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

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

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

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

According to Disability Scoop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Capital Board’s Legislative Priorities Could Be A Lightning Rod Of Controversy For Special Education In Delaware

Tomorrow night, the Capital School District Board of Education will discuss their legislative priorities for Fiscal Year 2017 at their monthly board meeting.  There is a lot in this proposed draft.  Some I agree with, and some I don’t.  But if certain things get pushed by all school districts, we could see a controversial start to the 149th General Assembly in Delaware.  Parents of students with disabilities could be spending a lot of time down at Legislative Hall in Dover.

In terms of burden of proof for who is implementing a special education student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), I believe it should be the school that has the burden of proof.  If a parent challenges a school on these issues, how is a parent going to know what is happening inside the classroom?  It should be the school’s responsibility to address these issues if it gets to the point where a parent files a complaint that leads to a due process hearing.  There is one or two parents and maybe one advocate in an IEP meeting.  The rest is school personnel.  A parent cannot implement an IEP in a school setting.  Only a school can.  This is the law.  But in Schaffer v. Weast, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Burden of Proof should lie with the aggravated party, be it a student or the student’s parents (or legal guardian) or the school district should they dispute an IEP.  While the Supreme Court is the largest court in the land, I don’t agree with their decision in some respects, but I do recognize the authority of the United States Supreme Court.

The final ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 reads as this:

We hold no more than we must to resolve the case at hand: The burden of proof in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief. In this case, that party is Brian, as represented by his parents. But the rule applies with equal effect to school districts: If they seek to challenge an IEP, they will in turn bear the burden of persuasion before an ALJ. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is, therefore, affirmed.

In a sense, any challenge a school district has about an IEP will invariably lead to the burden of persuasion.  I would find it very difficult for a due process hearing to occur where a school district does not disagree with at least one part of a student’s IEP.  And if it does happen, I would assume the parent lost or the Due Process Hearing Officer ruled based on applicable law that neither party got it right in terms of what should be in an IEP.  In any of the steps that could eventually lead up to a Due Process Hearing, districts have to provide sufficient evidence to the parent about what is happening with special education.  Parents do have considerable rights for their child’s special education.  They can request an Independent Educational Evaluation, they can call for a manifestation determination hearing under certain criteria, and they can file an administrative complaint.  Even though I disagree with the finding of the Supreme Court in 2005, it is the law and it is precedent.  Therefore, I have to agree with the Capital Board of Education that Delaware should not have a law on the books that predates a Supreme Court decision (their law is from 1999).

With that being said, Delaware is well-known to have serious lapses or even outright denials of special education services for students with disabilities.  Parents of children with special needs tend to be very passionate about what they want for their children.  Many understand the law (sometimes better than the school districts) very well.  I have always said never walk into an IEP meeting without an advocate and always record the meeting.  What is said in IEP meetings can make or break a case in certain circumstances.  Parents in Delaware should not be afraid to have their attorney subpoena a teacher as a witness.  Senate Bill 33, passed in the Spring of 2015, allows for whistle-blower protection for any school staff in regards to special education.  If there is one consistent thing I’ve heard from parents in Delaware, it is that teachers want to implement IEPs, but administrators have been the ones who stopped something for some reason.  While this isn’t always the case, and sometimes it is both, never be afraid to play a card that could work out to your child’s best educational interest.

The other legislative priority for Capital deals with a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  IDEA federal law states schools must provide children with disabilities a “basic” education without clearly defining what is meant by basic.  Delaware law states schools must go beyond “basic”.  I would argue that in Delaware’s current educational landscape, the push is for all students to go beyond “basic”.  If Capital wants to have AP and honors classes, that goes beyond “basic”.  You can’t sit there and say “all for some”.  If you are going to be a school district that wants ALL students to succeed beyond just “basic”, you can’t pick and choose.  Then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn said it best at the first IEP Task Force meeting:

Children with disabilities are entitled to a Cadillac education, not a serviceable Chevrolet.

The trick is finding out what that “Cadillac education” is.  I do not agree that this should be based on standards-based IEPs leading to higher proficiency on the state assessment.  We all know students with disabilities fare the worst on these types of tests.  We are failing all students if we continue this very bad charade of student success as measured by high-stakes testing.

In terms of the other legislative priorities in the below document, it is a no-brainer that our state needs to find a better way to fund education.  The funding cuts from 2009 should have been restored a long time ago.

