State Board of Education ESSA Meeting: 60 Pictures & Flipping The Narrative

At Grotto’s Pizza in Dover, DE, the State Board of Education held a workshop on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The Capitol Room at Grotto’s was jam-packed with administrators, teachers, advocates, Delaware DOE employees, State Board members, a Congressman, education company employees, and even a blogger or two.  Sadly, there were not that many parents there.  Yes, many of these people play that role as well as their other jobs, but for a meeting the Delaware DOE will say is a true “stakeholder” meeting, this key group was missing.  I recognized a lot of the faces, but there were some I didn’t.  Some I was able to put together based on conversations I overheard.  This was the State Board of Education Workshop on ESSA.  Notice some of the tables where certain people are sitting together.  Especially the one Secretary Godowsky was sitting at…

I did not take these 60 pictures.  They were taken by an employee of Secretary of Education Dr. Godowsky’s office and put on the Delaware DOE Facebook page this morning.  Which means they are part of a state agency which puts them in the public domain!  Thank you DOE Photographer!

ESSAMtg1

State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson at the microphone, Deputy Secretary of Education Karen Field-Rogers in the pink jacket with striped shirt in the back, Susan Haberstroh with the DOE with the mid-length brown hair and glasses, Governor Markell’s Education Policy Advisor Meghan Wallace with the ponytail and glasses, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky to the right near the screen. Continue reading

Shocking Find: Delaware DOE Reorganization Memo

After their first budget hearing with the Joint Finance Committee, the Delaware Department of Education knew it had to make some changes.  To that effect, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky crafted a memo to the Department employees.  I was able to get my hands on this over two-month old memo that has been shrouded in secrecy until today!  This isn’t something you can just find on the DOE website.  It doesn’t exist there.  It doesn’t exist anywhere on the internet.  Until now…

Since this memo came out, more DOE employees have left the organization.  Just this month, three major employees left the Department.  Atnre Alleyne, formerly with the Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit left. Michelle Whelan from the Charter School Office got a job over at the Attorney General’s Office.  And Brian Curtis, once with the Accountability area and most recently with the TLEU, attained a position as the Principal at Kirk Middle School in the Christina School District.  These are three long-time DOE employees, there since Race To The Top.  Out of the three, Whelan’s position is the only one that will be replaced.

I could tell you how I got my hands on this document.  But then I would have to…

 

Delaware’s Moral Imperative: My Email To The JFC, DOE, State Board, WEIC, & Governor Markell

SpecialEducation

Today, the Delaware Joint Finance Committee is meeting with the Delaware Department of Education to discuss proposed changes in the DOE’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  This hearing will allow the DOE to answer questions about the funding increases they are requesting.  One of the hot issues is the $6 million allocated in Governor Markell’s budget for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for the students of Wilmington.  I had very strong thoughts about this last weekend and a response from a member of WEIC prompted another article on the matter.

At the heart of this is the basic special education funding for Delaware students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Currently, students in Delaware do not receive any additional funding if they qualify as basic special education in K-3.  Within a month of starting this blog, I wrote about this eye of the hurricane in Delaware special education and broke down the categories for the funding for these services:

Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.

Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Schools here get one unit for every 6 students.

Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.

Today, I emailed all the members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Maryann Mieczkowski (the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the DOE), Delaware Controller General Michael Morton, Elizabeth Lewis (oversees education funding with the Delaware Office of Management and Budget), State Rep. Kim Williams (the sponsor of House Bill 30 which would give this funding), State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s core leadership team: Dr. Tony Allen, Dr. Dan Rich, Kenny Rivera, and Elizabeth Lockman. I addressed the need for basic special education funding for ALL Delaware students in K-3:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Smith Melanie G (LegHall) <melanie.g.smith@state.de.us>; McDowell Harris (LegHall) <harris.mcdowell@state.de.us>; Bushweller Brian <brian.bushweller@state.de.us>; Ennis Bruce <bruce.ennis@state.de.us>; Peterson Karen (LegHall) <karen.peterson@state.de.us>; Cloutier Catherine <catherine.cloutier@state.de.us>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <dave.lawson@state.de.us>; Carson William (LegHall) <william.carson@state.de.us>; Heffernan Debra (LegHall) <debra.heffernan@state.de.us>; Johnson JJ <jj.johnson@state.de.us>; Miro Joseph <joseph.miro@state.de.us>; Kenton Harvey (LegHall) <harvey.kenton@state.de.us>; “jack.markell@state.de.us” <jack.markell@state.de.us>; “michael.morton@state.de.us” <michael.morton@state.de.us>; “elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us” <elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly (LegHall) <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Tony Allen <tony.allen@bankofamerica.com>; Daniel Rich <drich@udel.edu>; Kenny Rivera <kenneth.rivera@redclay.k12.de.us>; Elizabeth Lockman <tizlock@gmail.com>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Mieczkowski MaryAnn <maryann.mieczkowski@doe.k12.de.us>; Johnson Donna R. <donna.johnson@doe.k12.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:20 AM
Subject:
Basic Special Education Funding for Kindergarten to 3rd Grade students in Delaware

