Education Legislation Returneth In The 150th General Assembly

The Delaware General Assembly returns for their 150th gig on Tuesday, January 8th.  But a slew of pre-filed legislation came out today including a few education bills.  These are interesting bills to say the least! 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

16 Very Tough Questions With Capital School District About In-School Alternative Placements

A month ago, I posted an article about an In-School Alternative Program the Capital School District Board of Education would be voting on at upcoming board meeting. When I read the contract and heard the board audio recording, I had several questions about the program.  I do understand the Christina School District runs the same program but I had some concerns for it in Capital’s middle schools and high school.  Continue reading

From “Jon’s Loving Father” To Absolute Insanity: The Exceptional Delaware Story

As I delve into year five on this blog, sometimes it is healthy to take a look back at my humble beginnings.  From the crazy legislation I proposed in 2014 to my modern-day attempt to get a Secretary of Education removed from power, it has been a crazy four plus years!  It started out with a plan and turned into so much more! Continue reading

Capital School District Board To Vote On Contract For In-School Alternative Program

The Capital School District Board of Education will be holding a special board meeting on August 8th.  Among the few items for consideration is a contract with Pathways of Delaware to run an in-school alternative program in some of Capital’s schools.  The program is meant to prevent expulsions where students are sent to alternative schools.

Whenever I see outside contracts like this, my very first thought concerns students who have special education.  Any contractor would have to follow the student’s IEP just as any district employee would.  This program is not for every student.  It is for students who are simply unable to function within a school for very serious behavior issues.  Alternative placement is very expensive for any district or charter school.

What are your thoughts on this proposal?  In reading the proposal from Pathways of Delaware, they included endorsements from the Christina School District.  Do other districts have this program?

Capital Parents Of Students With Disabilities: Are You Aware Of Parent Councils Mandated By State Law? We Need To Unify Now!!!!

Three years ago today, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill #33 into law.  Among the many changes to Delaware special education, one of the key facets of this legislation was the following:

  • 3125. Parent Councils.

Each school district and charter school enrolling any child with disabilities shall, on an annual basis, contact the parents of each such child to attempt to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a parent council for the parents of students with disabilities. Parent councils will advocate generally for students with disabilities and provide person-to- person support for individual parents and children. The charter schools and school districts shall collaborate and coordinate with existing parent groups and other information and support groups to facilitate creation, maintenance, and effectiveness of the Parent Councils.

While my own son was not in Capital School District when districts and charter schools were required to create the Parent Councils, he was for the 2017-2018 school year.  I contacted the Special Services Office at Capital this morning and was told letters went out to parents about the Parent Councils.  I advised them I never received such a letter.  Apparently there were three meetings during this school year.  The maximum attendance at any of these meetings was eight parents, at the first meeting.  There is absolutely no mention of the Parent Councils anywhere on the district website.  None of their school websites have this information on them either.

I don’t feel we, as parents, should have to wait around for the district to comply to state law.  To that end, I am creating a Capital School District Parent Group and I invite all to attend.  Please email me at kjohlandt70@gmail.com if you interested in joining this group.  Even though it is the summer and our kids are out of school, I believe we should meet and hold discussions on what the district is doing in terms of special education for our children.  Three meetings over one school year is not enough.  I believe we should meet monthly and if warranted to get things going, every other week.  It is also my intention that we should pick a spokesperson for the group to present our findings at each Capital Board of Education meeting each month.  They generally meet on the third Wednesday of each month.  Even if you believe the district is doing everything right, we want to hear from you.  I will also create a Facebook group which will be private so we can discuss things in a private forum.  If you would like to join this Facebook group, please message me on my own personal Facebook profile, under Kevin Ohlandt.

I find it very discouraging that a school district that continually stresses a need for parental involvement can’t proactively advertise for something that is required by state law.  Sending one letter out to parents (which I didn’t even get) for an entire school year is doing the bare minimum.  The United States Supreme Court ruled on a special education case dictating schools must do more than the bare minimum with special education services for students with disabilities.  While that case does not provide a case against Capital not advertising Parent Councils, it does show a consistent pattern in terms of special education.  As a Capital parent, I received robo-calls throughout the year.  Not one robo-call talked about Parent Councils.  My son had many IEP meetings this year.  As well, I was in constant contact with his Principal.  Never once were the Parent Councils mentioned.

