From “Jon’s Loving Father” To Absolute Insanity: The Exceptional Delaware Story

As I delve into year five on this blog, sometimes it is healthy to take a look back at my humble beginnings.  From the crazy legislation I proposed in 2014 to my modern-day attempt to get a Secretary of Education removed from power, it has been a crazy four plus years!  It started out with a plan and turned into so much more! Continue reading

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Joint Senate & House Education Committee Meeting To Hear Special Education Strategic Plan Tomorrow

**Updated, 4:22pm, 1/9/18: I spoke with State Rep. Earl Jaques and he okayed putting this joint committee session on the live audio feed.  The meeting is scheduled to start at 2:30pm tomorrow, but meetings sometimes start late down at Legislative Hall so be patient!  To listen, go to the General Assembly website and go to the “Listen Now” link.

The second leg of the Delaware 149th General Assembly starts today, but tomorrow the House and Senate Education Committees will meet together to hear the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Counsel’s ideas on how to improve special education in The First State.  The meeting begins at 2:30pm, but here is a primer: what is the plan? Who is on the committee? Who is on the sub-committees?

To read the entire Strategic Plan, please see below.  But here is a summary as per the Delaware Department of Education website:

The goal of the Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council is to develop a statewide plan that addresses the delivery of special education within Delaware through a review of existing evidence and within the context of a representative stakeholder process.

All children with disabilities can reach their full potential through a student-centered, individualized education system using a collaborative and supportive model. By asking stakeholders to lead collaboration between schools, families, and communities, Delaware will create inclusive education to ensure student success and growth, and equity of special education and related services across Delaware.

The members of the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council:

  • Co-chair – Dr. Michele Marinucci , Woodbridge School District
  • Co-chair – Bill Doolittle , Parent Advocate
  • Dafne Carnright, Autism Delaware
  • Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School
  • Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware
  • Jon Cooper, Colonial School District
  • Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter School Rep.
  • Rep. Kim Williams, Legislator
  • Kristin Dwyer, DSEA
  • Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association
  • Dr. Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District
  • Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Department of Education
  • Dr. Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District
  • Dr. Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program
  • Wendy Strauss, GACEC
  • Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware CDS
  • Dr. John Marinucci, DASB
  • Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate
  • Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware
  • Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf
  • Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs
  • Dr. Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District
  • Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

The sub-committees:

Students: To increase the success of students with disabilities by improving their ability to become active, valued, and participating members of their community, today and in the future, Members: Ed Emmett-Lead, Lisa Lawson, Bill Doolittle,  Sonya Lawrence, Wendy Strauss

Staff/Partners: To have a highly engaged and effective workforce with appropriate values, skills, and knowledge for today – and tomorrow’s – work, Members: Elisha Jenkins-Lead, Mark Campano, Annalisa Ekbladh, Josette McCullough, Kristin Dwyer, Kathie Herel

Delivery/Structure Systems: 1) To make available the same array of evidence based practices and models of service deliveries regardless of a student’s placement. 2) To modify delivery system to facilitate the achievement of other goals, Members: Mark Campano-Lead , Vince Winterling, Dafne Carnwright, Sarah Celestin, Jon Cooper, Kristin Pidgeon, Sonya Lawrence

Parents/Families: To increase the engagement with parents and families as partners in collaboration to support their children at home and at school with access and knowledge of the resources they need, Members: Josette McCullough-Lead, Annalisa Ekbladh, Kristin Pidgeon, Kathie Herel

Resources: To acquire more resources as needed and maximize the efficiency in use of our existing resources, Members: Kristin Dwyer-Lead , Michele Marinucci, Teresa Avery, Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Mary Ann Mieczkowski

Policy/Regulations: To add, delete, and modify policies and regulations to support our current and future goals and objectives, Members: Dafne Carnright-Lead, John Marinucci, Mondaria Batchelor, Michele Marinucci, Kim Williams, Bill Doolittle, Mary Ann Mieczkowski

The group has met since the fall of 2016.  Last year, they finalized the plan but I will add this is a fluid plan.  It will constantly evolve as matters come up.  So it is NOT set in stone.  It is a living document.  I strongly encourage all Delaware parents of students with disabilities read the below document.  As well, any educator in the state should read it as well.  I would hope every single member of the House and Senate Education Committees have read it by this point.

In addition to the Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council, the joint session of the House & Senate Education Committee will also hear from the Delaware Association of School Librarians tomorrow.

 

Preparing For The New School Year For Students With Disabilities

Michael Connoly, Esq., of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. just wrote an excellent article every parent of a child with an IEP or 504 plan should read.  As we send our kids back to school, it is important to know everything is in place for the continuation of your child’s special education services.  New teachers or possibly a new school can bring many changes.  Most public schools in Delaware start next Monday, but some started today.

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again.  Commercials on television of gleeful parents purchasing school supplies abound as we are quickly approaching the end of the summer and beginning of a new school year.  While every parent of a school-aged child is going through their own pre-school-year checklist of supplies and clothes and trying to get in those last few days of sun and fun, there is another entire set of considerations to think about as a parent of a child with a disability.

The most obvious consideration is to make sure that your child’s program for the new school year is set and ready to go on the first day of school.  Is your child’s IEP or 504 Plan up to date and ready to be implemented?  Hopefully, your child’ IEP was updated as necessary at the end of the last school year, but if you are aware of any issues or have any concerns you should be reaching out to your school district in these last weeks of summer for any needed changes.  If your child participated in Extended School Year (“ESY”) services over the summer, consider whether his ESY performance revealed any new areas of need or concern that should be addressed by the IEP before school starts.

Make sure you, and more importantly, your child, are familiar with his or her schedule and curriculum, particularly if either is changing from the previous year.    A new school year often brings a lot of change and can be stressful, and at times anxiety provoking, for any student and especially for a student with special needs.  Ensuring your child is comfortable with his or her schedule and classes may go a long way in easing some of the stress and anxiety that can go along with the new school year.   Similarly, if your child is moving to a new building (for example, going from elementary school to middle school) or an unfamiliar area of his or her current building, an opportunity to tour the school, follow his or her schedule, and meet new teachers before the first day of school can also help reduce any new school year anxiety.

One of the most common beginning-of-the-school-year glitch involves transportation.  Not being picked up by the bus, being late to school, or being picked up by the wrong bus can be a particularly traumatic event for a student with special needs (and his or her parents).  If your child requires special transportation or certain supports while on the bus, you want to confirm with your school district that the necessary arrangements have been made, and that the schools transportation department/service is aware of any accommodations that your child requires.