Good morning all,

Some of you may know me, but for those who don’t, I am a concerned parent of a special needs child in Delaware.  He was denied an Individualized Education Program in 3rd grade at a Delaware charter school even though he fully qualified for it. 

As a result of this event, I set out to look into Delaware education and all facets surrounding it, which led to the creation of my blog, Exceptional Delaware.  One of the first things I discovered was that students who qualify for basic special education do not receive funding for this in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Students in 4th to 12th grade do.  As a result of this, many students in these grades are denied IEPs all over our state.  Many times this results in special education lawsuits filed against school districts and charter schools.  I firmly believe this also sets up these children with disabilities for failure.  By not getting the funding they are entitled to at a state level, this results in the local education agency bearing the brunt of these costs.  The federal IDEA funding has never been at the level that it was originally intended for. 

There are current plans in the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for Wilmington students to grant Red Clay Consolidated School District the basic special education funds for students in K-3 in FY 2017.  This would also include the current Christina students enrolled in Wilmington schools should the redistricting plan pass the State Board of Education and the 148th General Assembly.  In FY2018, this funding would be provided to the entire Christina School District, and in FY2019 to Colonial, Brandywine, and the Wilmington charter schools.  While the plan doesn’t specifically give a timeframe for the rest of the state, the commission does urge our state to provide these funds as soon as possible for all of Delaware.

I have grave issues with this as all students in this category should be entitled to these funds.  While I am vehemently against the use of standardized test scores to determine school accountability levels, by the very nature of these plans it would set up some schools to do better than others in Delaware.  In the Delaware Department of Education’s goals submitted to the US Department of Education for their ESEA Flexibility waiver, the DOE had growth goals for Delaware.  For students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% proficiency from FY 2015 to 59% proficiency in FY 2021.  By giving certain schools and districts this funding, it sets up a disproportionate funding mechanism that benefits some over others.

There are other concerns with this as well.  If a 1st grade student should happen to transfer from Red Clay to Indian River, would that basic special education funding follow them? 

As a parent of a special needs child, I find this lack of funding for students who are at the foundation of their education experience to be highly disturbing.  The current budget plans call for a huge influx of funding for early education, in the hopes of preventing rising costs for special education.  What I find to be not included in this conversation is the fact that disabilities in children are neurological.  I’m not saying they can’t be accommodated for a better educational outcome, but why would we give all this money to early education centers and then leave these students out to dry when they are brought into elementary school?  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  While I certainly appreciate the needs of Wilmington students, I feel it is funding that should be available for all students in Delaware.  Special education is a federal mandate if a student qualifies.  By not providing the necessary state funding, we are failing these children.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of districts not providing services, even with an approved IEP.  While no school or district will ever come out and say it, it is because of a lack of funding in most cases. 

For any student who has gone through special education in Delaware at this age, the results are very cumbersome and painful for the student and their parents or guardians.  Parents are forced to fight a system where, in many cases, they are branded as a difficulty.  Students are disciplined based on behaviors that are neurologically based, and because they don’t have an IEP, it results in severe problems for the student as they grow.  Many students who are denied IEPs and don’t receive these services can and do fall into the complex and intensive special education categories later on because these services were not provided at an earlier age.  This happened with my own child.

