During public comment at the IEP Task Force meeting, I read the below statement. It was emotional, I admit, but it had to be. I didn’t want it to be, but it was. Some things were ad libbed while I was reading, and I will update this when I hear the digital recording when it is released. I tried to update it as best I could. Below that you will find out what I gave to each member of the IEP Task Force.
My name is Kevin Ohlandt. Some of you may know me as Jon’s Loving Father, or Jacob’s loving father, or that annoying guy who speaks at public meetings about special education. Who I am isn’t important. Who we are here for today is. In the state of Delaware, over 13% of our students have IEPs and are classified as special education. As we all know, there are an extreme number of problems with this process. We can sit here and blame the schools and districts, and we would be right. But that is a disservice to these children because the accountability from the state is horrible.
The Delaware DOE is the watchdog for special education in our state. Every year, there are certain compliance measures the federal government dictates to the DOE that they must follow. These measures are NOT enough. The DOE does not even look at IEPs that are denied. This is a crucial part of the process, and is a huge reason for the many, many lawsuits in this state. I met with Mary Ann Mieczkowski a couple months ago about this. Her response was the complaint procedure the state has is fair. It is not. Not enough parents want to utilize this long procedure, and when they do, half of the cases are not ruled in the student’s favor. We need more from our state, and if the DOE cannot do it, then the legislators need to step in and demand accountability from our DOE. They need to pass legislation demanding denied IEPs are also conveyed from the districts to the DOE. The DOE needs to audit these denials, and hold the schools accountable. They also need to do more than review 159 IEPs a year, and look for more than what the feds dictate. During the June Board of Education meeting, the Exceptional Children Group said about special education “We don’t know how to move forward.” They need to stop trying to move forward and embrace what is already there.
As Common Core and standardized testing has rolled out, special needs students have suffered. The teachers are so stressed out about “getting it right” and the consequences for that have never been higher for teachers. Classroom sizes are getting bigger, and there is not enough support. Delaware wants special needs children to be proficient or better on testing. How about Delaware becomes proficient or better with education first! Then they can judge children who have disabilities they neither asked for nor want. How about Delaware and the US DOE stops tampering with IDEA law with standards-based IEPs when they can’t even get the initial IEPs done right? How about Delaware stops pressuring children to be college-ready when they are in 5th grade? We all know Common Core and standardized tests will go away one day. It’s not a question of if, but when. Delaware needs to stay true to the heart of IDEA law, and not reinterpret these regulations just because the US DOE is doing the same, and being questioned by others in politics about that.
I stand here today, with the cries of thousands of parents and children with disabilities in my voice. We are mad, we are tired, and we are sad. Our children suffer enough having their disabilities. School should be a safe haven, not a battleground, pitting parents against administrators and psychologists who think they know more about children because they compare them to other kids. Each IEP is individualized, and there is no room for arrogance or combativeness in the room. Schools need to understand that when parents ask a question, we are not to be ignored. We are not to be lied to, or told we must have “misheard” something. The DOE needs to support this. There is no accountability for obnoxious behavior on a school’s end during IEP meetings. As supported by Amendment 14, parents have the right to choose how they want their child to be educated. That means we have rights too. That means when we tell you we know what our child needs, you aren’t supposed to blow that off and deny services.
The DOE doesn’t see what happens when a child does not receive the right accommodations or is denied services or even an IEP. The child cannot function properly in school. Bullying occurs, whether the schools rule it as that or not, and the student feels isolated and rejected. The student may be very bright, but they are not able to access their full capability. What happens to the child is the cruelest part. Inside of them, the light that shines so bright starts to diminish. It begins to fade, and their spirit is broken. That’s why parents get so mad. That’s why I’m standing here today, because this happened to my son and it is happening right now to thousands of children across our state. The Exceptional Children group sits in their new office, and they data dive, and look for root cause analysis, and form advisory councils to make newer IEPs when they can’t even understand the old ones, that work, and work well when they are utilized to their full potential.
Thank you for your time, and I have a list of all my legislative ideas to improve special education in our state. Please do not look at these and think about what a burden some of these would be for the schools or the DOE. Think about the special needs children who come home from school crying every day because the DOE and our schools just can’t get it right. Enough is enough. Delaware needs to be the 1st state in special education.
I then gave Kim Siegel my legislative ideas which were posted on Kilroy’s last Spring, and they were passed out to each member of the task force. I did add two new ones based on articles I have done on here since then. There wasn’t time for me to get into the whole charter school aspect of special education during public comment, but that will come up at the next meeting if I am given an opportunity to speak again. I know the task force is focusing on the IEP process, but how many parents have gone from a charter to a public school due to “counseling out”, a severe lack of special services for our children, or a flat-out IEP denial? Several of us! And we are pretty lit up already due to that process, so by the time we get to the IEP meetings at the public school any impediment to progress can be combative on both sides of the table. Parents who go through this are battle-worn already, and we aren’t as forgiving a second time.
