According to Disability Scoop, the United States Department of Education is being sued by an organization called the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates for delaying a final rule regarding significant disproportionality.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, alleges that the agency is skirting its obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate services no matter their racial background.
The ruling was supposed to go into effect this year but the U.S. DOE delayed it for another two years. However, this is a part of each school’s matrix for annual determinations for how they are implementing special education.
Despite the delay, states are allowed to implement the new standard if they wish to, the Education Department said, and they are still obligated under IDEA to assess school districts for significant disproportionality.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is named in the lawsuit:
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia names DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Johnny Collett in addition to the department itself. It seeks to have a judge invalidate the Department of Education’s delay and reinstate the July 1 start date for the rule.
I seriously wonder why the U.S. DOE would put a delay on a ruling that makes absolute sense.
Yesterday morning, I read a Facebook post on a friend’s feed. She didn’t write it. It is one of those “copy and paste” things on Facebook. I usually tend to ignore them, but this one tugged at my heartstrings. I felt obligated to put it down here, on this blog. Because this teacher reminded anyone who read this what is truly special about special education.
I don’t remember the exact moment my life was changed by someone with a disability. The memories seem far away, blurry, as if they don’t belong to me. But this is what happens after you’ve been working with people with disabilities for years. You change. They don’t tell you that when you’re filling out your application. Instead, they tell you about the hours, the health benefits, the 401(k) plan, the programs and the strategies. But they don’t tell you about the fact if you do it right, you’ll never be the same. They don’t tell you it will be the most amazing job you’ve ever had. On other days, it can be the worst. They can’t describe on paper the emotional toll it will take on you. They can’t tell you there may come a time where you find you’re more comfortable surrounded by people with developmental disabilities than you are with the general population. They don’t tell you you’ll come to love them, and there will be days when you feel more at home when you’re at work than when you’re at home, sitting on your couch. But it happens. They don’t tell you about the negative reactions you may face when you’re out in the community with someone with a disability. That there are people on this earth who still think it’s OK to say the R-word. That people stare. Adults will stare. You will want to say something, anything, to these people to make them see. But at the end of the day, your hands will be tied because some things, as you learn quickly, can’t be explained with something as simple as words. They can only be felt. And most of the time, until someone has had their own experience with someone with a developmental disability, they just won’t understand. They train you in CPR and first aid, but they can’t tell you what it feels like to have to use it. They don’t tell you what it is like to learn someone is sick and nothing can be done. They can’t explain the way it feels when you work with someone for years and then one day they die. They can’t explain the bond direct service personnel develop with the people they are supporting. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who has been labeled non-verbal or low-functioning. After working with someone for awhile, you develop a bond so strong they can just give you a look and you know exactly what it means, what they want and what they’re feeling. And most of the time, all it boils down to is they want to be heard, listened to and included. Loved. When you apply for this job, they do tell you you’ll be working to teach life skills. But what they don’t tell you is while you’re teaching someone, they’ll also be teaching you. They have taught me it’s OK to forgive myself when I have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow and a mess-up here and there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They have taught me to slow down, to ponder, to take the time to just look around and take in this beautiful world and all of the simple joys we are blessed to encounter every day. So when did I change? I realize now there wasn’t one pivotal moment. Instead, it was a million little moments, each important in their own way, that when added together changed me. And I’m grateful for each one.
I would love to know who the original author is. I would shake their hand in a heartbeat!
The Delaware Department of Education came out with the special education ratings for all Delaware school districts and charter schools. The information the schools and districts were rated on were based on indicators by the federal Department of Education. This is information the Delaware DOE collects from on-site monitoring of schools as well as performance data, including participation rates from the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The ratings are based on information from the 2014-2015 school year. I don’t necessarily agree with these ratings, especially as it relates to parents opting their children out of the state assessment. I’ve always found that many schools who have higher populations of students with disabilities tend to get the rougher ratings. It is a sure sign we need more funding, staff, resources, and training for special education.
