DE Atty. General Matt Denn Files Brief For Special Education Supreme Court Case… What About My Kid Matt?

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, along with the AGs from Massachusetts and New Mexico, filed an amicus brief for the upcoming special education case which will be heard by the United States Supreme Court.  The Endrew F. v Douglas County School District is a case which can change the face of special education.  But what about my kid right here in Delaware Matt Denn?  The one who was kicked out of a special education program at a Delaware private school last Friday with no due process, no advance notification to the parents about the true purpose of the meeting, and no chance for my son’s voice to be heard?

For the most part, I like Matt Denn.  I think he can be an excellent advocate for students with disabilities.  But sadly, what he wants and what we have in Delaware are two very different things.  I wish Denn could help my own son the way he is helping this child in Colorado.  I understand the implications of this case and what it can do for special education if they rule in favor of the student.  That would be a very good thing.  But there are far too many students here in Delaware that are now suffering with special education.  My own son Jacob included.  If Delaware’s special education is supposed to be so great, why isn’t it Matt?  We both know the answer to that.  But why should my kid have to go through all venues of education in this state and still not have schools understand his needs?  Charter, district, private school, private school homeschool-coop program.  None have worked Matt.  None.  They may be great at other things, but they have all failed my son.  As one father to another father, I’m asking you to do something here, in Delaware.  In your state.  Not later, not down the road, but now.  I don’t know if I can get my son back on track.  There has been so much damage done to him.  By adults who think power is more important than what is right.  Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to watch your own child’s spirit break time and time again.  I truly hope you don’t.  But I’m just one of many parents who has to pick up the pieces of a child’s shattered life again and again while the system fails him time and time again.  It doesn’t matter what kind of school it is.  I don’t care about all this fancy legal stuff.  I just want consistency and best practices with my son, with all the special needs kids in this state.  We are destroying lives here Matt.  What are you going to do about that?

Talk is on thing but actions speak louder than words.  How many more Jacobs do we have to have in this state Matt?  How many more tears have to be shed before something is done?  How many families have to deal with turmoil you can’t even begin to imagine Matt?  How many more children have to be psychologically beaten down before you do something?

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Delaware Files Amicus Brief Supporting a Colorado Student’s Claim on Behalf of Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Mexico.

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, joined by the Attorneys General of Massachusetts and New Mexico, filed a formal brief Monday with the United States Supreme Court supporting the appeal of a Colorado public school student with disabilities who claims that his school district has not complied with federal law in meeting his educational needs. The brief filed by Delaware urges the United States Supreme Court to adopt a higher national standard for the services that U.S. schools must provide, and articulates that the standard reflected in Delaware state law, rather than the lower standard used in Colorado and many other states, is the proper standard to measure the provision of such services.

The brief was written by Delaware State Solicitor Aaron Goldstein and Deputy Attorneys General Patricia Davis and Laura Makransky. The brief states that the three Attorneys General “implore this Court to find that the highest level of educational benefit for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts of appeal is the correct level for all of the nation’s children with disabilities in order to ensure that the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]’s ideals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency are fulfilled.”

Although Attorney General Denn has joined other briefs filed with the United States Supreme Court since taking office in January of 2015, this is the first United States Supreme Court brief that his office has authored since he took office. “We chose this issue to seek to be heard with the United States Supreme Court,” Denn said, “because it is fundamentally important to the future of every child with a disability in our nation’s public schools. We also sought to be heard because how the Supreme Court phrases its opinion could also have a direct impact on students with disabilities in Delaware public schools.”

 

 

 

A Special Education Journey Like No Other

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What if I told you there is a place where all special needs children are accepted and loved?  They don’t take the Smarter Balanced Assessment or the DCAS-Alt1.  Common Core doesn’t exist.  They are given a great education and they even have a sensory room!

Special education is a bit of an enigma.  We have all these nice federal laws in place, but the way the system is in public education, it is almost impossible for any school to be able to follow it with fidelity.  This isn’t a knock on public education.  I’m a huge believer in it.  With all the mandates coming from states and feds, it is fast becoming a crisis in classrooms.  They can put all the grit, rigor, and personalized learning into a classroom as they want, but for many students the joy of learning has been sucked out of them.  For students with disabilities in public schools it is even worse.  But for my son, for now, he needs something different.  An IEP is only as good as the implementation of it.

After my son went through a charter school, a traditional district elementary school, a traditional district middle school, and a private school in Dover, I was at the end of my rope with education for my special needs child.  For those who may not know, my son has Tourette Syndrome.  It is NOT the swearing disability as so many seem to think it is.  It can be, but only for about 10% of those who have it.  For my son, education has been hard because Tourette Syndrome is very rare.  While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated there could be only about 1-2 children with TS in any given school.  Compared to ADHD, Autism, and Dyslexia, TS is not the norm for disabilities.