I hope to hear from many of you as soon as possible.  For a school district that has 18.3% of their student population designated as Special Education (which means having an IEP) and probably higher due to 504 plans not being listed in that percentage, we need to band together now more than ever.  The district, based on their 2017-2018 student unit count has 1,188 students on IEPs.  8 parents out of 1,188 attended the district’s Parent Council meetings this year.  That is unacceptable and I would hazard a guess most of you did not even know this was an option.

Please share with as many parents of students with disabilities in the Capital School District as you can.  For parents of these students in other school districts or charter schools, please make sure your school or district is following Delaware state law under Title 14 in this area.  Thank you.

Hey Project Veritas, This Is How Our Teacher Union Rolls In Delaware- They Get It Done! Publish That!

A month ago, I posted some articles about a far right-wing group called Project Veritas.  I didn’t know much about them but their videos intrigued me.  I gave the Delaware State Education Association a hard time and that may not have been very fair on my part.  Today, when I read an article by Cris Barrish with WHYY, DSEA President Mike Matthews impressed me a lot!  The article was about Senate Bill 234, which passed the Senate yesterday and will be heard in the House Education Committee in the next few weeks, if not sooner.

Mike Matthews, president of the Delaware State Education Association that represents teachers and other school employees, said crimes and violations like those cited in this article spurred his union’s lawyer to work with state education officials, attorneys and others to craft the legislation.

I remember talking to Mike about some of these horrific crimes that were making the media such as Karen Brooks in Smyrna.  He was as disgusted as I was.  A few years ago, Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf came out with a similar bill but this one was much better.  I firmly believe DSEA’s role in the writing of Senate Bill #234 made it a much stronger bill.

Matthews said the DSEA “strongly supports” the bill because it could prevent the ability of child abusers to “bounce around’’ to different school districts with their teaching license intact while a serious allegation goes through a copious investigative process at the district level. The bill would also provide extensive due process to protect teachers who are unfairly accused by students, parents or other faculty, he said.

Amen Mike!  We don’t want ANY teacher or educator milking the system when they are abusing kids.  My take on teachers like this?  They shouldn’t be anywhere near children or teenagers.  But at the same time, we don’t want to necessarily punish the innocent.  Unfortunately, there have been situations where teachers have been victim to false claims.

“It clarifies the process that I think maybe has been muddied for some time,” Matthews said. “It kind of separates this idea that the employer, the district and board, has to take action before [the state can take action] to revoke or suspend an educator’s license when there are allegations of a serious crime.”

My take on this?  Most districts or charters don’t necessarily want the publicity when things go down.  If there is an arrest, they can’t help it.  What happens when an investigation is a stall tactic?  Forcing the state to take action tells the district or charter- “we know this is going on and we will take action when you won’t!”

“The bill takes necessary steps to remove those educators if there is clear fear of harm coming or having come to a child. I like to believe that like any other profession we are always going to have those who do not represent our profession well and need to be exited when it comes to these allegations and potential crimes.”

A fast exit!

What I didn’t foresee with this bill was how it could affect special education.  Barrish wrote about this aspect of the legislation when discussing the “letters of concern” portion of it.

The bill also has a provision that could apply when the state determines that no violation has occurred which warrants disciplinary action, but that “an act or omission” by the teacher is a “matter of concern.” Such a concern could be that the teacher creates inadequate Individualized Education Programs for students who are identified as in need of special education services.

I have very mixed thoughts on this.  A teacher could write a draft IEP before the IEP team convenes to discuss it.  Putting the onus on a teacher for what could be team decisions is very dangerous.  Yes, the teacher is the one that writes the draft, but the team decides what is final.  Any IEP team should include an administrator (usually the Principal or an Associate Principal), the school psychologist, the school special education coordinator (also called an Educational Diagnostician), the school nurse (unless the parent says it is okay for them not to attend), a special education teacher, and a primary teacher.  And of course the parent or parents.  When students reach 8th grade, they typically attend the IEP meetings as well.  Is one teacher out of a whole IEP team the only one that should get a “letter of concern” if the school winds up getting sued for not following an IEP?  Or writing a bad one?  This could open a huge can of worms.  I have always told parents, do not sign an IEP unless you are satisfied with it.  There is nothing preventing you from doing so.  And if you find the IEP isn’t working, you can always request another IEP meeting to revise it.

