Under Secretary Bulatao on Enhancing Support for Employees with Children with Special Needs

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According to State/OIG which is conducting a review of the State Department’s Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA), “By law, for employees serving in foreign areas, the Department must provide a Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA) for children who meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act.”]

Also from state.gov’s FAQ on SNEA:

Is the State Department required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) with regard to the education of special needs children overseas? If so, how does it do that?

No. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its 2004 reauthorization, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), are federal funding laws ensuring a free and appropriate education to children with disabilities in the United States. IDEA/IDEIA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible children and youth. While existing law does not require DOS to replicate what a public school would provide to a student in the United States, our goal is to approximate what a child would receive in a good US public school system. Per the Overseas Differentials and Allowances Act and the Department of State Standard Regulations (DSSR), the IDEA/IDEIA framework is the basis for the allowable reimbursable services for the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA). DOS is committed to assisting employees in meeting the necessary expenses incurred when deployed overseas in providing adequate education for their school-age children. The education allowances are designed to assist parents in defraying those costs necessary to obtain educational services which are ordinarily provided free of charge by public schools in the United States.

In 2018,  a group representing employees with special needs children warned that the State Department Bureau of Medical Services was taking “deleterious actions” to restrict funding access for benefits the department is required to offer under U.S. disability law according to reporting from FP. Some internal battles with MED made it to the public sphere but there were a lot more stories that stayed under wraps out of fear of retaliation, or in at least one case we are aware of, due to an expressed threat from MED. More recently, there was reportedly a no-confidence letter related to a specific MED official, circulated and signed by Foreign Service employees and family members.

Last Friday. the new Under Secretary For Management Brian Bulatao issued new guidance on SNEA.

I am pleased to announce the Department has begun to implement a series of revisions and clarifications to policies and procedures that improve how we support our families who have children with special educational needs. These reforms are the result of a review by a Department-wide working group convened last fall by Deputy Under Secretary Bill Todd.  

Key Points: 

·         A new FAM section for the Special Needs Education Allowance has just been published. It will be updated over the next few months as we implement additional reforms. 

·         Guidance in this FAM chapter includes revisions to where a service can be provided. 

·         Separately, the Summer 2020 bid cycle will include changes to simplify bidding for employees with children with Class Two medical clearances. 

New FAM Section:  Overseas educational support is governed by DSSR 270 and 5 U.S.C. 5924 (4), which are complex interagency regulations. We have just published a new FAM section – 3 FAM 3280 –  to ensure that these regulations, especially those pertaining to the Special Needs Education Allowance (SNEA), are interpreted consistently and to make clear the intent of SNEA. Additional changes are in interagency clearance, and any resulting changes would be added to the appropriate FAM section(s) and announced via ALDAC and Department Notice. 

The new FAM makes clear the Department’s policy intent regarding SNEA: 

By assisting employees with the fulfillment of the educational needs of their children, SNEA encourages employees who have children with special educational needs to bid on and serve in foreign assignments. It is in the Department’s interest to take care of its employees and maximize their ability to serve in foreign assignments.

International schools vary in their ability to match the support structure, special education environment, or services found in U.S. public schools. For this reason, the Department should authorize SNEA as flexibly as possible in order to accommodate the unique and often challenging circumstances of overseas operating environments and foreign-area assignments.

Implementation guidance for the new FAM section and bidding rules will be sent separately. 

I am excited about these changes. We have an obligation to equip and engage our team to meet mission needs. Providing support to our people so they can get the job done is the best way to ensure we deliver on the Department’s goals.  

AFSA has reportedly reviewed and commented on the new FAM guidance. 

The SNEA issue and problems with MED should have been resolved soonest instead of being allowed to linger this long. We are pleased to see that Under Secretary Bulatao addressed this issue soon after he assumed charge as “M.”

John Naland, the President of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation said that These are important reforms towards creating a transparent program that rests on a solid interpretation and consistent application of law and regulations to allow Foreign Service parents of children with special educational needs to take care of their families while simultaneously fulfilling their overseas service obligations as Foreign Service members.”

Now, we’ll have to watch and see what MED is going to do about this.

Below is an excerpt from 3 FAM 3285  which spells out in ints entirety the Department policy

(CT:PER-949;   06-27-2019)
(State)
(Applies to Foreign Service & Civil Service Employees)

a. The purpose of SNEA is to assist employees serving at posts abroad with obtaining for their children with special educational needs special early intervention, kindergarten, elementary, and secondary educational services, including such educational services as are provided in the United States under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, that public schools in the United States ordinarily provide without charge.

b. By assisting employees with the fulfillment of the educational needs of their children, SNEA encourages employees who have children with special educational needs to bid on and serve in foreign assignments.  It is in the Department’s interest to maximize employees’ ability to serve in foreign assignments. 

c.  International schools vary in their ability to match the support structure, special education environment, or services found in U.S. public schools.  For this reason, the Department should authorize SNEA as flexibly as possible in order to accommodate the unique and often challenging circumstances of overseas operating environments and foreign-area assignments.

d.  Ideally, special education services should be provided in a school setting as part of a child’s educational curriculum.  However, recognizing that educating children with disabilities in overseas settings often involves unique challenges, in circumstances when special education services cannot be provided directly in a school setting but are available as services offered outside school or school hours, or via the internet (e.g., online speech therapy), SNEA will cover special educational services required by the child’s IEP or equivalent which are provided outside of school and/or outside normal school hours, when consistent with the DSSR.  SNEA reimbursements may be made directly to employees who have used their personal funds for these services.  Parents may not be reimbursed for special therapeutic services that they personally provide, although, in accordance with DSSR regulations, they may be reimbursed for eligible Home Schooling expenses.

e.  Because most children of Department of State employees would be enrolled in one of the school districts of Washington, DC, Virginia, or Maryland if their employee parent were assigned domestically, school districts in these areas will generally be the point of reference when determining what special educational services are “ordinarily provided without charge by public schools in the United States.” Within this context, services named in a child’s IEP, or equivalent document, may be eligible to be covered by SNEA.

f.  SNEA is an education allowance. It is subject to other applicable legal authorities and policies that govern education allowances in general.

Read the whole thing here.

 

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