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Decisions & Administrative Complaint Resolutions Released For Four Districts & One Charter School

Three Delaware Due Process Hearing and two Administrative Complaint decisions were put on the Delaware Department of Education website with varied results.  The Due Process cases involved the Colonial School District, Brandywine School District, and a combined case against Delaware College Prep and the Delaware DOE.  As well, an Administrative Complaint decision involving the Red Clay Consolidated School District prevailed for the district where another Administrative Complaint involving the Milford School District prevailed for the student.

In most of these cases, there were complaints around Independent Educational Evaluations in terms of the costs and the timing of them.  Other cases involved residential treatment center costs, a school making sure IEP accommodations were followed, and statute of limitations.  These are important decisions to read.  Parents can avoid many pitfalls by reading these and seeing what they shouldn’t do.  Special education is complicated enough but even a careless error on a parent’s part can lead to future ramifications.  All schools, districts, and teachers should read these as well.  Special education will never get better unless the players are informed of their rights in all sides of the issues.  Many of these cases involve timing, on either the school or the parent’s part.  The Brandywine case is very interesting.

Many schools in Delaware start up again in two weeks.  Many parents will be requesting IEPs or updates to existing ones.  Now is the time to see what cases are setting precedence!

Due Process Hearing: Colonial School District Vs. Student

Due Process Hearing: Student Vs. Brandywine School District

Due Process Hearing: Student vs. Delaware College Prep and Delaware Department of Education

Administrative Complaint: Student Vs. Red Clay Consolidated School District

Administrative Complaint: Student Vs. Milford School District

 

Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up

A recent due process hearing in Delaware, filed by the parents of a child with a mood disorder, gave an example of the first thing parents should not do with special education.  The due process hearing was against the Cape Henlopen School District.  The parents claimed the district did not fulfill their obligation under IDEA with manifestation determination.  The case also showed a glaring flaw with special education law in the Delaware code, one I hope a legislator picks up on in the 149th General Assembly beginning in January.  Or if a very brave soul with a great deal of tenacity picks up the baton and literally runs for their life during the last two days of the 148th General Assembly and miraculously gets a law like this passed in the next two days, that would be a true miracle.  What did the parents do that ultimately caused a dismissal of the case? Continue reading “Delaware Special Education Due Process Hearing Showcases What Rights A Parent Should NEVER Give Up”

Remember The Days When Special Education Was…Special? Steve Godowsky Should!!!

I found an old document.  Very old.  It’s so old I was nine when it came out.  The first Star Wars movie was two years old.  Empire Strikes Back wasn’t even out yet.  The Smashing Pumpkins sang about this year.  1979.  At this point in time, a very young Steven Godowsky was working at what was known as the State of Delaware Department of Public Instruction.  We know this now as the Delaware Department of Education.  And Steven Godowsky is now Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky.  Back then he was a supervisor in the Exceptional Children Programs.  When he was first nominated to replace Mark Murphy last year, I thought it was impressive he was a Supervisor back then.  But in looking at this document, everyone who worked in that department was a Supervisor.  What was the DPI like 37 years ago?  Check the below out, when it looks like Delaware was trying to create the Individualized Education Program, what we now call the IEP.

 

Restorative Justice Legislation In Delaware Would Decrease Suspension Rates & School To Prison Pipeline

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This legislation hasn’t even been filed.  It was sent to me anonymously.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  There are many things kids are suspended for and probably shouldn’t be.  But to limit suspension rates over bodily injury, threats of bodily injury or death but not in self-defense, or bringing weapons to school.

What about racial epithets?  Or swearing at a teacher?  Or throwing furniture but not causing bodily injury?  Or making sexually suggestive comments to a student?  Those are all things that would have given me a ticket home when I was in school.  Bullying isn’t addressed in this unless it is physical.  If we have zero tolerance for bullying under any circumstances why isn’t this included?

What if a student abuses the new system?  Continuously?  My fear with this type of bill is students trying to get out of class and knowing they won’t be suspended for it.  As well, if a student gets in-school suspension, the parents should be notified right away.

Perhaps the biggest part of this bill concerns students with disabilities.  Under the federal IDEA law, a manifestation determination hearing must be held if a student is suspended a certain amount of time.  If the student isn’t suspended but still showing the behavior that would have caused the suspension prior to the implementation of this law, how can an IEP team have the manifestation determination hearing?  The purpose of these is to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan after the school psychologist develops a functional behavioral analysis.  That is federal law.  State law does not trump federal law.  But if the state does away with the catalyst for the federal law, isn’t it essentially taking away rights for students with disabilities?  And does restorative justice replace what is in a developed IEP?