I urge the Joint Finance Committee to provide the basic special education funding for ALL K-3 students in Delaware.  This isn’t really an option, but a basic civil rights issue that separates Delaware from many other states.  It is their federal right to receive a “Free Appropriate Public Education”.  By forcing districts and charters to sign an IEP indicating they will make sure the district has adequate funding to provide special education services is not proportionate to the state funding provided for students in all grades.  As well, by providing this funding for some but not all, it could certainly put the state into a precarious legal position should parents collectively band together to address this issue.

Currently, House Bill 30, sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams is in the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly where it has been since March 26th of last year.  I would urge the JFC to allow the funding for this legislation to be provided in the Delaware FY 2017 budget so these children can get the services Delaware has a moral imperative to provide.

If anyone has any questions or concerns surround this issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I sent this out a couple of hours ago and have not received a response from anyone.  Which is fine, but I sincerely hope it will be brought up in their discussions today with the Department of Education.  If it is, I am fairly certain the DOE will bring up what is known as Response to Intervention (RTI) and how this is a very useful tool for schools to identify students who may qualify for special education services.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in American education and does not cover many areas that could qualify a child for special education.  It is a failed experiment that, at best, causes delays of several years before a child can get an IEP and the full special education services they need.  Special education calls for the least restrictive environment.  Why would the State of Delaware restrict the funding these children need to receive FAPE and the least restrictive environment?  This is our moral imperative in Delaware.

 
 

An Open Challenge To Governor Markell, Secretary Godowsky & DOE Regarding Opt-Out

I just sent Governor Markell and the DOE an email with a request for the final Accountability Framework Working Group meeting on Tuesday at 10am.  Anything less than this will not be sufficient for myself and the growing number of parents who will exercise their parental rights to opt their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Schwinn Penny <penny.schwinn@doe.k12.de.us>; Reyna Ryan <ryan.reyna@doe.k12.de.us>; Markell Jack <jack.markell@state.de.us>; O’Mara Lindsay (Governor) <lindsay.omara@state.de.us>
Sent:
Friday, November 13, 2015 9:53 AM
Subject:
AFWG Meeting on 11/17

Good Morning Dr. Godowsky, Dr. Schwinn and Mr. Reyna,
I understand there is to be another Accountability Framework Working Group on 11/17/15 at 10am in the Cabinet Room at the Townshend Building in Dover.  I have to admit I was taken aback at Dr. Godowsky’s suggestion last week at the Delaware State Board of Education Retreat that he was not going to accept the AFWG’s recommendations for the Delaware School Success Framework.
What I am asking of the three of you for Tuesday’s meetings is actual documentation, on United States Department of Education letterhead, why Delaware would have to impose the harsh opt-out penalties based on US Congressionally approved laws and regulations.  I’m sorry, but hearing from Dr. Schwinn vocally about what US DOE requires is not enough.  I want to see, in writing, why this is necessary.  Vague letters from an employee no longer at US DOE, and non-regulatory guidance from US DOE is not sufficient.  Not for something this big.  The letter from US DOE provided to then Secretary Murphy places the burden of opt-out on schools, meaning they cannot pick students to opt out.  The law absolutely says nothing in regards to parental opt-out.  While I agree schools should not make that choice as some have done in the past, it is fundamentally, morally, and legally wrong to infer that parents can not opt their child out of the state assessment.
I am writing this on behalf of all the parents who have either already opted their child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, those who will be doing so, and those who have intimidation and what amounts to bullying tactics perpetrated on them by schools in Delaware who are not honoring their parental rights which are the underpinnings of our society.  Parents should not live in fear about consequences for a school if they choose to exercise their fundamental and Constitutional rights, as established by the U.S. Supreme Court on many occasions.
If this is a mandate from Delaware Governor Jack Markell, I would challenge him to come to this meeting in person to make clear his justification and reasoning for this. If he is unable to attend, then I would like him to craft a letter on State of Delaware Governor letterhead with a legal basis for this mandate.
To not honor parental rights and to punish schools for a parental decision is a slap in the face to parents and schools.  If the intention is to punish schools for parental decisions, this is abhorrent and a disgrace.
Thank you,
Kevin Ohlandt,
on behalf of the Opt-Out Parents of Delaware