Delaware DOE Releases Final Odyssey Formal Review Report

Today, the Charter School Office at the Delaware Department of Education released the final report for the formal review of Odyssey Charter School.  While Delaware media covered a good deal of this, there is some new information.  In addition, the Odyssey Board of Directors sent out two letters to the Odyssey Community from the Wilmington Chapter of the AHEPA organization regarding their role with the Ithaka Learning Center that has been the center of a lot of allegations of financial shenanigans at Odyssey. Continue reading

Delaware School Administrator Funding Analysis Reveals A Hot Mess!

In essence, administrator counts are being determined by units of pupils, as opposed to the number of personnel under their span of responsibility.

Continue reading

Youth Drug Prevention Curriculum Task Force Final Report Deals With Gripping Questions

Last June, Delaware legislators passed a concurrent resolution which created a task force to look at curriculum for drug prevention in Delaware’s public schools.  The final report came out on January 7th.

The task force was led by Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend and State Rep. Ruth Briggs-King.  They met from September to December last fall.  The main purpose of the task force was to make recommendations for the best drug prevention programs in our schools.  The law demands evidence-based programs to curtail drug use in Delaware students but there is simply not enough evidence on the effectiveness of the many different programs utilized by the 19 school districts in Delaware.

One program stood out above all others.  The Botvin program was frequently named in the task force minutes.  I read the minutes last night but was not able to read through the Botvin material.  When it comes to drug use in kids, I say whatever programs works best should be used by all districts.  There was a lot of discussion about unfunded mandates among the group and the expense for these programs.  This was followed by talk about local control or state control over these programs.

The report is very long but it is worth the read.  I want to know more about the skateboarding program in Sweden that they use!  Make it happen Erin!

Moment of Truth for 8 Delaware Charter Schools

On December 20th, the State Board of Education will decide on seven charter school renewals at their monthly meeting after hearing the decision by Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting.  Meanwhile, the Red Clay Consolidated School District Board of Education will decide on Charter School of Wilmington’s charter renewal.  Two charters want a ten-year renewal.  Two have submitted minor modification requests to decrease enrollment.  Yesterday, the Delaware DOE’s Charter School Office released the final reports for all seven charters up for renewal through their office.  Continue reading

Special Report: Red Flags In Delaware Student Enrollment Trends & The Increase In Special Education

The Delaware Department of Education released the September 30th counts report for the 2018-2019 school year.  Enrollment in Delaware is up by 775 students.  Special education is on the rise, jumping to over 16%. There are some very odd trends going on with different sub-groups in Delaware.  Ones that are making me VERY suspicious. Continue reading

Breaking News: Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force Final Report Released Today

Delaware State Representative and Chair of the Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force Earl Jaques released the final report of the school district consolidation task force today.  The report, seen below, does NOT recommend consolidating school districts based on “findings” that it would not save a substantial amount of money.  It does, however, give recommendations regarding shared services among school districts.  This report, in my opinion, is missing a TON of information! Continue reading

District Consolidation Task Forces Passes All Recommendations But There Were No Recommendations For Actual Consolidation Of Districts

Sorry for the long title.  Yes, the Delaware School District Consolidation Task Force did not have any recommendations to actually consolidate any school districts in the state.  But there were a ton of other recommendations that were passed by the task force.  However, State Rep. Earl Jaques (the Task Force Chair) did manage to anger one citizen who came all the way down from Wilmington to give public comment.  Jaques adjourned the meeting without asking if anyone wanted to give public comment even though it was on the agenda.  I did ask Earl if he could readjourn the meeting before everyone left to allow the citizen to speak but he just gave his infamous head roll.  Bad form Earl!

All the recommendations passed (which you can read here) with a few edits to some of them.  I will get those up when they come out.  I voted no on a few of the recommendations.  One that really got my goat concerned professional development days for ALL employees of a district.  I wasn’t opposed to the original wording which said “establish” but it was changed to “support”, as in give the local school board the ability to provide it based on its merits.  I wanted “establish”, and even suggested an addendum covering special education for ALL employees, but I was told by the Committee Chair (Dr. Dusty Blakey, Superintendent of Colonial School District) it would include special education.  I voted no because the addendum took out the word “establish”.