While it’s not possible to ensure that no beginning-of-the-school-year glitch occur for your child, going through your own child’s pre-school-year check list using the above considerations should hopefully help to keep those glitches to a minimum.

by Michael Connolly, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

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

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Decisions & Administrative Complaint Resolutions Released For Four Districts & One Charter School

Three Delaware Due Process Hearing and two Administrative Complaint decisions were put on the Delaware Department of Education website with varied results.  The Due Process cases involved the Colonial School District, Brandywine School District, and a combined case against Delaware College Prep and the Delaware DOE.  As well, an Administrative Complaint decision involving the Red Clay Consolidated School District prevailed for the district where another Administrative Complaint involving the Milford School District prevailed for the student.

In most of these cases, there were complaints around Independent Educational Evaluations in terms of the costs and the timing of them.  Other cases involved residential treatment center costs, a school making sure IEP accommodations were followed, and statute of limitations.  These are important decisions to read.  Parents can avoid many pitfalls by reading these and seeing what they shouldn’t do.  Special education is complicated enough but even a careless error on a parent’s part can lead to future ramifications.  All schools, districts, and teachers should read these as well.  Special education will never get better unless the players are informed of their rights in all sides of the issues.  Many of these cases involve timing, on either the school or the parent’s part.  The Brandywine case is very interesting.

Many schools in Delaware start up again in two weeks.  Many parents will be requesting IEPs or updates to existing ones.  Now is the time to see what cases are setting precedence!

Due Process Hearing: Colonial School District Vs. Student

Due Process Hearing: Student Vs. Brandywine School District

Due Process Hearing: Student vs. Delaware College Prep and Delaware Department of Education

Administrative Complaint: Student Vs. Red Clay Consolidated School District

Administrative Complaint: Student Vs. Milford School District

 

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up

A recent due process hearing in Delaware, filed by the parents of a child with a mood disorder, gave an example of the first thing parents should not do with special education.  The due process hearing was against the Cape Henlopen School District.  The parents claimed the district did not fulfill their obligation under IDEA with manifestation determination.  The case also showed a glaring flaw with special education law in the Delaware code, one I hope a legislator picks up on in the 149th General Assembly beginning in January.  Or if a very brave soul with a great deal of tenacity picks up the baton and literally runs for their life during the last two days of the 148th General Assembly and miraculously gets a law like this passed in the next two days, that would be a true miracle.  What did the parents do that ultimately caused a dismissal of the case? Continue reading

Secretary Godowsky And Governor Markell Recklessly Whitewash The SAT/SBAC Debacle While Violating State & Federal Law

“I, Jack Markell, do proudly swear to carry out the responsibilities of the office of Governor to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”from the Delaware Oath of Office for all publicly elected officials

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Yesterday, Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education made a grandstand announcement about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  They forgot many things in their hasty announcement.  There are important and crucial reasons why this is not what it appears to be and actually violates many state and federal laws.

  1. The SAT went through a “redesign” to make it tied to the Common Core standards.  This is not the same SAT high school juniors took last year.  Delaware already has horrible scores on the SAT.  With the scores based on Smarter Balanced already showing less than half of Delaware students were proficient, expect those scores to plunge even lower on the SAT.
  2. House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment to Delaware explicitly states that “(j) Rules and regulations pursuant to this subchapter shall be proposed by the Secretary subject to approval by the State Board of Education.”  Since the State Board of Education did not vote on this, nor have they even had this as a discussion item on their agenda, Governor Markell broke Delaware law.  The State Board would not be able to vote on this until their February State Board meeting at the earliest.  By giving the Secretary full authority on this issue, Markell is in violation of his oath of office.
  3. There is no fiscal note for this unlawful change as well.  The funding for giving the SAT to all high school juniors in Delaware was part of the Race To The Top grant.  Those funds are now expired.  With the SAT at $90.00 or more, who is going to pay for this assessment?  Assuming there are roughly 10,000 high school juniors in Delaware, that price tag is now $900,000.00.
  4. As Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brilliantly pointed out yesterday, “Last year, the Governor announced that Delaware colleges agreed to use the Smarter Balance Assessment as a way to measure college readiness as Delaware students entered college. Students would be able to opt out of remedial courses if they were to score at a certain level on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what happened to that great idea?”
  5. Over the summer, Governor Markell spoke to an audience at an education “think tank” called New America.  He stated “Smarter Balanced is the best test Delaware ever made.”  Why is he replacing “the best test Delaware ever made” with the SAT?  Is Smarter Balanced no longer the “best test Delaware ever made?”
  6. By far, the biggest mistake Markell and the DOE made in their haste to push this through was their complete ignorance of students with disabilities who have to take the SAT.  As per Title 14, § 151, (f) ”The Department shall establish alternate assessments for children with disabilities who cannot participate in the statewide assessment of student achievement even with appropriate accommodations and modifications. Alternate assessments must be developed and used in the statewide assessment beginning not later than the 2010-2011 school year. Each local school district, through the individual student’s Individualized Education Program Team or 504 Team, shall determine what assessment the student will take, as well as the student’s matriculation or promotion status and necessary remedial activities if the student’s performance on the assessment is below standard, and if the statewide assessment is administered, what accommodations and/or modifications will be utilized. However, no student shall be denied the opportunity to take the state assessments administered pursuant to subsections (b) and (c) of this section.”  Since the decision was made to begin this in the spring of this year, has the Governor and the DOE assured students with disabilities that the accommodations offered on the SAT will be the exact same ones offered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium?  According to the College Board website, the process for accommodations on the SAT for students with disabilities is completely different.  At a minimum, the Governor and the Delaware Department of Education have now broken IDEA law (more on this below).
  7. With a letter from 10 Democrats, and not an actual resolution or bill passed by the General Assembly, Governor Markell has circumvented the legislative process.  House Bill 334 specifically states the purpose of the legislation was to transition Delaware from DCAS to Smarter Balanced.  Without an executive order, Governor Markell usurped the authority of the General Assembly and their ability to make laws in Delaware.  Since he signed the law, he has broken it.  “This bill provides for the transition of the statewide student assessment system, the Delaware Comprehensive Student Assessment (DCAS), to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter). Specifically, the bill removes references to multiple assessments.”