Now when it comes to teachers not following very specific parts of an IEP, such as not having the student do every other math problem as an example, that is a different matter.  If a teacher willfully doesn’t follow what is written in an IEP, I can’t defend that.  I may need to see more on this part.  The big question would be what happens if a parent sues a charter or district over special education matters.  Would those “letters of concern” become discoverable evidence?  Would the district or charter put themselves in a position of legal vulnerability?  Or would the special education law firm have to subpoena the Delaware DOE to get those letters?

I’m going to take this time and publicly apologize to Mike Matthews for my Project Veritas articles.  A DSEA email was provided to me the same day I saw Veritas’ videos.  I published it without reaching out to Mike for more information.  I regret that.  While the email didn’t condone the actions of the subject of a Veritas video it didn’t defend it either.  It was simply an internal email warning of potential Veritas spies hoping to entrap teacher union members.  I was harsh on DSEA and I acknowledge that.  Legislation doesn’t happen overnight and I will assume DSEA was working with the Delaware DOE on what became Senate Bill #234 long before the Veritas videos came out in May.  I had no idea Veritas was going to jump on my article and put Mike in the spotlight the way they did.  I remember seeing that video and gasping.  Yes, I published it, but the more I found out about Veritas the more something didn’t seem quite right.

I look forward to Senate Bill #234 becoming the law of the land in Delaware!  And I would hope James O’Keefe who seems to have made it a crusade to go after teacher unions can provide “fair and balanced” coverage to show the good things they are doing.  But knowing O’Keefe, he would probably take the credit for it himself.  That seems to be how he rolls!  He can say what he will about some rogue union leaders out there, but here in Delaware, our union looks out for students as well as teachers!

The Dream Becomes A Reality: Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students

It all starts with an idea.  But ideas that roll around in your mind will always be just that.  It is now time for action!  Therefore, this is the birth of Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students.

For almost four years I’ve been writing about education in good old Delaware.  It’s taken me from the bottom of Sussex all the way to the tip-top parts of the state.  I’ve been to Legislative Hall and the Delaware DOE building more times than I can count.  And nothing has changed.  In fact, I’m going to say it is getting worse.  Especially with special education.  But it isn’t just that.  It is also issues dealing with school discipline, race, gender, bullying, classroom management, class sizes, safety, and trauma coming into our schools in ways our educators are just now starting to fathom and understand.

To that end, I am taking my email/Facebook/social media/cell phone advocacy out of the digital world and into the schools.  This will be a huge task and I need your help!

These are the issues I am willing to advocate for students:

Special Education: whether it is IEPs or 504 plans, it is important to know your child’s rights, the parental rights, and the rights of the school.  Many parents feel overwhelmed in IEP meetings.  Trying to learn about federal IDEA law, Delaware State Code, and all the pending special education legislation is a task in itself.  Do you have a child with a unique disability that may warrant very specific goals or accommodations in their IEP?

School Discipline: does the punishment fit the crime?  Does the punishment meet the criteria of the school student code of conduct?  Does it follow state law?  If a student has an IEP or 504 plan was it a manifestation of their disability or just poor choices?  What are the rights of students when there are School Resource Officers, constables, or armed security?  When is physical restraint warranted?  How does it work with transportation and busing when a discipline issue comes up?

Trauma: Is your child going through a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on violence in their neighborhood?  Or in their own home?  Are their grades falling behind as a result of this?  Are they acting out?  These are students that may not be special education but need an advocate to help schools and teachers sift through these issues so they can give your child the best education possible.

Bullying: Is your child being bullied?  Are you finding the school isn’t doing everything they can to put a stop to it?  What steps can you take to make sure they do?

