Earl Jaques Is Really Pushing For State Takeover Of Christina

The most controversial piece of legislation in the Delaware General Assembly will be State Rep. Earl Jaques’ brainfart of an idea to have the State of Delaware take over the Christina School District.  Continue reading

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It Is Time For DSEA To Regurgitate Themselves From The Bowels Of Rodel

I warned them.  Many times.  Sit at the table and you will be on the table.  The Delaware State Education Association was swallowed whole.  By who? Continue reading

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

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

Governor Carney Embarking On Massive Two-Day Bill Signing Marathon

According to Governor Carney’s public schedule, he might get some blisters on his fingers from signing so many bills.  Tomorrow and Wednesday he will be signing 29 bills at various times of the day.  In the education world, two big bills will get the ink.  The long awaited House Bill #292 which makes drastic changes to the Delaware Autism Program will finally become law.  Another big one is Senate Bill #172 which takes steps to improve transparency in education funding.  It doesn’t go far enough in my opinion.  Nothing will until the public can see where every penny in public education goes.

To see the 29 bills being signed and what they are about, please see below. Continue reading

Is Regulation 225 A Union-Busting Measure? Know When You Are Being Used!

Ever since Regulation 225 hit the Delaware Registrar of Regulations, I’ve been scratching my head over it. I’ve gone back and forth on it a few dozen times. To be crystal clear, I support any anti-discrimination measure for ANY student. No questions asked. Some of the Facebook comments I’ve seen from some who oppose the bill are filled with hate and misunderstanding. I’ve wondered what the purpose behind all this was, and today I may have received an answer. Continue reading

Seaford Mother Outraged Over Potential Abuse From Seaford Teacher Towards Her Child With Autism

Tonight, Rob Petree with 105.9 wrote an article about a Seaford School District parent who is claiming a teacher took unnecessary physical measures against her child with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum.  The mother explained what happened.  When the student was told he could not go to the office when he became upset over not finding his writing journal, the mother claims the teacher took things a bit too far:

“My son said the teacher went so far as to stand in front of the door and block the door and not let him out. The teacher told him to get back in his seat, and he said ‘no I want to go to the office,’ and the teacher told him ‘no get in your seat or I’m going to put you in your seat,’ and Landon once again said no he wanted to go to the office, so the teacher grabbed him by his arm, picked him up, carried him across the room and slammed him down in his chair. Landon said he then got back up out of his chair and tried to go out the door again and the teacher wouldn’t let him out of the door. So he went over and sat down in the chair at the round table near the door, and the teacher again was telling him to get up and go get back in his seat and Landon refused. The teacher went over to try to grab ahold of Landon and Landon got upset, jumped up out of the chair, and grabbed the back of the chair and slammed the chair into the floor, trying to get around the teacher to get out the door. He said at that point the teacher said ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ and grabbed him up by his arm and physically carried him out of the door of the classroom, banging his forehead into the metal door facing in the process, and Landon said at that point as soon as the teacher sat him down in the hallway he ran straight to the office, and that’s when he called me.”

Even more alarming is the Seaford Middle School Principal’s response to her when she asked to see the video of the incident:

Today, I had a meeting with the Middle School Principal and basically what they told me today was that the teacher said that he asked Landon to leave several times and Landon wouldn’t leave the room, and that Landon was throwing pens, pencils, chairs and desks, and that they seen this on video; however, no one was able to produce any video to me showing my son behaving the way they said he behaved. I honestly, truly believe my son, and I believe this teacher is doing nothing but trying to protect himself and the school the same way. I cleaned my son’s locker out today, and he’s not going back to that school as long as that teacher is there.

This is unacceptable.  I found out today the same thing happened to the parents of the child who was assaulted last week at Caesar Rodney High School.  The district refused to release surveillance footage that captured the incident (and I will have more to say on that whole thing that hasn’t been made public yet).  I tagged tons of our state legislators on my Facebook page with a link to the 105.9 article asking for legislation that would demand schools release video to parents whenever their child is harmed in any possible way.

