The Heart Of Special Education Was Argued Before The U.S. Supreme Court Today

The United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for the Endrew v. Douglas County School District today.  This case could determine the goal of special education in America: a bare minimum special education or a more than minimum special education.  These arguments weigh the words “significant” and “meaningful” quite a lot since it is the center of the case.  Another question is how do you measure progress for a student with an Individualized Education Program.  Does the IEP team just write the IEP and make sure the student is on target to perform as well as their non-disabled peers or do you go above and beyond?

Another huge issue is funding for special education.  The fact that the Federal government spends less than 15% of what they promised to do for special education is a large problem.  It was not the Congressional intent to dump all of this on the states and local school districts but that is exactly what happened.  As well, what does “standard” mean in this context?  Is it the Common Core State Standards and the high-stakes testing that supposedly measures the ability of the student to grasp those standards?  Do classroom grades count for anything anymore?

The case is officially submitted into the highest court in the country.  This will be fascinating to watch, especially the final ruling.

Delaware AG Matt Denn Supports Parents In Upcoming U.S. Supreme Court Special Education Case

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As the Chairman of the IEP Task Force in Delaware back in 2014, Delaware Attorney General (then Lieutenant Governor) Matt Denn stated in the first meeting that Delaware students with disabilities deserved more than what federal law under IDEA stated.  He announced yesterday he will advocate for special needs children getting a top-notch education.  Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme court decided to hear a special education case regarding what a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) really is.  The is significant due to the fact that special education changed a lot when IDEA was reauthorized in 2004.  This will be the first time the highest court in the land has tackled FAPE in a very long time.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case from the state of Colorado involving the level of educational services that must be provided to public school students with disabilities. The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is significant because it will be the first time in decades that the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed this issue, and different federal courts around the country have come to different conclusions on the question.

“This case may not have significant implications for Delaware public schoolchildren with disabilities,” Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said. “Delaware state law was changed in 2010, in a bill I worked on as Lieutenant Governor with Representative Quinn Johnson and Senator David Sokola, to require that Delaware public schools provide services to Delaware students with disabilities that matches the highest level of services required by federal courts interpreting this issue. However, sometimes the language that the U.S. Supreme Court uses in issuing its decisions can be as important as the decisions themselves. For that reason, the Delaware Department of Justice will be seeking to advocate – potentially with other state Attorneys General — for the U.S. Supreme Court to find that the highest level of services for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts is the correct level for all of the nation’s children, and for the Supreme Court to provide specific guidance to the states as to how to implement its decision in order to ensure that children with disabilities have an opportunity to fulfill their potential.”

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In regards to that bill from 2010, Denn said the following about the bill when it was introduced:

“It is completely unacceptable for us to tell the parents of most children that we want their kids to have the best public school education in America, while telling the parents of students with disabilities that their kids will receive the educational equivalent of a serviceable Chevrolet,” Lieutenant Governor Denn said. “We have a legal and a moral obligation to these children to provide them with a meaningful education, and this bill is a first step to making sure that happens.”

Denn has always been one of the strongest advocates in Delaware for students with disabilities.  I am glad he is putting his support behind the parents in this potentially landmark Supreme Court case.  With that being said, the very definition of special education will be redefined yet again if education reformers get their way with their dreams of “IEPs for ALL”.  I pray, if that time does come, that Matt Denn will be at the front of the pack for students with disabilities, their parents, and disability advocates to make sure special needs students don’t get lost in the shuffle.

In the meantime, the Delaware Dept. of Education, under the direction of Governor Markell in epilogue language in the FY2015 budget, is still working on a Special Education Strategic Plan for the state, more than two years since it was created.

U.S. Supreme Court To Decide The Value Of FAPE In Special Education

The  United States Supreme Court will decide the fate of millions of special education students in America when they rule on a controversial case regarding what the appropriate amount of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) is for students with disabilities.  The landmark case, Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District, could have major consequences for special education students.

According to Disability Scoop:

The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the matter comes at the urging of the Obama administration. In a brief issued last month, the U.S. solicitor general agreed with the parents that the IDEA requires schools to provide more than minimal benefit to students with disabilities.

“This court should hold that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are meaningful in light of the child’s potential and the IDEA’s stated purposes. Merely aiming for non-trivial progress is not sufficient,” the solicitor general indicated.

This could be a moment of triumph or severe disappointment.  With the rise of Common Core and a transition from teacher-led instruction to constant bombardment of education technology and a competency-based education environment, students with disabilities have suffered the most from the constant education reform that has taken place over the past twenty plus years.  As their numbers rise, so do the corporate profits.  They have been forced to take a litany of state assessments that have the same results, year after year: these students tend to perform the worst on these tests.  The amount of parents choosing to go the home school route for their special needs children has risen dramatically in the last decade.