Academia Antonia Alonso
Academy of Dover
Charter School of Wilmington
Early College High School
First State Montessori Academy
MOT Charter School
Newark Charter School
Odyssey Charter School
Polytech School District
Sussex Tech School District
Caesar Rodney School District
Campus Community School
Cape Henlopen School District
Delaware Design-Lab High School
Delaware Military Academy
Delmar School District
East Side Charter School
Freire Charter School
Indian River School District
Las Americas Aspira Academy
Laurel School District
Milford School District
Positive Outcomes Charter School
Providence Creek Academy
Woodbridge School District
Appoquinimink School District
Brandywine School District
Capital School District
Charter School of New Castle (formerly Family Foundations Academy)
This article originally appeared on long-time Delaware special education advocate Steve Newton’s LinkedIn account yesterday. I read it today and Steve not only hit a grand-slam with this article, but he hit it out of the park! This is the must-read of the month and the timeliness of this could not be more important! Normally, I would italicize this but for reasons which will soon become clear, I did not. Great job Steve!
The road is about to get a lot rougher for special needs kids in America’s schools
It’s never been easy.
IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act] was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 to stiffen the supports for disability-challenged American students that already existed in Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. IDEA established the rules for determining the need for special services, how supports within the education system would be determined, and provided for their monitoring via IEPs [Individualized Education Plans]. The trifold intent of IDEA was to (a) guarantee parents and students a role, a voice, and an appeals option in the process; (b) fund services that would allow special needs students to receive FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]; and create mechanisms for monitoring/enforcing the entire process.
Despite the fact that none of those goals has ever really been attained (Congress has never fully funded IDEA in any budget in the past 27 years), IDEA represented a massive improvement for special needs students across America. Millions of kids with specific Learning Disabilities (as in Math or English), with Emotional Disabilities, with ADHD, with Autism, and with other, lesser-known disabilities managed to finish school and go on to college, or employment, and independent, productive lives. Flawed as it is in the execution, IDEA has been a hugely successful law.
But the last decade has seen major problems setting in
The United States Supreme Court will decide the fate of millions of special education students in America when they rule on a controversial case regarding what the appropriate amount of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) is for students with disabilities. The landmark case, Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District, could have major consequences for special education students.
The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the matter comes at the urging of the Obama administration. In a brief issued last month, the U.S. solicitor general agreed with the parents that the IDEA requires schools to provide more than minimal benefit to students with disabilities.
“This court should hold that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are meaningful in light of the child’s potential and the IDEA’s stated purposes. Merely aiming for non-trivial progress is not sufficient,” the solicitor general indicated.
This could be a moment of triumph or severe disappointment. With the rise of Common Core and a transition from teacher-led instruction to constant bombardment of education technology and a competency-based education environment, students with disabilities have suffered the most from the constant education reform that has taken place over the past twenty plus years. As their numbers rise, so do the corporate profits. They have been forced to take a litany of state assessments that have the same results, year after year: these students tend to perform the worst on these tests. The amount of parents choosing to go the home school route for their special needs children has risen dramatically in the last decade.
A free appropriate public education, in its current landscape, comes with a very steep price for students with disabilities. Unless the Supreme Court clearly defines what FAPE should be, in the face of the overwhelming corporate-driven changes in our schools, these children will continue to be lost in public education. Personalized learning, in the modern-day era meaning, would gear all students towards their own individual education plans which strips the special out of special education. This flies in the face of what disability advocates fight for every single day.
The United States Department of Education sent a “guidance letter” to state local education agencies (school districts) regarding Response to Intervention (RTI) and Child Find. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) sent the letter on April 29th. It reminds pre-schools that they are responsible for child find. This means the local school district is responsible for paying for a special education evaluation. A pre-school can’t use RTI if a special education evaluation is needed prior to the RTI process. This is all great except for that one tiny, itty-bitty, little thing: Who pays for it?
The US DOE had their toddler Race to the Top come out a year after the regular one and it gave states tons of money to make great pre-schools. The funding for this runs out on June 30th of this year. Which is why Delaware, Governor Jack Markell requested over 11 million bucks to keep these programs going. But the big problem with this is school districts aren’t allocated more money to pay for all these special education evaluations. So guess where that money comes from? The local funds a school district gets from school taxes. From YOUR property taxes. Guess how much the charters pay for those pre-school evaluations? Not one cent. In fact, Delaware is a state where there is no basic special education funding from the state share of funds for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade at any public school. But that’s okay, they can afford it? Right? Yeah, let’s not go down that road.