In terms of accommodations for students with disabilities on the SAT, it is a minimum of a seven-week process.  The deadline to submit this application, along with consent from the student’s parent, for the March 5th test is January 15th, for the May 7th test it is March 16th, and for the June 4th test it is April 15th.  This will mean that all IEP teams will need to meet to determine what accommodations students with disabilities will need for the SAT test.  What happens if the College Board won’t accept all the accommodations students received for the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  According to the College Board website, sending an IEP or a doctor’s note is not sufficient by itself.  If Delaware State Code specifically states the IEP team decides on the accommodations but they are now subject to College Board approval, how does this even work?  In looking at the College Board website, they also ask for a great deal of personal student information including doctor evaluations and any medicine students take.  I don’t believe this is written in Delaware State Code.  The Governor and the DOE are seriously putting Delaware at great risk of potential litigation with this action.  In addition to IDEA federal law, there are also serious questions concerning private student data, FERPA, and basic civil rights for students with disabilities.

While Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky brought up working through the accommodations issue, he is not looking at the big picture at all.  In a letter sent to Delaware educators this morning, Godowsky failed to bring up many of the points I have made concerning actual laws his Department and the Governor have broken with this decision.

Message from the Secretary of Education

 
Fellow educators,
 
I hope you enjoyed the recent holiday break and have returned rejuvenated for the rest of the school year. Thank you for your continued commitment to ensure every child is prepared for success in our schools.
 
I am pleased to welcome you back with exciting news for 2016: The SAT will replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the state accountability test for high school juniors beginning this spring.
 
We made this decision after hearing from educators, students, families, lawmakers and others concerned about the testing burden on students, especially 11th graders who already were taking both tests.
 
We formally announced this news today, and you can learn more here. This change comes with many challenges we must overcome in a short time period, such as determining the proper accommodations for students with disabilities, and we are working through these issues. We will continue to update this site with more information in the weeks ahead.
 
This year, the SAT is also redesigned. Changes include:
 
  • Two sections (plus an essay): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math
  • A focus on the math that matters most for college and career
  • A move away from obscure vocabulary to the use of relevant words in context
  • The elimination of the guessing penalty
 
Several SAT supports are available to you as well. College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free SAT test practice to all Delaware students. Khan also provides personalized SAT practice based on students’ PSAT results. Through a score reporting portal, you can monitor student progress and guide them in preparing for greater SAT success. More information on the re-designed SAT, personalized practice recommendations, and important SAT dates and news is available here.  
 
Teacher guides and professional development modules are also available to support educators integrating SAT practice into their classrooms. Resources are available online, and College Board can come to districts to assist with training. Find more information here.
 
We continue to look for ways to support Delaware educators, help students, and reduce testing, and we look forward to the results of the work of an on-going assessment inventory task force to inform our state’s policy in the future.
 
In partnership,
 
Steven Godowsky
Secretary of Education
It is more than obvious Governor Markell is desperate and scared of the veto override on House Bill 50.  He is pulling out all the stops, but now he is getting very sloppy, careless and reckless.  Delaware parents have him on his toes and he really doesn’t know how to handle it.  Legislators in Delaware are now confused about what to do based on these decisions by Markell and the DOE.  The amount of discussion surrounding House Bill 50 while completely ignoring the entire purpose of the bill is sucking the oxygen out of the room.  Legislators are forgetting what this entire bill is about: parent rights, nothing else.  It is not about over-testing, or the SAT, or anything else.  It is parent rights.  Parents want it, they asked for it, and the majority of the 148th General Assembly approved it.  Everything else is subterfuge and propaganda coming from the DOE, Markell, and Rodel.
Governor Markell, in granting the authority to the Secretary of Education of Delaware, to make this decision is in violation of his Oath of Office.

The Coalition For Fairness & Equity In Schools Needs YOUR Help!

A new group has formed in Delaware called The Coalition for Fairness & Equity In Our Schools.  This group is looking for one thing in our schools, as per their Facebook page:

Diverse group advocating for statewide changes to discipline practices to eliminate suspensions for low-level offenses and adopt a restorative approach.

This group was convened by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware to help eliminate the “school to prison” pipeline coming out of many of our schools in Delaware, specifically the Wilmington schools.  You can read more about them here.

To this end, they have started a petition which can be found below, and I strongly encourage all to sign in support of this petition.  As a special needs father, I have seen first-hand what disproportionate discipline can create, and so much of what these children are exhibiting are manifestations of their disabilities.  This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, but it also doesn’t mean punish whenever you want, which leads to social stigma that is very damaging for so many students with disabilities.  I have always promoted a simple mantra: work with the disabilities, not against them.  When anyone tries to fight something that is natural, it becomes stressful for all involved.  This can make a minor situation become infinitely worse.  It isn’t just about social groups for students either.  The adults have a HUGE responsibility in this as well.

I have seen multiple videos from other countries where students disabilities are celebrated, not hidden.  The classes and staff are educated on them, and this creates a much more tolerable environment for all involved: the student with disabilities, their classmates, the teachers, the staff, the admins, and the entire school.  Aside from all this, there are very specific laws regarding disproportionate punishments and manifestation determination.  In Delaware, and also under IDEA and Section 504 law, if a student is suspended more than ten times during a school year, the IEP team or 504 team must convene to determine if a behavior was a result of the disability.  A parent can also request this if they believe this to be true in a discipline situation.

What should result from this is the stakeholders involved get together, talk about the issues and behaviors, and the school psychologist should do a functional behavioral analysis.  Based on the results of this, a behavior intervention plan should be established with all parties agreeing, not just the administrators of the school.  And I would caution parents to be very careful about the wording of these BIPs as they are called.  I highly recommend knowing your child’s disability to the best of your ability, and find out what is typical or atypical behaviors associated with the disability.

When all efforts have failed, and a parent feels their efforts for their child are not being met, that is the time to take further action.  There are numerous things you can do, but one I do NOT recommend is taking that action through the Delaware Department of Education.  Their best solution seems to be “mediate” which is good, but this can also stifle your rights for your child.  Sometimes, as many special needs parents can attest to, you have to fight for your child.  The DOE methods of resolution do not have the best odds of working to your child’s benefit.  I’m sure they would disagree with me, but the bare fact that there have been NO due process hearings in Delaware for two years and a smattering of administrative complaints over a ten year period is testament to this fact.  Their way just doesn’t work.

Furthermore, the number of special education lawsuits when parents reach their wits end (not to get rich quick, that is NOT what happens with these lawsuits) has skyrocketed in Delaware over the past few years.  This is a more proven resolution method for far more parents than the DOE has ever helped over  the past decade.  In fact, many of the curriculums and specific IEPs the DOE wants (which are not part of approved federal IDEA law as brought before the U.S. Congress but resolutions and regulations tacked on by the US DOE with no Congressional approval), will wind up being more harmful to many students in the coming years as they are forced to adapt to national standards that are controversial at best, culminating in standardized assessments that on the surface purport to close the achievement gaps, but will in actuality further widen them.  This will in turn bring in more “consultants” and “non-profit companies” who need to  help these “failing” students.  All the while, teachers who don’t have the proper resources and are dealing with very large classrooms will be evaluated based on these high-stakes assessments.  This is why I don’t trust the DOE, and why any special needs parent should be very wary of them.

