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?

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

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 “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

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.

 

 

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

s-to-p-suspensions

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

SpecialNeedsChildren

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

Gallucci

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!