Tonight’s meeting is centrally located in Dover, with the teleconferencing from Wilmington. It looks like most of the task force is in Dover.
Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn is asking for a roll call and intros.
Going over draft meetings from last two previous meetings. Denn is explaining how the audio recording gives much more information than draft minutes could, and the audio recordings are now available as a podcast on ITunes (Thanks Kilroy!).
The legislators on the task force seems a bit slim today. None of them are here, but Senator Lawson does have his Chief of Staff (will have to check on her official title!) Brian Touchette is not present. Otherwise it looks like most members are here.
Denn is going over the agenda items and matters that need to be discussed. He is please with the progress they have made. He wants to go over two items from the last meeting they did not get to. Technical Assistance, with an emphasis on charter schools, in preparing for IEP meetings is on the table. Marissa Band from Legal Aid is discussing concerns about charter schools not having resources, knowledge or skills to properly prepare IEPs. As a result the children tend to get pushed back into the local public school district. She indicated they need adequate support to be able to meet the needs of the children. Diane Eastburn, Kent County parent advocate, asked if charter school case managers get the same training as public school district case managers. Mary Ann Mieczkowski with the Delaware DOE Exceptional Children Group said they do give specific meetings and professional development with the charter schools several times a year. She acknowledged they do need more help. She also said she just completed a two-day professional development on standards-based IEPs. She said she has representatives from her workgroup that serve as a liason for each charter school in the state.
Laura Manges is speaking about a potential bill in legislation that would ensure charter school educators have the same credentials as public school educators. She said this is the way it used to be in the state. Denn is asking if “technical assistance” was a polite way of making sure they do it the right way. He asked if this is monitored. Mary Ann Mieczkowski said there is a monitoring system in place (compliance monitoring) on a 5 year cycle. She said on-sight monitoring occurs on Tier 2. She is going over several of the different indicators required by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). She said when they find an issue of non-compliance, they issue a letter to the charter or district indicating the area out of non-compliance. They have to correct the issue, which includes holding an IEP meeting to fix it. They must have a root cause analysis and professional development. After this is done, the DOE goes back in to look at different IEPs to make sure the problem is corrected. This must be done in a year to get out of non-compliance.
Denn asked about things that may not show up on a compliance audit. Mieczkowski indicated how due process works: complaint, mediation, due process hearing. Denn is asking if there is any contact with parents with a kind of “how’s it going” questionnaire. She answered this is required through OSEP for a parent engagement survey. They aren’t totally satisfied with this, but they are working with PIC and the Delaware PTA to make this a broader type of survey. Denn asked what happens when they get back a survey with bad marks. Mieczkowski said parents can always call their office but the surveys are anonymous.
Bill Doolittle is stating a charter school is equivalent to one school in a district. Mieczkowski advised charters go through a rigorous application process and all of this needs to be spelled out during that timeframe. If their application falls short it would be addressed right away. Doolittle advised the charters need a place to go to get resources. Tracy Bombarra asked what kind of questions are asked on the survey to which Mieczkowski explained questions appear like “Were you involved in the IEP process” or “How satisfied were you with the IEP process.” She admitted they have a positive response, but the number of responses is low, which they are working on with PIC and DE PTA.
Band said she is concerned about charters not having access to programs like the Delaware Autism Program (DAP) or programs for hearing-impaired students. Josette Threats asked if there is a place where a parent can go to do a survey. She said she has never seen any type of survey. Mieczkowski said currently it’s a pencil and paper survey but they are looking at different methods. Eastburn asked if it could be done at the annual IEP meeting? Liz Toney with the Delaware PTA was at a meeting with the DOE and said this is in the beginning stages and an online survey has been discussed. She said the data she has seen indicates it shows parents are too happy with the IEP process.
Denn is asking if “technical assistance” needs to be clarified for actual technical issues or everything that has been discussed. Band said the training should be required, and not voluntary. She said they need to be using the technical assistance provided by the state. Mieczkowski said the training they give them is not only based on regulatory requirements but social skills training, parental safeguards, positive behavioral supports and other areas. She said based on some data, some of the charters are required to attend these trainings. Toney asked what representative from the charters attends the meeting. Mieczkowski (I’m going to refer to her as Mitch from here on out cause, God bless her, I can’t keep typing her last name) said it depends on the type of training. She also said there is a problem with the charter schools in regards to their “n” size which can impact when they are flagged.