While the actual task force report won’t come out until May 7th, folks may be surprised the majority of the task force voted yes on tax increases to be created by the State which would come as either a Statewide or Countywide tax to cover a projected deficit of $125 million to “reduce class sizes, provide after school programs, wellness centers, additional reading, Math and ELL specialists, early childhood education for 2,3, and 4 year olds and other programs needed to level the playing field for children in those underserved communities.”  While I support many of those items, I voted no because the task force also recommended providing additional funding for English Language Learners and students living in poverty (note it was NOT for low-income students).  Four of us voted no on that.  Another one of those no votes was Senator Dave Sokola.  See Dave, we can agree at times!  By implementing a statewide or countywide tax, that is more money coming out of taxpayer pockets and leaves the legislators off the hook.  It is their job to balance the state budget and I would think there is enough “fluff” in our budget to cover those deficits.  As an example, get rid of the very horrible charter school transportation slush fund.  That did come up as a recommendation but since the legislation creating the task force did not include charter school matters for points of discussion that recommendation was not voted on by the task force.

Transportation was a major issue and created much discussion around it.  There is a tremendous shortage of bus drivers in Delaware and the recommendation passed to look at potential raises for district bus drivers.  Contractors set their own rates based on what the district can pay them.  Anything more would have to come from the contractor.

 

 

 

 

 

HCR #54 Would Move Due Date For School District Consolidation Task Force Final Report To May 15th

State Representative Earl Jaques introduced House Concurrent Resolution #54 to the House today.  This resolution would extend the findings of the School District Consolidation Task Force from January 30th to May 15th this year.  The resolution passed unanimously in the House and will go before the Delaware Senate for a voice vote.  The prior House Concurrent Resolution which created the task force was HCR #39.

Given the amount of sub-committees involved with this, this comes as no surprise to me.  This doesn’t change my prediction of the final recommendations of this task force (of which I am a voting member).

Delaware Charter Schools Network Removed From District Consolidation Task Force Membership

It was one of those blink and you miss it moments.  In the midst of budget negotiations in the early hours of July 1st, the Delaware House of Representatives voted again on House Concurrent Resolution #39 after Senator Colin Bonini added an amendment in the Senate.  The bill passed the Senate but because the amendment was added, the House had to vote again.

Bonini’s amendment removed charter schools from being a part of any district consolidation discussion.  When the bill came back to the House, State Rep. Kim Williams added another amendment which would remove the Delaware Charter Schools Network from membership on the district consolidation task force.  It was a logical amendment.  If charters didn’t want to be a part of the discussion, why would they want membership?  The amendment barely passed with 21 yes and 20 no.  The sole Republican yes vote came from State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman.  Democrats who voted against it were Earl Jaques, Melanie Smith, Larry Mitchell, Quinton Johnson and Pete Schwartzkopf.  None of those Dem votes really surprise me.  Some who voted yes surprised me, but I have seen similar votes with charter related bills this year so perhaps there could be a shift in thinking on that front.

The Delaware Department of Education is the support agency for this task force.  While no meetings have been scheduled at this point, the final report is due to the General Assembly by January 30th, 2018.  I expect this task force will get going at some point later this summer.

Delaware DOE Releases Detailed School Assault Report

Last year, the Delaware 148th  General Assembly passed Senate Bill 207 with House Amendment #1.  The amendment required the Delaware Department of Education to compile a more detailed report on student on student assaults that resulted in a misdemeanor charge.  The DOE finished that report yesterday for the 2016-2017 school year.  Some of these are very vicious fights.

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION DR. SUSAN BUNTING COVER LETTER

SENATE BILL 207 w/HOUSE AMENDMENT #1 FINAL REPORT

President Obama’s Office Releases Massive “Rethinking Discipline” Report For Schools

Today, the White House released a very long report on school discipline entitled “The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline”.  The report has a plethora of recommendations for public schools in America.  I agree with most of them based on a cursory glance, but like many reports of this nature that I write about, it fails to recognize the fact that Common Core State Standards or other similar standards along with the high-stakes testing environment accompanying those standards are causing more problems than they are worth in our schools.  I will write more about this as I go through the report in the coming days.

The Every Student Succeeds Act addresses school discipline and how our schools carry out punishment for negative behaviors.  On Monday evening, the ESSA Discussion Group I am a member of in Delaware addressed this very issue.  As well, a Delaware newspaper is working on an extensive article about bullying in Delaware and how our schools respond to bullying reporting.