If so many Delaware schools lack the ability to give special education services to kids in Kindergarten to 3rd grade because they just so happen to not get any extra funds for that, how is that going to work with pre-schools? This letter, on the surface, looks great. Big government is looking out for the kids with disabilities. But who holds them accountable when they have NEVER given the full amount of funding to states under IDEA? They give what, 10-13%, and they want to be the enforcer of all things special education? What a crock!
Response to Intervention is the biggest joke of them all. It is a crutch for Delaware schools to NOT give special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade. What they are doing is messing up kids big time. Whether it is a school district or a charter, and unless they are listed in the “intensive” or “complex” category, you are better off letting your basic special education child sit in a pile of needles cause that’s what it’s like for them. Imagine having a bad infection and someone says “let’s try this technique that will take a while to fight it”. Will the infection get better? Nope. It’s going to rot and fester. That’s what happens to the minds of children with neurological disabilities who don’t get the right special education. But it’s alright, because Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware DOE says Delaware’s due process system is more than fair. Yeah, I can see how that scares the hell out of Delaware schools into doing the right thing…
The US DOE are a bunch of hypocrites. They endorse things like social impact bonds which is when a company “invests” in an education setting (like a pre-school) for a certain goal. In Utah, that went swimmingly when Goldman Sachs had a long-running program they “invested” in. The goal: only 1% of 200 kids would need long-term special education services in regular school after they put in the “necessary” programs at the pre-school to “help” these kids. I guess they didn’t get the memo that disabilities are NEUROLOGICAL which is why programs like this are complete and utter crap. In Delaware, the average for students with disabilities in public schools hovers around 13.5 to 15%. But with genius banks getting their hooks in, only 1% would! Goldman Sachs got a return on their “investment” because of the “success” to the tune of $277,000. I don’t see OSEP sending financial institutions these letters…
To read the latest “guidance” (which essentially means do as we say or we are going to make you sorry) letter from US DOE/OSEP, read below.
Ever since Delaware received the label of “needs intervention” with special education in June of 2014 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the United States Department of Education, the Delaware Department of Education made every effort to do everything but tackle the number one problem of special education: making sure IEPs are implemented with fidelity.
Their solution to the problem: make sure children can read by 3rd grade so they can score proficient on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Every state in America has a checklist of items, dictated by the US DOE, that they are monitored on by OSEP. One of them, Indicator 17, is a plan each state must come up with to improve special education outcomes. The Exceptional Children Resources Group, the special education area at the Delaware DOE, chose the Delaware Early Literacy Initiative as their project for Indicator 17.
To say this is a confusing mess would be an understatement of epic proportions. I find it even more troubling they would pick Kindergarten to 3rd Grade as their test subjects when they know children in those grades don’t receive basic special education funding. The students who are considered intense or complex do, but the bulk of the students with disabilities in those grades fall under “Basic Special Education”. As a result, some schools in Delaware are hesitant to grant IEPs for these students since they know the cost will fall on the district or charter school without any extra money from the state.
The Delaware DOE relies on Response to Intervention as a way of determining if a child needs special education services or not. It is a faulty system, mandated by the feds, that can take years before a child is fully identified for special education. As a result, these children become lost in a system while their neurological disabilities manifest. An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is designed for that particular student. The IEP team, consisting of the school Special Education director, a Principal or Vice-Principal, the primary teachers, the school nurse, the school psychologist, and the parent or parents of the child.
Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, of the website Make Special Education Work, recently wrote an article about why RTI isn’t working. In the article, they wrote:
Even though RTI instruction may be high quality and research-based, can it meet your child’s unique needs? Meeting these needs through an individualized education program is your child’s right under IDEA.
While the Delaware DOE’s Early Literacy Initiative is certainly a long read, it is chock full of errors and omissions that fail to adequately address the unique and individual attention a child with disabilities truly needs.
Thank you to the baffled soul who sent this to me. Usually when I look up special education law for Delaware, I just go straight to Title 14. I never look at the DOE website. Silly me for assuming it would be the same as Delaware law….
An Independent Educational Evaluation is used when a parent may not agree with the school’s evaluation for a potential IEP request. The parent has the right to ask for an independent evaluation at public expense. Let me repeat those words again… at public expense.
(1) The parents of a child with a disability have the right under this part to obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child, subject to paragraphs (b) through (e) of this section.
