Education Funding Improvement Commission Meeting On Tuesday

The Education Funding Improvement Commission, which came out of Delaware’s Senate Joint Resolution #4, will have their next meeting on Tuesday, April 19th at 5pm in the Tatnall Building in Dover.  Originally, the report for this was due to the General Assembly on March 31st, but Senator David Sokola had it extended until June 30th with Senate Concurrent Resolution #56.

I would still like to know why there is NO mention of basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Are they purposely ignoring this?  Governor Markell didn’t put it in the state budget proposal back in January either.  I’m sorry, I can’t buy any kind of new funding for schools when this glaring omission exists.  And people wonder why I feel insulted by the General Assembly at times…  We have a perfectly good bill with House Bill 30 and its ignored for well over a year now.  What is the disconnect here?  Why is no one aside from State Rep. Kim Williams and a few others pushing for this?  This is Governor Markell’s number one failure with education.  But sadder is the hundreds of children who suffered because of it.  No apology, nothing.  I will never believe it is all about the students as long as this gaping hole in school funding exists.  All the supports in the world don’t matter at all if children suffer.  They can pull out all these models and put on a big show, but show those models to the students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade who just aren’t good enough for all these great education initiatives.

I can’t change what happened to my son.  But I can try for the hundreds of others who are out there.  The ones with the denied IEPs.  The ones who aren’t given accommodations on their existing IEPs.  I’m mad.  I’m raw.  I’m tired of fighting.  I can show the entire state what is going on, but it isn’t enough to make a difference to those in power.  We can talk about pre-school being the next big thing until the cows come home, but if we are missing the boat on the true foundation for learning right when it starts, in Kindergarten going to 3rd grade, then we are failing all those children with disabilities.  All of us.  Most experts agree that if these kids don’t get this foundation then, it becomes very difficult for them to acclimate in later years.  So yeah, if I get angry and lash out, imagine how those kids feel.

SJR4EdFundTaskForceAgenda41916

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

SpecialEducation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good morning all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

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

 
 

Delaware DOE Reveals The Common Core Loving Truth Of Standards Based IEPs

DOEBldg

In education tradition, the term “Standards-Based IEPs” meant something very different from the current bastardization of the words.  Nowadays, it means Common Core.  As in aligning a student with disabilities IEP to the Common Core State Standards.  I challenged the DOE on this a year and a half ago.  Their response: that it was a myth.  That this had more to do with the IEP than Common Core.  They lied.  They lied to me, and they lied to the IEP Task Force.  It is all about the Common Core.  This isn’t my first rodeo in writing about standards based IEPs.  Cause I was really ticked off here, even more than when I first figured out what they were.  I know this because the DOE put it on their own website, as seen on the last paragraph of this picture:

DOE StandardsBasedIEPs

 

So what is this WRITES initiative the DOE speaks of?  It is the “ACCESS Project”, and it comes from the University of Delaware’s Center for Disability Studies.  Yet another program where the DOE is spending tons of money to “fix” our education with their top vendor: University of Delaware.  The University explains what this project is here.  The key words from the DOE website are “aligning student IEP goals and assessments to the Common Core State Standards.”  When did special education ever become about the curriculum and standards and not the individual student?  They will try to make parents of these children think it is all about the individual, but this is the biggest lie.  Because Markell and the DOE want these students to fail…

What really ticks me off with special education in Delaware is the fact that students with disabilities in Kindergarten to 3rd grad who qualify for basic special education services based on their IEP receive no extra funding. Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams took aim at this inequity last winter with House Bill 30, and has now been tied in with the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission. I think it was one of the most important education bills in Delaware right now. But why did we even get to this place to begin with?

To find the answer to this, we have to go back almost five years ago to January 6th, 2011.  This is the day House Bill #1 was introduced to the Delaware General Assembly.  The bill made into law the needs-based funding formula that is our current method of funding schools based on units and special education.  This legislation was rushed through the House and Senate in 20 days and passed both by 1/26/11.  Governor Markell signed the legislation on 2/17/11.  The bill was more a technicality than actual groundbreaking legislation.  The needs-based funding formula pilot actually started out in Brandywine and Seaford back in 2003.  12 more districts were added in 2004, and then all districts and charters were included in 2009.  This was accomplished by use of epilogue language in the budget bill.  House Bill #1 solidified this by making it part of Title 14, the section that covers education in Delaware code.