It remains unclear how the incoming Trump administration will view this report.

For now, please read the below report.

Restraint & Seclusion Report For Delaware 15-16 Is Out… Numbers Rising…

The Delaware Department of Education released the Restraint & Seclusion report for the 2015-2016 school year.  The number of physical restraints this year were 2,695, up from 2,307 in 2014-2015.  That means there were 388 more physical restraints of students last year compared to the year before.  I have to ask why everything is increasing with discipline in our schools.  I can’t help but think that Common Core really isn’t working, especially for students with disabilities.  Like last year, most of these physical restraints are going to students with disabilities and over half of them were African-American students.  The highest age group was 9-11, and boys were more likely to be restrained than girls.  You can read the full report below.  I broke it down last year, but I really don’t have the stomach for that today.

Rep Kim Williams Rips Into The Delaware DOE During Public Meeting

The Delaware Dept. of Education held the third meeting of the Strategic Plan for Specialized Education Opportunities in Delaware today.  I can’t even make an abbreviation out of that one.  Do not be confused with the Strategic Plan for Special Education that the DOE is also working on.  In any event, Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams was NOT a happy camper.  While she is not a member of this committee, she attended the meeting and had some words to say to the DOE.

Apparently this committee came about as a result of an amendment on House Bill #56, the Wilmington charter school moratorium legislation signed by Governor Markell in 2015.  The Dept. was tasked with reviewing all educational opportunities in the state including charter, district, and vo-tech.  The DOE contracted with Public Consulting Group (PCG) to write up the report which came out last December.  PCG continued to work on the strategic plan and came out with another report in October.  In the October report, PCG made a reference to a District-Charter Collaboration Task Force.  Which is ironic since they didn’t post minutes nor did they come out with a final report.

At one point during the meeting today, Delaware Senator David Sokola mentioned a need for low-income and special education information on school choice applications.  David Blowman from the Delaware DOE allowed me to speak and I mentioned how the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, of which Sokola was a member, voted in the majority that information like that should not be on choice applications.  I mentioned that it was recommendations from the task force but it showed a clear decision to not have those items on choice applications.  Blowman agreed with me and said those items should not be on applications.  This prompted Rep. Williams to speak…

In August, Rep. Williams contacted the DOE about this strategic plan.  She contacted PCG and discussed the Enrollment Preferences Task Force, which met for a year and a half, kept all their minutes, and came out with a mammoth-sized final report which was sent to the DOE and the General Assembly.  She emailed a link to PCG.  Nothing even mentioning the Enrollment Preferences Task Force made it into PCG’s October report.  Williams blasted the DOE for this by stating she failed to understand how this strategic plan is meant to provide opportunities for ALL students.  She was clearly (and understandably) upset the report gave no mention to a task force she devoted a year and a half to.  But the District-Charter Collaboration Task Force, which had severe issues with transparency and no final report.  It was obvious to many in the audience that this oversight was not simply a mistake on PCG’s report.  I know for a fact the Delaware DOE and State Board of Education Executive Director Donna Johnson worked with PCG on their initial report which came out a few days before the final report for the Enrollment Preferences Task Force came out.

Senator Sokola asked Williams why she didn’t introduce legislation based on the recommendations of the task force during the last legislative session.  Williams explained that the legislation wouldn’t have come out until March of this year and everyone was very wrapped up in the WEIC redistricting plan.  Sokola said he can see that.  But Williams did say she will be introducing legislation based on those recommendations when the General Assembly comes back in January.  Williams argued that if she didn’t look at the October report from PCG and she didn’t attend this meeting, the DOE wouldn’t have even thought to mention the work 27 members of the task force worked on for a year and a half into this strategic plan.  There was no clear response from Blowman or Susan Haberstroh (also with the DOE).

Williams mentioned the glaring omission two times.  Eventually, Haberstroh assured the committee and Rep. Williams the Enrollment Preference Task Force report would be a part of the strategic plan.  This was supposed to be the last meeting of this committee but once the subject of enrollment barriers came up it was obvious the committee would need to meet again which all agreed to.