(2) Each public agency must provide to parents, upon request for an independent educational evaluation, information about where an independent educational evaluation may be obtained, and the agency criteria applicable for independent educational evaluations as set forth in paragraph (e) of this section.
(i) Independent educational evaluation means an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question; and
(ii) Public expense means that the public agency either pays for the full cost of the evaluation or ensures that the evaluation is otherwise provided at no cost to the parent, consistent with Sec. 300.103.
(1) A parent has the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency, subject to the conditions in paragraphs (b)(2) through (4) of this section.
(2) If a parent requests an independent educational evaluation at public expense, the public agency must, without unnecessary delay, either–
(i) File a due process complaint to request a hearing to show that its evaluation is appropriate; or
(ii) Ensure that an independent educational evaluation is provided at public expense, unless the agency demonstrates in a hearing pursuant to Sec. Sec. 300.507 through 300.513 that the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet agency criteria.
(3) If the public agency files a due process complaint notice to request a hearing and the final decision is that the agency’s evaluation is appropriate, the parent still has the right to an independent educational evaluation, but not at public expense.
(4) If a parent requests an independent educational evaluation, the public agency may ask for the parent’s reason why he or she objects to the public evaluation. However, the public agency may not require the parent to provide an explanation and may not unreasonably delay either providing the independent educational evaluation at public expense or filing a due process complaint to request a due process hearing to defend the public evaluation.
(5) A parent is entitled to only one independent educational evaluation at public expense each time the public agency conducts an evaluation with which the parent disagrees.
(c) Parent-initiated evaluations. If the parent obtains an independent educational evaluation at public expense or shares with the public agency an evaluation obtained at private expense, the results of the evaluation–
(1) Must be considered by the public agency, if it meets agency criteria, in any decision made with respect to the provision of FAPE to the child; and
(2) May be presented by any party as evidence at a hearing on a due process complaint under subpart E of this part regarding that child.
(d) Requests for evaluations by hearing officers. If a hearing officer requests an independent educational evaluation as part of a hearing on a due process complaint, the cost of the evaluation must be at public expense.
(1) If an independent educational evaluation is at public expense, the criteria under which the evaluation is obtained, including the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner, must be the same as the criteria that the public agency uses when it initiates an evaluation, to the extent those criteria are consistent with the parent’s right to an independent educational evaluation.
(2) Except for the criteria described in paragraph (e)(1) of this section, a public agency may not impose conditions or timelines related to obtaining an independent educational evaluation at public expense.
2.1 General: The parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent educational evaluation
of the child subject to 2.4 through 2.9.
2.2 Each public agency shall provide to parents, upon request for an independent educational evaluation,
information about where an independent educational evaluation may be obtained, and the agency criteria
applicable for independent educational evaluations as set forth in 2.9.
2.3 Definitions for the purposes of this subpart:
“Independent Educational Evaluation” means an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not
employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.
“Public Expense” means that the public agency either pays for the full cost of the evaluation or ensures that
the evaluation is otherwise provided at no cost to the parent, consistent with 14 DE Admin. Code 923.3.0.
2.4 Parent right to evaluation at public expense; A parent has the right to an independent educational evaluation at
public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency, subject to the
conditions in 2.4.1 through 2.5.
2.4.1 If a parent requests an independent educational evaluation at public expense, the public agency shall,
without unnecessary delay, either:
220.127.116.11 File a due process complaint to request a hearing to show that its evaluation is appropriate; or
18.104.22.168 Ensure that an independent educational evaluation is provided at public expense, unless the
agency demonstrates in a hearing pursuant to 14 DE Admin. Code 926.7.0 through 926.13.0 that
the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet agency criteria.
2.4.2 If the public agency files a due process complaint notice to request a hearing and the final decision is that
the agency’s evaluation is appropriate, the parent still has the right to an independent educational
evaluation, but not at public expense.
2.5 If a parent requests an independent educational evaluation, the public agency may ask for the parent’s reason
why he or she objects to the public evaluation. However, the public agency may not require the parent to
provide an explanation and may not unreasonably delay either providing the independent educational
evaluation at public expense or filing a due process complaint to request a due process hearing to defend the
2.6 A parent is entitled to only one (1) independent educational evaluation at public expense each time the public
agency conducts an evaluation with which the parent disagrees.
