How Is It A “Strategic Plan” When It Takes An Ex Rodel Employee Over Two Years To Build It?

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If the strategy to improve special education in Delaware is to delay improving it for two years, the Delaware Department of Education is doing a bang-up job!

The Delaware Dept. of Education put out an announcement today for their “Special Education Strategic Plan”.  This plan was snuck into the epilogue language of the FY2015 budget on June 30th, 2014.  Here we are, over 27 months later, with NO Special Education Strategic Plan.  The director of this strategic plan is a former employee of the Rodel Foundation with no actual teaching experience in the classroom.  Matthew Korobkin worked for a collaborative that helped ten school districts with assistive technology.  That is NOT the same thing as living and breathing special education.  But somehow that qualified him for a job with the Massachusetts DOE (which Rodel CEO Paul Herdman worked for way back when) where he worked for 14 months.  Then he worked for Rodel for 2 1/2 years.  In October of 2014, he joined the Secretary of Education office as a “Special Education Officer”.

Given his background with technology and Rodel, I can easily see where this “strategic plan” is heading.  I can picture words like “personalized learning” and “competency-based education” being in this report.  And let’s not be fooled by this new desire for public input on special education.  This guy has never once sought out my opinion on anything.  This is more of the DOE charade where they give the illusion of public input so they can include it in the report with words like “we brought stakeholders from across the state together to discuss this”.  Right out of the Rodel playbook…

After butting heads with the Autism community over the failed amendment to Senate Bill 93, this is the guy who we want creating this strategic plan?  Let’s get real here.  Somehow, someway, Rodel wanted to get in on special education.  Their biggest enemy, in my opinion, is parents of children with disabilities.  We see through their crap and know that anything they want to invade our kids lives is somehow going to benefit companies and not our kids.  So they wormed one of their guys into the Secretary of Education office.  This guy has been collecting a paycheck for well over two years with NO results.  And now, we are led to believe we are going to see this “strategic plan” sometime before Jack Markell leaves office?  Why haven’t they been soliciting parent input on this for the past two years?  If this guy was remotely serious, he would have gone to parents in the first place.  Not wait two years.  When the DOE has this strategic plan overshadow everything else in special education, I have a major beef with that.  I guess we have to wait even longer for our kids to get the special education they needed two years ago so the ex Rodel guy can figure it all out.  How ironic they will be getting this out along with the Every Student Succeeds Act implementation and “stakeholder” input.  Almost as if that was the plan all along…

Meanwhile, the Delaware DOE is seeing a large increase in special education due process hearings and administrative complaints.  The placements in residential treatment centers is increasing every year, whether in-state or out of state.  Students with disabilities continue to do poorly on the Smarter Balanced Assessment as they are forced to take the test for longer periods of time than their peers.  Is it really a coincidence this is all happening at larger rates since Delaware implemented Common Core?  And what will happen to these students when we go full-blown personalized learning?  Competency-based education and special education are oil and water.

Here is the press release with my thoughts in red.

Public input sought to inform special education strategic plan

The Delaware Department of Education invites members of the public to three input sessions, one in each county, to inform the state’s strategic plan for special education.  Attendees will be asked to frame their comments around the following two questions:

1.    What are the most critical challenges in the delivery of special education services within the State of Delaware?

 I guess Mr. Korobkin didn’t bother to listen to ANY of the audio recordings from the IEP Task Force.  I can answer this one.  The most critical challenge is the Delaware DOE hiring ex Rodel employees to launch some Strategic Plan that takes over two years to create.

2.    When thinking about these challenges, what solutions do you think may solve these challenges?

Get back to reality and stop living in this nightmare world where even students with disabilities can do as well as their peers if we just give ’em enough rigor and grit to catch up.  Stop fooling everyone and stop playing games at the expense of students, teachers, schools, and parents.  The jig is up.

 Input will be recorded, reviewed, and used to inform the creation of the strategic plan.

I guess parents talking about their own experiences with special education, which is being recorded, isn’t going to come back to haunt them in some way.  I love the wording here: “used to inform”.  Not used to create, but inform.  Which means nothing when you actually think about it.  Sorry, but how much is Korobkin making at the DOE?  What the hell has he been doing for two years that he is just now getting to the parent input part of this plan?  I can picture it already: “Guys, the Strategic Plan is done!” “Did you get any parent input?”  “No, do I need that?”  “It looks good in the report.”  “Okay, I’ll get right on that!”