There is something about this committee that seems off.  Sokola and State Rep. Earl Jaques talked about the Christina School District a few times when talking about surplus school seats.  As well, the subject of empty buildings districts own came up.  I always find it to be odd when Sokola and Jaques, who are in their seats primarily because of voters from the Christina School District, tear into them.  I didn’t trust it when Sokola mentioned having information on choice applications he knew damn well shouldn’t be on there.

When Jeff Klein with the University of Delaware presented a report on choice applications by zip code, he did say there was a section in Maryland.  Sokola mentioned it could be a teacher sending their child to a Delaware school.  Which I assume to be Newark Charter School.  The DOE responded by saying it would be illegal for Delaware to pay for a Maryland student in a Delaware school.  Sokola had a puzzled look on his face…

Kendall Massett with the Delaware Charter Schools Network asked a question similar to one she asked at the meeting a few weeks ago.  She questioned why, as an example, if Woodbridge and Delmar school districts wanted a culinary program but didn’t have enough students to have a program, why they couldn’t push for opening a charter school to serve that need.  Heath Chasanov with Woodbridge explained they do have a program with Delmar that Del Tech coordinates.  I don’t fault Kendall for asking the question, but it would be more financially feasible for the districts to work together to offer programs in coordination as opposed to opening a brand new charter school that may or not fail.  This was echoed by David Blowman.

I did find out, 100%, that there are NO plans for Prestige Academy to merge into EastSide Charter School and Family Foundations.  Massett did explain that all the Wilmington charters are working with Prestige for a smooth transition for the students when the charter closes at the end of the year.

To read the reports PCG came out with in October, please see below.

Don’t Believe Any Recommendations Coming Out Of The Education Funding Committee Report

I touched on this last week, but it is essential that the citizens of Delaware not believe the final recommendations of the Senate Joint Resolution #4 Education Funding Improvement Committee.  Their report is due to the General Assembly by Thursday, June 30th.  In a public meeting, one of the members of EFIC (as it is commonly known as in the halls of power in Delaware) stated the committee could not agree on any of the recommendations brought forth at their final committee.  No formal vote was taken on any specific actions.

I learned this by attending the meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) last week.  GACEC Chair Robert Overmiller was a member of EFIC.  Along with all the other DOE special education shenanigans at that meeting, there was also this tidbit culled from my recording of the meeting:

The Senate Joint Resolution 4.  We had our meeting yesterday and the reality is they have approved zero motions and zero recommendations for the unit count.  Because they spent the whole year trying to convince the committee to throw out unit counts and put in what the DOE and Governor Markell want.  And they were totally unsuccessful in convincing the committee to do so.  So I don’t know what the report is going to look like when it comes out.  At the end of the month it will be turned in to the legislators but they definitely approved zero recommendations and zero anything.  Nothing was ever voted on for approval or exception.  So that committee produced nothing this year.

That sounds like a very clear statement to me!  I expect the Delaware DOE to post the final report any day now.  Like the Assessment Inventory Committee final report issued yesterday, I do not expect this report to be a complete record of what really went down at these meetings.  I still don’t understand why former State Rep. Darryl Scott is allowed to run committees like this and have a seat on the Southern Regional Education Board when he is not now an elected official, but this is Delaware.  If we see a weighted funding formula recommendation for education coming out of this report, it is a lie.  This is what happens when a committee is stacked with Markell sympathizers coming out of Rodel and the charter sector.

 

 

Official: Probation Recommendations for Academy of Dover, Freire, Prestige Academy and DE Design Lab

The Charter School Accountability Committee recommended probation for all four of the Delaware charter schools currently under formal review.  The State Board of Education and Secretary Mark Murphy will make their final decision at the State Board of Education meeting on June 18th.

For Academy of Dover, their probation will be for a year, whereas the other three schools have until the end of this year to get out of probation.  Read the following documents for all four schools.  And I also want to thank the DOE’s Exceptional Children Resources Group for grilling these schools on special education issues!

I will be writing more as I digest all of these documents. The DOE certainly gives us bloggers lots to read!

Wilmington Education Advisory Committee Final Report

After months of hard work, the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee issued its final report today.  This mammoth 204 page report has many suggestions based on interviews, research and community input.  Please read the below report.  I will post my own thoughts in an update on this article after I have read through the entire report.