I’ll be honest, restorative justice wasn’t around when I was a kid.  Maybe it is great.  But is it known to work?  In my opinion, all the restorative justice in the world is not going to cure what comes in from a home environment.  If a student comes from a broken home or violence, it may temper the behavior but it doesn’t get rid of the outside of school problems that could be a very big reason for the behavior.  I would caution our legislators on passing this bill as written.  There are too many factors at play here that haven’t been looked at yet.  Which could be why it wasn’t filed yet.

Restorative Justice came about in prisons.  I have no problem with anyone making amends.  But it is for criminal behavior.  By using this in schools, are we making some issues bigger than they  are?

On the other hand, this law would reduce many suspensions that are completely unnecessary.  When I hear about the reasons some kids are suspended, I shake my head.  But then again, sometimes suspensions dealing with weapons brought to school could be seen as overreaching depending on the circumstances.  We need consistency but we also need common sense.  There are never easy answers.  But I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  Keep in mind, this bill hasn’t even been filed yet.

Delaware’s Special Education Plan To Prevent IEPs & Improve Smarter Balanced Scores

Ever since Delaware received the label of “needs intervention” with special education in June of 2014 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the United States Department of Education, the Delaware Department of Education made every effort to do everything but tackle the number one problem of special education: making sure IEPs are implemented with fidelity.

Their solution to the problem: make sure children can read by 3rd grade so they can score proficient on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Every state in America has a checklist of items, dictated by the US DOE, that they are monitored on by OSEP.  One of them, Indicator 17, is a plan each state must come up with to improve special education outcomes.  The Exceptional Children Resources Group, the special education area at the Delaware DOE, chose the Delaware Early Literacy Initiative as their project for Indicator 17.

To say this is a confusing mess would be an understatement of epic proportions.  I find it even more troubling they would pick Kindergarten to 3rd Grade as their test subjects when they know children in those grades don’t receive basic special education funding.  The students who are considered intense or complex do, but the bulk of the students with disabilities in those grades fall under “Basic Special Education”.  As a result, some schools in Delaware are hesitant to grant IEPs for these students since they know the cost will fall on the district or charter school without any extra money from the state.

The Delaware DOE relies on Response to Intervention as a way of determining if a child needs special education services or not.  It is a faulty system, mandated by the feds, that can take years before a child is fully identified for special education.  As a result, these children become lost in a system while their neurological disabilities manifest.  An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is designed for that particular student.  The IEP team, consisting of the school Special Education director, a Principal or Vice-Principal, the primary teachers, the school nurse, the school psychologist, and the parent or parents of the child.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, of the website Make Special Education Work, recently wrote an article about why RTI isn’t working.  In the article, they wrote:

Even though RTI instruction may be high quality and research-based, can it meet your child’s unique needs? Meeting these needs through an individualized education program is your child’s right under IDEA.

While the Delaware DOE’s Early Literacy Initiative is certainly a long read, it is chock full of errors and omissions that fail to adequately address the unique and individual attention a child with disabilities truly needs.

 

A Message From Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn About IEPs And DOE Surveys

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn wants all parents of students with disabilities with an IEP to read this message!  As part of the IEP Task Force recommendations back in 2014 which became part of Senate Bill 33 last year, the Delaware DOE is required to send surveys out to a representative number of families where a child has an IEP.  The goal of the survey is to see how our schools are doing with the IEP process and implementation.  I strongly urge all parents in Delaware who  have a child with an IEP to take this survey.  Thank you.

“Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask for your assistance in ensuring that our schools are complying with their legal responsibilities to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities. One of the recommendations of the IEP Improvement Task Force that I chaired was to survey families specifically about their experience with the IEP process, so the state could determine if particular schools or districts were failing to comply with their legal responsibilities to children with disabilities. The General Assembly enacted legislation last year requiring the Department of Education to conduct this survey. The Department of Education, through the Center for Disabilities Studies at the University of Delaware, is mailing such a survey out to the homes of a randomized group of approximately 5,000 students with IEPs. In addition to these mailed surveys, we have also created an online version which will allow families who do not receive the mailed survey to share their experience. While we request permission to contact the responding families if there are concerns about their responses, they may choose to participate anonymously.

I ask you to share the web address for this online survey with the families of children you serve and encourage their participation, so we can try to ensure that all children with disabilities in our state receive the support to which they are entitled.”

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2T789KW

Sincerely,

Matt Denn

A Special Education Journey Like No Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you please describe the Journey program?

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

What is the teacher-student ratio?

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

Do you use Common Core or standardized testing?

No.

What are you doing different than the traditional public schools?

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

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

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

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

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

Is public assistance available for tuition costs?

