Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies

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 Continue reading “Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies”

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2015 ICT Report Shows Increase Of Students With Disabilities Placed In Residential Treatment Centers

This is the third year in a row I’ve written about these reports.  They are the articles I hate writing, but feel it is necessary that people see them.  The Delaware Interagency Collaborative Team (ICT) has the very difficult task of determining how to place students with disabilities when the services in a public school can no longer meet their needs.  It is usually based on behavior issues.  These are the toughest cases in Delaware.  I’ve given this group a hard time in the past, but I’ve mellowed out a bit since then.

PrivatePlacementType

In Fiscal Year 2015, 140 Delaware students with disabilities received services through ICT.  Out of those 140, 65 students were placed in residential treatment centers.  24 of those students were placed in out-of-state treatment centers which brings it to 37%.  72 students attended day treatment centers.  As shown by the below graph, very few students received one-on-one services in the school.  The report cites the needs-based funding formula as contributing to this decrease.  Which I find ironic given that the needs-based formula doesn’t allow for basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Unique Alternative Services

What I always find odd about these reports is they never give the total cost of this program.  They show high and low prices for some of these residential and day treatment centers.  I would think that would be of major concern to the state.  Or perhaps they just don’t want the public to see it for some reason.

Residential&DayCosts

I still feel the endless rigor of Common Core and performance on standardized tests is not good for any child.  But for these students, it has to be extremely hard to meet the demands of “reaching proficiency”.  These are the children I cry and pray for as much as possible.  It is a parent of a special need’s child worst nightmare.  I feel for the parents or guardians of the 140 children who faced this alternative last year.  I can’t help but feel some of these could have been avoided at some point earlier…

Delaware DOE Finds More Creative Ways To Screw Over Schools And Students With Disabilities

The federal government issues special education funds to states through IDEA.  The state issues them based on the federal funds available, as well as their own share of state funds.  In Delaware, this is the unit-count process.  Under federal law, they are beholden to use the laws in IDEA to issue these funds.  But now the Delaware Department of Education is looking at Smarter Balanced Assessment results in funding to local education agencies (schools).  The Exceptional Children Resources Group is looking to do this based on no state or federal laws.  Once again, the Delaware DOE, even under the leadership of Dr. Steven Godowsky, is creating their own rules and accountability scare tactics.

Could the DOE find more ways to screw over students with disabilities?  This is obviously tied to opt-out.  After high school juniors, the highest population of opt-outs was students with disabilities in Delaware.  By tying funding to SBAC performance, the DOE is trying to test schools and parents.  I can’t say I’m surprised.  When Acting US Secretary of Education John King is holding onto state assessments as “excellence in education” and views opt-out as unacceptable, the Markell flavored Delaware DOE is sure to follow suit.  When is this going to end?  When will we stop relying on high-stakes tests to determine students and schools worthiness?  This changes nothing.  Continue to opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Delaware parents.  The testing window starts Wednesday.  Opt-out and refuse the test now!

Arne Duncan Leaves Nuclear Bomb Parting Gift For Students With Disabilities

One year ago tomorrow, I wrote my biggest article ever.  Entitled US DOE & Arne Duncan Drop The Mother Of All Bombs On States’ Special Education Rights, it generated numerous hits from across the country.  I imagine just about every engaged parents of children with disabilities read that article.  It was a warning shot.  It impeded on the ability of IEP teams to accurately and correctly formulate an IEP.   The latest “Dear Colleague” letter from the United States Department of Education is actually striking the hammer into the coffin of IDEA.  The letter, written by Melody Musgrove, the Direct of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), demands all IEPs be written with the state standards as part of the goals for an IEP.  I find this to be incredibly offense and this spits on the whole concept of IDEA.

In Delaware, where I live, our Department of Education released their Annual Measurable Objectives last week based on growth and proficiency of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While overall they want the proficiency rate to go from 50% to 75% in six years, for the sub-group of students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% to 59% in six years.  So students with disabilities will have to work harder than every single one of their peers.