But back to this coalition, I am in full support of this group, and this is very needed in our state.  I just wish I had known about it sooner!  I would strongly encourage this group to take a very strong look at various disabilities and the neurobiological events that take place when so many of these “behaviors” occur, as well as the exponential increase of them when unneeded stress is placed on these students from the adults in the school.

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading

Governor Markell Ignores The Plights of Special Needs Students While Serving Corporate Interests

NGA Summer Meetings 2014, Guest Speaker, Vice President Joe Biden

So let me get this straight Jack: You want to boost the “great” schools in Delaware, many of which have already been named in a complaint that’s currently in the hands of the US DOE Office of Civil Rights division, but you won’t even mention the word special education?  Are you out of your mind?  Here’s the facts Jack.  These kids are treated horribly in many of our schools, or they aren’t even allowed to go there based on asinine laws that fit the mindset of a racist America.  It’s not really “choice” if some can go and some can’t.

Let’s not even get into your “World Immersion” program which is already causing pockets of schools to be re-segregated due to this clever idea.  Is this your plan for the non-Wilmington schools since the charter network can’t get their hooks in?  Set it up so the schools that don’t have these programs have lower scores because the “smart” kids want to take Chinese?  For children with an IEP or a 504 plan, this program is of course open to them, but isn’t recommended due to the “rigor” involved.

Everything that comes out of the castle of Markell stinks of corporate education reform and most parents are clueless.  The number of parents catching on is rising, but not nearly enough.  Do the districts even know what the long-term ramifications of your plans are?  Or do they just see dollar signs and think it’s okay?  I guess whether a student takes the Smarter Balanced in English or Chinese is immaterial to you, as long as they take your precious test.

I’ve already heard from some that your plans are designed to take advantage of those who need it the most.  While certain legislators are doing their best to take care of these students, you and your kind just steamroll right past them.  Little do you realize, these children will be taking care of you and yours when you are unable to take care of yourself.  Are you really going to guide them on a one-way street to discrimination and non-inclusion?  Of course you are, you haven’t done much to help these students at all except put them in a corner and ignore them.

Special Education Complaints Increasing At A Federal Level

According to an article in Disability Scoop, found right here, complaints to the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education are rising.  And they have been over a six year period.  They are not sure if it’s because parents are more aware of their rights or if it is something more.

I think it’s because of that and also because of Common Core and standardized testing.  Ever since Race To The Top came out, schools have changed. It’s no longer about being able to give more one-on-one attention.  It’s about prepping for the big test in many schools.  What I would like to see is how many of those complaints are from traditional schools and how many are from charter schools.  The article doesn’t break it down.

In 2009, 3,000 complaints were filed.  Last year, it was 3,900.  There is a very strong correlation between the advent of Common Core and these types of complaints rising.  If you are a special needs parent, please educate yourself and know your child’s rights, especially if they are in a lower grade.  This is a pivotal time for them and they need you to fight for them!

IEP Task Force: Legislation To Keep The Special In Education #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

A couple months ago I was finishing up “A Father’s Cry For His Son” on Kilroy’s Delaware. I had many potential ideas for legislation that I introduced in the epilogue. I still agree with many of those ideas. Since then, a lot has happened in the special education arena. The Feds said Delaware needs intervention, the ICT group has come into focus thanks to Elizabeth Scheinberg, another charter school is up for potential closure, and the Common Core battle is getting bigger and uglier by the day.

These were the ideas I introduced in the epilogue:

1) All IEP and 504 meetings must be digitally recorded. Of course, FERPA will protect the rights of these students, but they could be very useful if something goes wrong.

I still think this is a good idea. Not so parents can sue the pants off of any school when something goes wrong, but in case there is a disagreement or something that needs clarification, the team can go back to figure out what was said.

2) All school board meetings, for any school that receives public funding, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must digitally record their board meetings and have them available to the public within 7 business days. (This is already House Bill #23)

This needs to happen, and here’s why. The situation with Moyer, and what happened at Pencader. These may not have happened if there was more transparency with their boards. I went down to Legislative Hall, as promised, to drum up more support for HB23. It was a Lone Ranger mission, and nothing happened with the bill, but it did put me in a position to meet different legislators. I think the IEP Task Force should make sure this bill is reintroduced in the new legislative session next January so the public is more aware. As evidenced in the notes and the audio session of the June Delaware DOE Board meeting, what is put in writing is much less than the wealth of information that can be found on an audio recording. Charters need to stop isolating themselves and think they aren’t accountable to the public. Because they are.

3) All school districts, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must have psychiatric or neurological consultation available for any suspected neurologically-based condition within twenty days of a parent’s request for an IEP.

This is a must. Nothing against school psychologists, but they are not experts at neurological conditions. Most of them haven’t even been through clinical training. And yet, IEP teams continue to believe the school psychologist’s word is the gospel truth. Say it ain’t so! Psychiatrists and neurologists know much more about the vast majority of the disabilities and disorders that warrants most IEPs. They could do the IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) at the forefront to get to the heart of a child’s problems or difficulties.

4) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall put on their own website, the number of IEPs, 504s, IEP denials, and 504 denials they have had in the past month, to be updated monthly. For public schools, this must be put on the district website, as well as the website for each individual school in the district. They shall also share annual numbers as well, for each school year AND on a 12 month rolling basis. If a student changes from a 504 to an IEP, or if a decline becomes either an IEP or a 504, the school must make a note of that with the monthly numbers.

I brought this one up to members of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, and it was quickly shot down. An excuse was given that they have a hard enough time with the schools reporting what they already do. I found this to be an example of what is so wrong with the system already. If you hold the schools to a low standard, this is what you will get. If you push them to be more accountable, and explain why, you will find they should be more willing to comply. I’ve also heard this could put any child at a labeling risk because people could figure out who the child is. This is far-fetched. If you only have one child with an IEP at any given school, sure, this could happen. But these are all excuses. This will prevent fraud and abuse, plain and simple.

5) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall be completely transparent on their website. All staff must be listed. All board minutes must be listed. All attachments must be listed with the exception of something that can only be handled in an executive session. All monthly financial information shall be listed. With that monthly financial information, you must break down the sub-groups of funding you are receiving.