These are my goals:

To serve any of the above needs or potential conflict a parent may have with a school.

To guide parents on the appropriate ways to deal with the folks in the schools.  This isn’t as simple as it looks, and when things escalate, there is a proper chain of steps to go through.

To work with every school district and charter school in the state to make sure Parent Council Groups for special education are up and running.

To advocate meaningful dialogue between parents and schools.  This is crucial.  But it is also important to make sure there is one adult in the room who can be unbiased and impartial.  Screaming heads don’t get you far.  It might feel good in the short-term, but it is not conducive to the best interests of the one person who matters the most- your child!

To inform parents of their child’s rights and how that applies to the school setting.  To inform parents of the differences between legislation and regulation and what is enforceable and what is not.

To make sure due process rights are followed to the letter of the law in discipline situations.

I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be.  I am just a parent with my own special needs child who has run the gauntlet with Delaware schools.  If your child’s school building doesn’t know me directly, they know of me.  All the district and charter leaders know me as well as the legislators.  I have contacts all over the place and know exactly who to go to when things need to happen.  I’ve helped parents out for years but it is time to take it to the next level.

I will be doing this work at no cost.  But any organization or business (whatever this turns out to be based on demand) needs funding.  Pure and simple.  So I am asking for donations from folks in Delaware who see this growing need in our state.  Whether it is a dollar or more, every bit counts.  I am willing to go up and down our state to help our kids.  I am centrally located in Dover so my door is open for all!

If you are of mind to help get this going and help sustain this, any contributions are certainly welcome!  Please go to the Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students page here: https://www.gofundme.com/exceptional-advocacy-for-delaware

If you are a parent who needs help in dealing with a situation involving your child at a Delaware school, please contact me as soon as possible.  My email is kjohlandt70@gmail.com and we can exchange phone numbers from there.

DON’T BLINK!

Do me a favor.  While you are reading this, play a little game with me.  I am talking through the 3rd wall here, to you, the reader.  Pretend I am on a stage and you are just one of hundreds of folks in the audience.  This game is called “DON’T BLINK!”.  You have to really focus.

I’m on the stage talking about your least favorite subject, whatever that might be.

DON’T BLINK!

You have to focus on not blinking your eyes.  Easy, right?  We’ll see.

As I babble on and on about your least favorite subject, DON’T BLINK!  I want you to take out a piece of paper.  I’ll wait for you.  While you are getting it though, DON’T BLINK!  Don’t even think about it.  Keep those eyes open.  DON’T BLINK!  Did you get your paper yet?  Did you bother to get a pen?  DON’T BLINK!

Good, you have your paper and pen.  I want you to write a set of numbers.  It will be 13, 26, 39, and you have to write down the rest.  DON’T BLINK!  I need a set of 20 numbers.  DON’T BLINK!

How many numbers do you have down?  But wait, while you DON’T BLINK and you are writing down the numbers, I want you to yell out “VITAMINS”.  But DON’T BLINK while you yell out “VITAMINS” while you are writing down the numbers.  Don’t you dare!  And don’t be caught off guard from the people staring and laughing at you because you yelled “VITAMINS”.  Because you have an assignment you have to get done.  And DON’T BLINK!

While you are doing all this, I want you to capture whatever smell is in the room and focus solely on that smell.  Smell it with every fiber of your being while you DON’T BLINK!, write down your numbers, and deal with the stares you got from yelling “VITAMINS”.  How many numbers do you have down?  If you cheated, you probably have the 20 different numbers.  That is, if you blinked, didn’t focus on the smells in the room, didn’t yell “VITAMINS”, and only focused on the numbers.

For students with Tourette Syndrome, this is their life in the classroom.  It can happen in other areas of schools as well.  When they are younger, the tics come naturally.  But as they get older, and notice more and more the odd little stares or classmates asking them what they are doing, they begin to do everything they can to suppress those tics.  But those tics are neurological in nature.  Little signals go out from the brain that affect those with Tourette Syndrome and command the body to do those things.  Suppression can be done, but it is energy that can’t be destroyed.  It comes out in other ways.