A free appropriate public education, in its current landscape, comes with a very steep price for students with disabilities.  Unless the Supreme Court clearly defines what FAPE should be, in the face of the overwhelming corporate-driven changes in our schools, these children will continue to be lost in public education.  Personalized learning, in the modern-day era meaning, would gear all students towards their own individual education plans which strips the special out of special education.  This flies in the face of what disability advocates fight for every single day.

Guest Post by Lauren O’Connell Mahler with McAndrews Law About Delaware IEPs

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Lauren O’Connell Mahler is a special education attorney in the Wilmington offices of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.  McAndrews has two offices in Delaware, the one in Wilmington and one in Georgetown which opened last year.  The original article appears on the website of McAndrews Law Offices.  This article was republished with the permission of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. This is a must-read for Delaware parents, especially now when IEPs are in the creation process or getting an annual revisit.  Special education law is very tricky and many parents are unprepared for what is allowable by law and what is not.  Parents are the #1 advocate for their children with disabilities and they should always prepare ahead of time for any IEP meeting.  Know your child’s rights with special education!

Learning to read your child’s Delaware Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be an intimidating task. IEPs are filled with legal language and educational jargon that can be overwhelming. Without a basic understanding of your child’s IEP, you may be feeling reluctant to offer input at your child’s IEP meeting.

As a parent, you are an equal member of your child’s IEP team. Thus, it is essential that you understand your child’s IEP so that you can help the IEP team develop the IEP, monitor your child’s educational progress, and advocate for his/her needs. The following is a list of the basic components that make up your child’s IEP in Delaware. Items are addressed in the order in which they typically appear in Delaware IEPs:

  • “Disability Classification” – Your child must meet one of the 13 eligible disability classifications in order to qualify to receive special education services. The categories are Autism; Developmental Delay; Deaf Blind; Emotional Disturbance (ED); Hearing Impairment; Learning Disability (LD); Intellectual Disability; Orthopedic Impairment; Other Health Impairment (OHI); Speech and/or Language Impairment; Traumatic Brain Injury; Visual Impairment; and Preschool Speech Delay. The classification does not dictate the services that your child can receive. His/her services should be based on your child’s unique, individual needs.
  • “Data Considerations” – Here, the IEP team should list all current data about your child that they reviewed in developing the IEP. This includes, but is not limited to, current school district evaluations, independent evaluations obtained by the parent, State and local test results (such as DCAS scores), classroom test results, progress reports, and the parent’s educational concerns. The data should serve as the basis for the services and supports that the team puts into the IEP.
  • “Other Factors to Consider” – These list special factors that the IEP team might need to be aware of with your child. The boxes should be checked if your child has difficulty with communication, is blind or visually impaired, is deaf or hearing impaired, is limited in his/her English Language proficiency, needs Assistive Technology, or has a print disability that prevents them from using materials presented on a physical page.
  • “Transition Services” – This page is included in  beginning at least by age 14 or 8th grade. It should include a statement of your child’s measurable, individualized goals for life after high school, including where they plan to live, work, and whether they intend to pursue any higher level education or training. It should be based on data (such as Parent and Student Transition Surveys). It also lists the classes your child is taking, which should be tailored to help them achieve his/her post-high school goals, as well as any activities they will complete to help them reach his/her goals, and any outside agency who will help your child prepare for the transition to adult life (such as Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, DART Bus Service, and POW&R).

“Unique Educational Needs and Characteristics” – The middle pages of your child’s Delaware IEP should list each of your child’s unique educational needs. The need will be identified in box at the top, left-hand corner of the page. The rest of the page will detail the services and accommodations being provided to address that need as follows:

  • The top, right-hand box includes a statement of any supplementary aids, modifications, services, or accommodations that will be put in place to address your child’s unique educational need. These should be based on the supports that were recommended in your child’s evaluations.
  • “Services, Aids & Modifications” – This is a statement of the duration, frequency, and location of any special instruction that your child is receiving to address the unique need (for example: Small Group Reading Instruction – 3 times per week for 30 minutes in a Push-In location). Push-In means within the general education classroom. Pull-Out means in a separate classroom.
  • “PLEP” – The Present Level of Educational Performance is a specific statement of what your child is currently able to do in that unique area of need. It should be based on current data and should be measurable. The PLEP is the starting point for setting an annual goal and measuring your child’s progress.
  • “Benchmark” – These are the interim steps your child will take over the course of the year to reach his/her annual goal. They are typically measured each marking period. Monitoring whether your child is meeting his/her benchmarks will help you determine if they are making sufficient progress toward his/her annual goal. If your child is failing to meet his/her benchmarks, his/her IEP may need to be revised to provide more support.
  • “Annual Goal” – This is a statement of what the IEP team feels the child can achieve within 1 year’s time. The goal should be specific and measurable and should clarify how it will be measured. The amount of progress should be realistic and attainable, but not trivial. The language in the annual goal should be aligned with the language of the PLEP and benchmarks.
  • “Related Services” – Related services provide extra help and support to your child in needed areas. They can include, but are not limited to, any of the following: Speech/Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Counseling Services, Parent Training and Counseling, Social Skills instruction, Audiology, Therapeutic Recreation, Social Work Services, School Health Services, Medical Services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, Orientation and Mobility Services, and Psychological Services. The IEP must specify the frequency and duration of these services.
  • “Consideration of Eligibility for Extended School Year Services (ESY)” – The team must document whether your child is eligible for extended school year services. ESY is different from summer school or credit recovery. It is based on the needs and goals in your child’s IEP. There is no single factor that determines whether a child is eligible for ESY. Instead, the IEP team must consider a variety of factors, including whether the child has made meaningful progress towards his/her IEP goals or has a tendency to regress in critical skill areas during the summer. Note: Under Delaware law, children classified under certain disabilities automatically receive 12-month educational programs.
  • “Least Restrictive Environment” – The IEP must specify what placement your child is in. The placement (or LRE) is the extent to which your child will not participate in general education classes and extracurricular activities. The IEP lists a continuum of placements ranging from Setting A (for children who spend at least 80% of the day in the regular classroom) to Settings E, F, and G (for children who are in separate Residential Facilities, Homebound or Hospital placements, or Correctional Facilities).
  • Additional components attached to Delaware IEPs – If your child has a Behavior Intervention Plan or Positive Behavior Support Plan, this should be attached to your child’s IEP and is part of the document. Additionally, if your child needs accommodations on the State-wide Smarter Balanced, DCAS, or SAT assessments, the checklist of Smarter Balanced, DCAS, or SAT accommodations should be attached to the IEP.*

This article was designed to provide you with a basic framework for understanding your child’s Delaware IEP. The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

Editor’s note: The * in the last bullet point was edited by myself to reflect the Smarter Balanced and SAT assessments as well as DCAS.

 

 

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

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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.

 
 

Delaware Met’s Final Public Hearing Brings Out The Defenders

I received an email from someone who went to the Delaware Met public hearing tonight.  They wished to remain anonymous.  They sent me a very good indication of what the crowd was saying: Save our school!

I went to the MET school public hearing tonight.

All reports I’ve heard: from the News Journal and a student there, were horrible: one kid setting another’s hair on fire; one kid’s head banged into a wall and left a hole in the dry wall; frequent police calls; etc.  In response, the Head of School quit; the Board recommended closing, and then changed their minds;  and the DOE is recommending closing the school on 1-21-16.

But tonight was a love fest.  Only one person from the school’s board spoke; though the guy from the big conglomerate was in the audience.

I was at the hearing from 5:00 – 6:30 and they were still going strong when I left. I didn’t count the number of speakers — probably at least 20.  They were mostly students and  parents.  A couple of teachers spoke, one of whom started work 6 days ago.  Several of the girls were crying; the parents were praising the school, and angry with the State Board.  All thought the school was the best thing ever!  

Most commanding was Councilmember Hanifa Shabazz, who eloquently and angrily “demanded” that the DOE let them know where these 225 students were going to school in January. She and another parent asked to at least extend the closing till the end of the school year. 

A common theme was that the kids had grades of F till they came to this school, and now got Bs. There was also talk about good relationships between students and teachers at the school.  Some students said if they had to go back to a public school, they would probably fail or drop out, or get into trouble again.

None of this addressed the “crime in the school” issue, or the fact that there have already been so many transfers out that the head count is way down, and that could affect financial viability.

If the DOE can’t close a seriously struggling school like this – they can’t close anything.  

But those opposed to the closing have an excellent point – how could the school be approved and accept so many students, without the assurance from the State that it could function effectively?  Can remedial support solve these problems?  That is one of many  questions.