 

Delaware IEP Task Force Final Report Released Today

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn released the final report of the IEP Task Force today.  It’s a good start, but there is still a lot that needs to change in Delaware for special education to be great.  I really hope the 148th Assembly, beginning their legislative session on January 13th, will reassemble this task force.  I firmly believe there should be many more parents on this task force, and they could trim some of the heavy-handed school personnel.  If it does continue, parents need to come and give public comment.  I went to every meeting (more than some of the task force members).  Take the time special needs parents.  You never know, if enough people complain about the same thing, change could happen.

The Task Force’s Mission

Senate Concurrent Resolution 63 established an IEP Improvement Task Force in order “To Examine Means to Improve the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Process for Students in Delaware Public Schools.” The resolution noted that the process of developing IEPs “is, at best, difficult for parents to understand and navigate, and at worst in some instances, unfair and intimidating to parents,” and that it “does not always result in the best outcome for students with disabilities.” Most significantly, the task force was tasked with recommending to the General Assembly and Governor “potential legislative, regulatory, funding, or other improvements to Delaware’s IEP process.” The task force was also charged with informing the General Assembly and Governor about practices being used in other states that are different from Delaware’s, different IEP practices used within Delaware, research and other academic evidence regarding best practices in IEP development, and federal and state law restrictions on changes to the Delaware IEP process.

Members of the IEP Improvement Task Force

The Hon. Matthew Denn Chair
Dr. Pam Atchison Delaware Association of School Administrators
Marissa L. Band, Esq. Delaware State Bar Association
Tracy Bombara School service provider
Dafne Carnright Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Tricia Dallas Special education teacher
Bill Doolittle Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Diane Eastburn Kent County Parent Representative
Rep. Debra Heffernan House Majority Caucus
Mike Hoffmann Delaware State Education Association
Seth Kopp Special education teacher
Ruth Lavelle New Castle County Parent Representative
Sen. Dave Lawson Senate Minority Caucus
Laura Manges Delaware Association of School Administrators
Maryann Mieczkowski Department of Education
Rep. Joe Miro House Minority Caucus
Sen. Nicole Poore Senate Majority Caucus
Shawn Rohe Developmental Disabilities Council
Howard Shiber Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Meedra Surratte Parent advocate
Jossette Threatts School service provider
Liz Toney Delaware PTA
Brian Touchette Governor’s designee
Karen Wagamon Sussex County Parent Representative

Federal Statutory Law Governing Delaware’s IEP Process

Because Delaware receives federal funds under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is required to submit a plan to the United States Secretary of Education showing that the state has in effect policies and procedures to ensure that an individualized education program meeting the requirements of federal statute is developed, reviewed, and revised for each child with a disability.

The federal IDEA statute has a number of very specific requirements as to what must be included in a student’s IEP. The IEP must include:

a statement of the child’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance (including how the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum, for preschool children as appropriate how the disability affects the student’s participation in appropriate activities, and for children who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives);

a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to meet the child’s need resulting from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs arising from the child’s disability;

a description of how the child’s progress towards meeting annual goals will be measured and when periodic progress reports will be provided;

a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child;

an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in regular classes and activities;

a statement of accommodations necessary for the student to take the state’s student assessment or explanation of why the student must take an alternate assessment and why that alternate assessment is appropriate;

the projected date for the start of services and the anticipated frequency and duration of services; and

for IEPs that will affect students 16 and older, measurable post-secondary goals and transition services needed to assist the student in reaching those goals.

These required elements of an IEP are minimum standards set by federal statute, but there is no reason that a state cannot add additional required elements.

The federal IDEA statute also contains minimum requirements for who must be on a student’s IEP team. Required team members include parents, at least one regular education teacher if the student has one, at least one special education teacher, at least one district or charter representative who is qualified to supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the needs of children with disabilities, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results (who may be a member already required by another provision of the statute), any individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child who the parents wish to have present, and whenever appropriate the child in question. The statute also enumerates the factors that must be considered in developing the IEP, and requires consideration of positive behavioral interventions and supports for students whose behavior impedes learning and other special factors for students with other specified disabilities.

The federal IDEA statute requires that the student’s IEP be reviewed at least annually to determine whether annual goals are being met, to be revised to address lack of expected progress, the results of any re-evaluations, information provided by parents, or other matters.