In the “DON’T BLINK” game, that exercise was for those who don’t suffer from Tourette’s.  So they can possibly understand, at a very small and miniscule level, what those with tics go through every day.  For far too many of these special needs students, that energy does come out in some way when they are suppressing tics.  But the more stimuli they have around them, the harder it is to focus on that.  Add a few different things to that soup, and you can understand why those who exhibit motor or physical tics have a hard time keeping their cool.  It is almost like having a case of the hiccups, all day, every day.

Suppressing tics also has another side effect: exhaustion.  It can be physically tiring to attempt to stop your body what it naturally wants to do.  Most students with Tourette Syndrome do not suffer from just that disability.  They have what are known as co-morbidities.  We’ve all heard the alphabet disabilities: ADHD, OCD, and ODD.  But add anxiety, depression, sensory processing issues, and yes, at times, rage.  It can be a perfect storm.

There aren’t many students with Tourette Syndrome in Delaware.  I know of less than ten myself.  There could be more.  But for even this small population of students, we MUST get it right for them.  They are counting on us.  For far too many Tourette Syndrome students across the country, schools want to address the disability the same way they would ADHD.  It is a complex puzzle, but the pieces can be put together.  It takes time, and patience, and calm.  We have come very far with Autism but I believe if it wasn’t so prevalent, we would be just as in the dark as we are with Tourette Syndrome.

In my opinion, a student with Tourette Syndrome should be celebrated in schools.  They are just like you and I with intelligence.  Many TS students are wicked smart.  But their body and mind can send out a signal on a dime without them even being aware.  Or other times it is like when you know you are going to sneeze and you try to stop it.  But most times, it is like trying to stop a case of the hiccups.  I believe it is incumbent on our schools, from elementary to high school, to let everyone they can possibly tell in that building, exactly what those tics are and where they come from.  Because if a student with TS is ticcing, they can’t help it.  Let them tic.  We wouldn’t tell a blind person to see or a paralyzed person to walk, right?  It is the exact same thing.  Let students and staff know it isn’t weird.  Do the “DON’T BLINK!” game with the students.  Let them know and feel what it is like for the TS student.  Talking about tics is VERY different from experiencing them.

This isn’t just about special education.  It’s about doing what is right.  We want to educate the “whole” student.  We want “compassionate” schools.  But we need to practice what we preach.  All schools need to do a better job with understanding manifestation of disabilities.  So many want to treat things as a behavior.  Unless you are 100% sure, assume it isn’t.  If you are a teacher or staff member in a school that doesn’t teach a TS student, let me make a recommendation for you.  You might be generally aware a student has disabilities but you may not be sure what the manifestations are.  Ask your building leader or special education coordinator if you can see their IEP.  I’m pretty sure most parents wouldn’t object to any adult in a school wanting to know more about their child with Tourette Syndrome.  As parents, we can only educate so many.  We have restrictions the school might not have.  We don’t have access to every single teacher or staff member.

Students with Tourette Syndrome go through things daily you and I can’t imagine.  At the end of the day, they want what we all want- to be loved and accepted.  That’s all.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Christina Missing A Special Education Director

When John Dewey retired from the Christina School District two months ago, it put the second largest school district in the state without a Special Services Senior Director.  This is the title for the person overseeing special education in the district.  So who is running special education in Christina School District?  With the number of complaints I receive about special education in Christina you would think they would make sure this key vacancy in their district is filled.  But nope, here we are two months later and nothing.  How long are they going to keep this key position vacant?

Joint Senate & House Education Committee Meeting To Hear Special Education Strategic Plan Tomorrow

**Updated, 4:22pm, 1/9/18: I spoke with State Rep. Earl Jaques and he okayed putting this joint committee session on the live audio feed.  The meeting is scheduled to start at 2:30pm tomorrow, but meetings sometimes start late down at Legislative Hall so be patient!  To listen, go to the General Assembly website and go to the “Listen Now” link.

The second leg of the Delaware 149th General Assembly starts today, but tomorrow the House and Senate Education Committees will meet together to hear the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Counsel’s ideas on how to improve special education in The First State.  The meeting begins at 2:30pm, but here is a primer: what is the plan? Who is on the committee? Who is on the sub-committees?

