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U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Social work services in schools (Sec. 300.34(c)(14))

Comment: One commenter recommended including strategies to facilitate social-emotional learning in the definition of social work services in schools. A few commenters stated that the role of the school social worker is evolving and recommended that the definition include the role of social workers as integral members of pre-referral teams that deliver interventions to decrease the number of referrals to special education. One commenter recommended that the definition include a reference to the social worker's role in addressing the relevant history and current functioning of an individual within his or her environmental context, rather than referring to social-developmental histories. Another commenter stated that social workers are trained to find resources in the home, school, and community and recommended including such language in the definition.

Discussion: The definition of social work services in schools is sufficiently broad to include the services described by the commenters and we do not believe the definition should be revised to add these more specific functions.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter stated that the definition of social work services in schools removes language from the 1983 regulations that states that social work services allow children with disabilities to maximize benefit from the learning program. The commenter stated that this is a higher standard than what is required in Sec. 300.34(c)(14), which only requires that services enable a child to learn as effectively as possible, and, therefore, the 1983 definition should be retained, consistent with section 607(b) of the Act.

Discussion: We disagree with the commenter. The definition of social work services in schools in the 1977 regulations included "mobilizing school and community resources to enable the child to receive maximum benefit from his or her educational program." As explained in the preamble to the final 1992 regulations, the phrase "to receive maximum benefit" was intended only to provide that the purpose of activities carried out by personnel qualified to provide social work services in schools is to mobilize resources so that a child can learn as effectively as possible in his or her educational program. The language in the preamble to the final 1992 regulations also clarified that this provision did not set a legal standard for that program or entitle the child to a particular educational benefit. The preamble further explained that, during the public comment period for the 1992 regulations, commenters raised concerns that the term "maximum benefit" appeared to be inconsistent with the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982). Therefore, the phrase was revised to read "to learn as effectively as possible in his or her educational program." This is the same phrase used in the 1999 regulations and in these regulations in Sec. 300.34(c)(14)(iv). Because the language in the 1977 final regulations did not entitle a child to any particular benefit, the change made in 1992 did not lessen protections for a child, and, therefore, is not subject to section 607(b) of the Act.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter recommended adding a reference to "functional behavioral assessments" in Sec. 300.34(c)(14)(v) because functional behavioral assessments should always precede the development of behavioral intervention strategies. Another commenter expressed concern that Sec. 300.34(c)(14)(iv), regarding social work services to mobilize school and community resources to enable the child to learn as effectively as possible, creates a potential for litigation. The commenter asked whether a school district could face a due process hearing for failure to mobilize community resources if there are no community resources to address the needs of the child or family.

Discussion: The definition of social work services in schools includes examples of the types of social work services that may be provided. It is not a prescriptive or exhaustive list. The child's IEP Team is responsible for determining whether a child needs social work services, and what specific social work services are needed in order for the child to receive FAPE. Therefore, while conducting a functional behavioral assessment typically precedes developing positive behavioral intervention strategies, we do not believe it is necessary to include functional behavioral assessments in the definition of social work services in schools because providing positive behavioral intervention strategies is just an example of a social work service that might be provided to a child if the child's IEP Team determines that such services are needed for the child to receive FAPE. Similarly, if a child's IEP Team determines that mobilizing community resources would not be an effective means of enabling the child to learn as effectively as possible because there are no community resources to address the needs of the child, the IEP Team would need to consider other ways to meet the child's needs. While there is the possibility that a due process hearing might be filed based on a failure to mobilize community resources that do not exist, we do not believe that such a claim could ever be successful, as the regulation does not require the creation of community resources that do not exist.

Changes: None.