The combination of these two announcements shows that those in power in education truly don’t understand neurobiological disorders and disabilities.  It almost seems as if they want to get rid of the whole concept of special education in favor of personalized learning.  As well, it appears they want parents to pull their kids out of public education.  Is this some twisted voucher program that no one has told us about, or do they just not care about the well-being of these students?  I’m all for progress and improvement, but there comes a point in time where every long-distance runner hits a wall.  When they hit that, their body literally breaks down.  Students with disabilities are going to hit that wall and it won’t be pretty.

DOE Getting Vendor To Make More Students With Disabilities Proficent On Smarter Balanced By 3rd Grade

Another request for proposal came out from the Delaware Department of Education at the end of October.  This one is for the Delaware Early Learning Literacy.  You can read the whole below document, and what they want this vendor to do that they clearly can’t do themselves.  But what it boils down to is this part from the Request for Proposal:

Decreasing the percent of students with disabilities in grade 3 that score below proficiency on the statewide assessment.

It always comes back to the same thing: Smarter Balanced.  The damn test…

Mother In Delaware Does Not Want SROs In Our Schools…Do You Agree?

Jenn C just commented on here about the debate over School Resource Officers (SROs) in Delaware schools and if they are needed or not.  There are valid arguments about the issue, but with the controversy over Officer Fields down in South Carolina, more people are talking about this.  As a father of a student with disabilities, this mother’s fear is very real to parents.  And what happened to her child is absolutely appalling.  I hope she gets some sort of justice on this matter.

Training is the key. My daughter is restrained when all of her other supports fail. I do know that her entire team including the principal and other support staff are trained and if she says “you are hurting me” they have to let go. That being said – more SROs is not the answer. I met with Rep. Williams about an incident last year where the SROs got involved with a student with a BIP and IEP and removed the student from school and took him to the local hospital where he was committed and parental rights were removed even when mom was right there and no one consulted her. This incident in the media recently is not the first of over the top abuse of power by SROs. I have been fighting them being in the schools because of the stats showing that special needs kids, at risk kids and minorities suffer when police are present. I have been fighting for years and it seems no one is listening.
http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/education/2013/11/10/a-special-needs-debate-over-police-in-schools/3485837/

Students With Disabilities & Delaware Charter Schools: OCR Complaint & We Need Your Help!

Last week, I filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against the Delaware Department of Education for allowing a culture of discrimination against students with disabilities at Delaware charter schools.  All too often, children with disabilities are either denied an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or they are “counseled out”, meaning the school either expels the students or very strongly suggests to the parent they don’t have the resources to help their child.  Both are illegal under Federal and Delaware law.  To this extent, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has responded to my complaint and they need a lot more information.

I need every single parent or guardian who has run across any of the below issues to contact me as soon as possible.  The OCR has given me a very small window of opportunity here.  For some parents, they may be worried if this interferes with any type of legal resolution they had with a school in the past.  It would not.  This is a complaint against the Delaware Department of Education, not any individual school.  I will not make any of this information public, but it would be included in the complaint.  We need to stop this culture of lawlessness in our state in respect to special education.  It must stop.

While the below information states anything prior to 180 days would need a waiver, I fully intend to request this waiver since this has been an ongoing system issue in our state.  The Delaware Department of Education has no method by which they track IEP denials in Delaware schools.  If things progress too far, it can wind up going into mediation or a due process hearing.  But this is not an easy task for parents and it takes up a great deal of time, money, and resources.  We need to stop this problem from happening in the first place.  While far too many parents can’t change what happened to their own child, we can stop this from happening to other children.  I need your story!

If you have any information in regards to the following, including the funding issues when a student leaves a charter school, please reach out to me at kevino3670@yahoo.com.  If you are just reading this article and it does not apply to you, please share this link on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.  If you know anyone this may apply to, please share this with them specifically.  Thank you!