2.7 Parent initiated evaluations: If the parent obtains an independent educational evaluation at public expense or
shares with the public agency an evaluation obtained at private expense, the results of the evaluation shall be
considered by the public agency, if it meets agency criteria, in any decision made with respect to the provision
of FAPE to the child; and may be presented by any party as evidence at a hearing on a due process complaint
under 14 DE Admin. Code 926 regarding that child.
2.8 Requests for evaluations by hearing officers. If a hearing panel or a single hearing officer appointed for
expedited appeals under 32.0 requests an independent educational evaluation as part of a hearing on a due
process complaint, the cost of the evaluation shall be at public expense.
2.9 Agency criteria: If an independent educational evaluation is at public expense, the criteria under which the
evaluation is obtained, including the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner, shall be
the same as the criteria that the public agency uses when it initiates an evaluation, to the extent those criteria
are consistent with the parent’s right to an independent educational evaluation.
2.10 Except for the criteria described in 2.9, a public agency may not impose conditions or timelines related to
obtaining an independent educational evaluation at public expense.
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1415(b)(1) and (d)(2)(A); 14 Del.C. §3110)
So the Delaware state law on this is very similar to the federal IDEA law. Not a heck of a lot of difference. But look at this information found on the Delaware DOE website:
Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE)
Parents and guardians have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) for their student’s IEP team to review. An independent evaluation is appropriate if an IEE is likely to offer recommendations for a student that are different from his or her current IEP. Districts are not required to pay for an IEE and most-often this cost is paid for by the parent or guardian.
IEE requests must be made in writing to a district or charter school. Each district has their own process for honoring or denying this request.
I thought this was a joke when my friend sent it to me. But no, this is real. Now imagine a Delaware educator, without a lot of time in their day, looking to find quick information when a parent asked for an independent evaluation. Instead of rifling through Title 14, which can be a chore in itself unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, they decide to check out the DOE website. And they find this, and go by it. They contact the student’s parent, or wait for an IEP meeting, and tell them “Hey, you can get an independent evaluation, but you have to pay for it.” That school is now in violation of Federal IDEA law and Delaware law. I will be going through their website (cause it doesn’t look like they do) and find out if there is more of this foolishness. And in case they change the page tomorrow based on this find:
I am beginning to understand why special education is considered to be horrible in Delaware. If this is the guidance our Department of Education gives our schools and districts… But yet if schools don’t adhere to their standards, they are labeled and shamed. I have to wonder when this Department is ever going to learn. Do they care? I have to wonder. As long as they continue to treat special education as something less than what it is and deny parents one of the cornerstones of state and federal law, these children will suffer. And they do.
I urge all Delaware educators, in every single traditional school district, to NOT look at the DOE website at all for special education law. Go to Google, and take the time to learn Title 14. Many new laws are now enacted stemming from the IEP Task Force. As well, Google IDEA and know that like the back of your hand!
The Delaware Department of Education is the one giving training to school districts? They want all our students to have “standards-based” IEPs when they have no clue about some of the fundamental parts of IDEA law?
In a Facebook post on the “Solutions for Wilmington Schools” page, Wilmington Education Improvement Commission Chair Tony Allen addressed some concerns people were having, including myself. I will fully admit I reached out to Tony last night and he responded very fast:
As always, I welcome the thoughtful critique and continued questioning relative to my decisions and related actions on this historically important set of issues. It will make our Commission better, our mandate more focused and the resulting product more meaningful to students and families.
To level set everyone, the 23-person Commission is effectively a steering arm and ultimately an approving authority for what will be the work of our five working committees. I use “working” intentionally here as each will carry a heavy burden, over the next five years, to create strategies to implement the recommendations outlined in the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee’s final report, “Strengthening Wilmington Education: An Action Agenda.” Updated versions of this report are available now.
As for the Committees themselves, there are five: Redistricting; Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty; Funding Student Success; Parent Family and Community Engagement; and Charter and District Collaboration. At present, we have only named the Co-Chairs of those committees. The Co-Chairs will finalize all of their respective committees over the next week or so, but you should all know that there is plenty of room. What I hope everyone experienced in the WEAC process was a spirit of candor, engagement and full participation. I don’t expect any of that to change with the new Commission.