Since 2009, all public school students in Delaware have been a part of the needs-based funding formula, but basic special education students in K-3 received no extra funding.  I have to wonder why.  Look at these students now.  Children who were in Kindergarten when Governor Markell signed this bill in February 2011 would now be in 5th grade.  If they were in 3rd grade then, they would now be in 8th.  What assessment do students take from 3rd to 8th grade?  The Smarter Balanced Assessment.  While this bill was rushed through the General Assembly, no one could have predicted the monstrosity that is the Smarter Balanced Assessment four years later.  But Governor Markell was well aware of this.

Almost a year before this, Delaware was one of two states to win the first round of Race To The Top.  As part of the funding received from RTTT, states were required to create state assessments aligned with Common Core.  Markell knew this, the DOE knew this, and the General Assembly knew this.  The students who were denied special education funding through House Bill #1 eventually became the students with disabilities guinea pigs on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  We all know how they did on this test statewide.  19% proficiency.  They were destined to fail.  I believe Markell wanted this.  After all, to justify more contracts and companies coming into Delaware to fix our education, doesn’t there have to be a problem?

We are now seeing this with the contract the DOE is currently picking a vendor for.  According to the DOE and Markell, we have a literacy problem that needs to be fixed, but there is so much more wrapped into that contract proposal.  It is all tied into US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his bon voyage gift as he leaves his position.  Which brings us back to standards-based IEPs.  How many contracts and vendors will it take to get Delaware students with disabilities from 19% to 59% proficiency in six years?  Quite a few I imagine!  It is and always has been about the money.  But as always, it is the students who pay the price.  As well, I have no doubt House Bill 30 will become law, whether WEIC passes or not.  Because the extra money and funding that these students should have never been denied, will help to get that proficiency rate up!  But for the students with disabilities from 2009-2016 who went through Kindergarten to 3rd grade in Delaware without this essential funding, what happens with them?  Their very foundation in education stolen from them because of a jacked up funding formula designed to make them look bad.

This issue is at the heart of this blog.  Because my son was one of those students.  Because the funding isn’t there for those students, getting an IEP for them can be very difficult at some schools.  Why would a school implement an IEP and provide services for these students if they aren’t getting any extra funding for them?  And these children have suffered immensely for Jack Markell’s hubris.

Students With Disabilities & Delaware Charter Schools: OCR Complaint & We Need Your Help!

Last week, I filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against the Delaware Department of Education for allowing a culture of discrimination against students with disabilities at Delaware charter schools.  All too often, children with disabilities are either denied an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or they are “counseled out”, meaning the school either expels the students or very strongly suggests to the parent they don’t have the resources to help their child.  Both are illegal under Federal and Delaware law.  To this extent, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has responded to my complaint and they need a lot more information.

I need every single parent or guardian who has run across any of the below issues to contact me as soon as possible.  The OCR has given me a very small window of opportunity here.  For some parents, they may be worried if this interferes with any type of legal resolution they had with a school in the past.  It would not.  This is a complaint against the Delaware Department of Education, not any individual school.  I will not make any of this information public, but it would be included in the complaint.  We need to stop this culture of lawlessness in our state in respect to special education.  It must stop.

While the below information states anything prior to 180 days would need a waiver, I fully intend to request this waiver since this has been an ongoing system issue in our state.  The Delaware Department of Education has no method by which they track IEP denials in Delaware schools.  If things progress too far, it can wind up going into mediation or a due process hearing.  But this is not an easy task for parents and it takes up a great deal of time, money, and resources.  We need to stop this problem from happening in the first place.  While far too many parents can’t change what happened to their own child, we can stop this from happening to other children.  I need your story!

If you have any information in regards to the following, including the funding issues when a student leaves a charter school, please reach out to me at kevino3670@yahoo.com.  If you are just reading this article and it does not apply to you, please share this link on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.  If you know anyone this may apply to, please share this with them specifically.  Thank you!

Below is the letter I received from the Office of Civil Rights in regards to my complaint:


Dear Mr. Ohlandt,
This refers to the complaint you filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE).  OCR enforces regulations that prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, disability, sex and age.  The regulations enforced by OCR also prohibit retaliation against individuals who assert or defend a right or privilege secured by the laws OCR enforces, or participate in an OCR proceeding.
In order to proceed further with your complaint, we need additional information regarding your allegation[s].  Please respond to the questions below as specifically as possible. In responding to questions about your belief that an action by the recipient is discriminatory, please provide information indicating that the action was inconsistent with a recipient policy or practice (be as specific as possible), you were treated differently than others in a similar situation, and/or that members of the recipient staff made statements that would indicate dislike/hostility on the basis of disability.
 