We took a risk sending our son to a private school.  We knew this from the get-go, and so did the school.  His needs were too much for the private school to handle so it was back to the drawing board.  As fate and faith would have it, a friend of mine recommended a program she put her son in.  It is called the Journey program at Glasgow Christian Academy in Bear, DE.  I was reluctant to go the private school route so soon after the last one didn’t work out, but we went up there and did a visit and interview.  We were so pleased with the program there really wasn’t any hesitation.  My son started there the second week of December and I haven’t worried about his education since.

The Journey program is solely for special needs students.  There is no inclusion in this program.  I always fought for inclusion, with every fiber of my being.  But for my son, it was obvious most schools couldn’t handle his unique needs.  The Journey program is vastly different than any education classroom I’ve been in.   They are having an open house this Thursday, March 24th at 6pm.  If you are at the end of your rope, and feel your child needs much more than what the public education system is able to do, I would strongly recommend taking the opportunity to see what they are all about!  Parents are asked to commit to homeschooling their children 2 days a week to supplement their learning experiences at school.  As many parents of special needs children know, there can be days that are so overwhelming you really don’t know what to do.  To that end, the Journey program has a parent support group that meets once a month.

I interviewed one of the teachers, Elizabeth Greenwell, to talk a bit more about the program.

Can you please describe the Journey program?

The Journey Program is a program for children in elementary school through High School who have special needs. The program meets 2-3 days per week and parents work with their children on assigned work the other days.  It was started as a ministry to reach students who are unable to do well in other school settings or homeschooling on their own.

What is the teacher-student ratio?

This year, our Middle level class had 2-3 teachers with 8 students, so it was 4:1.  Our elementary class this year had 3 students with 3 teachers, so 1:1.  We never have more than a 4:1 ratio.

Do you use Common Core or standardized testing?

No.

What are you doing different than the traditional public schools?

We provide multiple accommodations and adjust those accommodations based on the needs of the child. We communicate with families daily about the progress of their child.  We provide a sensory room.  The teachers, in addition to college education and teaching experience have special needs kids of their own.  So we have walked the walk.  We also have a parent support group.

As a private school, you are not beholden to follow IDEA, but as a special education program do you feel IDEA covers what is needed for students with disabilities?

Yes, in general I believe IDEA was very important legislation.  However, there are many gaps in what public schools are actually providing.

What are some of your greatest success programs in the Journey program?

We have a student who couldn’t read or add.  3 months later he was doing multi-digit addition, simple multiplication, and reading at a 2nd grade level. Other kids who have been bullied in every other program feel safe to come and for the first time have friends. 

Is public assistance available for tuition costs?

No.  But we have limited financial aid from fundraisers and private donors. 

How have students reacted to the program?  Parents?

The response has been amazing.  The kids love coming. When we sent out surveys, all of the parents had positive things to say.

What do you envision for the future of Journey?

Next year we will have 4 level classes including 2 high school programs. Students will be able to earn a High School diploma.  I hope we continue to grow. Our goal for next year is 20-25 students between all 4 levels.

Are there students without disabilities in the program?

No.  All of the kids in the program have a special need – examples are Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, Down Syndrome, and Dyslexia.

Please describe an average day in the Journey program.

Students take all of their core subjects, social skills, bible, and electives like martial arts and art. The students have frequent breaks to go outside or use the sensory room.

As a faith-based program, do you believe this adds to the quality of Journey?

Yes.  It is important to put our faith in Christ and to teach the next generation about His faithfulness.

To read more about this very different school for students with special needs, please go to the Journey homepage.

This is what some parents have said about this amazing program:

“I am happy with Journey because my son is so happy and enthused about school.  I didn’t realize how great an impact of him attending a school where he is accepted and feels safe was to him.”

“Journey has absolutely helped my son academically.  We love the small class size and individual attention he gets.”

“My son’s social skills and confidence have gone up a lot.  He enjoys having a group where he can belong and be appreciated just for being himself.  He’s never worried or anxious about the class and he enjoys his teachers and classmates.”

“Overall we love Journey!  The teachers have been very helpful, receptive and loving to our son and our family.  I highly recommend it to everyone.”

“Journey exceeded our expectations because we didn’t think our son would be challenged enough and he is.”

“The wealth of knowledge and amount of experience and patience the Journey staff has with the students impresses me every single day.”

“The best part has been how dedicated and passionate the staff is.  Connecting with the Parent Support Group has been wonderful.  The level of compassion is unparalleled.”

“I love the support of the other moms and teachers.  I know that all of the teachers genuinely care about the success of each student.  My son loves all the kids and the teachers.  I love that my son enjoys attending and I love the friends and support I have received.”

As I said at the beginning, I was at the end of my rope about four months ago.  A year ago, I would have never dreamed my son could feel so accepted in a school, but the Journey program has been absolutely incredible for him.  I don’t tend to talk about my son too much on this blog, but I felt this was a situation that was warranted.  I strongly encourage parents of students who have gone through similar hardships in Delaware public schools to check Journey out.  It has changed my son’s life immeasurably and I am extremely grateful to the school, his teachers, and to God.  Everything happens for a reason in this world.