I’ve read many school board minutes, and the one consistent thing I see over and over is these words “See attached”. And about 99% of the time, there is nothing to be seen. Parents want to see attached! If your staff changes, update your website. It isn’t hard. I’ve seen schools that haven’t updated their staff listing in over a year. A good number of the teachers aren’t even there anymore. I know the Charter School Office at the state DOE already requires some of these, but there is nothing to hold the schools accountable if they fail. With financial information, break down the sub-groups. Show what areas of federal funding are being dispersed to (i.e. IDEA-B, Title I, etc.). Show specific areas for teacher salaries (i.e. special education, tenured teachers, new teachers, etc.).

6) All schools must report to the DOE, on a monthly basis, how many current IEPs and 504 plans they have, as well as any IEP or 504 denials.

I’ve found out the schools are required to report to the DOE on how many current IEPs and 504 plans they have. But the denials, this needs to happen. The DOE doesn’t seem to think a denial is that important. But most of the special education lawsuits stem from denials for IEPs. If the state is okay with millions of dollars going out in private lawsuits, then sure, don’t look at the denials. But take a position of caring rather than a position of blind arrogance.

7) The DOE shall do a yearly audit of all school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, not only for already established IEPs and 504 plans, but also denied IEPs and 504 plans. The individuals doing these audits must be highly qualified special education professionals who understand IEPs and 504 plans, as well as all of the disabilities and disorders that these plans accommodate children for. If the DOE determines an IEP or 504 plan was denied for the wrong reasons, the school district must contact the parent(s) within 5 business days and explain to the parent(s) of their procedural rights as well as mail a letter to the parent(s) with the reason for the change as well as a copy of their procedural rights. The Department of Education shall publish the results of these audits within 30 calendar days of their completion.

This is the big one. I know it would be impossible to do audits of every single IEP or 504 plan. But the DOE needs to do more than what they currently do. There is a middle ground somewhere. The DOE loves to make reports, so I am sure an annual report can be generated with a lot of this audit information without compromising the identity of any particular student. If the DOE holds the threat of interference over schools, the individual schools will be more likely to get an IEP or 504 plan right the first time. I’m quite sure no school would want parents getting a call from the state DOE about something they did wrong.

8) All Delaware parents, custodians, guardians, et al, shall receive, along with their child’s teacher and supply list, prior to the start of the next school year, a pamphlet indicating what Child Find is, a full disclosure that any evaluations a parent requests must be done at public expense, what IDEA is, how it works, a listing of every disability covered by IDEA, even those covered in other-health impaired, an IEP timeline, a sample copy of an IEP, what a 504 plan is and how it differentiates from an IEP, a sample copy of a 504 plan, and parents procedural rights, whether a child has a disability or not.

I talked to Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director for the Exceptional Children Group, about this idea back in early July. She didn’t commit to anything either way. But I think it’s important for parents to be given more proactive information before they are put in a position where they have to spend countless hours trying to figure out what to do. It also shows a willingness on the schools part to have a better relationship with parents, as opposed to an adversarial one.

9) Any school district found in violation of three or more individual special education audit failures, shall be put on the newly created Special Education review, which shall have the same weight as any other criteria that would cause a school to go under formal review.

This is the one that would have to radically change. For a school that has two hundred IEPs, this could conceivably happen. But if a school has ten, that’s more of a big deal. How about we limit this one to charter schools since they have more issues with special education than public schools.

10) All school boards, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, must have a parent of a special needs child as a member of their school board.

This one is simple and easy. Most school boards tend to have 6-10 members on their board, and if 13% of kids in Delaware have special education, it’s a no-brainer. Someone needs to represent these children on each school board. A lot of them already have a parent in this category, but with this legislation it would be required. This parent would also look at special education practices in each charter school or school district.

11) No charter school may ask on an application if a child has an IEP, has special needs or any questions relating to a disability. If a child is selected to attend a charter school through a lottery or the school accepts an application prior to that, then the charter school can ask that question after a student has been accepted.

This is the core of the special education issues with charter schools in Delaware. With the exception of Positive Outcomes and Gateway, which specifically cater to these types of children, most of the other charter schools practice this type of behavior. It is discrimination, pure and simple, and it needs to be abolished.

12) All charter school lotteries must be a public event, published on the school web site 30 days in advance, with two members of the local school district board members in attendance, and all names from applications must be shown to them before they are placed in a closed area prior to the picking of names.

This goes along with #11 to prevent enrollment preference. These “lotteries” are anything but. They are never a public event, and this allows cherry-picking to the highest degree. Enough is enough.

13) All public, charter, vocational, and alternative schools shall change the number of suspensions that warrants a manifestation determination from 10 to 3. As well, if a child is removed from a classroom setting 5 times for a period of more than 30 minutes, a manifestation determination must kick in as well. For any child with an IEP or a 504 plan, a Functional Behavioral Analysis must be completed as well as a Behavior Intervention Plan or modification of an already existing Behavior Intervention Plan. Ten suspensions is too much missed instructional time and doesn’t benefit anyone.

This is another big one. If a child is suspended that much, there is obviously an issue. Schools and the DOE need to be more proactive at recognizing when something is obviously going wrong. By the time a student has been suspended ten times, most school officials and teachers probably see him or her as more of a problem child than a student that needs extra attention and support. Labeling has already happened, and I would be willing to bet administration has already written this student off. For a special needs student, this could easily lead to an ICT (Interagency Collaborative Team) placement that can be detrimental to a student and the family involved. As well, if a student is spending a good deal of time in the office, that is not helping the student or the school. It’s just ignoring what is right before them. I know many schools do this already, but disciplinary action should use positive behavior supports rather than negative. This has been proven time and time again, and many great teachers use this technique. I firmly believe all teachers should to help eliminate punitive action that is neither helpful or successful.

I do recognize I would be foolish to think these will all happen. But it would be a good idea for these to at least be looked at as part of the IEP task force. We are still waiting for a first meeting date and an announcement of who the members will be. If they are planning to have an August meeting, this needs to be announced very soon!

Delaware DOE: The Eye of the Hurricane in Special Education

In a hurricane, everything is wild and chaotic.  Winds are fierce, rain is massive, and destruction looms.  Many people flee, but some stay hoping for the best.  Homes are destroyed, roads are flooded, and lives are frequently lost.  In the middle of a hurricane, everything is calm.  It can sometimes be sunny, and rain may not be present and it can be viewed as a moment of peace.  The eye is the center of the hurricane, and everything that happens is a result of the eye.  This is the Delaware Department of Education in regards to special education. Continue reading

Meet Kathy Willis, A Delaware Advocate For Children with Special Needs #netde #edude

 

I have the extreme pleasure of posting an interview I recently had with Kathy Willis. Kathy is an advocate for children with special needs and disabilities in the state of Delaware. She has attended several Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings to support parents in helping to get the accommodations their children need in IEP and 504 plans. I met Kathy last month through Kilroys, and I believe she is a great person in our state to help our children. Kathy’s story is below, and she has gone through several of the same struggles many parents have in Delaware. But she turned dark times into something positive that has been truly beneficial for parents. I don’t know if the DOE and the state government realizes how many of us are out there, trying to champion this cause. It can be as an advocate, or a blogger, or as a parent attending a support group. Without further ado, please meet Kathy Willis!