Thank you for sending this to me “anonymous”!  What frightens me the most about all this: no one is talking about special education and how students with disabilities are not having their Free Appropriate Public Education.  For those who don’t know, it’s called FAPE.  It means when you receive special education, you also get FAPE.  But if your IEP isn’t even done, or the school isn’t accommodating your IEP, you are not getting FAPE.  It’s very easy for a crowd to slam the DOE and State Board over “where is my child going to go now” and “this school is so much better”.  I encourage all these parents and community members to read about Delaware Met’s final meeting with the Charter School Accountability Committee.  Seriously.  Read it.  These are some key things that make a school work, and Delaware Met isn’t even doing that.  I get the whole community thing and helping each other out.  But this school is dangerous to leave open.  We don’t even know who is running things there now.  Is it A.J. English and his mentoring company? Pritchett and Associates?  Innovative Schools?  Teachers are leaving, and there aren’t many certified teachers left in the building.  It also doesn’t make fiscal sense to send all that money to the school in February when the bulk of the staff aren’t even there anymore.

I completely understand parents being worried about what happens with their child.  I’ve been there, a few times.  And it sucks.  Bad.  But I would rather move my child than keep him in a school that is falling apart.  No matter how much he may love it, I know at the end of the day I have to look out for his best interests.  Delaware Met parents, I have written about MANY schools on this blog.  Many charters.  And trust me when I say that NONE have been anywhere close to the level this school is at.  This is a tragedy beyond measurement.  I blame the DOE and the State Board for many things that I feel are wrong in public education.  But this is one time where they actually got it right.

There is a serious conversation that needs to happen in regards to what oversight the DOE has over charter schools from the time they approve them and when the doors open.  But at the end of the day, the Delaware Met’s board and staff are the ones that failed this school.  Not the DOE, not the State Board, and not the students.  They had a job to do, and unfortunately, they didn’t do it.  You can’t put band aids on a gaping flesh wound.  It may stop the bleeding temporarily, but it doesn’t heal the wound.  Your children deserve much better than this.

Arne Duncan Leaves Nuclear Bomb Parting Gift For Students With Disabilities

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

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

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

Delaware’s Fatal Special Education Flaw: Using Response To Intervention

Delaware is considered to be horrible for special education by many around the country.  The reason for this could be due to Response To Intervention.

Under federal law, Child Find is an obligation for all public schools in the United States of America.  Wrightslaw describes Child Find as the following:

Child Find requires all school districts to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. This obligation to identify all children who may need special education services exists even if the school is not providing special education services to the child.

The US Department of Education came up with something called Response To Intervention (RTI).  This process does not work effectively at all for potential students with disabilities.  In Delaware, the whole RTI process takes 24 weeks until a suggestion is made, if needed, for an evaluation for special education services.  That is over six months because it is 24 weeks of school time.  While that may not seem like a long time for some, for the student with disabilities it can be a lifetime.  The large problem with RTI is many schools use it based on how a student is doing academically.  Some children with disabilities are very smart but the neurological wiring may not allow them to focus or have motivation to do well in school.  If the classroom is out of control, this magnifies for the student with disabilities.  Many of these students are perceived as “behavior problems” but if they do well academically, it is difficult for them to get an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Add in other factors, such as low-income or poverty status, bullying, and violence in their environment, and this is a cauldron of problems boiling over.

Title 14 in Delaware is very specific about what Response to Intervention is:

Under federal law, Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)  is mandatory for students with an IEP.  Using the Wrightslaw definition:

In a nutshell, FAPE is an individualized educational program that is designed to meet the child’s unique needs and from which the child receives educational benefit, and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.

The problem is getting students to this point.  At the Delaware Charter School Accountability Committee meeting today, two charters brought up the RTI process in how they identify potential special education students.  But the problems mount because of the time process.  If schools are using RTI to  identify students for special education, it is a minimum of six months before the RTI system reaches the point where special education evaluation can happen in Delaware.  Schools should be looking at other factors.  I’m not saying RTI is bad.  It can be very helpful for instruction.  But using this as a determining factor for special education services can cause a student to lose a whole year.  Then add the timeframes for the evaluation, getting parent permission, convening an initial IEP meeting, and then getting to the point of actually drafting the IEP, it could very well be a whole school year.

While I don’t think any school should be over evaluating students for IEPs for additional funding, the far greater danger is in under evaluating.  If the RTI process works for academic support, but the child does not have FAPE, it is not addressing the true needs of the student.  A student with disabilities can be brilliant, but if their neurological disability gets in the way of that, it impacts their education.  This is why I oppose many of the tests schools use to determine eligibility for special education.  A simple IQ test is not going to give you answers.  Many students with disabilities suffer from large classroom sizes without enough support.  For a sensory mind, this is like a torture chamber for these children.  But get them in a small group with RTI, where the focus is more centralized to their needs, and we have a much different story.  But RTI is not an all-day event.  So when the student is back in the general curriculum environment, that’s when teachers see the true natures of disabilities manifest themselves.  If a student appears to be smart, but doesn’t seem to be in control of their actions, this is the time to get an evaluation.  Yes, they are expensive for schools.  But how much time is spent on the RTI process that may or may not get this student results until another school year in most cases?  RTI as a system costs schools tons of money, time, staffing and resources.