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

How have students reacted to the program?  Parents?

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

What do you envision for the future of Journey?

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

Are there students without disabilities in the program?

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

Please describe an average day in the Journey program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First State Military Academy Delivering Top-Notch Special Education Services

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Delaware’s First State Military Academy did a 180 degree turn on their special education services for students with disabilities.  For those who believe I hate all charter schools, this is not the case.  What I am against is bad decisions by some in the charter community as well as traditional school districts.  I have seen some charters who did very bad things manage to do an awesome turnaround.  I’ve also seen charters do really great and then see them fall apart.  And then there are those charters who are bad and manage to continue their downward spiral.  There are some I don’t write anything bad about because there is nothing bad about them.

First State Military Academy just opened last August.  Located in Smyrna, the new charter had some special education issues in the beginning of the year.  After an initial special education director resigned, and a replacement didn’t work out as planned, the school had to get it together.  The school already had a higher than normal special education population.  Getting IEPs together for a large influx of students with disabilities, along with opening a new school, has to be a harrowing effort.  To that effect, the school hired a former special education teacher from the John Charlton School in the Caesar Rodney School District.

Since then, I’ve heard from multiple sources the school is offering top-notch special education services.  One of their biggest challenges was the handling of student accommodations with a technology-based curriculum.  For example, IEPs or 504 plans could have an accommodation where a student is only expected to do half of an assignment.  In Math, instead of doing 20 problems, they only do 10.  When you have a computer doing the scoring, it would take a massive amount of computer code to change existing programs.  The school found a way to work around this and make sure students with accommodations are taken into account with the scoring.  This allows the students to receive a more accurate grade based on their special education needs.

I’ve also heard IEP meetings are excellent at First State Military Academy.  The difference between when they first opened last year and today are night and day.  The meetings are organized, the teachers are on board, and parents are much happier.

I’ve heard from many folks about how great Commandant Patrick Galluci and School Instructional Leader Dr. John Epstein are.  It looks like they are living up to this reputation.  I’m happy the school not only identified their prior special education issues but also acted on them.  Doing the right thing is what most of us want.  If I am constantly bashing on certain charter schools in Delaware, there are valid reasons for that.  Special education is near and dear to me and good news deserves a shout-out!

Because of the very nature of charter schools in Delaware, information about them is much easier to find through the Delaware Department of Education website and other sources.  I have written about traditional school districts quite a bit as well on this blog.  Most of my issues with Delaware charters surround their enrollment preferences and financial transparency.  If I can find something out from their website or through Google, that’s an issue.  But the biggest source of information, when it comes to good news, comes from the parents.  I am always happy to publish the good stuff as well as the bad.  If you know something great going on, let me know.  I won’t bite!  Unless it is to spread any type of love about standardized testing.  You won’t find any support from me on that one!

Special Education Front & Center In Budget Talks With DOE

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The Delaware Joint Finance Committee grilled Secretary Godowsky yesterday about the dramatic rise in special education numbers this year.  The News Journal, Delaware Public Media and Delaware State News covered the hearing with very different takes on the events of the day.  All of them cited the increase this year of 848 students classified as special education.

Delaware State News provided the quote of the year from Senator Harris McDowell:

A large portion of the dialogue centered on enrollment figures, with committee members questioning the discrepancy between predicted and actual growth and the JFC chairman referring to the funding formula as “‘Harry Potter’ calculus.”

Both legislators and DOE officials seem to be perplexed at the rapid rise in special education students and don’t know how to figure this out.

“We’ve really been in the position of, is this a bubble, is this a one-time or two-time increase in special education enrollment that’s driving that growth?” said department finance director Kim Wheatley.

The News Journal had a different take on the matter:

Department officials and several lawmakers said much of that increase was likely due to the state’s recent efforts to better screen students to catch disabilities and learning differences. Godowsky said the department was working with the University of Delaware to study the state’s population and see if the increase could be a long-term trend.

But Delaware Public Media offered more insight into Godowsky’s thoughts on the issue:

“It’s the unknown factor of students identified as ‘exceptional’ and are eligible for special education services. So that’s the variable that we haven’t really been able to tap exactly,” Godowsky said.

But the shell shock award of the day definitely goes to Delaware Public Media:

Many parents of kids with learning differences choose to move to Delaware because of the state’s quality special education, Dr. Godowsky said.