Finally, the federal IDEA statute contains a number of detailed formal procedural safeguards in addition to those described above. They include provisions governing parents’ access to records, designation of educational surrogates for students whose parents cannot be located, written notice to parents of proposed changes (or refusals to change) an IEP, opportunities for mediation, the contents of required notifications to parents of complaints relating to due process and other procedural irregularities, and the specific procedures that must be followed by the state when a parent files a due process or administrative appeal of a school district or charter school’s decision.
Enhancements to the IEP Process Under Delaware State Law

In 2010, the Delaware General Assembly amended the Delaware Code to provide for a substantially more detailed definition of the “Free and Appropriate Public Education” that is required by the IDEA statute (and therefore required to form the basis for an IEP), and to incorporate specific terminology from case law in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that was more favorable to students with disabilities than the standard that was being applied by some school districts prior to the 2010 amendments. Under House Bill 328, IEPs must provide for an education that is individualized to meet the unique needs of the student, provides significant learning to the student, and confers meaningful benefit on the student that is gauged to the student’s potential.

Delaware law also contains new provisions requiring that certain elements be included in the IEP of a student 7 years or older who is not yet readingand a student who is deaf or has a hearing deficiency, and a relatively new provision requiring that that local school boards be kept better apprised of appeals of IEP decisions.

Although there are lengthy federal and state regulations that also govern the IEP process, they do not affect the facets of the IEP process addressed in this report in a way that differs from the statutory framework described above.
Best Practices With Respect to the IEP Process

There does not appear to be any national or academic consensus on what constitutes best practices with respect to the preparation of IEPs. Although the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education have endorsed “standards-based IEPs” as a best practice, there has been controversy both in Delaware and nationally as to what that term means and how it is actually used with respect to the preparation of individual IEPs. For that reason, the task force takes no stance at this time with respect to using standards-based IEPs. With respect to the specific issue of the preparation of IEPs for students age 14 and older, there does appear to be a consensus — including a recommendation from Delaware’s State Transition Task Force – that IEPs for children age 14 and older should be student-led when possible.

TASK FORCE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The task force met eight times, and at each meeting also allowed members of the public to speak. Early in the tenure of the task force it became apparent that the list of issues that task force members and members of the public wished to address relating to the IEP process was longer than the task force would have time to thoughtfully discuss in the time permitted by its enabling legislation. Therefore, the task force members settled upon a number of priority recommendations, which are reflected below. However, the task force also recommends that it be reconstituted by the General Assembly so that it may return to some of the important issues that were raised but could not be discussed due to time restrictions, including district and charter school determinations of eligibility for services, and the use of standards-based IEPs.

The task force recommends that the state take the following steps as soon as reasonably possible in order to improve the IEP process for students and their parents. The task force’s recommendations apply to all public schools, both traditional public schools and charter schools. The task force recognizes that there are time commitments and costs associated with some of its recommendations, to the extent that those could be specifically calculated they are reflected in the recommendations.

Structural Support for Parents and Students in the IEP Process

Ensuring Representation at IEP Meetings for Parents Who Need Assistance. Several task force members and members of the public noted the complexity and potentially intimidating nature of IEP meetings, and thought it necessary (a) for parents to clearly understand that there were organizations that could either prepare them to better handle IEP meetings or attend those meetings with them, and (b) for those organizations to have adequate resources to be able to assist parents who might reasonably require their assistance. The task force focused on two options currently available to some Delaware parents requiring assistance with the IEP process. One is the Parent Information Center, which provides training and advice to parents and, in some instances, has non-attorneys attend IEP meetings with parents. The second is Community Legal Aid Society of Delaware, which provides free legal representation to a limited number of parents with specific legal issues in the IEP process. Therefore, the task force makes the following recommendations:

The state should require schools to provide specific, clear guidance to parents as soon as (a) the school has notice that their child has a disability, (b) a child is identified by the parent or school as needing evaluation for a potential disability, or (c) a child transitions as he/she approaches age three from the state’s Child Development Watch program, that the parents may be able to receive assistance through the Parent Information Center, Community Legal Aid Society, or private legal counsel.