Until Delaware schools truly get this, both charter and district alike, we will continue to bang our heads against the wall and say “We don’t know how to fix this.”  Add to this the even more burdensome “standards-based” IEPs which are rolling out this year, and we have a special education nightmare on our hands.  I’ve said this a million times: intelligence is not the sole factor for special education.  It could be as simple as a student having sensory toys, or additional transition time, or even training for staff at a more in-depth level.  There are so many things that can be done with special education that are not financially problematic, but common sense.  But expecting a special needs child to perform at the same levels as their peers when the DOE and schools have not done their essential legwork in truly identifying these students is a lesson in futility.  They may never perform at that level, but until schools do the right thing with special education and stop doing all this time-wasting nonsense, we will never know.  And let me reiterate: when I say performing at the same level as their peers, I do NOT mean standardized testing.  All the standardized tests actually take away from the uniqueness of the individual child and says “We want all of you to be the same.”  It is a demeaning and humiliating experience for all involved when we use a test to measure success.

Office For Civil Rights Gives Stern Warning To Schools About Bullying Against Students With Disabilities @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @TNJ_malbright @DeDeptofEd #netde #eduDE

The Office For Civil Rights division of the United States Department of Education wrote a colleague letter today about the rapid increase of bullying against students with disabilities.  The department has seen a huge rise in bullying reports since 2009 according to a report by Disability Scoop.  Even though they have written letters about this issue to US schools in the past, this new one gives more detail about what constitutes bullying against students with disabilities.

One part even suggests that even if a report rules that bullying did “not create a hostile environment” the school is still obligated to determine if a free and public education (FAPE) was violated under Section 504 and IDEA guidelines.

“When a student who receives IDEA FAPE services of Section 504 FAPE services has experienced bullying resulting in a disability-based harassment violation, however, there is a strong likelihood that the student was denied FAPE.  This is because when bullying is sufficiently serious to create a hostile environment and the school fails to respond appropriately, there is a strong likelihood both that the effects of the bullying included an impact on the student’s receipt of FAPE and that the school’s failure to remedy the effects of the bullying included it’s failure to address those FAPE-related concerns.

This ruling by the OCR also indicates a significant shift in how IEP or 504 teams must handle bullying issues.

“If the school suspects the student’s needs have changed, the IEP team or the Section 504 team must determine the extent to which additional or different services are provided, ensure that any needed changes are made promptly, and safeguard against putting the onus on the student with the disability to avoid or handle the bullying.”

This means that a response to bullying on a school’s part cannot be isolating a student away from situations or peers where bullying can occur. The letter reminds schools they need to be vigilant in regards to preventing any type of bullying, whether it is disability discrimination or not.

It gives three examples of the following classifications: 1) Disability-Based Harassment Violation and FAPE Violation, 2) FAPE Violation, No Disability-Based Violation, and 3) No Disability-Based Violation, No FAPE Violation.

To read the full letter, please go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-bullying-201410.pdf

The US DOE has also issued a fact sheet for parents: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-bullying-201410.pdf

**Updated** Dover Post Publishes My Letter To Editor, Shortened But With New Info Re: Academy of Dover & Priority Schools @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @dwablog @nannyfat @DeDeptofEd @notacademyofdover

Update, October 9th: According to Cheri Marshall, acting principal of Academy of Dover, Noel Rodriguez “resigned”.  Marshall would not elaborate on any reasons for the retirement.  Allegations and innuendos are appearing on the internet, but nothing official has come out from the Academy of Dover or the Delaware Department of Education.

In today’s Dover Post, another letter to the editor appeared from myself.  It is very similar to the one presented in the Dover Post, but due to space allocation it was shortened.  However, they did include a part I wrote about the Academy of Dover that did not appear in the Delaware State News article.  So take a look, and hopefully we will get a definitive public release soon on the ex-principal firing thing.  I’m hearing allegations in other social media, but nothing substantiated.

