My Public Comment at the IEP Task Force Meeting and What I Gave The Task Force #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

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

contact: kevino3670@yahoo.com

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.

 

 

Live, From The IEP Task Force Meeting in Dover, Delaware

It’s 4:21 pm and folks are coming in.  I see quite a few familiar faces.  Many people I don’t know…yet.  I will be updating throughout the meeting….stay tuned!

It looks like most of the people are here.  It’s a packed house here at the Collette Education Resource Center.  Many citizens of the state have come out to see what will happen here.  Quite a few parents.  There’s even a couple kids here!

Matt Denn is starting the meeting and greeting everyone.  Introductions are happening.  We have videoconferencing from Wilmington, sound quality is low.  They just turned it up.  No members of the public in Wilmington.    Four people will be giving public comment at the end of the meeting.

Matt Denn is going through Senate Concurring Resolution 63 which created the IEP task force.  Matt is citing the task force’s main goal as “difficult for parents to understand and navigate, and at worst in some instances, unfair and intimidating to parents.”

Denn said “Our challenge is figuring out how to protect those parents and those kids without negatively impacting the districts and parents.”

Delaware passed a statute in DE four years ago that gave a standard stating special education services need to be better.  Quoted statement from 1975 that “children with disabilities are entitled to a Cadillac education, not a serviceable Chevrolet.”  The statute indicated Delaware students do deserve a quality special education above and beyond, not just the most basic.  Denn expressed the following:  It’s complicated for families to work through an appeal financially for families.  Appeals are expensive due to expert witnesses.  Schools have that paid for already, but parents don’t.  Delaware changed the law a couple years ago.  If you win an appeal the attorney fees are paid by the school district.  Other attorneys take cases on contingency.

Eight meetings over next four months.  Last four will be for drafting report to Governor Markell.  Second to last meeting will be votes on recommendations.  Meetings will end by 6:30pm to allow all parents on task force and in audience to take care of children, especially those who are extending their work day.  Task force will take written comments and will be distributed to members of task force.

Matt Denn said “This is the place to tell your personal story.” Denn wants the task force can get a good idea of what is going on in our state with special education.  He express that this isn’t the place for pending issues with IEPs to get worked out.  Matt Denn said he will shut up soon!  Now we will get to the heart of this!

Kim Siegel from Denn’s office is talking about special education practices in other states.  13 out of 25 states provide parent guides.  Some were over 200 pages while one was only 5 pages.  Common parts of these include glossaries of terms and acronyms (of which there are many in this world), listings of community resources, explanations of legal rights, sample forms, and methods of dispute resolutions.  Massachusetts has it’s own Bureau of Special Education Appeals to help parents with dispute hearings.  Some states have several different options for parents knowing goals.  A lot of states are dealing with behavior issues in classrooms and committing to looking at it within the IEP.  Indiana actually has sections for the primary disability and secondary disabilities on their IEPs.

Denn talked about PIC (Parent Information Center) and how they are there to help with IEP meetings.  He is now talking about attorney situations that are unavoidable.  Delaware wants to do something in between, including supporting advocates attending IEP meetings.  He said lawyering up is not always the best solution.

Liz Toney from Delaware PTA gets IEP questionnaire in Brandywine School District in DE, asks for parent goals and thoughts.  She feels this is an excellent way to relieve tension prior to meeting.  Toney will provide copy of questionnaire, many feel it is a great idea.  This blogger agrees!

Doing second round of introductions due to some latecomers on the task force.

A member asked Siegel if information from other states was beneficial to parents, but Siegel said she was not able to dig that deep on it.  PIC rep Meedra Surratte advised they let parents know to think about what their goals are.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski from the Exceptional Children Group at DOE said PIC wrote a book on assisting parents through the IEP process.  Surratte said it was revised last year and is not too comprehensive and long.  PIC rep said reading level of book may go beyond some families reading capabilities.

Diane Eastburn, the Kent County parent representative, stated she likes parents to see copy of IEP prior to IEP meetings to add to parental clarity to event.  Surratte said good idea, but needs to be stressed to parent that it is only a draft, not a final.  Mieczkowski asking about how much is written beforehand, Eastburn answered she sees many situations where IEP is just read.  Dafne Carnwright from the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) said any IEP meeting is overwhelming, so parents having the IEP draft beforehand can relieve some of that tension.  Bill Doolittle from GACEC agreed with this.