Below is the letter I received from the Office of Civil Rights in regards to my complaint:


Dear Mr. Ohlandt,
This refers to the complaint you filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE).  OCR enforces regulations that prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, disability, sex and age.  The regulations enforced by OCR also prohibit retaliation against individuals who assert or defend a right or privilege secured by the laws OCR enforces, or participate in an OCR proceeding.
In order to proceed further with your complaint, we need additional information regarding your allegation[s].  Please respond to the questions below as specifically as possible. In responding to questions about your belief that an action by the recipient is discriminatory, please provide information indicating that the action was inconsistent with a recipient policy or practice (be as specific as possible), you were treated differently than others in a similar situation, and/or that members of the recipient staff made statements that would indicate dislike/hostility on the basis of disability.
 
  1. Based on your review of your complaint, it appears that you are alleging that the DDOE is discriminating on the basis of disability by:
  1. Permitting Delaware charter schools to deny students with disabilities an individualized education program (IEP);
  2. Permitting Delaware charter schools deny or discourage the enrollment of students with disabilities; and
  3. Permitting Delaware charter schools to maintain funding for students who leave the charter school after the September 30th count, but requiring the funding to follow a student who leaves a traditional school district to attend a Delaware charter school.
  1. Do the allegations listed above in #1.a.-c. fully and completely capture the allegation(s) that you wish to raise at this time?  Yes or No (please circle or highlight your answer).  If not, please edit the above allegations accordingly and/or list your additional allegations.   Please provide the following information about each additional allegation:
  1. Describe the discrimination (who, what, when (date), where, how, please list the applicable names and dates);
  2. State the basis for the discrimination (e.g., disability); and
  3. State your reasons for believing that the discrimination is related to that basis (es).
  1. With regard to allegation #1.a., provide the following information for each student was denied an IEP:
  1. Name of student;
  2. Name of charter school;
  3. Date of parent request to charter school to evaluate the Student for an IEP or Section 504 plan;
  4. Date of charter school’s denial of request;
  5. If request was denied, indicate whether parent was provided with notice of procedural safeguards;
  6. If the denial occurred as a result of an evaluation meeting and you believe the meeting did not comport with the regulations enforced by OCR, please provide information indicating that the meeting was not attended by persons knowledgeable about the child, the evaluation data, and the placement options, or that the parent was not provided with notice of procedural safeguards.
  1. With regard to allegation #1.b., provide the following information about each instance when a charter school denied or discouraged the enrollment of students with disabilities:
  1. Name of student;
  2. Name of charter school;
  3. A description of the discriminatory conduct by charter school officials, including the date;
  4. The names or titles of the charter school officials engaging in the discriminatory conduct; and
  5. Most recent date of charter school’s denial of enrollment or student withdrawal.
 
  1. With regard to allegation #1.c., please state your reasons for believing that this practice constitutes discrimination against students with disabilities, identify any harmed students with disabilities, and the date of the harm.
 
  1. In your complaint, you identified September 1, 2015, as the most recent date of discrimination.  If not already explained in responses to the questions above, please provide the information requested under #2.
 
  1. OCR will generally only investigate allegations of discrimination that have been filed within 180 days of the most recent act of discrimination unless the complainant is granted a waiver.  You filed your complaint on September 16, 2015; therefore, any incidents occurring prior to March 20, 2015, are untimely.  To the extent that you are requesting a waiver of the 180-day filing requirement, please state the reason(s) for not filing sooner.
 
We need to receive your response within 20 calendar days from the date of this email (i.e., by October 14, 2015). If we do not receive this information within 20 days, we may close your complaint.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  Thank you.
 
Joseph P. Mahoney
Program Manager
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
100 Penn Square East
The Wanamaker Building, Suite 515
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Roughly 10% Of Special Education Students In Delaware Are “Proficient” On Smarter Balanced

I just heard roughly 10% of students with disabilities in Delaware were rated as proficient in Delaware for the Smarter Balanced Assessment administered last Spring.  I wish to God this test would just disappear.  Can you imagine the other 90% of these children’s parents getting the results of this assessment.  I really hope they strongly reconsider having their child take Smarter Balanced next year.  10%…

I feel a deep sadness for these children.  I picture them struggling on this test, with fewer worthwhile accommodations than they had on the prior DCAS state assessment.  The weeks they spent taking this horrible, horrible test.  This is a wake-up call for special needs parents.  Our children are more than ten scores.  I don’t care what their proficiency rate is.  They are 100% awesome!