To read the entire Strategic Plan, please see below.  But here is a summary as per the Delaware Department of Education website:

The goal of the Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council is to develop a statewide plan that addresses the delivery of special education within Delaware through a review of existing evidence and within the context of a representative stakeholder process.

All children with disabilities can reach their full potential through a student-centered, individualized education system using a collaborative and supportive model. By asking stakeholders to lead collaboration between schools, families, and communities, Delaware will create inclusive education to ensure student success and growth, and equity of special education and related services across Delaware.

The members of the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council:

  • Co-chair – Dr. Michele Marinucci , Woodbridge School District
  • Co-chair – Bill Doolittle , Parent Advocate
  • Dafne Carnright, Autism Delaware
  • Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School
  • Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware
  • Jon Cooper, Colonial School District
  • Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter School Rep.
  • Rep. Kim Williams, Legislator
  • Kristin Dwyer, DSEA
  • Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association
  • Dr. Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District
  • Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Department of Education
  • Dr. Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District
  • Dr. Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program
  • Wendy Strauss, GACEC
  • Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware CDS
  • Dr. John Marinucci, DASB
  • Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate
  • Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware
  • Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf
  • Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs
  • Dr. Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District
  • Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

The sub-committees:

Students: To increase the success of students with disabilities by improving their ability to become active, valued, and participating members of their community, today and in the future, Members: Ed Emmett-Lead, Lisa Lawson, Bill Doolittle,  Sonya Lawrence, Wendy Strauss

Staff/Partners: To have a highly engaged and effective workforce with appropriate values, skills, and knowledge for today – and tomorrow’s – work, Members: Elisha Jenkins-Lead, Mark Campano, Annalisa Ekbladh, Josette McCullough, Kristin Dwyer, Kathie Herel

Delivery/Structure Systems: 1) To make available the same array of evidence based practices and models of service deliveries regardless of a student’s placement. 2) To modify delivery system to facilitate the achievement of other goals, Members: Mark Campano-Lead , Vince Winterling, Dafne Carnwright, Sarah Celestin, Jon Cooper, Kristin Pidgeon, Sonya Lawrence

Parents/Families: To increase the engagement with parents and families as partners in collaboration to support their children at home and at school with access and knowledge of the resources they need, Members: Josette McCullough-Lead, Annalisa Ekbladh, Kristin Pidgeon, Kathie Herel

Resources: To acquire more resources as needed and maximize the efficiency in use of our existing resources, Members: Kristin Dwyer-Lead , Michele Marinucci, Teresa Avery, Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Mary Ann Mieczkowski

Policy/Regulations: To add, delete, and modify policies and regulations to support our current and future goals and objectives, Members: Dafne Carnright-Lead, John Marinucci, Mondaria Batchelor, Michele Marinucci, Kim Williams, Bill Doolittle, Mary Ann Mieczkowski

The group has met since the fall of 2016.  Last year, they finalized the plan but I will add this is a fluid plan.  It will constantly evolve as matters come up.  So it is NOT set in stone.  It is a living document.  I strongly encourage all Delaware parents of students with disabilities read the below document.  As well, any educator in the state should read it as well.  I would hope every single member of the House and Senate Education Committees have read it by this point.

In addition to the Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council, the joint session of the House & Senate Education Committee will also hear from the Delaware Association of School Librarians tomorrow.

 

HB #286 Would Eliminate Special Education Emergency Certification In Delaware

State Representative Kim Williams pre-filed legislation today that would do away with emergency certifications for pending special education teachers in The First State.  As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, this is no longer allowed in public education.  From the bill’s synopsis:

Enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act amended the Individuals with Disability Education Act (“IDEA”) by mandating that special education teachers must have obtained full certification and may not be working under emergency certifications. The Delaware Department of Education must stop issuing emergency certifications in special education in order for the State to continue receiving $36 million in federal IDEA funding for our schools. This Act creates a mechanism that is in compliance with federal requirements to enable educators to obtain a certificate of eligibility in the areas of special education. Educators will be able to meet federal requirements while being enrolled in an approved, alternative routes to certification program. This Act will allow local education agencies to staff special education classrooms while ensuring the educators are receiving high quality training working toward their standard certificate in the appropriate area of special education. This Act also makes technical corrections to conform existing law to the standards of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual.