 

The meetings are planned for:

·         4 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Collette Education Resource Center Conference Room A, 35 Commerce Way, Dover

·         6:30 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Wilmington Public Library Commons Room, 10 E. 10th St., Wilmington

·         4:30 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Greenwood Public Library meeting room, 100 Mill St., Greenwood

 

Should you need accommodations at any of these meetings, please contact Matthew Korobkin at Matthew.Korobkin@doe.k12.de.us or (302) 735-4192.

How about students with disabilities get the accommodations they need?  And I’m not talking about standards-based accommodations or accommodations for your precious Smarter Balanced test, but ones that don’t put them in a grinder!

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4006
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Capital Board’s Legislative Priorities Could Be A Lightning Rod Of Controversy For Special Education In Delaware

Tomorrow night, the Capital School District Board of Education will discuss their legislative priorities for Fiscal Year 2017 at their monthly board meeting.  There is a lot in this proposed draft.  Some I agree with, and some I don’t.  But if certain things get pushed by all school districts, we could see a controversial start to the 149th General Assembly in Delaware.  Parents of students with disabilities could be spending a lot of time down at Legislative Hall in Dover.

In terms of burden of proof for who is implementing a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), I believe it should be the school that has the burden of proof.  If a parent challenges a school on these issues, how is a parent going to know what is happening inside the classroom?  It should be the school’s responsibility to address these issues if it gets to the point where a parent files a complaint that leads to a due process hearing.  There is one or two parents and maybe one advocate in an IEP meeting.  The rest is school personnel.  A parent cannot implement an IEP in a school setting.  Only a school can.  This is the law.  But in Schaffer v. Weast, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Burden of Proof should lie with the aggravated party, be it a student or the student’s parents (or legal guardian) or the school district should they dispute an IEP.  While the Supreme Court is the largest court in the land, I don’t agree with their decision in some respects, but I do recognize the authority of the United States Supreme Court.

The final ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 reads as this:

We hold no more than we must to resolve the case at hand: The burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief. In this case, that party is Brian, as represented by his parents. But the rule applies with equal effect to school districts: If they seek to challenge an IEP, they will in turn bear the burden of persuasion before an ALJ. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is, therefore, affirmed.

In a sense, any challenge a school district has about an IEP will invariably lead to the burden of persuasion.  I would find it very difficult for a due process hearing to occur where a school district does not disagree with at least one part of a student’s IEP.  And if it does happen, I would assume the parent lost or the Due Process Hearing Officer ruled based on applicable law that neither party got it right in terms of what should be in an IEP.  In any of the steps that could eventually lead up to a Due Process Hearing, districts have to provide sufficient evidence to the parent about what is happening with special education.  Parents do have considerable rights for their child’s special education.  They can request an Independent Educational Evaluation, they can call for a manifestation determination hearing under certain criteria, and they can file an administrative complaint.  Even though I disagree with the finding of the Supreme Court in 2005, it is the law and it is precedent.  Therefore, I have to agree with the Capital Board of Education that Delaware should not have a law on the books that predates a Supreme Court decision (their law is from 1999).

With that being said, Delaware is well-known to have serious lapses or even outright denials of special education services for students with disabilities.  Parents of children with special needs tend to be very passionate about what they want for their children.  Many understand the law (sometimes better than the school districts) very well.  I have always said never walk into an IEP meeting without an advocate and always record the meeting.  What is said in IEP meetings can make or break a case in certain circumstances.  Parents in Delaware should not be afraid to have their attorney subpoena a teacher as a witness.  Senate Bill 33, passed in the Spring of 2015, allows for whistle-blower protection for any school staff in regards to special education.  If there is one consistent thing I’ve heard from parents in Delaware, it is that teachers want to implement IEPs, but administrators have been the ones who stopped something for some reason.  While this isn’t always the case, and sometimes it is both, never be afraid to play a card that could work out to your child’s best educational interest.

The other legislative priority for Capital deals with a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  IDEA federal law states schools must provide children with disabilities a “basic” education without clearly defining what is meant by basic.  Delaware law states schools must go beyond “basic”.  I would argue that in Delaware’s current educational landscape, the push is for all students to go beyond “basic”.  If Capital wants to have AP and honors classes, that goes beyond “basic”.  You can’t sit there and say “all for some”.  If you are going to be a school district that wants ALL students to succeed beyond just “basic”, you can’t pick and choose.  Then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn said it best at the first IEP Task Force meeting:

Children with disabilities are entitled to a Cadillac education, not a serviceable Chevrolet.