Eastburn is talking about charter schools not always reporting issues of suspensions. She and Mitch are going back and forth about who the DOE, schools and parents answer to. Denn advised most parents aren’t very knowledgeable about these types of matters. Denn said there is an advantage to this for parents, not in terms of statistics, but in schools knowing they need to be more aware of parent issues with schools. He brought up random bullying audits he has been involved with. He brought up a parent comment from the last meeting with charter school issues. Mike Hoffman, special education teacher, asked who would handle this? Denn advised the schools would not be a fair and biased party to do this. Doolittle said there needs to be more auditing and the state doesn’t have good data. He is aware there is a cost for this but it is worth looking at. Mitch indicated they do get data from PIC, DAP, GACEC and other sources to help improve the system. She said they need all data, including Diane Eastburn data. Tracy Bombarra asked about provider data. She asked that they be randomly surveyed as well to which Mitch said sure. Manges said there was a time where DOE would go to districts and do a comprehensive review at different schools within the district and would send out teams over a day or two to do this. She asked if the DOE has expanded to allow for the growth of all these charters. Mitch indicated it has not.
Denn is bringing up the topic of “jargon” on IEPs. Toney said she thinks taking the jargon out of the IEPs entirely would be good. She said she has been involved in this process a long time and she still doesn’t understand all of the acronyms. Mitch asked what the jargon is in IEPs? Toney explained things like WISC and other terms can be very confusing to parents. Dafne Carnright said additional training should be given, like a type of customer service, that school members in the IEP meetings should avoid using acronyms or technical jargon. Denn and Threats are talking about providing a glossary for parents. Denn reminded the task force this report will go to legislators to provide actual laws to change things, and the advice needs to be very precise in terms of getting things passed or not passed into law.
(side note: Very glad to see all the charters getting this “special” attention!)
Denn is going over the list of other items he wants to make sure is in the report to Governor Markell. He is talking specifically about transition services for older students and the ability of providers responding without a fear of repercussions down the road. He is asking the task force if there are matters they feel should be on the priority list. Eastburn said the benchmarks need to be addressed at some point consistently throughout the state so parents aren’t just given a copy of an IEP. Bombarra said there is a narrative box on IEP Plus where the schools are supposed to give that data. She said people either aren’t doing it, and they should. She said it takes her two days to complete the process for the three schools she works with. She said the system is set up to do this. Tricia Dallas, another special education teacher, said she isn’t sure how much parents are getting from the form sent home with report cards. Carnright agreed with what Dallas said and this needs to be looked at. Denn said is putting it down as “better way to communicate IEP goals to parents” and will make it more specific about what is should look like.
Denn brought up unique problems with visually-impaired students in the IEP process and is strongly hinting this becomes a priority issue without saying it needs to be. Senator Nicole Poore said she thinks this is very important to add to the list of priority issues. Denn agrees. He reiterated this group should continue and will advise the legislature this group should go on after this. Denn said he will go over empowering advocates and providers to better educate for students and the visually impaired issues will be brought up the next meeting. Someone in Wilmington said this is done through the Department of Health and Human Services, to which Denn said this issue will be looked at.
Ruth Lavelle, New Castle County parent rep, said she was in a meeting last week and said IEP Plus is not user-friendly and questioned whether it is less of a band-width issue but the system itself. Denn said this is a major issue on the list. Carnright and Toney talked about the Wellington System that Eastburn brought up at the last meeting. Denn said how other states do things will come up when they work on the drafts for the legislature, which could help answer the IEP Plus question. Bombarra asked about how anything the legislature passes will be funded. Denn said anything over $50,000.00 gets a fiscal note, otherwise the districts or charters get the bill for that. Denn did say other bills do provide funding, such as the summer reading coding amendment from Senate Bill 229 which was sponsored by Senator Nicole Poore and passed in the 147th Assembly. Denn said it is fortunate many of the legislators on the task force sit on the financial committee in the legislature. Denn explained he knows not every single member on the task force will agree on the final resolutions they will submit, so he is opening up the floor to anyone who has issues with what has been discussed. Lawson’s rep said he wants to make sure the Delaware laws are consistent with Federal law for special education.
I briefly gave public comment where I stated the biggest problems I see with the charter schools are them not understanding other-health impaired and what disabilities are listed under that and using a child being “too smart” as a reason to not give an IEP even though a disability or behavior issues affect a child’s educational outcome.