On the notion of representation from Early Care & Education, Daphne Evans, you raise good points, but I think you will find that we are well-represented along those lines. There are more than a few Commission members that a passionate about the issue. And perhaps more important, in my view, the foremost authority and one of the most ardent advocates on early care & education is Dan Rich. He remains the Commission’s chief administrative and policy counsel on this work and is the reason that more support for the early care movement is central to the recommendations outlined in the WEAC final report.
Kevin Ohlandt has also written a piece and talked with me separately about special education and the need for it to have its own committee. I am confident he is right, but I don’t think that such a Committee needs to be standalone in this work. To be clear, the issue of serving low-income students is multi-pronged and interwoven. That is why one of our core recommendations and legislative priorities deals with more funding for special education K-3. This issue will be taken up in the “Meeting the Needs of Students in Poverty” and the “Funding Student Success” committees.
Finally, many have rightly noticed our website moniker, http://www.solutionsfordelawareschools. We decided to broaden our materials because many of our recommendations have applicability statewide and we believe deal directly with the 51% of public school students throughout the state that are low-income. In short, while much of the discussion has been focused on redistricting, as I have said many times, simply redrawing lines does not constitute a new path for Wilmington Education. We see and have presented our recommendations as a package of ideas to be considered together and will not make additional recommendations that don’t holistically attempt to address the fundamental problem of student success.
Despite my many thoughts, concerns, issues, and predictions with the overall outcome of this whole thing, I think Tony Allen is a stand-up guy. He is making this process very transparent which will be the key to community engagement and letting folks know what is transpiring. I believe the whole “basic funding” for K-3 students is pivotal to making this happen, it is just one part in a machine called special education in Delaware that has 1,000 other issues that need to be fixed. But it’s a start, and if anyone out there is a strong special education advocate and knows what Delaware needs, I strongly suggest attending these meetings and letting your voice be heard.
I had a conversation last night with parent advocate Devon Hynson who is well-known in Wilmington and around the state to be a very strong voice for students with disabilities. We both agreed Child Find is integral to special education improvement in Delaware. Child Find is part of IDEA and Delaware state law which mandates that if schools see issues with a child they proactively attempt to get an evaluation and contact the parents for permission for any such evaluations. Instead, many charters and districts punish first and ask questions later. As a result, students tend to become lost in the system. When they could be getting the special education they legally deserve, they are treated the same as their peers. I’m not saying schools should be diagnosing kids, but if teachers or staff see certain behaviors or situations happening, they need to reach out to their special education coordinator or educational diagnostician to get the ball rolling. Even one school year can make a huge different in a student’s life.
Even with all the new laws passed by Senate Bill 33, which stemmed from the IEP Task Force last year, there are a host of other issues this hopefully reconvened committee needs to address. The most important of which is “the battle”. This is the time when districts or charters try to negotiate with the parents or advocates over services for an individual child. This is a very fine line, and one misstep over it can have disastrous results for a special needs student. Personally, I think every child who gets an initial evaluation should have a full-blown neuro-psychological report done by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. These types of tests are very long and time-consuming, but the benefits far outweigh any expense. The reports generated tend to be very specific about what a student needs and what kind of services they should have. The IQ tests and behavior analysis tests given for initial evaluation do not give a full picture or delve into the full scope of what a child needs. This would help the IEP process immensely as the report will give most of what the student needs.
As any parent of a special needs child knows, dealing with schools can be your worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a difference between collaboration and negotiation. Frequently, these children can not afford to have any service cut or put on the back burner.
For the general population, many think of special education as Autism or Aspergers, or, I hate to say this because I find it offensive, the “kids who ride the short bus”. This is so far from the truth it is ridiculous. Disabilities in children run the whole gamut of dyslexia to social learning issues to ADHD to Autism. And several components combine in children, which makes it even trickier to help them. When these students manifest their disabilities, which are often neurologically based, all too often the perceived notion is they can control it. In most cases, they can not, and the law is written to understand this. But society as a whole doesn’t get this, including schools.