Are you kidding me?  Really?  Quality special education.  That is a complete lie.  When I talk about special education with people from different states they laugh and tell me how horrible Delaware is in comparison to other states.  For a state listed as needing intervention three out of the past five years this is a complete joke.  This is not a knock against our teachers, but a complete slam on the DOE who seems to think special education’s sole purpose is to bring up test scores.  Meanwhile, our bloated classrooms, some with well over 30 students and one teacher in some districts are suffering immensely.  If Delaware had quality special education this blog would not exist.

I’ve told people for going on two years now that special education numbers are too low in Delaware.  Many of the increases this year are coming from the charter sector of Delaware public education.  Now that accountability is really kicking in I’m not surprised the charters are waking up to this fact.  Now that their schools are on the line just as much as traditional school districts are, their excuses with low special education numbers just don’t cut it any more.  While this is not all charters, there are certain ones who have insanely small special education populations that do not match any realistic demographics in the state.  The vo-techs aren’t much better in some respects.  There could be other factors at play here as well.

We all know Delaware has some major pollution issues.  There have been concerns about chemical waste and toxins for years.  Delaware Senator Greg Lavelle wants Delaware’s water tested to make sure we aren’t having issues like the crisis in Flint, Michigan.  My son has Tourette Syndrome and it is a mystery about how children develop the disability.  The disability is not present in any of his relatives on both sides, nor was it in past generations.  I have questioned the origin of my son’s disability.

In 2006, a company called Reichhold in Cheswold had a chemical leak.  A railroad car released a chemical called styrene which is used in plastics.  The smell of the chemical was felt up to five miles away from the now closed plant.  My house is a little over a mile away from the now closed chemical plant.  My wife and son were home on that summer day, with all the windows open.  He was two when this happened.  Twenty people went to the hospital.  Route 1 closed down in that area for most of the day.  Everyone within the five-mile radius of the plant was told to stay indoors.  In my neighborhood, every single child I knew that was home that day has some type of disability that was not present before the leak.  I actually contacted Erin Brokovich about this a few years ago but I never received a response from her.  I don’t think it is a coincidence events like this occur and we see a rise in children with disabilities.  While Delaware didn’t see an immediate health danger to citizens in the area, we don’t know what long-term effects these unstable chemicals can do to developing minds in children.

Yesterday, State Rep. Kim Williams attended the JFC hearing with the DOE and after hearing the special education numbers, she tweeted an astonishing figure that none of the major media covered:

That is a lot of unfunded special education!  3rd grade is also the first year students take the Smarter Balanced Assessment folks.  I wrote in great detail about the 2015-2016 September 30th enrollment numbers back in November.  Delaware charter schools special education numbers rose nearly 15% on average while traditional school districts rose 4.4%.  At that time, 2,467 students in Delaware who have IEPs received no additional funding for the simple fact they are considered basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  This is a travesty.  William’s House Bill 30 would take care of this issue but nobody seems eager to make sure it passes aside from a handful of legislators.  Meanwhile, Governor Markell wants to boost early education by over $11 million dollars.  While funds would go to daycare centers, the discussion at the JFC hearing also talked about funds going to “coaches” to train the daycare center providers.  How much of that money will go towards these “coaches” and who are they?  The DOE and Governor Markell stress the need for this and the General Assembly seems to be accepting everything involved with it at face value.  I fear this is just another money grab by companies wanting to profit off children and an all-too-willing DOE and Governor who put money before children in their priorities.

When is our General Assembly going to stop blindly believing all the DOE and Markell have to say about how to “fix” education?  While Godowsky has certainly made some good staff changes at the DOE, it is merely window dressing to the true problems with the DOE and State Board of Education.  Those who suffer the most are the nearly 20,000 special education students in Delaware who do not have the funding, resources, and support they so desperately need.  But we have no problem sending millions upon millions of dollars to outside companies who come up with their mythical reports and their ridiculous high-stakes tests which tell us nothing we don’t already know.

Secretary Godowsky And Governor Markell Recklessly Whitewash The SAT/SBAC Debacle While Violating State & Federal Law

“I, Jack Markell, do proudly swear to carry out the responsibilities of the office of Governor to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”from the Delaware Oath of Office for all publicly elected officials

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Yesterday, Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education made a grandstand announcement about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  They forgot many things in their hasty announcement.  There are important and crucial reasons why this is not what it appears to be and actually violates many state and federal laws.