  1. Based on your review of your complaint, it appears that you are alleging that the DDOE is discriminating on the basis of disability by:
  1. Permitting Delaware charter schools to deny students with disabilities an individualized education program (IEP);
  2. Permitting Delaware charter schools deny or discourage the enrollment of students with disabilities; and
  3. Permitting Delaware charter schools to maintain funding for students who leave the charter school after the September 30th count, but requiring the funding to follow a student who leaves a traditional school district to attend a Delaware charter school.
  1. Do the allegations listed above in #1.a.-c. fully and completely capture the allegation(s) that you wish to raise at this time?  Yes or No (please circle or highlight your answer).  If not, please edit the above allegations accordingly and/or list your additional allegations.   Please provide the following information about each additional allegation:
  1. Describe the discrimination (who, what, when (date), where, how, please list the applicable names and dates);
  2. State the basis for the discrimination (e.g., disability); and
  3. State your reasons for believing that the discrimination is related to that basis (es).
  1. With regard to allegation #1.a., provide the following information for each student was denied an IEP:
  1. Name of student;
  2. Name of charter school;
  3. Date of parent request to charter school to evaluate the Student for an IEP or Section 504 plan;
  4. Date of charter school’s denial of request;
  5. If request was denied, indicate whether parent was provided with notice of procedural safeguards;
  6. If the denial occurred as a result of an evaluation meeting and you believe the meeting did not comport with the regulations enforced by OCR, please provide information indicating that the meeting was not attended by persons knowledgeable about the child, the evaluation data, and the placement options, or that the parent was not provided with notice of procedural safeguards.
  1. With regard to allegation #1.b., provide the following information about each instance when a charter school denied or discouraged the enrollment of students with disabilities:
  1. Name of student;
  2. Name of charter school;
  3. A description of the discriminatory conduct by charter school officials, including the date;
  4. The names or titles of the charter school officials engaging in the discriminatory conduct; and
  5. Most recent date of charter school’s denial of enrollment or student withdrawal.
 
  1. With regard to allegation #1.c., please state your reasons for believing that this practice constitutes discrimination against students with disabilities, identify any harmed students with disabilities, and the date of the harm.
 
  1. In your complaint, you identified September 1, 2015, as the most recent date of discrimination.  If not already explained in responses to the questions above, please provide the information requested under #2.
 
  1. OCR will generally only investigate allegations of discrimination that have been filed within 180 days of the most recent act of discrimination unless the complainant is granted a waiver.  You filed your complaint on September 16, 2015; therefore, any incidents occurring prior to March 20, 2015, are untimely.  To the extent that you are requesting a waiver of the 180-day filing requirement, please state the reason(s) for not filing sooner.
 
We need to receive your response within 20 calendar days from the date of this email (i.e., by October 14, 2015). If we do not receive this information within 20 days, we may close your complaint.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  Thank you.
 
Joseph P. Mahoney
Program Manager
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
100 Penn Square East
The Wanamaker Building, Suite 515
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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

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

Traditional School Districts

Appoquinimink: Needs Assistance

Brandywine: Needs Intervention

Caesar Rodney: Needs Intervention

Cape Henlopen: Meets Requirements

Christina: Needs Intervention

Colonial: Needs Assistance

Delmar: Needs Intervention

Indian River: Meets Requirements

Lake Forest: Needs Assistance

Laurel: Needs Intervention

Milford: Meets Requirements

Red Clay Consolidated: Needs Intervention

Seaford: Needs Intervention

Smyrna: Needs Assistance

Woodbridge: Needs Intervention

Vocational Districts

New Castle County Vo-Tech: Meets Requirements

Polytech: Needs Assistance

Sussex Tech: Meets Requirements

Charter Schools

Academy of Dover: Needs Assistance

Campus Community: Needs Assistance

Charter School of Wilmington: Meets Requirements

DE Academy of Public Safety & Security: Meets Requirements

DE College Prep: Meets Requirements

DE Military Academy: Meets Requirements

East Side Charter: Needs Intervention

Family Foundations Academy: Meets Requirements

Gateway Lab School: Needs Intervention

Kuumba Academy: Needs Assistance

Las Americas ASPIRA Academy: Needs Assistance

MOT Charter School: Needs Assistance

*Moyer: Needs Intervention

Newark Charter School: Meets Requirements

Odyssey Charter School: Meets Requirements

Positive Outcomes: Needs Intervention

Prestige Academy: Needs Intervention

Providence Creek Academy: Needs Assistance

*Reach Academy for Girls: Needs Assistance

Sussex Academy: Meets Requirements

Thomas Edison Charter: Needs Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Night In Education at the DOE’s Collette Center Tonight! #netde #eduDE #Delaware

First is the IEP Task Force from 4:30-6:30pm and then overlapping a bit is the Town Hall meeting the Delaware Department of Education is holding to discuss what the public may want to see on school accountability annual report cards.