Senator Nicole Poore said she toured ten schools throughout Delaware and said there is no consistency.  Her own son has had differing IEP goals and problems in the process.  Eastburn said it would be easier to do IEPs by birthdate instead of cramming so many in during certain times of the school year, which causes severe burden on IEP teams.  She cited one example where she saw the wrong child’s name on an IEP report.

Teacher on task force in Wilmington talking about how time is very limited for IEP development due to time constraints during the school day.  Stating problems with IEP Plus (system Delaware uses for IEPs) often crashes.  Another teacher is talking about how during IEP meetings staff picked to substitute aren’t always qualified for servicing certain special needs students.  Doolittle stated we need to start thinking outside the box, and do we always need to be pulling special education classes out of their classes?

Tracy Bombarra, a school service provider, said sometimes administrator’s often tell teachers just to read the report in the IEP meeting and then leave (against IDEA law).  She said she could be sued for not being there and taking minutes.  Said it is a no-win situation.  There was a question about service days, and Tricia Dallas, the administrator member of the task force from the Charleton School, said that could be looked at but service days are for professional development.  Denn said more professional development needs to be done overall.

Denn said there needs to be more school willingness to engage parents prior to IEP meetings.  Seth Kopp, a special education teacher member of task force, said parents just don’t understand the IEP process.  Denn said even the most knowledgeable, sophisticated parent can see an IEP meeting fall apart over disagreement with just one service not being provided.  He felt this creates an adversarial relationship with administrations, teachers, and service providers (ex. Occupational Therapist).

Senator Dave Larson talked about all the acronyms involved and how they can be very cumbersome .  He said plain English is the way to go.  Bombarra said interpreters are needed for uncommon languages for parents who may not speak English, Spanish or French Creole.  She has run against problems with Vietnamese and other languages where services were not available.

Someone in Wilmington talked about how we may want to look at more student-led IEPs.  LRE (least restrictive environment) was brought up by another Wilmington member, and said you can have the best IEP in the classroom in the world, but if it isn’t implemented in the classroom, it’s a waste.  Doolittle said he has run into situations where schools don’t know how to implement certain services.

Mike Hoffman, the Delaware State Education Association member, said as a paraprofessional he is not shown the IEP which makes his problems much more difficult.  Surratte said PIC recommends any paraprofessional attends IEP meetings.  Senator Poore strongly agreed with having the paraprofessional be a part of the process since they are the ones making sure certain services are attended to.  Hoffman said he asks IEP teams all the time “How in the world do you have stuff on the IEP without asking me?” since he provides so many essential services for students.   Eastburn said this can impact the data for the IEP goals and this can greatly affect whether students meet goals or not.  Carnwright said she often gets calls from parents who state that IEP goals can completely disappear from one year to the next, and the parents are confused about that.  They aren’t sure if their child met the goal or if it was left out.  Laura Manges, the task force member with the Delaware Association of School Administrators, stated children are served with the best of intentions.  She said many changes will require time commitment and additional funding.  She said teachers are still responsible for teaching special ed students Common Core standards and teachers are overwhelmed with what she labeled as “double duty”.  Bombarra talked about a need for more information on the IEP form for services and less for testing accommodations.

Denn stated certain things in IEP meetings are mandated by federal law under IDEA, but some things don’t have to be there.  He said he  wants to look at what the state has discretion over and what they don’t.  Denn wrapped up the discussion and said many topics have come up.  He said when the task force compiles the report that not everyone will agree on the report.  But he did clarify that any member is welcome to tack something on to end of report indicating why they don’t agree, which the Governor and the legislators will see.  (Really liking Matt Denn even more right now!)

Public Comment time!  This blogger made public comment which I’ll put up later.  Wendy Strauss with GACEC talked about Disability Hub, a new informational website for children 14 years or older and adults with disabilities who are in transition post high school.  She said the IEP process is very emotional and that my comments were very emotional.  She believes teachers and parents need to know what is in the IEP, and it needs to be reread it throughout the year.  She said several teachers, when asked, are not able to say what exactly is in the IEP.