Last week, I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Christina Board of Education meeting.  At issue were six schools in Wilmington that were deemed “failing” by the Delaware Department of Education, based on proficiency scores with the DCAS standardized testing.
To judge any school, much less low-income schools with high populations of minorities and special education students, based on standardized testing is a major fault with the DOE. But what made it even worse was the caveat of hiring new school leaders for each school at a salary of $160,000 a year. The worst part is every single teacher in these schools would have to reapply for their positions.
Meanwhile, a charter school called Academy of Dover was one of three schools in the state to win the Blue Ribbon of Excellence award from the U.S. Department of Education.  This is a school that refuses to update their website public notices of monthly board meetings. Their principal, Noel Rodriguez, was fired a few weeks ago and nobody is saying why. Their own DCAS proficiency scores were appalling at best. So we award charter schools downstate that have a majority of the same issues as the priority schools and worse, but the public school districts are ripe for the plucking?
Next spring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is coming out.  This replaces DCAS as Delaware’s standardized test for all public schools. Delaware parents, opt your child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. All you have to do is write a letter to the school, and let them know you do not want your child taking any high-stakes standardized testing, and when other children are taking the test, you expect your child to be educated as is their right under Free Appropriate Public Education.
Our children are more than test scores. Don’t let the state define what our children are. Let children define what they are based on their individualized and unique talents.
Kevin Ohlandt, Dover

Into The Wild: The Special Needs Kids of Delaware’s Priority Schools @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @delawareonline #netde #eduDE

People have asked me why I care about the priority schools all the way up in Wilmington when I live in Dover.  My reply is we should all care.  Not only because what the state and the DOE are doing is fundamentally wrong, but also because if it can happen there it can happen anywhere in our state if we don’t make a stand.  I am also very concerned about what happens with all of the students with disabilities who receive special education services.

Here are the facts: If the Red Clay and Christina school districts do not sign the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) by September 30th, the Delaware DOE will take them over.  This is no secret.  All indications are leading to the school district boards refusing to do so.  Rumors, although unsubstantiated, indicate these six schools would become charter schools.

For the September 30th, 2013 count, the six schools had the following special education populations:

Bancrof, Christina 14.7% 61 out of 206
Bayard, Christina 19.0%  88 out of 463
Warner, Red Clay 15.4% 101 out of 541
Shortlidge, Red Clay 14.0% 45 out of 317
Stubbs, Christina 9.5% 31 out of 325
Highlands, Red Clay 11.5% 32 out of 350

In comparison, the “great” charter schools Markell referred to had the following special ed populations:

East Side Charter 15.1% 61 out of 403 (students with Special Education did not score proficient in scoring)
Kuumba Academy 5.7% 17 out of 298 (not enough students to even count in the proficiency figures)

So what happens to these 358 special education students?

358 childen with IEPs and special education services may be transferred to new charter schools. As a whole, Delaware charter schools have been notorious for not being able to adequately handle special education correctly. Very few even accept the most severely complex students with disabilities.

Taking away the potential legal hurdles that may come up for the DOE, such as union contracts, ownership of the school buildings, and other litigation that may come up, say these students go to a new charter school. Since it is essentially a transfer, an IEP would have to be reviewed. Governor Markell has already said these schools will be put through a rigorous process to get the students to proficiency status. He announced after school activities for tutoring and to get students back on track. Children with special needs often have enough problems getting through a regular school day. To add longer time to the day will be a severe burden for these kids.

The “rigor” of common core will be put to the test with special needs children at these new schools. I have a theory that out of these six schools, one of the new charters will focus solely on all of these displaced students with IEPs. This would eliminate inclusion and the least restricted environment. It would also allow the other five schools proficiency scores to automatically rise on standardized testing since the “specials” are no longer part of the equation. This is not about “closing the gaps” as the DOE, Secretary of Education Mark Murphy and Governor Markell have stated. Even more far reaching is the belief from many that the DOE will grandstand these achievements, and try to have even more reach across the state with this experiment.

If this is true, every single special needs parent in Delaware needs to be very concerned. Our children will be segregated from “normal” children and a free appropriate public education will become a joke. Even worse, for these special needs children at the priority schools, this will become a TRIPLE SEGREGATION: special needs, low income and minorities. This sinister agenda is happening right before our very eyes and we need to unite. If I were any parent of special needs children at these six schools, you need to speak now. You need to organize into a group and come down to Dover, straight to the DOE office, to the Governor’s office, and anywhere your collected voice can carry weight. Demand that Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy resign or call for his termination. You need to write to the newspapers, the blogs, and contact TV and radio stations. Call AND email your elected officials: State House Representatives and Senators. Let our US Senator and House Representative representing Delaware know your complaints. Contact the US Department of Education. Let President Obama know. Contact the Office of Civil Rights. You need to picket where it will be noticed.

The IEP Task Force has their next meeting on Tuesday, September 23rd, at 4:30 pm. There are two locations: The Carvel Building in Wilmington and The Collette Center in Dover. If you are working, ask to leave early. Bring your children with you. Tell the task force your fears. Let them know you are not okay with this.