I will be live blogging from both, and if the IEP Task Force goes like it did at the last meeting (ending at 5:45pm), I should be able to get both in.  If not, I will come up with something so nobody misses a beat.

As I stated yesterday in an article, I emailed Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn to attempt to get the issue of IEP denials discussed at the task force.  I’ve also mentioned it in public comments a couple times, so I’m at a dead end with this matter.  But if more parents speak up, I would urge them to do so now as the Governor’s Report is due in January.

The Town Hall from the DOE, in my opinion, is a smokescreen for things they have already decided on.  They want to show the illusion of working with parents, but it will be very interesting to see the wording being used and what they “lead” parents to with options.  I would not be shocked if they give parents “options” about what to speak about.  This is a very old trick.  Give horrible options so the other ones don’t look as bad.  I hope I’m wrong, but we will find out tonight!

My Email To Matt Denn About The IEP Task Force, Denial Is Not Just A River In Egypt @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat @roof_o #netde #eduDE #edchat #Delaware

Tomorrow night, November 12th, is the 5th meeting of the IEP Task Force.  Lieutenant Governor/future Attorney General Matt Denn has indicated the task force will continue past the drafting of the Governor’s Report, due in January 2015.  But there is one major issue this task force has not discussed, and it was brought up in public comment by myself and others.

I wrote the following email to Matt Denn as a plea for the future of the students with disabilities in Delaware abused by this process.  Not only is it a Civil Rights violation, it is also against Federal Law.

Hi Matt,

Congratulations on your victory in the election for Attorney General.  I am confident you will do great things in this role. 

I had some concerns about the IEP Task Force.  My number one problem, and always has been, is the amount of IEP denials that occur.  This occurs often in charter schools.  I spoke with Mary Ann Mieczkowski last summer about this, and she informed me there is NO protocol for monitoring the amount of denials.  No audit takes place to suggest if a denial was warranted or not.  What tends to happen is the IEP is denied, and either a 504 plan might be given or nothing happens.  The amount of protection offered by a 504 is minimal compared to an IEP for a special needs student.  For children with behavior issues who are denied an IEP, they are often “counseled out” by a charter or expelled.  Their behavior is the catalyst for these actions, but with no special education accommodations given, these students don’t stand a chance.

I know I am not a member of the task force, but I am asking, no, begging, that this topic is introduced.  I’ve brought it up a few times in public comment, but it doesn’t even appear to be an issue amongst the task force.  I know charters were brought up at the last meeting, but this particular topic didn’t come up.  When a student “switches” to another school, long-term behaviors have become a part of this student’s thinking, and it is very difficult for the next school to get a student back on track.

I am proposing the Delaware Department of Education requires all schools in Delaware under their jurisdiction to have this information reported to them, and audited by them.  While the Federal government does not mandate this, there are specific laws written into IDEA that require the schools to do things which should prevent these issues from happening in the first place.  This is a major reason why there are so many special education lawsuits in this state. 

I know the IEP Task Force may be extended past the Governor’s report in January, but I feel this is the most important issue in the whole IEP process.  Every day when something is not done is another day when a Delaware student is suffering because they don’t have the supports in place to help them.  This is the ugly part of IEPs that the DOE and legislators don’t want to look at, but it is happening, right now, and parents and students with disabilities are paying the price.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to attending the meeting tomorrow night.

Sincerely,

Kevin Ohlandt

Delaware parents of special needs children.  If you have not already given public comment or emailed Matt Denn about your own situation where your child was denied an IEP at any school in the state that you feel was not justified, please attend the meeting tomorrow night in Dover or Wilmington.  Let this task force know what happened with your child and what the negative results may have been for them.  This is the time to bring this matter under the microscope so it can be eliminated from happening to any child.  I know it can be hard speaking in public about your child, but it is the right thing to do.  The system can’t change unless more parents speak up.

Many of you have shared your stories with me, whether it was email, talking, or on social media.  This is the same thing, but with the ability for great and lasting change.  I personally do not want any child in this state to suffer the way my own did, and I feel it is my responsibility and duty as a human being to make sure events like this never happen again.