In any hurricane, the outer bands which are furthest from the eye, can cause the most damage. If the DOE is the eye, resting comfortably in Dover, then what lies to the west and north, causing irreversible damage? That would be the children placed in out-of-state private placements because Delaware does not have the capacity.
The Interagency Collaboration Team. What is it, and what do they do? It is a group of nine individuals, from various child services in Delaware. The members are a representative from the following groups: Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services, Division of Family Services, Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Office of Management and Budget, Controller General, Exceptional Children Resources Group (DOE), and the Teaching and Learning Branch (DOE). The coordinator is Linda Smith. Care to hazard a guess which of the above groups she belongs to? The DOE of course.
The ICT’s main purpose is to hear cases about a very unique, rare group of students where all resources of the schools and the state can no longer help a student with special needs. Typically, it is due to behavior issues. On Children & Educators First, Elizabeth Scheinberg wrote about the DOE’s response, how the student could be educated at school but problems in the home prevent that from happening. My contention is most of these students were not accommodated extensively the way they should have been. Most of these students are in their teenage years, but the special education process has to begin earlier for it to have the desired effect. You can give a 13 year old an IEP, but if he should have had one for the past 4-5 years, it will be much harder for the student to adapt. This is the world we live in.
Why is the ICT so damaging to families? When a child is put into a placement at a residential facility out of state, the funding for it is paid by Delaware. The parents are allowed to visit the child, but they cannot move to the state. If they do, the funding would no longer be covered by Delaware since the parents are not citizens of Delaware any longer. The assumption is a student would not be out of state permanently, but sadly, this has not always been the case. This can results in a student going years without being an active member of a family unit. They say the hardest thing a parent will ever go through is the death of a child. This would have to be the second hardest thing. For a parent to even be put into a position of making a choice like this would have to be something agonizing. If there are siblings, it would have to be what is best for the majority. I have such compassion and respect for any parent having to make these hard choices, and my heart cries out to them.
So who writes the annual reports for ICT? That would be the director of the Exceptional Children Group, Mary Ann Mieczowski. It seems like she is a part of every single major decision that happens with special education in our state. I see her name on everything. Should one person have that much power? And where is Secretary of Education Mark Murphy during all these decisions ICT are making? He does read the report when it is released in February the next year. At least his name is on the distribution list.
Between 2012 and 2013, the number of cases reviewed went from 105 to 120. Out of those 120, 104 were male, and 16 were female. Out of the 120 total, 18 were between the ages of 5-12, 64 were between 13-17, and 38 were 18-21. Of the cases heard, 97.5% were placed in private placements, be it day services or residential services. The other 2.5% (3 cases), received 1:1 care from a paraprofessional in a public school setting.
What is startling about this is the 2004 numbers, where 101 out of the 217 received 1:1 instruction. That reached a high of 137 in 2006, and went up and down the next few years. And then the numbers plunged down to 22 in 2010, 6 in 2011 and 2012 each, and then 3 in 2013. What changed? Needs based funding. Before needs-based funding was signed off by Governor Markell in February 2011, the ICT team determined 1:1 instruction. Needs-based funding eliminated those seven other voices to determine those types of services. To get those types of services, the IEP team has to agree. What this means, is a child has to pass a checklist to qualify, the district would then have to approve it, and then the DOE. The ICT would only see it if no other available resources were left. So what happened between 2009 and 2010, when the 1:1 instruction dropped from 86 to 22? Needs based funding wasn’t around then. At least it wasn’t the law. Governor Markell didn’t sign it until a year and a half later. It appears the DOE started needs based funding before the bill was even signed by the Governor.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the number of Complex Special Education needs based funding was a total of exactly 2400 students. 59 of those went to charter schools. Out of those 59, 22 went to the two charter schools that deal with IEPs for a huge percentage of their student population. The rest of the highly esteemed charters, that use school enrollment preference as on ongoing process, well they served a whopping 1.5% of the complex special education students. And out of those 19 remaining charter schools, 9 of them had NO complex special education students. The charter schools with no complex special education students are the following: Campus Community School, Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Delaware College Prep, Delaware Military Academy, Kuumba Academy, Providence Creek Academy, Reach Academy, and Thomas Edison. I know there are other schools in their areas that provide services for students meeting some of those complex needs, but really? Not one student?
What the ICT report does not have demographics for speaks more than for what it does. No race is selected for any of these children. There is no county, school district or type of school listed. We don’t know if they are coming from public schools, charter schools, or vocational schools. We don’t know what type of incidents lead to a student coming to this ICT group. The report has more holes in it than a box of cheerios. It gives the most basic and superficial information it can. It doesn’t give a list of the different placement centers for these children, just some vague information about averages. But thank the Lord for Delaware Online Checkbook, cause we can figure this out real fast. At least where the money is going.