  1. The SAT went through a “redesign” to make it tied to the Common Core standards.  This is not the same SAT high school juniors took last year.  Delaware already has horrible scores on the SAT.  With the scores based on Smarter Balanced already showing less than half of Delaware students were proficient, expect those scores to plunge even lower on the SAT.
  2. House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment to Delaware explicitly states that “(j) Rules and regulations pursuant to this subchapter shall be proposed by the Secretary subject to approval by the State Board of Education.”  Since the State Board of Education did not vote on this, nor have they even had this as a discussion item on their agenda, Governor Markell broke Delaware law.  The State Board would not be able to vote on this until their February State Board meeting at the earliest.  By giving the Secretary full authority on this issue, Markell is in violation of his oath of office.
  3. There is no fiscal note for this unlawful change as well.  The funding for giving the SAT to all high school juniors in Delaware was part of the Race To The Top grant.  Those funds are now expired.  With the SAT at $90.00 or more, who is going to pay for this assessment?  Assuming there are roughly 10,000 high school juniors in Delaware, that price tag is now $900,000.00.
  4. As Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brilliantly pointed out yesterday, “Last year, the Governor announced that Delaware colleges agreed to use the Smarter Balance Assessment as a way to measure college readiness as Delaware students entered college. Students would be able to opt out of remedial courses if they were to score at a certain level on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what happened to that great idea?”
  5. Over the summer, Governor Markell spoke to an audience at an education “think tank” called New America.  He stated “Smarter Balanced is the best test Delaware ever made.”  Why is he replacing “the best test Delaware ever made” with the SAT?  Is Smarter Balanced no longer the “best test Delaware ever made?”
  6. By far, the biggest mistake Markell and the DOE made in their haste to push this through was their complete ignorance of students with disabilities who have to take the SAT.  As per Title 14, § 151, (f) ”The Department shall establish alternate assessments for children with disabilities who cannot participate in the statewide assessment of student achievement even with appropriate accommodations and modifications. Alternate assessments must be developed and used in the statewide assessment beginning not later than the 2010-2011 school year. Each local school district, through the individual student’s Individualized Education Program Team or 504 Team, shall determine what assessment the student will take, as well as the student’s matriculation or promotion status and necessary remedial activities if the student’s performance on the assessment is below standard, and if the statewide assessment is administered, what accommodations and/or modifications will be utilized. However, no student shall be denied the opportunity to take the state assessments administered pursuant to subsections (b) and (c) of this section.”  Since the decision was made to begin this in the spring of this year, has the Governor and the DOE assured students with disabilities that the accommodations offered on the SAT will be the exact same ones offered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium?  According to the College Board website, the process for accommodations on the SAT for students with disabilities is completely different.  At a minimum, the Governor and the Delaware Department of Education have now broken IDEA law (more on this below).
  7. With a letter from 10 Democrats, and not an actual resolution or bill passed by the General Assembly, Governor Markell has circumvented the legislative process.  House Bill 334 specifically states the purpose of the legislation was to transition Delaware from DCAS to Smarter Balanced.  Without an executive order, Governor Markell usurped the authority of the General Assembly and their ability to make laws in Delaware.  Since he signed the law, he has broken it.  “This bill provides for the transition of the statewide student assessment system, the Delaware Comprehensive Student Assessment (DCAS), to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter). Specifically, the bill removes references to multiple assessments.”

In terms of accommodations for students with disabilities on the SAT, it is a minimum of a seven-week process.  The deadline to submit this application, along with consent from the student’s parent, for the March 5th test is January 15th, for the May 7th test it is March 16th, and for the June 4th test it is April 15th.  This will mean that all IEP teams will need to meet to determine what accommodations students with disabilities will need for the SAT test.  What happens if the College Board won’t accept all the accommodations students received for the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  According to the College Board website, sending an IEP or a doctor’s note is not sufficient by itself.  If Delaware State Code specifically states the IEP team decides on the accommodations but they are now subject to College Board approval, how does this even work?  In looking at the College Board website, they also ask for a great deal of personal student information including doctor evaluations and any medicine students take.  I don’t believe this is written in Delaware State Code.  The Governor and the DOE are seriously putting Delaware at great risk of potential litigation with this action.  In addition to IDEA federal law, there are also serious questions concerning private student data, FERPA, and basic civil rights for students with disabilities.

While Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky brought up working through the accommodations issue, he is not looking at the big picture at all.  In a letter sent to Delaware educators this morning, Godowsky failed to bring up many of the points I have made concerning actual laws his Department and the Governor have broken with this decision.

Message from the Secretary of Education

 
Fellow educators,
 
I hope you enjoyed the recent holiday break and have returned rejuvenated for the rest of the school year. Thank you for your continued commitment to ensure every child is prepared for success in our schools.
 
I am pleased to welcome you back with exciting news for 2016: The SAT will replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the state accountability test for high school juniors beginning this spring.
 