The trick is finding out what that “Cadillac education” is.  I do not agree that this should be based on standards-based IEPs leading to higher proficiency on the state assessment.  We all know students with disabilities fare the worst on these types of tests.  We are failing all students if we continue this very bad charade of student success as measured by high-stakes testing.

In terms of the other legislative priorities in the below document, it is a no-brainer that our state needs to find a better way to fund education.  The funding cuts from 2009 should have been restored a long time ago.

Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting

Delaware WILL get a “Needs Intervention” label for their Annual IDEA Determination from the Office of Special Educations Programs at the United States Department of Education.  The Delaware DOE knows this, but they aren’t announcing it.  My guess is they are waiting for the “formal” letter to come from the feds before they publicly release this information to the public.  Even though they were told this information at least four weeks ago.  If I were a betting man, we won’t find this out until after June 30th.  I predicted this three weeks ago when I found the letters that went out to the districts and charters.

At the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting on Tuesday night, the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE gave a presentation to the council on the Local Education Authority (LEA) portion of the annual determination.  The presentation was given by Barbara Mazza and Maria Locuniak from the DOE.  In this presentation, there were several absolute lies that are in this article, for which I caught them red-handed.  It is very alarming they would try to dupe a state council devoted to the improvement of outcomes for persons with disabilities. Continue reading

Delaware School Districts, Charter Schools and Vo-Techs Special Education Ratings By The Delaware DOE. State Ratings By The US DOE.

The Delaware Department of Education recently sent letters to every single school district, vocational district, and each charter schools with their special education rating based on compliance indicators with the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.  There are four designations: meets requirements, needs assistance, needs intervention, and substantially needs intervention.  I will be delving into more of this in GREAT detail, as I don’t agree with much of this.  This is based on compliance from fiscal year 2013, so any schools that opened in FY2014 or FY2015 are not part of these ratings.  But for now, please see what the district ratings are:

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: Needs Assistance

Brandywine: Needs Intervention

Caesar Rodney: Needs Intervention

Cape Henlopen: Meets Requirements

Christina: Needs Intervention

Colonial: Needs Assistance

Delmar: Needs Intervention

Indian River: Meets Requirements

Lake Forest: Needs Assistance

Laurel: Needs Intervention

Milford: Meets Requirements

Red Clay Consolidated: Needs Intervention

Seaford: Needs Intervention

Smyrna: Needs Assistance

Woodbridge: Needs Intervention

Vocational Districts

New Castle County Vo-Tech: Meets Requirements

Polytech: Needs Assistance

Sussex Tech: Meets Requirements

Charter Schools

Academy of Dover: Needs Assistance

Campus Community: Needs Assistance

Charter School of Wilmington: Meets Requirements

DE Academy of Public Safety & Security: Meets Requirements

DE College Prep: Meets Requirements

DE Military Academy: Meets Requirements

East Side Charter: Needs Intervention

Family Foundations Academy: Meets Requirements

Gateway Lab School: Needs Intervention

Kuumba Academy: Needs Assistance

Las Americas ASPIRA Academy: Needs Assistance

MOT Charter School: Needs Assistance

*Moyer: Needs Intervention

Newark Charter School: Meets Requirements

Odyssey Charter School: Meets Requirements

Positive Outcomes: Needs Intervention

Prestige Academy: Needs Intervention

Providence Creek Academy: Needs Assistance

*Reach Academy for Girls: Needs Assistance

Sussex Academy: Meets Requirements

Thomas Edison Charter: Needs Assistance

*means school is now closed as of 6/30/15

There you have it, all the districts, charters, and vo-techs in Delaware.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of Delaware can see the obvious flaws with this rating system.  Most of the districts and charters who “need intervention” have the greatest populations of special education students, as well as the highest number of minorities and low-income populations.  This system is completely unfair to any parent looking for potential school choices for their special needs child.  Or even to those parents with a “regular” student, who may think the school is not a right fit for their child because of perceived special education issues.

These ratings also do not take into account IEP denials at all.  Many charters have flat-out refused entrance to children with IEPs, despite numerous warnings by the state and the federal government, as well as civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.  Charters have also been widely known to practice “counseling out”, where students with IEPs are either kicked out or pushed out through repeated suspensions or strong suggestions to parents how they “can’t service your child” or “we don’t have the resources”.

For a school like Charter School of Wilmington to “meet requirements” when they have a literal handful of IEPs there, while a school like Eastside who has numerous IEPs to need intervention is not a fair and accurate comparison.