Kevin Ohlandt’s Legislative Ideas For Special Education
1) All IEP and 504 meetings must be digitally recorded. This data must be protected by the school, and parents shall receive a copy as well. Parents must never be denied their own ability to record an IEP meeting.
2) All school board meetings, for any school that receives public funding, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must digitally record their board meetings and have them available to the public within 7 business days.
3) All school districts, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must have psychiatric or neurological consultation available for any suspected neurologically-based condition within twenty days of a parent’s request for an IEP.
4) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall put on their own website, the number of IEPs, 504s, IEP denials, and 504 denials they have had in the past month, to be updated monthly. For public schools, this must be put on the district website, as well as the website for each individual school in the district. They shall also share annual numbers as well, for each school year AND on a 12 month rolling basis. If a student changes from a 504 to an IEP, or if a decline becomes either an IEP or a 504, the school must make a note of that with the monthly numbers.
5) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall be completely transparent on their website. All staff must be listed. All board minutes must be listed. All attachments must be listed with the exception of something that can only be handled in an executive session. All monthly financial information shall be listed. With that monthly financial information, you must break down the sub-groups of funding you are receiving.
6) All schools must report to the DOE, on a monthly basis, how many current IEPs and 504 plans they have, as well as any IEP or 504 denials.
7) The DOE shall do a yearly audit of all school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, not only for already established IEPs and 504 plans, but also denied IEPs and 504 plans. The individuals doing these audits must be highly qualified special education professionals who understand IEPs and 504 plans, as well as all of the disabilities and disorders that these plans accommodate children for. If the DOE determines an IEP or 504 plan was denied for the wrong reasons, the school district must contact the parent(s) within 5 business days and explain to the parent(s) of their procedural rights as well as mail a letter to the parent(s) with the reason for the change as well as a copy of their procedural rights. The Department of Education shall publish the results of these audits within 30 calendar days of their completion each fiscal year. These audits shall occur during the regular academic year, not two years ago as dictated by federal compliance.
8) All Delaware parents, custodians, guardians, et al, shall receive, along with their child’s teacher and supply list, prior to the start of the next school year, a pamphlet indicating what Child Find is, a full disclosure that any evaluations a parent requests must be done at public expense, what IDEA is, how it works, a listing of every disability covered by IDEA, even those covered in other-health impaired, an IEP timeline, a sample copy of an IEP, what a 504 plan is and how it differentiates from an IEP, a sample copy of a 504 plan, and parents procedural rights, whether a child has a disability or not.
9) Any school district found in violation of three or more individual special education audit failures, shall be put on the newly created Special Education review, which shall have the same weight as any other criteria that would cause a school to go under formal review or needing intervention from the DOE.
10) All school boards, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, must have a parent of a special needs child as a member of their school board.
11) No charter school may ask on an application if a child has an IEP, has special needs or any questions relating to a disability. If a child is selected to attend a charter school through a lottery or the school accepts an application prior to that, then the charter school can ask that question after a student has been accepted.
12) All charter school lotteries must be a public event, published on the school web site 30 days in advance, with two members of the local school district board members in attendance, and all names from applications must be shown to them before they are placed in a closed area prior to the picking of names.
13) All public, charter, vocational, and alternative schools shall change the number of suspensions that warrants a manifestation determination from 10 to 3. As well, if a child is removed from a classroom setting 5 times for a period of more than 30 minutes, a manifestation determination must kick in as well. For any child with an IEP or a 504 plan, a Functional Behavioral Analysis must be completed as well as a Behavior Intervention Plan or modification of an already existing Behavior Intervention Plan. Ten suspensions is too much missed instructional time and doesn’t benefit anyone.
14) All Charter Schools, with the exception of the charter schools that already specialize in IEPs (ex. Gateway, Positive Outcomes), must be counted as one district when it comes to special education. The excuse of low n #s in compliance indicators can no longer be given to individual charter schools when are not counted in an audit or a matter of compliance.
15) The Delaware Department of Education must disclose to parents any release of information to any 3rd party outside of the DOE, under any and all circumstances. For example, the Medicaid Reimbursement Plan. When parents sign off on allowing this at IEP meetings, they don’t know how much sensitive and private information is being stored on a 3rd party’s computers.
I’m not sure if any of these will come up at the next meeting, and who will take them seriously. If you support these ideas, please let the task force know . Matt Denn was very serious when he said he wanted to know what parents issues are with the IEP process. We have from now until probably Thanksgiving to really make an impact, after that it will be about the draft resolution to Governor Markell. Together we can make a difference.