court must accept a surrogate parent duly appointed by a district school superintendent.
4. A surrogate parent appointed by the district school superintendent or the court must be accepted by any subsequent school or school district without regard to where the child is receiving residential care so that a single surrogate parent can follow the education of the child during his or her entire time in state custody. Nothing in this paragraph or in rule shall limit or prohibit the continuance of a surrogate parent appointment when the responsibility for the student’s educational placement moves among and between public and private agencies.
5. For a child known to the department, the responsibility to appoint a surrogate parent resides with both the district school superintendent and the court with jurisdiction over the child. If the court elects to appoint a surrogate parent, notice shall be provided as soon as practicable to the child’s school. At any time the court determines that it is in the best interests of a child to remove a surrogate parent, the court may appoint a new surrogate parent for educational decisionmaking purposes for that child.
6. The surrogate parent shall continue in the appointed role until one of the following occurs:
a. The child is determined to no longer be eligible or in need of special programs, except when termination of special programs is being contested.
b. The child achieves permanency through adoption or legal guardianship and is no longer in the custody of the department.
c. The parent who was previously unknown becomes known, whose whereabouts were unknown is located, or who was unavailable is determined by the court to be available.
d. The appointed surrogate no longer wishes to represent the child or is unable to represent the child.
e. The superintendent of the school district in which the child is attending school, the Department of Education contract designee, or the court that appointed the surrogate determines that the appointed surrogate parent no longer adequately represents the child.
f. The child moves to a geographic location that is not reasonably accessible to the appointed surrogate.
7. The appointment and termination of appointment of a surrogate under this paragraph shall be entered as an order of the court with a copy of the order provided to the child’s school as soon as practicable.
8. The person appointed as a surrogate parent under this paragraph must:
a. Be acquainted with the child and become knowledgeable about his or her disability and educational needs.
b. Represent the child in all matters relating to identification, evaluation, and educational placement and the provision of a free and appropriate education to the child.
c. Represent the interests and safeguard the rights of the child in educational decisions that affect the child.
9. The responsibilities of the person appointed as a surrogate parent shall not extend to the care, maintenance, custody, residential placement, or any other area not specifically related to the education of the child, unless the same person is appointed by the court for such other purposes.
10. A person appointed as a surrogate parent shall enjoy all of the procedural safeguards afforded a parent with respect to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of a student with a disability or a student who is suspected of having a disability.
11. A person appointed as a surrogate parent shall not be held liable for actions taken in good faith on behalf of the student in protecting the special education rights of the child.
(4) TRAINING.—The department shall incorporate an education component into all training programs of the department regarding children known to the department. Such training shall be coordinated with the Department of Education and the local school districts. The department shall offer opportunities for education personnel to participate in such training. Such coordination shall include, but not be limited to, notice of training sessions, opportunities to purchase training materials, proposals to avoid duplication of services by offering joint training, and incorporation of materials available from the Department of Education and local school districts into the department training when appropriate. The department training components shall include:
(a) Training for surrogate parents to include how an ability to learn of a child known to the department is affected by abuse, abandonment, neglect, and removal from the home.
(b) Training for parents in cases in which reunification is the goal, or for preadoptive parents when adoption is the goal, so that such parents learn how to access the services the child known to the department needs and the importance of their involvement in the education of the child known to the department.
(c) Training for caseworkers and foster parents to include information on the right of the child known to the department to an education, the role of an education in the development and adjustment of a child known to the department, the proper ways to access education and related services for the child known to the department, and the importance and strategies for parental involvement in education for the success of the child known to the department.
(d) Training of caseworkers regarding the services and information available through the Department of Education and local school districts, including, but not limited to, the current Sunshine State Standards, the Surrogate Parent Training Manual, and other resources accessible through the Department of Education or local school districts to facilitate educational access for a child known to the department.