One other important factor is none of these ratings take into account the continuous and growing number of special education lawsuits in our state.  The feds ratings are based on complaints, mediations (with the state) and due process hearings.  There are several problems with this.  First off, there hasn’t been a due process hearing in Delaware in over two years.  The last hearing was in April of 2013, and out of the 25 due process hearings since 2006, only two were against charter schools.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of Delaware Online Checkbook can see the MILLIONS of dollars going out in special education lawsuits.  When I asked MaryAnn Mieczkowski, the Director at the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE about this conundrum last summer, she stood by the due process system as being “more than fair.”  Many of the schools that “meet requirements” have been sued and more than once.  But the DOE will never report that data…

Second, the complaints are heard by “hearing officers” who are paid by the Delaware Department of Education.  One such hearing officer is the President of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, Robert Overmiller.  He was paid $10,000 this year alone to rule on these special education complaints.  The Director of the Exceptional Citizens Resource Group at the DOE sits on the very same group.  Overmiller is also paid by the GACEC.  The GACEC issues opinions on matters such as the recent and growing opt-out movement.  Many were shocked to see the GACEC dead set against opt-out and House Bill 50.  But now we know about conflicts of interest where the state Department pays the other state group’s Presidents, and the two side on issues of legislative importance.  As well, the GACEC gives opinions on State Board of Education regulations.  This is the problem in Delaware with conflicts of interest.  They aren’t transparent until someone happens to stumble upon them.

There is so much more to all of this, and I will be writing a lot about it in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read each letter sent to these districts, vo-techs and charters here: District And Charter Reports

You can also see each state’s ratings below, in the below document released by the US DOE, which is also very misleading, because it rates Delaware as “needing assistance” in the Part B determinations for one year, and “meets requirements in Part C, but doesn’t even touch on the fact they were “needing intervention” the past two years, which makes Delaware look better on a long-term basis when that is not the case.

Special Education, Burden of Proof, Parent Opt-Out, Lockdowns & Funding discussed at Capital School District Board Meeting #netde #eduDE

The Capital School District Board meeting last night touched on very recent topics affecting the state of education in not only the Capital School District, but also the state of Delaware.

Following up from a topic introduced last month at their board meeting, the Capital School Board is pushing for legislators in Delaware to look at Burden Of Proof during Due Process Hearings.  Capital’s stance is the burden of proof needs to be on the school’s side more.  One board member, Matthew Lindell, stated he feels this has shifted more towards the parent’s side, but the Delaware DOE appoints due process hearing officers and they are not partial to parents.  Lindell stated he would like to see a balance in the middle.

At the same time, Capital is looking for the state to increase special education funding which was reduced during the recession that began in 2008 and funds were never increased back to the normal rate.  They had a very long list of other areas where funding was reduced and want back to the previous level.

Updates on the new Dover High School by school principal, Dr. Evelyn Edney.  The top concern by the school as well as the public were traffic patterns.  The school has made changes in terms of signage and assigned parking to help ease the local strain for neighborhoods in the surrounding area.

Board member Lindell indicated he has spoken with other school boards in the state about the way the Delaware Department of Education has treated the priority schools situation in Red Clay Consolidated and Christina school districts.  Lindell indicated the basis for these decisions is test scores, but the DOE has been known to make errors in the past.  Lindell and Superintendent Dr. Thomas spoke about Capital’s graduation rates having many errors in the past, but once the DOE officially publishes these numbers it is difficult to fix.  Lindell indicated there is a lot of discussion about the Delaware DOE and the school boards need to make a firmer stance with them.

Lindell once again stated he wants parents to be able to have the choice to opt-out of standardized testing.  He stated that if special education parents have the choice, all parents should.  The only apparatus that allows students not to take the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment is the legislation passed through Senate Bill 229 in Delaware, which allows for the most severely complex special education students to have an alternate test.

Board member Sean Christensen discussed his feelings on the recent school lockdown in Capital School District when a person was shot in downtown Dover.  He felt parents should have been notified of the lockdown within minutes of the event.  Dr. Thomas explained social media knows about situations before the districts or schools have even been notified by police, resulting in hundreds of calls from parents to board members, the district, and schools.  He reiterated that no parent can enter a school during a lockdown, and no student or staff member is able to leave.  Board President Kay Dietz-Sass felt the schools and district handled the situation very well.  Dr. Thomas said discussion with the Dover Police Department about quicker notification could help ease concerns.

Another big topic was how organizations in the City of Dover have to pay high rents for usage of Capital schools.  Christensen did a comparison with other districts in the state, and found Capital charges higher rents than other districts.  He feels the district needs to give back to the community that allows them to have the buildings in the first place since taxpayers pay for these places.