I understand you have children with disabilities. Did you have any struggles with any schools in Delaware?

I have two children with disabilities. My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADD, severe casein intolerance (casein is a protein in milk), expressive language delay, and medical issues. Also, to make it even more complicated he is twice exceptional, which means he is gifted with a learning disability. My daughter has mild to moderate dyslexia, and has an average to above average IQ.

We have had problems with both of their schools.

My story started with my son. We always knew he became extremely stressed during the school year. He was never a behavior problem, but he hated school to the point it made him physically sick. We home schooled off and on most of his life because of his severe anxiety. In 9th grade, he went to a charter school, and he was so incredibly stressed that he would literally rip his fingernails off to the point he would bleed.  He would spend hours upon hours doing his homework, and he would literally hit his head and say “I am just so stupid.”

We actually wanted to bring him back home. He was happy and content when we homeschooled him. He was incredibly bright and easy to home school. However, he decided he wanted to stick it out at this charter school. We supported him in this decision, but we grew more and more concerned as his anxiety increased. In November of 9th grade, he had a serious medical issue with rapidly developing pectus carinatum. He had numerous doctor visits, including a trip to the New York area for a brace fitting several times.

I had been in touch with the school’s Educational Diagnostician (ED) after a teacher referred her to me. She seemed nice, and at the time I actually trusted her. I actually updated her on my son’s medical condition during our visits to see specialists as far as California, and thought of her as a friend at the time. I had asked several times to have him evaluated, and that I knew something was wrong. I grew frustrated, as she seemed to ignore my requests for months. I began to study Delaware special education laws and Wrightslaw (link to http://www.wrightslaw.com/)

I finally put my request for an evaluation in writing, and she finally did a very basic and completely lacking evaluation. In the end, he basically scored 4 years ahead in most areas except written expression. (I guess I did a good job with homeschooling!) Due to his disability, he was on a kindergarten level in written expression. I didn’t know much about what this meant at the time, but when the ED suggested he sit with her to learn basic grammar at lunchtime, I knew something was not right. He had scored four years ahead in basic grammar, sentence structure, and spelling so how would learning basic grammar help him? It just didn’t make sense. At first, I politely said that I did not agree, and paid for an occupational therapy (OT) evaluation independently. We learned he had many deficits, and we paid over $6000.00 in OT to help him. The school later hired an OT of their own to write a report on our OT’s evaluation, which of course she disagreed with. The ridiculous part was that she had never met my son, nor had she ever evaluated him. I personally think she should lose her OT license.

The story grew from here as my son’s struggles increased. We started noticing that he was getting all A’s and B’s, but he was not completing assignments because he was unable to do it. His nature is to please, and despite hours of trying he couldn’t express himself in writing. He could answer a multiple choice with almost 100% accuracy, but he could not write about the same information. Assignments that were supposed to be five paragraphs long, he would only write two sentences and get an A+. I really grew concerned because he was still so stressed and he knew he wasn’t able to do the assignments, and a teacher told me that I needed to be concerned because he would never make it in college.

I began to request that he have some help with his writing. I was so naive at first that I just asked for a few minutes each week. I was repeatedly denied. We finally hired an advocate, and she was appalled at the behavior at an IEP meeting. The ED denied saying he needed instruction in basic grammar despite it being written in the actual evaluation as a recommendation. She accused me of only wanting a 504 plan, and that I refused an IEP despite literally 100s of emails begging for help. I even told her that I didn’t understand the difference in an IEP or a 504 plan.

We had an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) completed that stated he needed an IEP for a learning disability in written expression. However, the IEE also stated that his grades were good so it was questionable how much he needed. We later found out that the teachers had lied and provided false information to the evaluator. I am so thankful for the Home Access Center, and we were able to print out his actual grades. I found that at one point he was missing 13 out of 23 assignments, but still had an A+ in his English class. I saved every assignment and grade, and found that he was only writing the two sentences for five paragraph essays. He was graded A+ for those papers. It was unreal what they were doing to keep from helping him.

There were so many dirty things done to make it look like he was faking his disability and/or to cover it up. We fought literally for three years until I was so fed up, and I literally almost memorized state and federal education laws. At the time, it was really hard to find a lawyer in Delaware for special education. I finally filed a state complaint, and the response was outrageous. If you were to read the state DOE response online, you would think that they were right not to rule in our favor. However, the report is nowhere near accurate.

After he was finally given a (ridiculously poor) 504 plan, he was to have OT for written expression weekly. Unfortunately, he did not receive one session for months. I finally filed an Office of Civil Rights complaint regarding the lack of services, ignoring their own and the school’s evaluation, falsifying records, etc. If you do any reading on OCR complaints, you will find that they rarely find in favor of the child. We won hands down, and the school was required to sign a contract with OCR. The 4 page contract required the charter school to obtain training on IEPs/504 plans, compensatory education for my son, and many other things. OCR, which is a federal entity, was serious and made several follow ups.

During the investigation by OCR, which took several months, we again tried to get an IEP for our son. The school finally hired a speech therapist to evaluate him, and even despite her recommendation for an IEP, the ED (who governed the IEP team) refused to do so. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my son did extremely well on the DSTP, and the ED said “see he doesn’t need an IEP.” When we got home, we asked our son about the DSTP, and that we were proud of him but puzzled on how he did so well. He said, “What???? Who wrote what???” He told me that a special education teacher took him to his office, asked him a few questions, but he could not see what he was writing.

There is nothing wrong with my son’s hands, and no one should have been writing anything for him. We called the state DOE, made an appointment to take him to look at the actual test, and after reading it, he said “I did not say these things.” There were no accommodations to use a scribe, and the state was not even informed that he had one for the test. To be clear, even if a scribe is necessary, they are only to write word for word what the student says. They cannot even add punctuation without the child saying to do so. Of course, we were completely fed up.

The DOE initiated an investigation, which we followed up with a written request for one. The state DOE interviewed everyone involved including our son in our presence. The final report was that the teacher had cheated, and guess what, he did not lose his job. We were told that it was a personnel issue, and none of our business. We do not know why to this day that we did not go to the News Journal.

