16 Very Tough Questions With Capital School District About In-School Alternative Placements

A month ago, I posted an article about an In-School Alternative Program the Capital School District Board of Education would be voting on at upcoming board meeting. When I read the contract and heard the board audio recording, I had several questions about the program.  I do understand the Christina School District runs the same program but I had some concerns for it in Capital’s middle schools and high school. 

I reached out to Superintendent Dan Shelton, the Capital Board of Education, the building principals, and other administrators in the district.  I asked sixteen questions. Within days, not only had the district answered those questions but they were well thought-out and developed.  They even reached out to the vendor, Pathways of Delaware, to answer questions Capital could not due to statistics from the existing program in Christina.  My biggest concern with the program was how it would work for students with disabilities.

As many parents of special needs children can attest, their biggest fear is their child getting stuck in a discipline system.  Alternative placement, while actually the best for some students, can be a harbinger of doom for a student with disabilities.  I will fully admit, when I saw this contract it scared the hell out of me.  I pictured spec ed kids being warehoused in these rooms so the regular classrooms wouldn’t have to handle them.  But I thought it was prudent to ask the district some very tough questions.  Were my fears accurate or were they comforted by the answers?  The district responses are in italics.

Before I get into that, I feel the need to make a list of abbreviations!

BIP: Behavior Intervention Plan

IEP: Individualized Education Program

ISA: In-School Alternative

ISAP: In-School Alternative Program

RFP: Request For Proposal

SIT: School Intervention Team

SWD: Students With Disabilities

In reading your questions, I think the focus of the questions appears to be special education.  While we would not preclude special education students from participation, they would not be the norm and more likely learning disability (LD) or academic related Individualized Education Program (IEP), not behavior related IEP.  For the most part Special Education Students with behavioral issues have those addressed in the IEP, with services provided.  When major behavior incidence occur, the IEP team meets to determine if it is a manifestation and path forward which could include modification to the current Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).  This intervention is more targeted for students who are not afforded those type of direct services and for behaviors that may be modified effectively in a 25 day window.

There could be students that the team determines this program would be a good fit and becomes part of the intervention plan, but that would be an IEP team decision and the exception, not the rule.

Good morning all,

I listened to the audio recording from the board meeting on Wednesday and I had several questions about the proposal from Pathways.  I was really hoping the board members would ask some of these questions, but they did not.  Many of my questions are based on their experience with Christina.

1) Out of the students that are in the program, how many are African-American students?

There are no Capital students in the program, we will collect this data at the end of the year.

Pathways Response: There was a total of 35 African-American students in ISAP last year out of a total of 54.

2) Out of the students that are in the program, how many are students with disabilities?

There are no Capital students in the program, we will collect this data at the end of the year.

Pathways Response: ISAP carried 8 special education students for the year out of a total of 54. 

3) Out of the 16-20% that do not succeed in the program, how many of those are either African-American, students with disabilities, or both?

Pathways Response: There were 6 unsuccessful African-American ISAP students last year.  1 unsuccessful student was also special education of the 54.

4) How does this count on the student’s record- if they are not actively engaged in the bulk of their regular education setting is this considered an “in-school suspension” or “out of school suspension”?

It is not a suspension it is an intervention.  Period attendance would reflect SP for school program for periods they are in the ISA room.  If they are in transition, they would receive normal period attendance from their teacher when they are in class. 

5) Dr. Shelton said they would “piggyback” this contract on another contract.  What is that contract?  How can it be “piggybacked” if it is a wholly unique and new program?  Why didn’t the district do an RFP for this since it is over $50,000?

Christina School District procured the services through a RFP, number: CHR-2016-14.  As a result, another state agency/school district can contract with the awarded vendor, if agreeable to all parties (Title 29, Chapter 6904(e) Delaware Code).  We can use the vendor since they will be providing the same services here at Capital.

I did check this section of Title 29 which states the following:

(e) If no state contract exists for a certain good or service, covered agencies may procure that certain good or service under another agency’s contract so long as the arrangement is agreeable to all parties. Agencies, other than covered agencies, may also procure such goods or services under another agency’s contract when the arrangement is agreeable to all parties. 

6) What safeguards are put into place in regards to a student on an IEP?  By law, the IEP must be followed.  Does Pathways program align with the IEP?

This is not an alternative setting, the student is still part of the school and the school is responsible to follow the IEP.  If the team decided to use ISA as part of the program, the IEP would reflect such. 

Central MIddle School:  I don’t see this program (classroom) being one that will be utilized by SWD as we have trained and certified staff to work on all programs, services, and interventions for SWD.  I can see the ISA person including SWD in the small groups and morning mtgs. etc. as an added intervention as they will be available to all students who require that level of intervention. 