In ten days, by October 1st, you may not have any more options. This is short notice, but your children will be severely affected by this. There is no time to wait. If you have any doubt in your mind, you need to do this now. Because once it happens, you will live with regret that you didn’t speak up sooner.

 

Landmark Special Education Case Won In Pennsylvania #netde #eduDE #edchat @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

A plaintiff prevailed in a very important special education case regarding tuition reimbursement and compensatory damages in Pennsylvania.  The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reversed a decision by a Pennsylvania Special Education Hearing Officer.  The Federal District Court ruled in L.G. v. West Chester Area School District, that the plaintiff was denied a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and the student was entitled to a full tuition reimbursement for a private school as opposed to the earlier ruling for limited tuition reimbursement.

The case utilized both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and IDEA as arguments for cause in arguments.  For the 504 argument, which covers “any disability which substantially impacts learning or other major life activities”, the plaintiff, represented by McAndrews Law Firm, argued the school district did not provide appropriate Child Find in identifying a student with disabilities.  Despite behavior interventions and attendance issues, the school did not perform their obligatory responsibility as required by IDEA as well.  As well, the child did not receive an IEP while in the 2nd and 3rd grade at the school district.

This case won a good deal of victories for special education advocacy.  It established FAPE, Child Find duties, and tuition reimbursement as clear avenues for special needs parents to advocate for their children, not only in Pennsylvania, but nation-wide. 

Big Fight For A Little Girl: Abbie’s Story, Retweet, Reblog, and Repost!!! She Needs Our Help! @washingtonpost @nytimes @DianeRavitch @ed_in_de #edchat

Abbie Maas is a 9 year old girl in Florida.  Like any child, she wants the love of her parents most of all.  Abbie has never done something that you and I take for granted.  She has never spoken a single word.  Abbie has Autism.  Diagnosed at 2 years old, her parents have been told she is brilliant, as many autistic children are. 

Abbie’s parents went after her school due to a lack of special education services for their daughter.  The parents won, but the school district doesn’t even offer the kind of services that Abbie needs at this point in time.  It is between a private school or the school district would have to provide for a one-on-one paraprofessional.  Abbie needs the best possible accommodations for her disability.  That would be in the private school.

Below is from the parents Facebook page, Big Fight For A Little Girl.  No child should ever be in this position, nor should the parents.  To all of you reading this, please take the time tomorrow morning to call the below phone number to support Abigail Maass.  

About

Every child has the right to a free and appropriate public education. Unfortunately, some kids slip through the cracks and our Abigail is one of them.
Description
Our daughter is a 9 year old girl with Autism. Her name is Abigail and this page is about our fight for a free and appropriate education for her in Duval County. We have exhausted all means to get her the education she deserves. We filed for due process and went to court. We were the prevailing party and we still don’t have answers as to what the district is doing for her education. School starts in 14 days and we don’t know where she will be attending, who will be her teacher, and whether they have a one on one student focus paraprofessional on staff. The final order was written that she was awarded compensatory education and ABA services. Duval doesn’t offer this curriculum and the cost is astronomical. We can send her to a private school that is well versed in ABA for $46,000 per year vs. hiring an ABA therapist as her one on one for $100,000+ per year. We need your help to get decisions to be made for our daughter’s education. Please “like” and share this page. We need emails and calls to be made on our behalf.

This is as of earlier this evening.  Please call Mrs. Gail Roberts tomorrow with the below information. 

So the buck has been passed yet again. Apparently the decision of Abigail’s future rests on the shoulders of Mrs. Gail Roberts of Duval County’s ESE dept. We would ask that you call and email Mrs. Roberts tomorrow morning. Please be courteous and merely state your support for Abigail and that you would appreciate Mrs. Roberts making a decision based solely on the appropriate educational needs of Abbie. We so very much appreciate all of you.
Email: robertsg@duvalschools.org
Phone: 904-348-7800
 
Abbie represents what is so fundamentally wrong with special education in our country.  No school district, board or state should put parents through this kind of torture.  I have already emailed Mrs. Gail Roberts.  Please take a few minutes to help Abbie out by calling or sending an email.  For more information, please like Abbie’s Facebook page: Big Help For A Little Girl.
 
Here is a link to a local newspaper article on Abbie’s story:  http://www.firstcoastnews.com/story/news/education/2014/08/06/autistic-child-duval-county/13686991/
 

IDEA: What Disabilities, Disorders or Conditions Qualify for an IEP? Find out here, along with the key rule!

The following are listed as qualifying conditions, disabilities, or disorders for an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.  The important thing to remember for any IEP is that the condition MUST affect a child’s educational outcome.  If they are brilliant and have no problems whatsoever with learning or adapting to a classroom environment affecting the ability to learn, chances are they may not qualify.  This is a very important thing for parents to remember.  Evaluations will be done to help determine disabilities, but parents should always find out ahead of time which ones are being done, and should also do some research to make sure they are the appropriate evaluations.