When I have official numbers, I will update this.

Parent Advocate Questions Sending Kids To New Charters In Delaware

I may not always agree with Devon Hynson, but for the most part, he hits a bullseye!

This is the reality in Delaware.  And like he said, it’s not all charters. It’s not all schools.  But I don’t think the solution is necessarily to send your kid back to a traditional public school.  I think the time is come to hold the schools who say they can’t, or won’t accommodate, to the fire.  It’s not a choice for public schools to pick and choose things that go against state and federal law.  And if the DOE won’t do anything about it, than every single parent who goes through this needs to stand up and shout it to the world.  They are getting OUR taxpayer money.  Why should we leave?  They need to be held accountable for this stuff, not all the stupid assessments.  It’s not choice if the student isn’t getting everything they would be entitled to at a regular school.  It’s discrimination.  And traditional schools, you don’t get to pick and choose based on what’s best for the district or your budget, you pick what’s best for the individual student.  No more!

Delaware DOE Pats Itself On The Back For Special Education Improvements…Slow Your Roll!

Apparently the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has come out with their official state ratings and Delaware has elevated to “needs assistance” after two years of “needs intervention”. This is based on data from two years ago, from fiscal year 2013. The DOE announced all of this today in a press announcement, which is rather long.  I love how the DOE calls it “the second highest rating” when there are only four, and they were at the “second to last” rating the past two years.  I will have MUCH more on this later.  I’m still too tired from the General Assembly’s all-night session to be objective…

Delaware continues to make special education improvements

The Delaware Department of Education is working closely with school districts and charter schools to ensure students with disabilities have opportunities to learn the same content as their peers, receive support they need to prepare for success after high school, and have their social, emotional and behavioral needs addressed.

Those were three areas about which the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) expressed concerns when, in 2014, the department changed the ways in which states were evaluated for the services provided to students with disabilities. That evaluation, based on performance data from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, gave Delaware a rating of “needs intervention,” the second-lowest of four possible ratings. This year, the state improved to the second-highest rating, “needs assistance,” in its 2015 evaluation, which used data from the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 schools years. The state expects the efforts undertaken statewide over the last 12 months will yield even greater progress.

“Over the past year we have partnered with our districts and charter schools to examine data, provide additional educator training, begin new programs and clarify expectations for students with disabilities,” Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said. “We know we have more work to do, and we are committed to continue to make improvements until all Delaware students have the best chance to make the most of their abilities.”

Results driven accountability

OSEP’s 2014 report used a new approach to its evaluation called results driven accountability (RDA); in prior years, OSEP had based its ratings only on whether states had complied with the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). RDA incorporates measures such as the percentage of students with disabilities who are taking state assessments as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress; how students with disabilities performed in reading and mathematics on NAEP; and proficiency gaps between students with disabilities and other students. This year’s report from OSEP also includes the graduation and drop-out rates of students with disabilities.

In keeping with OSEP’s new evaluation method, the Delaware Department of Education now is using RDA in assessing the performance of the state’s school districts and charter schools. District and charter school reports for 2015 are available on the Exceptional Children section of DDOE’s website.

“Delaware is committed to closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities,” Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson said. “In the past several years, the state has moved away from solely focusing on compliance and procedural requirements. While important, we also need to focus on results for students, such as graduation rates, transitions to college or career and proficiency gaps when compared to their peers. We applaud the U.S. Department of Education for increasing the focus on these issues in Delaware and across the country, and we believe that we have a special opportunity now to address these issues.”

Over the past year the state has:

· Provided professional development for special education teachers on standards-based Individual Education Plans (IEPs), positive behavior supports and accessing the general curriculum.