Also sponsored by State Senator Nicole Poore, this bill has many co-sponsors by several Democrats but no Republicans.  But that shouldn’t matter as this is a federal requirement now.  So what does this mean?  It means you can’t just be put into a classroom that has students with disabilities with an Individualized Education Program based on an emergency certificate.  You have to already be going through some type of program that would allow you to be heading towards full certification.  I expect this to pass with no problems.

As well, Williams also pre-filed legislation today concerning special education diplomas with House Bill #287 which I wrote about here.  To read the full pending legislation for House Bill #286, please go here.

18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Kim Williams & Her Awesome Bill In Circulation

I am predicting now Kim Williams will have a HUGE year in 2018.  Judging by a draft bill she sent into circulation for sponsors yesterday, she is already starting off 2018 on a high note for me! Continue reading

Preparing For The New School Year For Students With Disabilities

Michael Connoly, Esq., of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. just wrote an excellent article every parent of a child with an IEP or 504 plan should read.  As we send our kids back to school, it is important to know everything is in place for the continuation of your child’s special education services.  New teachers or possibly a new school can bring many changes.  Most public schools in Delaware start next Monday, but some started today.

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again.  Commercials on television of gleeful parents purchasing school supplies abound as we are quickly approaching the end of the summer and beginning of a new school year.  While every parent of a school-aged child is going through their own pre-school-year checklist of supplies and clothes and trying to get in those last few days of sun and fun, there is another entire set of considerations to think about as a parent of a child with a disability.

The most obvious consideration is to make sure that your child’s program for the new school year is set and ready to go on the first day of school.  Is your child’s IEP or 504 Plan up to date and ready to be implemented?  Hopefully, your child’ IEP was updated as necessary at the end of the last school year, but if you are aware of any issues or have any concerns you should be reaching out to your school district in these last weeks of summer for any needed changes.  If your child participated in Extended School Year (“ESY”) services over the summer, consider whether his ESY performance revealed any new areas of need or concern that should be addressed by the IEP before school starts.

Make sure you, and more importantly, your child, are familiar with his or her schedule and curriculum, particularly if either is changing from the previous year.    A new school year often brings a lot of change and can be stressful, and at times anxiety provoking, for any student and especially for a student with special needs.  Ensuring your child is comfortable with his or her schedule and classes may go a long way in easing some of the stress and anxiety that can go along with the new school year.   Similarly, if your child is moving to a new building (for example, going from elementary school to middle school) or an unfamiliar area of his or her current building, an opportunity to tour the school, follow his or her schedule, and meet new teachers before the first day of school can also help reduce any new school year anxiety.

One of the most common beginning-of-the-school-year glitch involves transportation.  Not being picked up by the bus, being late to school, or being picked up by the wrong bus can be a particularly traumatic event for a student with special needs (and his or her parents).  If your child requires special transportation or certain supports while on the bus, you want to confirm with your school district that the necessary arrangements have been made, and that the schools transportation department/service is aware of any accommodations that your child requires.

While it’s not possible to ensure that no beginning-of-the-school-year glitch occur for your child, going through your own child’s pre-school-year check list using the above considerations should hopefully help to keep those glitches to a minimum.

by Michael Connolly, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies

This article originally appeared on long-time Delaware special education advocate Steve Newton’s LinkedIn account yesterday.  I read it today and Steve not only hit a grand-slam with this article, but he hit it out of the park!  This is the must-read of the month and the timeliness of this could not be more important!  Normally, I would italicize this but for reasons which will soon become clear, I did not.  Great job Steve!

The road is about to get a lot rougher for special needs kids in America’s schools

It’s never been easy.

IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act] was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 to stiffen the supports for disability-challenged American students that already existed in Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. IDEA established the rules for determining the need for special services, how supports within the education system would be determined, and provided for their monitoring via IEPs [Individualized Education Plans]. The trifold intent of IDEA was to (a) guarantee parents and students a role, a voice, and an appeals option in the process; (b) fund services that would allow special needs students to receive FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]; and create mechanisms for monitoring/enforcing the entire process.