I’ve always felts psychiatry needs to play a much larger role in special education. Therapy with a psychologist, councilor, or therapists is very important, but since disabilities are neurologically-based, and this is a psychiatrist’s area of expertise, why are we relying on psychologists for everything when they just study behavior and how to fix it? Some manifestations of disabilities, even in the highest-functioning and brilliant child, can not always be “fixed”. But the student can learn coping mechanisms or the school can work around these things.
For example, if a child cannot control a body movement, like tapping their fingers, instead of telling them to stop, maybe give them a soft cloth or matting so they can tap on that. This way the child is able to manifest their uncontrolled action (not behavior), and it is not a distraction to the rest of the class. It can be that easy! But I can guarantee with almost 100% certainty if you try to make a child stop an uncontrollable action, it will result in conflict. If that energy is not released, it will come out in other ways. I like to think some special needs children have coping mechanisms wired into them to sub-consciously mitigate their actions. While tapping is minimal, it could be the child’s way of stopping themselves from jumping up and down. A classroom is not the place for a battle of wills between a special needs student and a teacher or staff members. Heck, there is nowhere in school this should happen. It embarrasses the student, frustrates the teacher, and distracts the rest of the class from effectively learning.
As a parent of a child with Tourette Syndrome, I see physical manifestations of my child’s disability all the time. I have seen research and videos and case studies that report the same thing every single time: if a child is having tics, just ignore them. Pretend they don’t exist. Even in the 10% of Tourette Syndrome when they have coprolalia, the uncontrollable swearing, most experts say to ignore it.
Children with special needs often go undiagnosed and this can result in a disproportionate number of suspensions or expulsions compared to their non-disabled peers. This is one of the largest problems going on in Wilmington schools. And yes, putting a child in an out of school placement is often a punishment. For too many kids, it’s the school giving up and throwing their hands in the air and refusing to deal with the true issues: their inability to provide adequate special education.
When I hear about children with disabilities being placed in day programs and residential treatment centers, my first question is always “How long did the child not get the essential services?” If a child with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder begins showing this disability in Kindergarten, but they didn’t get services until 5th grade, of course this child is going to have major issues. Because the child has learned that any time they exhibit their disability they are “bad” because that’s how they have been treated for the past five years. A brand new IEP isn’t going to erase years of damage for this child. That road to recovery, if ignored, is going to set up a lifetime of anger and resentment on the child’s part. Their very foundation in school is a symbol of failure in that child’s mind.
These are key things I feel the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission needs to look at right away. Funding doesn’t solve everything, some things are just common sense. Instead of fixing special education, we need to be embracing and celebrating these unique individual kids. They need us to understand them when the world is screaming at them. They are scared, and feel isolated, and they don’t get why everyone hates them. They need compassion and empathy, not a strong hand and rigor. They want what all of us want: to feel accepted and acknowledged they are a person, not a problem.
As for the difference in funding between Red Clay and Christina, there is a HUGE difference between one portion of their populations: special education. Based on national estimates of extra costs per special education student in America, it works out to be about $9,369 extra per student. Red Clay has 11.9% special education whereas Christina has 17.9%. If you multiply the number of students by those percentages, and then multiply that number by that average special education cost, it works out like this:
Red Clay: $22,635,504 in special education funding Christina: $33,237,473 in special education funding
Now these are based on national averages. We all know Delaware has some of the highest per-pupil funding in the country. So that nearly 11 million dollar difference is probably about 18-25% higher. As well, Christina has the Delaware School for the Deaf, as well as many of Delaware’s DAP programs. These are not inexpensive programs, and that constitutes a lot of the differences between the two districts. This is something that would also cause additional administrative costs as there would have to be a lot of coordination with other state agencies.
So what these voters who said “No more” essentially did was cut services for many special education kids. That’s why I take such offense at the attitudes of some of these folks who voted no. While I’m sure they believed in what they were saying, I don’t think they realized this essential fact.
I’ve said this time and time again but far too many don’t want to get it. The key to so many of the problems in Delaware stem around special education. I wrote the other day how there are probably 20% of Delaware’s students that should be on an IEP, but only 13% actually are. I also said this is about 50% of the problems with education in the state. You can read about a classic example along with the comments about how special education doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room it has become in so many of our schools. Maybe now eyes will start to open. As for Christina, they have to figure out where to take funds away from and which jobs to cut. And who suffers the most, the students. And in Christina’s case, a whole lot of special education students…