· Included special education teachers in all Common Core State Standards trainings.

· Assisted districts and charters schools in developing transition plans for students with disabilities who are 14 years old or entering the eighth grade to help them succeed in jobs or further education. The state is collecting data to ensure those plans are being prepared and carried out.

· Clarified for districts and charters the policies requiring students with disabilities to take NAEP and state assessments to ensure the state has full information on the progress of these students.

· Provided districts and charter with comprehensive data on their performance to help local leaders better understand how well they are complying with state and federal law and how their students with disabilities are performing academically.

· Provided targeted state technical assistance to those districts and charter schools found to be in need of assistance and intervention.

In addition, the DDOE, in collaboration with various stakeholder groups, is developing a five-year, K-3 Literacy Initiative to ensure that specialized instruction and support is provided to the state’s youngest readers with and without disabilities. This plan will identify major areas of need and will develop, implement and evaluate specific interventions for students in these grades.

Feedback on progress in Delaware schools

The state’s commitment to improvement is one shared by district and charter school leaders.

“The mission of a public school system is to ensure the success of every student, regardless of his or her disability or socioeconomic status,” Indian River School District Superintendent Susan Bunting said. “The State of Delaware and the Indian River School District have made tremendous strides toward this goal since the initial OSEP evaluation in 2014. The professional development provided to teachers has been integral to the process of giving students the individual tools they need to overcome their personal challenges and be successful in the classroom. We believe future OSEP ratings both locally and statewide will show vast improvement and reflect the hard work invested by educators across Delaware.”

Parents said they are seeing positive changes as well as areas in which the state and districts/charters can continue to improve. In her role as a board member of the Parent Information Center, Appoquinimink parent Verna Hensley hears from parents with varying experiences depending on their location.

“I still see challenges – the uneven implementation of policies that are already in place but may or may not have filtered down to every district and in the district filtered down to the school or classroom,” she said. “I’m optimistic. I see progress, but it has to flow all the way down to the parent and the child’s experience in the classroom.”

Ellen Coulston, a parent in the Brandywine School District, also cited communication as a remaining challenge.

“There is a problem with the communication between the state and the districts,” she said. “There are good things happening. There are good ideas but they are (not all reaching the local level).”

Delaware receiving a poor rating last year was a good thing, she said.

“It raises awareness to all stakeholders and causes people to honestly step back and re-examine how we are impacting students,” Coulston said, noting the greatest need she sees is for better training in teacher pre-service programs including transition planning so all educators in the classroom can lead and better support students toward better outcomes.

“It’s part of Common Core. It’s part of your college and career readiness,” she said.

Brandywine Superintendent Mark Holodick said he’s pleased with the improvements since the report first was issued.

“Response to Intervention, done well, as well as increased efforts around communication can help us continue to see growth in a positive direction,” he said. “Many districts, including Brandywine, have made great strides in strengthening communication, as evidenced by the work done by many district and school administrators, teachers, and educational diagnosticians over the past two years. The communication between district office, schools and families has been a priority for us in Brandywine, and we have made significant progress in meeting the needs of all students. In the past, districts and schools have been very compliance-driven and more focused on meeting requirements. Now, instead of being driven by requirements and regulations, we are ensuring that we meet each student’s individual needs through individualized plans, special services, collaboration with parents and programs that promote inclusion.

“I am very optimistic about this progress and the potential for even greater achievement and success for all students,” he said.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4000

Residential Treatment Center Placements For Students With Disabilities Still Rising in Delaware

The 2014 report for the Interagency Collaborative Team was released, and as predicted, more Delaware students are being sent out of state to residential treatment centers.  144 children were sent to either day schools or residential centers, in Delaware and other states.  These aren’t all 144 new cases, but the trend is growing, up from 90 cases in 2011.

These are students with disabilities who are unable to function both at school and at home.  Many agencies, as you can see in the below document, are involved in these cases.  The final report was written by Maryann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education.  I will be writing much more about this, but I wanted to get this report out there.