By the way, my son became so ill from stress that he was on homebound from December 2008 until late September 2009. The ED was still arrogant, and our fight went on for several more months. We filed for a due process hearing, and won in a resolution meeting with a settlement. My son’s senior year was his best year in his entire schooling, and with special education his writing grew from a kindergarten level to a 6th grade level. We used compensatory education to get him individual help, and he is doing well in college. We also got a true IEE, and we learned even more about his needs and disabilities. There were so many dirty things done at that charter school, but it would take me days to tell them all.

What prompted you to become an advocate?

I hate to see a child suffer. I hate it when an adult knows a child needs help, and continues to berate them for their disability. It took me a long time to learn what I know, and how to be smarter than the school so that the child can get the help they need. I believe that by helping another family through this horrible maze, it makes my son’s difficulties seem (a little) worth it. I have helped children all over the state (including PA & NJ) in numerous school districts and in all three counties in Delaware. It brings great joy and healing to see another child helped.

How does advocacy work? Do you need a license?

You do not need a license. You do need to know special education laws, but you have to be careful not to practice the law.

What are some of the most common problems you come across?

Parents don’t understand that they must put their request in writing if they want their child evaluated. They do not know how to read the school’s evaluation, they do not know their procedural safeguard. They don’t know it’s imperative to record all IEP meetings because they trust the IEP team. Children are given accommodations to help the teachers not the child. IEPs are written poorly. The child does not progress and parents don’t know how to monitor progress. Children are denied IEPs. Children’s disabilities are sometimes accommodated but rarely remediated, etc. etc.

It sounds like there are many situations where a child is denied an IEP based on intelligence. Would you find that to be accurate?

Absolutely. It isn’t always an easy task. In my son’s case, he was technically gifted so how could he need an IEP according to the school. This is old school thinking, and it clearly has no place in IDEA.

What is a due process hearing like? A mediation?

Mediation is supposed to be less confrontational with less people than a full IEP team. Also, you request Mediation without filing for Due Process. During Mediation, there is generally a mediator from the University of Delaware that leads the meeting. Any decisions made in mediation are legally binding, but the discussions held in Mediation are not.

Also, I would never agree to mediation AFTER filing for a due process hearing especially if you have hired a lawyer. If the issues are settled in Mediation, you cannot usually get lawyer fees. Generally after filing for due process, the school should offer a resolution meeting. If the issues are settled there, you can ask for legal fees to be paid. I have not had to go to a full due process in Delaware. The two cases I filed were one for my son and one for my daughter and both settled in Resolution. I have had many parents file for due process in Delaware, but all have been extremely strong cases so the school settled in Resolution. The cases settled in Resolution do not get recorded so you will never hear how often this occurs. I have had parents go through and win due process in Pennsylvania. I will say that it is extremely stressful, takes hours and hours of preparation, and you really, really need a lawyer.

Everyone talks about IEPs, but a lot of people don’t know about 504 plans. Have you ever advocated for someone on a 504 plan?

I have advocated for children with 504 plans. It is rare that I think a 504 plan is sufficient. If the child has medical conditions that affect his education, but has no educational or behavioral needs, then and only then might a 504 plan be sufficient.

Many people in Delaware believe charter schools have the most special education issues. Do you believe charter schools have more problems with special education than regular public schools?

Yes, but regular public schools can be just as bad. The cost is high to educate a child with a disability, but they deserve a Free Appropriate Education (FAPE). I have found that those leading and working in charter schools have very little knowledge about special education laws. However, make no mistake that a child with a disability has the same protections and rights as any child does in any other public school.

What do you think of special education in Delaware?

Honestly, we do a pretty good job with early childhood (before entrance into the school system) interventions. However, we absolutely stink once a child gets older.

Do you think schools in Delaware are accurately performing their Child Find duties?

They do a pretty good job with early childhood Child Find, but once a child is in elementary school the identification goes down. They are required to assess in all areas of suspected disability, and you will mainly find the status quo evaluation only has an IQ test and a basic achievement test. Tests only measure what they are designed to do. For example, the most common intelligence test is the WISC, which is based mostly on language. If a child has an expressive language disorder, you could get a very false low score. I have found this to be true on many occasions. It is terrible to be told your child has a low IQ, when in fact they may not. As another example, dyslexia is rarely picked up by these standard achievement tests. There are many, many tests that are rarely used by schools that should be.

What do you think of the report that came out this week regarding Delaware needing Federal intervention for special education?

It’s about time!!

How do you feel about standarized testing and Common Core in Delaware? Do you think all parents of special needs children should have the option of opting out of standardized testing?

Common Core: I can only imagine the number of children struggling with it. I am sure we will never know. As far as standardized testing, well I am on the fence about that one. It can alert parents that a child has a disability and it can also help monitor their progress. I do believe parents should have the choice, but I fear parents will make uneducated choices. If you want your child to succeed in college, they will have to take tests.

What is the one thing you could do over if you had the chance?

I wish that I had learned how to help my son a lot sooner than I did. However, let me be clear, it is never the parent’s responsibility. According to case law and the IDEA, the child find responsibility is 100% on the schools. I still wish I could have helped my kids a lot sooner. I would also have filed my OCR complaint and my due process complaint a whole lot sooner than we did. We wanted them to just do the right thing and help our son. We didn’t want the fight, but we certainly were not going to give up. There are many days I wish I had gone to the News Journal, but our intent was to help our son, not ruin the school. We had a horrible IEP team, but we still believed in the school. There were some good things about the school.

If you hadn’t intervened with the school, where do you think your children would be now?

There is no doubt in my mind that neither of my children would be doing as well as they are in college. I believe they are both on their way to independence. I sincerely doubt my son or my daughter would have ever made of $8 an hour if they were not helped. I also think that both of them would be seriously depressed and their self esteems in the toilet. We have done a lot of emotional repairing and even counseling to help them get over the school trauma.

How are your children now?

See above. 🙂

I want to thank Kathy for her courage in telling her children’s story, as well as many useful tips for Delaware parents. As I have said all along, never walk into an IEP meeting without an advocate, take notes, and save all emails from any school the moment you walk into the door the very first day.