The state should ensure that the resources necessary to meet the anticipated demand for legal services are made available to the Parent Information Center and Community Legal Aid. Specifically, the task force urges the General Assembly to grant the request of CLASI’s Disabilities Law Program for $100,000 in funds to continue its special education advocacy project, which would allow it to train or assist 250 families in the IEP process, and to make $88,500 available to the Parent Information Center in order to allow it to hire two additional full-time parent consultants to meet anticipated increases in its demand for its services.

Parent Councils. The task force saw great value in schools facilitating communication between parents of students with special needs new to the IEP process and parents who have more experience with the process. Therefore, the task force recommends that the state require school districts and charter schools to facilitate the creation of parent councils for the parents of students with disabilities. These parent councils would have two purposes: first, to advocate generally for children with disabilities within their school districts, and second, to provide person-to-person support for individual parents and children attempting to navigate the IEP process.

Procedural Changes to the IEP Process

Eliciting Input From Parents Prior to IEP Meetings. The task force believes that a more open-ended effort to solicit parents’ input about their children’s needs prior to an IEP meeting would result in IEPs that better reflect the viewpoints of parents and children about the unique educational needs of that child. For that reason, the task force recommends that Delaware statute require school districts and charter schools to formally elicit, through the use of a voluntary questionnaire, the viewpoints of parents and (where age appropriate) children in advance of the preparation of a draft IEP or holding of an IEP meeting. The questionnaire should elicit the parent and child’s views on the child’s progress to date and additional steps that should be taken to adjust the child’s goals, curriculum, services, aids, modifications or other elements of the student’s IEP.

Providing Parents With Information Prior to IEP Meetings. One problem that was repeatedly identified by task force members was the fact that in some IEP meetings, parents were presented for the first time at an IEP meeting with a draft IEP report and expected to comprehend, consider, and approve the draft IEP in a single sitting. One proposal made by the task force to improve this process was to amend Delaware statute to require that a draft IEP be offered to parents prior to an IEP meeting if one is to be considered at the meeting itself, so that the parent has the option of carefully reviewing the draft IEP before the meeting and better participating in the meeting. Any draft document provided to the parent prior to the IEP meeting should be clearly and prominently labelled as a draft document that is for discussion purposes at the impending IEP meeting. The draft IEP would be offered to parents only if such a document had been created prior to the IEP meeting, and would be accompanied by a letter clearly indicating to parents that the document is a draft for discussion and possible revision rather than a final document. In addition to a draft IEP, parents should also be able to request prior to the IEP meeting data pertaining to their child’s needs and/or disability. With respect to this recommendation and the prior recommendation relating to eliciting input from parents, information should either be provided to parents in their native language where required by law or assistance should be offered to parents to translate the information.

Providing Protections to Teachers and Staff To Ensure Free Discussion During IEP Meetings. Some task force members noted that teachers, staff, and contractors of school districts and charter schools can feel constrained from freely engaging in discussion at a child’s IEP meeting for fear of later repercussions for their comments. The task force recommends that the General Assembly amend the Delaware Code to prohibit School Districts, Charter Schools, and/or the Department of Education from retaliating or causing teachers, staff, or contractors to face other negative repercussions as a result of their expression of a student’s needs and/or rights in connection to the IEP process.

Discouraging the Use of Acronyms and Technical Terminology in the Preparation of IEPs. The task force noted that the use of acronyms and technical terms in IEPs can be confusing to parents and children and discourage those parents and children from understanding the IEP and participating in its preparation and revision. The task force recommends that the state, in its training and instructional materials for school districts and charter schools, discourage the use of acronyms and technical terms where they need not be used, and provide a glossary to parents and children so that they can comprehend those terms where they must be used.

Enhanced Discussion of Transition Planning. Although funding challenges make it unlikely in the short term that individual representatives from relevant state agencies can participate in IEP meetings at an earlier stage than they presently enter the process, the task force strongly recommends that schools and school districts hold informational meetings for parents of students who are approaching transition age where parents and children can receive information from relevant state agencies and incorporate that information into the IEP process. The task force also recommends that each school district and charter school have an employee who serves as a designated transition coordinator.

Prioritizing Competitive and Integrated Employment Options. Competitive and integrated employment settings should be thoroughly discussed during the IEP process as the top priority employment option for students with disabilities. This is consistent with HB319 signed into law July 2012 which declares that it is the policy of this state that competitive employment (including compensation at or above minimum wage) in an integrated setting shall be considered the first and priority option when offering or providing services to persons with disabilities who are of working age (14 years of age or older).