The below information has been taken out of the Delaware Online Checkbook, for the four main residential placements these students have been taken to as a result of ICT placements. Also included is High Road, owned by a company called Specialized Education Inc., which is a day school. All of the numbers were found under the Department of Education, Special Needs category:
Advoserv (in Delaware):
Benedictine School For Exceptional Children (Maryland):
Devereux Foundation (Pennsylvania):
Specialized Education of Delaware (High Road) (Wilmington):
Total 4 years: $2,547,253.00
Yearly Totals of all the above schools:
2014 Total: $10,747,245.12
2013 Total: $7,890,953.20
2012 Total: $7,486,829.97
2011 Total: $5,769,561.07
In a three year period, the costs for these facilities nearly doubled. Is Delaware being swindled? The report for the 2014 fiscal year hasn’t even come out yet, and won’t be seen by the governor until February 2015, and the price tag for just these facilities went up nearly $2.85 million dollars. In one year. There were 9 more students being sent out of state this year. What is even more interesting is the costs of some of the out-of-state placements. The Benedictine School went from $51,952 in 2010 for an average year’s tuition, to $99,697 in 2013. That is a huge increase! Pennsylvania’s costs for these schools has increased dramatically. My guess, based on the data, is Devereux has become the “go-to” place for many of these students. Additionally, these facilities receives millions of dollars from the school districts in the state. The DOE pays 70% of the bill, and the school districts pay the remaining 30% according to Alison May with the DOE. Shorehaven in Maryland was used years ago, but for some reason it is not anymore. School districts like Christina and Red Clay Consolidated still use them.
If you calculate the yearly costs with the school districts paying 30% of the bill, the numbers increase even more, and also include a per student average on any private placement based on the number of students from the last 3 years of annual reports:
2014: $15,353,207.31 Average Cost per Student: Unknown until Annual Report comes out with # of students
2013: $11,272,790.28 Average Cost per Student: $96,348.63 (based on 117 placements)
2012: $10,695,471.38 Average Cost per Student: $108,035.06 (based on 99 placements)
2011: $8,242,230.10 Average Cost per Student: $98,121,79 (based on 84 placements)
The above costs don’t include what other agencies in Delaware pay as part of the total bill. It is nowhere near what the DOE and the school districts are paying, but the high amount of money going to these facilities as a collective whole in Delaware is astonishing. Other costs, which the parents get reimbursed for is mileage when they are visiting their children.
Last year, Melissa Steele with the Cape Gazette, wrote an article detailing the rising costs of these facilities. Many attempts to find out more information were thwarted not only by the facilities, but also the Delaware DOE. Confusion over needs based funding and ICT placements received contradictory statements by people at the DOE. It was an excellent piece of journalistic work, and it won awards for investigative journalism. It should be read by legislators, parents, teachers, administrators and journalists. http://discoveramericasstory.com/view_article.html?articleId=CPG0816201301801
In going through all the reports for the ICT going back 5 years, I noticed a very odd trend. Included below is the ratio of in-state placements versus out of state placements. The out of states are always higher.
2013 51 students: Ratio of in-state/out-of-state: 37.2% (19)/62.8% (32)
2012 42 Students: Ratio: 45.2% (19)/54.8% (23)
2011 36 Students: Ratio: 38.9% (14)/61.1% (22)
2010 35 Students: Ratio: 45.7% (16)/54.3% (19)
2009 31 Students: Ratio: 45.2% (14)/54.8% (17)
In every single year, the number of in-state is less than 50%, no matter what the number is. It would almost seem like, and I really hate to even think this, there are contracts with some of these out-of-state facilities based on the number of residential placements the ICT grants. If this is true, then ICT is playing a numbers game. I would hope it’s because Advoserv doesn’t have the capacity.
The rise of autism may have played a huge role in ICT getting rid of 1:1 instruction. Rates for autism have skyrocketed in the first 15 years of this century. By providing needs based funding, the DOE has essentially removed one of the key components of the original ICT process. They have brought the 1:1 instruction under their own roof with no one else to challenge it. I don’t think it is a coincidence that outside lawsuits have magnified greatly since needs based funding began. As well, zero tolerance towards bad behaviors at school has significantly increased. The results are not surprising once you see a clear picture.
Needs Based Funding comes around, gives schools a SET amount for the whole school year, zero tolerance policies result in increased behavior issues, special education departments and school psychologists deny A LOT of IEP requests, lawsuits rise, common core is introduced, standardized testing becomes the barometer for school, teacher and student success, and Delaware gets bad grades for special education 3 out of the past 4 years. There’s more. The US DOE’s special education unit, OSEP, decides to stop a crucial part of compliance monitoring. They decide to stop doing in-school visits. The Delaware DOE decides to audit schools on a 3 year cycle, but change that to 5 years without any notification on their website whatsoever. This is all in a four year period.
Who watches the watchmen? Certainly not the feds. They just seem to care about overall results with special needs kids. The legislature? Maybe not in the past, but that could change depending on the elections in November. It remains to be seen what the IEP task force will do. Nothing has been heard about it since the House of Representatives passed it on July 1st. Parents? Probably the ones keeping a tab on them the most. Attorneys are certainly watching every move the schools and the DOE make. Advocates are great, but do they have the ability to change something on a state level? Sometimes, but not the big picture. The media may do stories here and there, but nothing that impacts dramatic change. So it seems to be left to us bloggers and reporters like Melissa Steele, plugging away and doing the research. What we need though is eyewitness testimony to what other parents have seen. The DOE is getting away with a lot, and people need to know about it. The problem then becomes, what do you do about it? A state can’t just shut down a DOE. How are they held accountable when issues like this arise? It’s complicated, it’s messy, and it’s just beginning.
Things are only going to get worse. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is going to be a disaster. Common Core is going to die a slow death in Delaware, but it’s time is coming. It’s already begun in many other states. What comes out of this will determine education in Delaware. We can stop the corporate takeover of education in our state, and try to come up with something meaningful, something good for our state. Or we can continue the way we have been. With the best and brightest finishing at the top, and the unwanted, unprivileged, poor, and disabled students getting scraped off the bottom with a spatula and thrown into a world where nothing makes sense.