If you are a parent in need of an advocate, please contact Kathy Willis at advocating4kids@yahoo.com

A Plea To Delaware Parents Of Children With Special Needs And Disabilities #netde #edude

I’ve been doing this blog for less than a week, and I am amazed at how many people have looked at it, and how diverse the audience is.  I am very proud of this.  I’m still new at this, and I have a lot to learn.  When I started this blog journey by telling my son’s special education story from a Delaware Charter school, I promised I had no political agenda.  That has changed.  The only way things can change for these kids is through legislation and hammering the points home to those who need to listen the most.  I am not running for any type of office, but I believe new legislation needs to be passed so children with special needs and disabilities have more rights in the state of Delaware.  I have talked to many parents from different states, and when they hear about the types of things that go on in Delaware in terms of special education, they are shocked.

All special needs parents need to stand united.  We need to stand up to the schools and let them know they are not doing the best they can.  Some teachers do, some special education specialists do, but not nearly enough.  No one knows our children better than we do.  So why must we fight so hard to get our children what they deserve?  Why do we have to go to endless meetings and fight for even the most basic of accommodations?  Is it a funding issue?  Is it that the schools are so arrogant to truly believe they know what is best for OUR children?

Things need to change, and they need to change as soon as possible.  I go to a support group for special needs parents.  Tonight was our last meeting until September, but I know we will all be there to support each other over the summer.  Every town should have one of these groups if they don’t already.  It has helped me, and I know it has helped others.  The biggest thing for these types of groups is confidentiality.  I promised everyone I wouldn’t blog about their experiences!

As parents, we see what our children go through.  We see their daily struggles at school and home.  We know immediately when they need us more than the school.  We know why they do certain things that the schools just don’t seem to understand.  We understand that all their behavior is not intentional.  What we don’t know is why the schools don’t want to get this.

The Delaware Department of Education is having their monthly school board meeting tomorrow in Dover at 1pm in the Townshend Building, across from the new library.  On their agenda is to go over the IDEA Annual Performance Report.  I am very interested to hear what is in this report.  I can guarantee not every single special education matter is in that report.  Many parents who have gone beyond the DOE know this.  The DOE knows this.  So what happens to all of those children who are not accounted for in that report?  According to the DOE website, there are very few due process hearings in Delaware.  Those that don’t go to a due process tend to get resolved through a mediation of some sort.

I spent hours last night going through these reports from the Delaware DOE on their website: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/cont_improv/default.shtml

The reality is very different than what is depicted in these reports and many of us know this.  The DOE stated in 2010 that all Delaware schools would have a special education audit every three years, broken down into thirds for each year amongst the Delaware schools.  Where are those audit reports?  Why doesn’t the public have access to them?  They have plenty of reports on how the special education students are doing with the “reform” of Delaware schools, whether it is through standardized testing or how they do towards reaching targets for the state performance plan.  Our students are more than just numbers and statistics.  Special education needs to change in this state.  We need to know what is going on in our schools.  The audits are for existing IEPs.  Why aren’t their audits being done on DENIALS?

In 2012, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), a Federal education department, announced they are suspending compliance visits to schools around the country and they are allowing states and school districts to be more accountable for  “positive adult outcomes”.  How is that going to help a 5 year old? A 10 year old?  These are children.  They aren’t going to college or entering the workforce for many years.  This was a huge federal mistake.  This is allowing the schools to be less compliant with special education.

Parents of ADHD, Sensory Processing, Autism, Deaf, Blind, OCD, Tourette’s, and more know this.  But what are we doing about it?  We need to stand as one.  Stand together as a group.  We can’t be heard by ourselves.  Some of us have gone to District House reps or Senators about issues, but nothing ever really changes.  We need to demand change, we need to be loud, we need to be large, and we need to be public.

Our children are the most precious thing we have in our lives.  We all want them to have a better life.  But if the school’s aren’t doing it, then we need to make them change.  The schools and the state government can form all the councils, committees and task forces they want, but at the end of the day we need to be the group that facilitates change.  We need to demand transparency from the schools.  We need to know how many IEPS and 504 plans they have.  It needs to be visible on EACH school’s website.  Not just the DOE website, or hidden away on some Office Of Civil Rights webpage.  I also believe schools should report the number of IEP and 504 denials they have each month.  We owe it to our children to fight for them, to advocate for them.  And the only way we can make the schools change is to force them to be compliant.  We need to do this now more than ever.

Smarter Balanced Assessments are, unfortunately, the wave of the future.  But that future is coming up, and before we know it, teachers will be so wound up in preparing students for these tests because their jobs will depend on it.  There is already legislation coming up that could dramatically affect how teachers are measured in the future.  Everything is tied into Common Core and standardized testing now in Delaware. The implementation began in 2012, but it is in full swing this coming fiscal year.  My fear is this will be horrible for children with disabilities.  Schools will have so much pressure to be the best.  Teachers will feel like their job is on the line if their students don’t do well.  On a test done once a year.  The frustration level for the schools and teachers will be at an all-time high.  If students currently on IEPs or 504s are not fully accommodated, they will resort back to what prompted the IEPs and 504s to begin with.  There is already a zero-tolerance culture in our schools on many types of behavior.  Which can be a good thing, but for special needs students, it’s all about the communication.  Teachers will be so stressed out to begin with, how can we hope they will be able to give 100% to our students with special needs?  Child Find will not be a top priority for our educators.  Behavior issues need to be dealt with immediately is something I am hearing more and more from schools and teachers around the state.  Do not let our children get caught in the crossfire between State demands and stressed-out teachers.

We can not let the Delaware DOE, our schools, and our teachers drop the ball on special education.  Our children do not need to suffer more than they already have because of events beyond our control.  If we let this happen, then we are failing as parents.  I won’t have that kind of weight on my shoulders, nor should any of you want that.  It is time, past time, for us to take control and demand change.  It starts now.

Tomorrow, at the Delaware Board of Education meeting, public commenters are given three minutes to speak.  Come out if you can and talk about the changes you want to see.  I can’t guarantee anything will come of it, but if enough people speak, they can’t ignore us forever.  Go to your district House rep or Senator, and let them know what your issues are.  A lot of them are up for reelection in November, so it would be in their best interest to listen to you.  If not, I would have to assume they don’t want your vote.  Reach out to other candidates running for office.  See what their stance is on special education and Common Core.  In November, make an informed decision based on what is best for OUR children and the state of Delaware.  The way things are set up in Dover right now, party lines are being crossed constantly.  It isn’t just Democrats vs Republicans.  Things are being decided on that have NO public vote, and some that the vast majority of the people don’t want.  Make your vote count in November.

I will be writing more about how we can ALL come together on this.  Whether your child goes to a public, charter, vocational, or alternate school, ALL our children count.  Don’t let your child be stuck on the bottom in the race to the top.  Please contact me at Exceptionaldelaware14@yahoo.com if you have any questions, concerns, or want your story to be told.  We are all in this together!