Format and Structure of the IEP Meeting Itself

Participation of Relevant Faculty and Staff. Several task force members and members of the public noted that in some cases, paraprofessionals and other staff who may work with a child more extensively than anyone else at the school are not included in IEP meetings. The task force did recognize the logistical challenges presented by having multiple staff people present at IEP meetings, at the same time that all other students in the school need to be supervised and educated. In an effort to balance these realities, the task force recommends (a) that parents be explicitly invited prior to each IEP meeting to recommend any staff members who they believe should be present at the meeting, and (b) that schools be required to ensure that those staff members be present for at least a portion of the IEP meeting, even if their schedule does not permit them to participate in the entire meeting. This recommendation reflects not only what the task force believes to be a good practice, but also applicable federal law.

Preparation Time for Teachers and Staff. Teachers and staff members on the task force who participate in the preparation of IEPs expressed concern with the absence of sufficient time to adequately prepare for IEP meetings. The task force recommends that school districts and charter schools develop a mechanism by which the scheduling demands on teachers and staff specifically allow for preparation time for IEP meetings.

Use of Computer Programs for Preparation of IEPs. A number of task force members involved in the preparation of IEPs expressed strong concern with the computer program whose use the state has mandated for preparation of IEPs. Specifically, task force members stated that the computer system frequently does not work – that it shuts down or freezes during preparation of the IEP or the IEP meeting itself, not only inconveniencing parents, students, teachers, and staff, but also causing valuable instructional and therapeutic time to be lost. The task force believes that there is real value to the use of a working computerized IEP preparation program, but the current program often does not work and is an impediment to the preparation of IEPs and the overall instruction of students with disabilities. Therefore, the task force recommends that the state legislature direct that the Department of Education make a formal report to the General Assembly and Governor by March 1, 2015 on (a) the functionality of IEP Plus, (b) specific plans that are in place to remedy any problems with IEP Plus, and (c) available alternatives to IEP Plus which would provide a more usable computerized system for preparation of IEPs.

Reporting to Parents on Student Progress

Improving Reporting to Parents on Students’ IEP Progress. Task force members noted that the current manner in which some school districts and charter schools report student progress on their IEPs is not helpful or, in some cases, coherent. The task force recommends that the state adopt specific standards for districts and charters to report to parents on IEP progress, which should include a clear and simple manner of communicating whether a student is meeting his or her stated IEP goals and specific information reflecting the degree to which a student has received related services that are required by his or her IEP (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy). Progress reporting for students with transition IEPs should include progress toward activities and services leading toward all post-secondary goals.

Random Auditing of District and Charter School Compliance With State and Federal Law

The Need for Random, Open-Ended Examinations of School Districts and Charter Schools to Ensure Compliance with State and Federal Law Governing IEPs. In the course of discussing other recommendations, it became clear to the task force that although the state reviews the written records of school districts and charter schools to ensure compliance with the law, and surveys parents anonymously to gather statistical information about the IEP process, there is no current effort to make inquiries with parents about the IEP process that would reveal concerns with that process which might not be evident from a review of written records. The task force recommends that the state directly inquire of a material number of parents from each school district and charter school each year who have participated in the IEP process as to their satisfaction with the process, and use the information gathered in the course of that inquiry to conduct follow-up examinations with school districts and charter schools as to their good faith compliance with IEP laws and regulations.

Specific Needs of Charter Schools

Technical Assistance and Professional Development for Charter Schools. The task force noted that there is a deficiency among charter schools, often because of their limited size compared to school districts, in training and expertise relating to the development of IEPs and knowledge of statewide programs that are available to assist with the education of students with disabilities. The task force recommends that charter schools be required to have responsible persons at their schools receive appropriate training from the Department of Education designed to ensure that they are aware of their legal responsibilities relating to IEP preparation and aware of the resources available to them to comply with those responsibilities.

 

Visually Impaired Students

Separate Task Force Recommendation. A number of public members and task force members believed that the unique educational needs of students with visual impairments were not being met through the existing IEP process, but that the number of changes necessary to remedy this problem exceeded the time or scope of this task force. Therefore, those members suggested – and this task force recommends – that the state set up a separate task force assigned to specifically address the needs of visually impaired students.