Dover High School:  In our first presentation, we specifically discussed that the majority of students who utilize interventions through ISAP are not SWD for multiple reasons including: they are already receiving support through their IEP and some through BIPs.  We would prefer (at DHS) to not use ISAP for SWD primarily because of the way the academic support would change and would may not benefit those students.

7) What special education qualifications, aside from them saying they give training, do these interventionists have?

Teachers the student currently has would continue to provide the work and some instruction.  Again, this is not an alternative placement.  If the IEP team determined this appropriate intervention they would also consider the instructional impact in the decision and in the plan forward.  

Pathways Response: ISAP is not a special education program. Two of the four programs have not had any special education students enrolled.  Before any student is placed in ISAP, it is predetermined that they can meet the requirements of their IEP. 

8) Capital recently approved a huge contract for constables in every school.  The purpose of that overlaps with much of what Pathways will be doing.  So we now have two outside parties in our middle schools and high school.  What is the role of guidance councilors, behavior coaches, mentors, district interventionists, and behavior deans now that the district is outsourcing many of these duties to outside agencies?

School Safety Monitors are not an outside contract.  The primary role of our constables is to protect students, staff and peaceful visitors from first external threats and second from any internal threat that cannot be safely addressed by staff.  With the exception of SROs no other staff person is directly charged with this responsibility. The only overlap I can think of is the relationship building piece, which every person who works in a school, outside contract or inside should have as part of their job. 

This role brings a completely new skill set to the table. We do not have hired folks that are trained deeply in mediation as none of our hires are social clinicians. Educators receive surface level training and some go on to be able to be very effective in mediations etc. but that is not something we have a full time person handling which is what is needed to fill the gaps we currently have. 

9) Capital “pre-pays” for spots at Parkway Academy each year as part of the contract with the Kent County Consortium.  If Pathways has 16-20% of students go to alternative placement, does this match the “pre-paid” seats the district pays for anyway?

Capital is allotted spots based on the 9/30 unit count; that we fully use, as a member of the Consortium, and we are billed for them accordingly. 

Parkway is a consortium school serving Kent County.  It serves as an alternative placement for students that a team which includes the parents, the teachers and the administrators all sit on and decide if appropriate.  It usually is for students who are regular education. 

Kent County Secondary ILC is also part of a consortium and services students who have an IEP and the IEP team decides need a higher level of service.   KCSILC services who have a pattern of behavior issues have a BIP in place.  The BIP provides intensive intervention and monitoring, increased support around the student and addresses specific issues in a specific manner.  Students may also have a safety plan in place that addresses specific behavior that is dangerous to the student or others.

ISA would not be a required precursor for either placement, nor would not being successful in the program necessitate placement at either of these programs.  Alternative placement and program are always made by a team on an individualized and case by case basis.

DHS: At DHS I don’t see this being the pipeline to Parkway. Parkway is utilized for behaviors mostly committed in our community that necessitate alternative placement.  ISA would handle items such as school elopement, refusal and potentially truancy concerns that would not be typical Parkway recipients. If anything, we could hopefully reduce our parkway spots needed over time.

10) Why doesn’t Capital have the resources to adequately train teachers and staff but has the ability to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to outside agencies to “intervene”?

Capital invests a great deal in Professional Learning for all staff.  Just as a teacher is trained in hand writing and teaches it to his/her students, some students require expertise of a more specific trained individual to intervene in order to be successful.  An OT in this example.  Another would be a student struggling in decoding, while all of our teachers have specific training in teaching this skill, the student may go to a reading interventionist for additional support. 

CMS:  It isn’t simply about the training but the time required to facilitate an intervention to fidelity.  Teachers have many things on their plates with instruction and student achievement being 1st and then Tier 1 classroom interventions on top of that.  The ISA person would be able to dedicate the time needed to make appropriate Tier 2/3 interventions part of the students’ daily schedule in order to ensure  skill building and practice takes place.

DHS:  Agree with CMS-the time is critical.  Teams need to be able to drop at a moment’s notice to respond and mediate between students, parents or teachers.  Additionally, teaching students coping skills to not engage in those behaviors is something that at the high school we do not have a lot of time to do outside of our regularly scheduled day with the required amount of seat time. 

11) How much understanding do these interventionists, with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree, with no specifications from what I heard about what kind of bachelor’s degree, have of neuro-biological disabilities, the medicines students take, and the ability to ascertain between what is behavioral and what is a manifestation of a student’s disabilities?  These are not teachers.  They are not district staff.

The focus of this program is not special education, while students with disabilities could potentially be placed when appropriate, the IEP more likely would be an academic focus.  SWD that are behavior related would have behavior intervention plans already in place, and this program would potentially be in addition to, but I believe the jist of this question would lead to change in the BIP, not ISA placement  That would be a team decision in this case, the IEP team.  As stated on Wed. evening, it is hoped that professional development would be the  joint responsibility of CSD and Pathways to ensure that staff is well rounded regarding school procedures, tiered interventions and best practices.  Some of the practices mentioned Wednesday night such as Restorative and Mindfulness if well implemented can yield very successful results for students. 