Sonja Lawrence commented and said she assumes the IEP team has children’s best intentions at heart.  She said her child is visually impaired, and braille instruction is an accommodation but it isn’t provided in the classroom and parents are asked by administration to make a choice at that point in time which is difficult.  That choice is the braille service or classroom inclusion, but parents want both, according to Lawrence.  She talked about the many problems with visually impaired programs in Delaware.  She had concerns about large classrooms and 28:1 student teacher ratios.  She said teachers are beholden to cases across the state and they are unable to service all those children.  She had three recommendations:  1) Let’s put something in place that allows teachers to put services in as a whole, 2) Braille instruction is required by law, 3) Student services are under resourced and under funded.  Debbie Harrington spoke next, and she has a daughter in high school, who is also visually impaired.  Like Lawrence, she also wants more representation in Delaware for the visually impaired.  She said there are too many inconsistencies in the process for the state.

The final public comment came from Greg Mazotta, who he was very surprised there were no school psychologists on the team, but believes the group has many strong members and thinks it is a good start.  He said there needs to be more sustainability in the IEP process.  He wants to volunteer his services for the taskforce to help improve quality services.  He said there are several places to go to find workable services and best practices.  He said strategic plans in school districts for continuous improvement don’t always include ancillary services.

Denn concluded the meeting, and said several things were brought up today that are very important.  He asked if there were any other concerns, and a member of the Wilmington task force said health education is not being serviced to children with IEPs and they are most vulnerable in terms of sex education.  Doolittle said he also wants to hear positive examples of how the process works.  September 30th at 4:30 pm is next meeting.  Nothing said about subgroups yet.  Meeting adjourned.

Notes: It was very difficult to know who was speaking in Wilmington, so I apologize if I misrepresented anyone there.  I will write more later, but I thought it was a great meeting.  So many topics were introduced, including my own which I will post about later.  This is going to be one busy task force.  I really like that Matt Denn was making it very informal, and invited public response so graciously.  I apologize if I raised fears in folks that this would be all about Common Core.  Based on what I was hearing, as little as two days ago from an absent member of the legislative side of the task force, indications were pointing that way.  It is not DOE focused as I also feared, and I believe good things can come from this.  For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful about special education in Delaware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Needs Parents: The Watchers On The Wall

“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

This is from George R.R. Martin’s Game Of Thrones.  I’ve taken out the parts of the oath that don’t apply.  We don’t need to be just parents for our special needs kids.  In the Autism world, I hear about parents being a warrior for their children.  We all need to be warriors for our special needs children.  We fight the battles at home, we refuse to fight this battle anymore at our schools.  We cannot sit idly by and watch our legislators and the DOE decide what is best for our children.  This is what will happen if we do not provide input.

Special Needs Parents, we are the Watchers On The Wall!  We are all that stands between bad education standards and our children.  We need to unite, once and for all, and make a stand.  I’ve been saying this all summer.   Show up tonight at the IEP Task Force, either in Dover or Wilmington.  Make your voice heard.  Say no to the tests that are damaging our schools.  Say no to the battles at IEP meetings.  Say no to schools denying special education services our children deserve by law and right.  Say no to a Department of Education that does whatever the Federal Government tells them to do and nothing more.  If you can’t show up tonight, come to the next one.  Or the one after that.  Email your parent rep on the task force.  I don’t have all that info yet, but I will get it.  Don’t go to the DOE with your concerns about IEPs while this task force is running.  Go directly to the task force, to your parent rep, to the meetings, to the microphone.    I just don’t trust the DOE right now.  Too much has happened.  They are the one entity in the state who should be doing certain things for our children, and they are not.  They haven’t been for a long time, if ever.  I’m not clear on the the intentions with the task force, but this is our time.  We have NEVER had a better opportunity to initiate change then RIGHT NOW!!!!  You would be surprised how many of us there are, but we need EVERY voice.  This isn’t something that comes around often.  We have been given a public forum.  Let’s take advantage of that.  Our children are counting on us.

If you want to come at 4pm to the Dover site so we can organize, I will be there.  Meet me in front of the building.  Parents: We must fight, like we have never fought before.  We need to show them and tell them what they have done is wrong.  We must stop them from making the same mistakes, over and over and over.  Our children suffer.  Our families suffer.  Our schools suffer.  NO MORE!!!