The federal criteria indicates a child must be impacted in the following areas to the point where they cannot perform at grade level when given instruction at that grade level. The term the federal government gives is “adversely affected”.  The following are the educational areas where a child must be adversely affected: Oral Expression, Listening Comprehension, Written Expression, Basic Reading Skills, Reading Fluency Skills, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Calculation, and Mathematics Problem Solving.  The key to determining all of these criteria is is a history of assessments showing what areas a child may have struggled in, as well as a guarantee of appropriate professional instruction by an educator.  Once again, educational outcome must be affected!

The following are disabilities that can qualify a child for an IEP as long as they are adversely affected educationally:

Autism: A developmental disability that overwhelmingly affects a child’s verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as the ability to socially interact appropriately or at the child’s age level.  Autism typically needs to be diagnosed before the age of 3.  If the primary diagnosis that affects the ability to have a good educational outcome is an emotional disturbance it is not considered autism.

Deafness: A child would need to be completely deaf or the hearing must be so bad that they cannot function at an educational level appropriate to their age, with or without technical assistance or amplification.

Deaf-Blindness: A child with both of these afflictions must be in a position where they cannot reasonably be educated in classrooms with students who are just deaf or just blind.

Developmental Delay: This would be a delay in one or more of these disadvantages- physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, or behavior development.

Emotional Disturbance: The following must be present over a long period of time and to the extent that the educational outcome is affected.  These include an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual or sensory or health factors, not being able to create or maintain social relationships with peers and teachers, behavior that is not normal under usual circumstances, a continuing depression or feeling of unhappiness, and an ability to create symptoms or fears in regards to school and social life.  Schizophrenia would be covered under this.

Hearing Impairment: The child is not deaf, but their ability to hear impacts them to such a degree that an educational outcome is affected.

Intellectual Disability: Not being able to significantly function intellectually at an age appropriate level.  This has to co-exist with an inability to show signs of adaptive behavior.  Another key factor is this must be shown while a child is still in development.  This used to be called mental retardation, but a law in 2010 changed the terminology.

Orthopedic Impairment: These must be conditions that stem from disease such as tuberculosis or polio, an amputation, the permanent shortening of a muscle or joint (this would include those caused by burns or fractures), and cerebral palsy.

Other-Health Impaired: This is easily the most controversial category involved in identifying whether a child qualifies for an IEP because the following do not have their own category.  It is not a one-size fits all listing though where any condition must occur, but it MUST be looked at by anyone determining a qualification for an IEP.  Disabilities or Conditions listed in this category are: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Asthma, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Heart conditions, Hemophilia, Lead Poisoning, Leukemia, Nephritis (A kidney inflammation disorder), Rheumatic Fever, Sickle Cell Anemia and Tourette’s Syndrome.  With any of these, there must be clear signs that educational outcome is affected.

Specific Learning Disability: This is another one that can be easily missed that includes dyslexia, perceptual disabilities, brain injury (including those that cause minimal brain dysfunction), and developmental aphasia (also known as word blindness).

Speech or Language Impairment: These would be listed as a communication disorder with the following types of conditions- stuttering, a voice or language impairment, or an impaired articulation.  Once again, educational outcome must be affected.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Put simply, this means any brain injury cause by an “outside physical force”.  It must cause total or part dysfunction, and affect abilities such as language, reasoning, memory, cognition, judgment, problem solving, or attention.  It could also cause problems with your motor, sensory, or perceptual abilities.  Other factors could include problems with physical functions, information processing, and social behavior.

Visual Impairment (including Blindness): This covers any impairment with a child’s vision whether it can be corrected or not that also affects a child’s educational outcome.

Multiple Disabilities: Having more than one disability, disorder or condition on this list, with the exception of deaf-blindness (as that is already a multiple disability), that would cause additional special education to cover the multiple disabilities.

It is very important for any parent to know that their child does not have to be failing to have their educational outcome in trouble.  Federal law states that any child with one or more disabilities must have a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that requires “special education or related services”.

In the world of special education, teachers, special education departments and administrators live by acronyms.  They will refer to FAPE, IEP, IDEA, and other terms all the time.  If you aren’t familiar with these terms, it can get very confusing for a parent.  So it is worth it to brush up on these prior to any IEP meeting.

For a lot of parents who have already been thrust into the special education world, most of this is familiar to us.  For new parents introduced to these terms, I hope this provided some insight and clarification for you.