William Henry Middle School: The use of the “service” would be intentional (IEP team decision) and the data provided by participation would help the IEP team best support a student who is exhibiting inappropriate behavior. 

CMS:  I don’t see this program (classroom) being one that will be utilized by SWD as we have trained and certified staff to work on all programs, services, and interventions for SWD.  I can see the IAS person including  SWD in the small groups and morning mtgs. etc. as an added intervention as they will be available to all students who require that level of intervention. 

DHS:  Again, not a program geared for SWD. 

12) What happens in terms of liability against the district if these interventionists do not follow an IEP and the accommodations within or what is in a student’s existing Behavior Intervention Plan?

Special education teachers would be implementing the IEP, accommodations and modifications would be followed.  There is an expectation that everyone in the school that works with a student follows those.  Again, if the student had a BIP, this may not be the correct intervention, but the IEP team would work through that decision and programming.

13) If it is ruled in a manifestation determination hearing that a behavior is a result of a student’s disability, how can any of those students be referred to this program based on that without a Functional Behavior Analysis being created and a Behavior Intervention Plan being created?

Again, the team may do all of the above or any one of the above, that is why it is Individualized Education Plan and why they work as a team.

14) What assurances are there that the situations that create the placement in this program are not the fault of staff due to not following the IEP?

See above

15) Since Pathways of Delaware will be utilizing space in these schools paid for by taxpayers, will they be paying rent on their assigned locations?

No, just like our Athletic Trainer, some OT (occupational therapy) and PT (physical therapy) that are a Contracted Service within the building, in order to service our students they must have space to do so.  Pathways is providing a service for the district.

16) Since Pathways of Delaware owns and runs the Parkway Academies, of which Capital pre-pays spots for, is it not a clear conflict of interest for the same company to determine who may eventually enter Parkway when they have a financial interest?

The ISA person, nor anyone else in Pathways associated with ISA, would not be making the decision to move to Parkway, it would be a team decision, the ISA person may be part of the conversation, but the team would make the decision.  Parkway, would be one option, there are others. 

The team approach to alternative placement is the same process that we do now, this is just another step that can be placed into the continuum to help keep more kids in the building and give them more opportunity to build the skills they need.  We will revisit the success here in Capital and make determinations if we also continue or not.

CMS:  The SIT Team meets weekly to discuss students in the Tier 2/3 process.  While the ISA staff will be part of the team discussion, it is a full team decision to place a student outside of the building.  One that is taken very seriously and requires admin approval.  (same as DHS)

WHMS: Ideally, this program prevents students from going to Parkway.  We’d rather pay them (Parkway) to support students within our buildings and ultimately replace their existing external program or at least  significantly reduce participation.   

Our overall goal is to keep as many of our students in Capital schools.  As we are more successful at this it is anticipated that the number of referrals to Parkway Academy Central will continue to decrease (we’ve already seen a decrease which can be attributed to the implementation of tiered interventions). 

In my honest opinion, this is more of a way to free up administrators who do not want to do the jobs they are paid handsomely for.  I was not sold on this presentation whatsoever.  I was shocked the board did not ask more questions about sub-groups, especially students with disabilities and African-American students.  It was mentioned this will help the schools “disproportionality” issue, which is suspending or expelling more African-American students with disabilities than their peers.  I view this as an out of school suspension.  The program is 25 days which should automatically trigger a manifestation determination hearing with the student’s IEP team.  While I understand much of the “intent”, I see a whole slew of problems stemming from this.  Capital is NOT Christina School District.  What works there (or appears to) does not mean success in Capital.  This is a huge roll of the dice with huge ramifications for the district.

As stated, we have tried a few different in-house interventions for this segment of student needs and have not been satisfied with the results.  Our public forums and surveys address this as an area of need and this intervention which has data to show effective is a step for us to address that need.  We will revisit the effectiveness at the end of the year to determine if we continue, modify and continue or not continue the program.

CMS:  Again, I do not see this program being used by SWD.  I would make the interventions available to all students but we have specialized in-house programs for students who need more behavioral support/structure.  Disproportionality doesn’t just mean SWD…we often see that our minority students, who tend to be in the majority, population-wise, receive more OSS and Alt. Placement.  Providing students with more personalized interventions for behavior, allows us to do something different and meaningful in order to address challenging behaviors as we know OSS doesn’t work for the majority of students.  We also are very hesitant to place students outside of our building and work to use that as a last resort.   

And that ended my barrage of questions.  I would like to thank the staff at Capital that took the time to answer all of them.  I feel much better about this program and what it could potentially mean for students with disabilities at Capital’s middle schools and high school.  If this program works, it will keep students in school more often than not.  Which should be the overall goal!

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