Despite the fact that none of those goals has ever really been attained (Congress has never fully funded IDEA in any budget in the past 27 years), IDEA represented a massive improvement for special needs students across America. Millions of kids with specific Learning Disabilities (as in Math or English), with Emotional Disabilities, with ADHD, with Autism, and with other, lesser-known disabilities managed to finish school and go on to college, or employment, and independent, productive lives. Flawed as it is in the execution, IDEA has been a hugely successful law.

But the last decade has seen major problems setting in Continue reading

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

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

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

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

Advocate NOW For Your Special Needs Child

Why do parents of special needs children need to advocate for them?  Because we have to.  If we don’t, who will?  There are those who will help, but nobody understands your child more than you.  I see it as my moral responsibility to advocate for my own special needs child when something is wrong.  When something doesn’t add up.  To say his battle has been long and tough would be an understatement.  When the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit neatly together at a school, a church, an extracurricular activity, or anything your child does, you have to look at the whole picture.  If those pieces don’t fit or some are missing, get loud.  Expose and find out the truth.  Because even if you may not get what you wanted for your own child, it could help another child down the road.

I see special needs parents go ballistic when a restaurant or some type of amusement activity discriminates against disabled children.  But I don’t see this with a lot of schools or churches.  Why?  Our child has just as much right to be some place as someone else.  If you tell me you don’t want my child somewhere, you better have a damn good reason for it.  As well, you better know damn well what you are talking about and be able to back up that talk with cold hard facts.  If it is a place that has already given certain promises or expectations, and those suddenly shift, you have every right to find out why AND go public about it.

If you feel your child has been treated harshly without some form of due process or a valid reason, you need to call them out on it.  If the institution has not done what they said they would do, you have EVERY RIGHT TO ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD.  People hate to get named or called out.  They get scared.  They don’t like seeing their name in public.  Why?  Because that could tarnish what they believe is their good reputation.  If, after you have reached that point of no return, name them.  Expose them.  Let others know the grass isn’t that green.  Because if you don’t, you are saying it is okay.  You are saying it is okay for someone to discriminate against special needs children.  You are saying it is okay for other children to not be given a sense of justice and fair treatment.

I always ask these basic question when it comes to special education.  Would an adult tell a child who is blind that they need to see?  Would they tell a child in a wheelchair they need to walk?  Would they tell a deaf child to listen up?  Of course not.  So why would they tell our children with the disabilities they have, when those disabilities are medically documented facts, that they cannot provide for your child when they already agreed to it?  It is their responsibility to understand that disability.  When a parent provides documentation for their child to a school, it is incumbent on the school to actually read and understand that information.  A “cursory glance” is not acceptable and it should not be tolerated.  If you notice your child is having escalating behavior issues when they weren’t in the past, is that the fault of the student with disabilities if the school has not bothered to accommodate the child?  I would challenge any school that has not done its due diligence for that unique child to say they did.  Special education is NOT a one size fits all.  And if you are a private school with a program designed exclusively for students with disabilities, then you cannot deny a child services when you have done nothing to understand that disability.

Parents have to fight for their child.  It is their legal right.

2016 September 30th Report Shows 4% Increase In Special Education, 7.8% Increase For Charter Enrollment

The Delaware Department of Education came out with the 2016 September 30th Enrollment Report.  This document shows the head count for each school district and charter school in Delaware public schools.  As I predicted, special education students rose again this year.  To qualify for special education, a student must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  With the exception of vocational schools, both the traditional school districts and charter schools went up in enrollment statewide.  The growth for traditional school districts was anemic at best, with only a .32% increase from last year.  Overall state enrollment went up by .9%.  Once again, charter schools saw the greatest growth with a rise of 7.8% over last year.  No new charter schools opened this year, however many submitted modifications last year to increase enrollments and grades in one case.  Other charter schools began new grades this year based on their approved charters.  Some districts saw very steady growth but others saw continuing drops. Continue reading

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

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

According to Disability Scoop:

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

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

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

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

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

iep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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