I felt the need to ask these additional questions. They are important! There should only be one yes answer for one of these!
Tomorrow night, the Capital School District Board of Education will discuss their legislative priorities for Fiscal Year 2017 at their monthly board meeting. There is a lot in this proposed draft. Some I agree with, and some I don’t. But if certain things get pushed by all school districts, we could see a controversial start to the 149th General Assembly in Delaware. Parents of students with disabilities could be spending a lot of time down at Legislative Hall in Dover.
In terms of burden of proof for who is implementing a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), I believe it should be the school that has the burden of proof. If a parent challenges a school on these issues, how is a parent going to know what is happening inside the classroom? It should be the school’s responsibility to address these issues if it gets to the point where a parent files a complaint that leads to a due process hearing. There is one or two parents and maybe one advocate in an IEP meeting. The rest is school personnel. A parent cannot implement an IEP in a school setting. Only a school can. This is the law. But in Schaffer v. Weast, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Burden of Proof should lie with the aggravated party, be it a student or the student’s parents (or legal guardian) or the school district should they dispute an IEP. While the Supreme Court is the largest court in the land, I don’t agree with their decision in some respects, but I do recognize the authority of the United States Supreme Court.
The final ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 reads as this:
We hold no more than we must to resolve the case at hand: The burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief. In this case, that party is Brian, as represented by his parents. But the rule applies with equal effect to school districts: If they seek to challenge an IEP, they will in turn bear the burden of persuasion before an ALJ. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is, therefore, affirmed.
In a sense, any challenge a school district has about an IEP will invariably lead to the burden of persuasion. I would find it very difficult for a due process hearing to occur where a school district does not disagree with at least one part of a student’s IEP. And if it does happen, I would assume the parent lost or the Due Process Hearing Officer ruled based on applicable law that neither party got it right in terms of what should be in an IEP. In any of the steps that could eventually lead up to a Due Process Hearing, districts have to provide sufficient evidence to the parent about what is happening with special education. Parents do have considerable rights for their child’s special education. They can request an Independent Educational Evaluation, they can call for a manifestation determination hearing under certain criteria, and they can file an administrative complaint. Even though I disagree with the finding of the Supreme Court in 2005, it is the law and it is precedent. Therefore, I have to agree with the Capital Board of Education that Delaware should not have a law on the books that predates a Supreme Court decision (their law is from 1999).
With that being said, Delaware is well-known to have serious lapses or even outright denials of special education services for students with disabilities. Parents of children with special needs tend to be very passionate about what they want for their children. Many understand the law (sometimes better than the school districts) very well. I have always said never walk into an IEP meeting without an advocate and always record the meeting. What is said in IEP meetings can make or break a case in certain circumstances. Parents in Delaware should not be afraid to have their attorney subpoena a teacher as a witness. Senate Bill 33, passed in the Spring of 2015, allows for whistle-blower protection for any school staff in regards to special education. If there is one consistent thing I’ve heard from parents in Delaware, it is that teachers want to implement IEPs, but administrators have been the ones who stopped something for some reason. While this isn’t always the case, and sometimes it is both, never be afraid to play a card that could work out to your child’s best educational interest.
The other legislative priority for Capital deals with a Free and Appropriate Public Education. IDEA federal law states schools must provide children with disabilities a “basic” education without clearly defining what is meant by basic. Delaware law states schools must go beyond “basic”. I would argue that in Delaware’s current educational landscape, the push is for all students to go beyond “basic”. If Capital wants to have AP and honors classes, that goes beyond “basic”. You can’t sit there and say “all for some”. If you are going to be a school district that wants ALL students to succeed beyond just “basic”, you can’t pick and choose. Then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn said it best at the first IEP Task Force meeting:
Children with disabilities are entitled to a Cadillac education, not a serviceable Chevrolet.
The trick is finding out what that “Cadillac education” is. I do not agree that this should be based on standards-based IEPs leading to higher proficiency on the state assessment. We all know students with disabilities fare the worst on these types of tests. We are failing all students if we continue this very bad charade of student success as measured by high-stakes testing.
In terms of the other legislative priorities in the below document, it is a no-brainer that our state needs to find a better way to fund education. The funding cuts from 2009 should have been restored a long time ago.
Delaware State Representative John Kowalko has a challenger in the 25th District. Mike Nagorski did not file in the early July deadline, but he was nominated by the Delaware Republican party last week. But who is Michael Nagorski?