We made this decision after hearing from educators, students, families, lawmakers and others concerned about the testing burden on students, especially 11th graders who already were taking both tests.
 
We formally announced this news today, and you can learn more here. This change comes with many challenges we must overcome in a short time period, such as determining the proper accommodations for students with disabilities, and we are working through these issues. We will continue to update this site with more information in the weeks ahead.
 
This year, the SAT is also redesigned. Changes include:
 
  • Two sections (plus an essay): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math
  • A focus on the math that matters most for college and career
  • A move away from obscure vocabulary to the use of relevant words in context
  • The elimination of the guessing penalty
 
Several SAT supports are available to you as well. College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free SAT test practice to all Delaware students. Khan also provides personalized SAT practice based on students’ PSAT results. Through a score reporting portal, you can monitor student progress and guide them in preparing for greater SAT success. More information on the re-designed SAT, personalized practice recommendations, and important SAT dates and news is available here.  
 
Teacher guides and professional development modules are also available to support educators integrating SAT practice into their classrooms. Resources are available online, and College Board can come to districts to assist with training. Find more information here.
 
We continue to look for ways to support Delaware educators, help students, and reduce testing, and we look forward to the results of the work of an on-going assessment inventory task force to inform our state’s policy in the future.
 
In partnership,
 
Steven Godowsky
Secretary of Education
It is more than obvious Governor Markell is desperate and scared of the veto override on House Bill 50.  He is pulling out all the stops, but now he is getting very sloppy, careless and reckless.  Delaware parents have him on his toes and he really doesn’t know how to handle it.  Legislators in Delaware are now confused about what to do based on these decisions by Markell and the DOE.  The amount of discussion surrounding House Bill 50 while completely ignoring the entire purpose of the bill is sucking the oxygen out of the room.  Legislators are forgetting what this entire bill is about: parent rights, nothing else.  It is not about over-testing, or the SAT, or anything else.  It is parent rights.  Parents want it, they asked for it, and the majority of the 148th General Assembly approved it.  Everything else is subterfuge and propaganda coming from the DOE, Markell, and Rodel.
Governor Markell, in granting the authority to the Secretary of Education of Delaware, to make this decision is in violation of his Oath of Office.

16 To Watch In 2016: The Delaware Met Kids

On December 17th, the Delaware State Board of Education revoked Delaware Met’s charter.  Over 200 teenagers, in 9th and 10th grade, will have to find a new school after January 22nd.  Most will go back to their feeder districts.  Some may go to charters.  Some could even drop out.  Even though I wrote a lot about the fall of Delaware Met, I truly feel bad for these kids.

I hope whichever district or charter ends up receiving these kids, that they take a very thorough look at what these students will need.  And not just academically.  We know over 60 of these kids have IEPs.  We know some of them are “troublemakers”.  But at the end of the day, they are scared.  They are facing a very uncertain future.  If any of them gained trust with the Delaware Met, it is going to be twice as hard for them to begin again at a new school half way through the year.

It is incumbent upon the DOE and State Board of Education to make sure these kids transition as best they can.  They made the decision to open Delaware Met and they delivered their final verdict.  The last thing we should want for these kids is for them to drop out and call it quits.  They need to know they will be accepted, no questions asked.   I am not saying it will be easy for any receiving district or school.  But compromise and allowances need to be made for these kids.  The Del Met kids will also have to realize their new schools aren’t the free-for-all Delaware Met was.

Delaware Met’s Final Public Hearing Brings Out The Defenders

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

I went to the MET school public hearing tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kendall Massett And I Agree On Something!!!! Del Met & Other Charter News

Just kidding Kendall!  But seriously, the more I am hearing about this Delaware Met meeting, the more I can’t wait to see the transcript!  Meanwhile, both Avi with Newsworks and Matt Albright with the News Journal covered this big news today as well.  One clarification which I am now hearing about.  The school did not have most of their population as Moyer students.  There were about ten of them I am now hearing.  According to Avi’s article, if Godowsky and the State Board shut it down, the students will have the choice to go back to their district feeder schools or other charters.  But back to Kendall, from Avi’s article:

School safety also emerged as a major theme. Wilmington police have visited Delaware Met 24 times since the school year began and made nine arrests, according to the testimony of state officials at Tuesday’s meeting. Last month, in response to a CSAC request for information, school officials said local police had only visited Delaware Met six times.

That discrepency irked Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter School Network and a non-voting member of CSAC.

“It’s not the number of times the police came, it’s that they need to be honest about it,” Massett said.

Massett said she “absolutely support[ed]” the committee’s recommendation to shutter Delaware Met.

I supported this recommendation before it was even made!  One important thing to take note of is the timing.  The way charter school funding works, they get their next big chunk of funding in February.  By shutting the school down in January, this would prevent them from getting those funds and squandering them if they knew the school was going to shut down at the end of the year. Even the DOE issued a press release on this:

The Delaware Department of Education’s Charter School Accountability Committee today recommended the revocation of Delaware MET’s charter in January because of academic, operational, governance and financial problems at the Wilmington school.

A public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Carvel State Office Building at the corner of 9th and French streets in Wilmington. Public comment will be accepted through December 11. After reviewing the full record, Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky will present his decision regarding the school’s future to the State Board of Education for its assent at the board’s December 17 meeting.

Issues considered by the committee include:

Educational program, specifically:

o    Fidelity to the school’s approved curriculum and instructional program, including the Big Picture Learning instructional model, use of technology, participation in various coalitions, and implementation status of project-based learning. Lessons plans submitted to CSAC also were found to be out of alignment with the state’s academic standards.

o    Special education services, including the results of a recent monitoring visit by the Department of Education’s Exceptional Children Resources staff that found the school was out of compliance with all 59 of its students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

School culture, specifically safety and discipline concerns
Governing board and leadership capacity, specifically lack of compliance with open meeting laws
Financial viability, specifically due both to decreased student enrollment and the school’s budget not reflecting full compliance with programmatic requirements, including special education

Delaware MET, which opened this fall, was placed on formal review by the State Board of Education on October 15.

Should Secretary Godowsky and the State Board follow the committee’s recommendation to revoke the charter, the school would close on January 22, the end of the second marking period. The state would assist the school’s 210 students and their families in moving to other schools for the rest of the academic year. The children may return to the district schools in their home feeder patterns or choice into another district or charter school that is accepting students. The receiving schools would receive prorated funding for the returning students.

As they look toward next year, families also may fill out the state’s School Choice application for another district or charter school for 2016-17. The application deadline is January 13, 2016.

I feel bad for these kids.  I truly do.  It is one thing to have a school not service you and give you a proper education.  Delaware Met is another thing altogether!  I really hope the State Board of Education and Godowsky do the right thing here.  Perhaps the State Board won’t be so quick to approve so many charter schools all at once and will really look at the wisdom of that decision.  Perhaps it is time to take a fresh new look at the whole charter school application process.  Because it isn’t just Delaware Met.  Yes, the spotlight is on them, and they made the most unwise decisions.  But other new charters are experiencing severe growing pains.  First State Military Academy is now going on their third special education coordinator.  I’m not sure if they made their IEP compliance deadline as a new school, but I don’t like what I’m hearing in terms of the school’s issues with understanding the IEP process and what they feel are appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities.

One thing that will become a huge problem in the future for all schools is the concept of personalized learning.  If you have a personalized learning program at your school, the IEP is covered under a federal program called IDEA.  For those who may not know this, the decisions of an IEP team, covered by federal law, trumps the online learning system.  As an example, if a student is required to do 15 out of 20 math problems based on their IEP, than the school needs to honor that.  You can’t say the computer score is right and you have to go by that.  Unfortunately, the state standardized assessment is another issue.  But for unit tests and quizzes, and even homework done on the computer, these schools need to contact these companies like Schoology and learn how THEIR system can accommodate students with IEPs, not the other way around.

As for Delaware Met, they had plenty of time to get it right and it comes down to very bad choices.  I’m sure they knew their head of school was pregnant when she got the job last March.  Knowing that, why would you not plan for the eventual maternity leave?  Sorry, I’m just getting really tired of hearing that excuse.  I have to wonder how much training and professional development teachers really got at this school.  Positive Outcomes has the same Big Picture Learning program, and they haven’t had the issues Delaware Met is experiencing.  And they are a school with about 60% of their population having IEPs.  I’m sure the school will play the blame game on the districts and other charters for failing to send them information about the students.  But given the issues with the staff and Innovative Schools, I have to wonder how much effort was put into actually requesting those records.  We can’t assume everything coming from the school is the Gospel truth.  I caught Innovative Schools in at least three lies at their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.

At the end of the day, it is about doing the right thing, and Delaware Met failed.  I have no doubt the intention was there with many of their board members, but this needs to be a lesson learned for those wanting to start a school without the experience to back it up.  First State Military Academy and many other schools are using models that are strongly suggested by Innovative Schools.  Perhaps it is past time Innovative Schools has a state investigation and audit to see how useful the services they are offering Delaware charters truly are and how much is wasteful.