Information on Nagorski is hard to find. According to the Newark Post, Nagorski graduated from Charter School of Wilmington in 2004. According to his Facebook account, he graduated from University of Delaware in 2008. He is married with a child and one more on the way later this year (congratulations). But in May of 2014, he won a legal name change, from Molaski to Nagorski. I’m not sure of the reason for this name change, but it is perfectly legal. His wife is a registered Democrat. Which is okay, my wife and I don’t agree on everything. He lives in the heart of the Newark Charter School populace along with Kowalko. He has a Master’s Degree from the University of Delaware, and he very recently obtained employment as a Senior Consultant at MHI Global. The biggest thing I see mentioned of Nagorski (then Molaski) is an article from the News Journal two years ago about his weight loss and a get healthy initiative. While this is certainly admirable, meeting the Governor at a gym doesn’t make one a State Representative.
In terms of his politics and what he stands for, that is difficult to find online. In response to the Newark Post article, he wrote on his Support Michael Nagorski Facebook page: “Delaware has tremendous opportunity. Now is the time to listen and act, not criticize and oppose.” What does that even mean? No one should question anything? I’m pretty sure that both Democrats AND Republicans criticize and oppose. Does this mean, if elected, Nagorski would never question anything? I would venture to say John Kowalko was elected five times because of his ability to not only listen and act, but also to criticize and oppose. It’s called politics! I think every candidate running for public office in Delaware will agree that Delaware needs to get more employers in the state to increase revenue. That isn’t a sea change in Delaware politics. He seems to be against state incentives to attract employers, which I would assume would be corporate tax cuts. That is something Kowalko has said for years. He said in the Newark Post article his three main reasons for running are “healthy living, improving education and growing the economy,” but the article did not give any of his ideas in any of these areas.
In another Facebook post where someone called him “the second coming of Reagan“, Nagorski responded that “if I had to choose someone I’m closest to, it’s Castle” While Mike Castle served a long and distinguished career in Delaware and national politics from 1966 to 2010, I don’t see a lot coming out of Nagorski that would give me that impression. In fact, I don’t see anything coming out of Nagorski that shows anything about why he is running. No website, no stances on any subject. Not to be too critical of Nagorski, but trashing your opponent in a newspaper article while not giving any substance or meat to why you are running, aside from an alternate voice and things every Delaware politician says, isn’t going to have me running to push your button on Election Day.
The Newark Post wrote:
“What people see is someone who’s certainly passionate and an advocate,” Nagorski said. “But what they don’t see is someone who is listening to everyone. He’s putting himself out there and not necessarily listening to everyone else.”
I would say being the State Representative for ten years would qualify Kowalko as someone who listens to a great deal of people.
I will fully admit the following things: I support many of Kowalko’s sponsored legislation, I worked with Kowalko on House Bill 50 (the opt out bill), and I have enjoyed many conversations with him about Delaware education. Is Kowalko boisterous and speaks from the cuff? Yes he is. Has he said things with an angry tone in the past? Yes he has. Does that disqualify him as a worthy Delaware State Representative? No, it does not. In fact, I would go so far as to say this should be a requirement for all Delaware politicians. We’ve had far too much of the “Delaware Way”. Far too many closed door meetings deciding the fate of the many with little to no transparency. If I were sitting in the 29th Representative seat at Legislative Hall, you better believe I would be very vocal about things.
I am sure as time goes on, we will learn more about Mike Nagorski. But until then, I see someone running just to run. I would urge all in the 25th District to vote the same as you have since 2006, for John Kowalko. As someone who is a fervent supporter of transparency, limiting corporate windfalls, stands up for parental rights, is against discrimination of any sort, and doesn’t sell out to the Delaware Way, Kowalko is one of the best State Representatives in the Delaware General Assembly. Perhaps if we had more John Kowalkos, we wouldn’t see Delaware’s education system in shambles and our fast reducing revenue getting lower by the year.
I would assume, based on his attendance at the Charter School of Wilmington, Nagorski supports school choice. But does he support the very controversial enrollment practices at both CSW and Newark Charter School? How does he feel about the Christina School District? School vouchers? The Smarter Balanced Assessment? Opt Out? Common Core? Teachers? Does he think the University of Delaware should be more transparent? Does he support choice in all political matters? I know where John Kowalko stands on those issues. I’ve been to several of the key education conversations in Delaware the past couple of years. I’ve seen John Kowalko at many of those events. I don’t recall seeing Mike Nagorski at any of them.