The district will not respond to any of this.  They will shut up unless they have to fire the teacher.  People ask me why I write so much about bad stuff happening in our schools instead of the good.  Sorry, this kind of crap outrages me.  You can have many great things happening in schools, but this is what folks remember and talk about.  This is a travesty.  Even if this teacher used proper restraint and seclusion practices as dictated by state law, the district should still release the video to the parent.  Instead, they are covering their asses.

A former board member for a district did tell me that video like this is released to the police department.  They will review it and eventually it would be shared with the parent(s).  I explained that the video could help a parent understand what happened.  It could be necessary for them to see it so the parent can seek sufficient medical or counseling treatment for their child.

I wrote an article last year on the Delaware Dept. of Education’s annual Restraint & Seclusion report.  Seaford Middle School had 13 incidents of restraint in the 2015-2016 school year.  Compared to Milford’s middle school which had 1.  In Seaford, they had 38 incidents of restraint affecting 21 students.  But if this situation played out anywhere close to what the mother is claiming, this was no ordinary restraint.  If it went down how she said it did, this teacher should face criminal charges for assault.  Dealing with special education students can be challenging for teachers and parents.  But if you don’t have the proper training required to take action like this, you should do nothing and contact someone who can help.  Sadly, for this student, it will be a day he will never forget.

I don’t care where a video is: cafeteria, classroom, bus, hallway or anywhere on school property.  If a parent asks to see it, you show it to them, no questions asked.  The act of withholding something like that immediately sends red flags up with parents.  Or saying you have it but then you don’t.  You reap what you sow with that kind of logic.  In the case of the Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA), that applies to educational records.  If a parent requests records on their child, the school is obligated to produce it.  But is surveillance video considered an educational record?  That will be the argument here.  But I don’t care.  If a kid gets hurt, you do the right thing and show the parent.  Cause it could mean the difference between a parent deciding whether or not to sue the district.

This should NOT happen in our schools.  Tonight, I am very pissed off.  At this.  At Caesar Rodney.  At other districts where I am trying to help parents navigate through special education issues with schools.  So much of what I help parents with are things every school should know by now.  Districts and charters complain all the time about getting sued so much and the “predatory” law firms.  Guess what?  The very act of protecting yourself is usually what gets you sued.  How does that work out for you?

Updated, 9:50pm: A big thank you to special education advocate Devon Hynson for providing a link to what FERPA says about surveillance videos-

Schools are increasingly using security cameras as a tool to monitor and improve student safety. Images of students captured on security videotapes that are maintained by the school’s law enforcement unit are not considered education records under FERPA.  Accordingly, these videotapes may be shared with parents of students whose images are on the video and with outside law enforcement authorities, as appropriate. Schools that do not have a designated law enforcement unit might consider designating an employee to serve as the “law enforcement unit” in order to maintain the security camera and determine the appropriate circumstances in which the school would disclose recorded images.

 

You Can’t Make Things Better Until You Fix What’s Broken

In the past week, a light bulb went off in my head.  I’ve been to a lot of education meetings lately.  State Board of Education, ESSA, Special Education Strategic Plan, district board meetings, and so forth.  I’ve seen and met a lot of legislators and candidates.  I’ve seen the old faces and the new.  For the most part, we are all talking about the same thing: problems in education.  Whether it is at a state level or on the ground floor.  At an ESSA meeting, one of the participants at my table was Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty.

He made a very valid point.  We keep talking about education and how to make it better.  We keep throwing ideas into the mix.  We have meetings and task forces and committees and town halls and strategic plans.  We talk ourselves to death.  We don’t take action and we have gotten away from the basics.  I agree with him.

There have been opportunities to act, but they pass by.  Until the next idea comes along.  I’ve met with parents, teachers, district administrators, board members, the DOE, advocates, disability groups, legislators and regular citizens.  There are deep rifts between everyone.  Hurts.  Things happen.  Perceptions are thrown out of whack.  I have seen two of those groups talk about the exact same topic in separate meetings but the tone and feelings about it are wider than the Pacific Ocean.

As much as I rant about the DOE, I do like that they are having these town halls.  I like that people are coming out to them.  But it’s not enough.  Not nearly enough.  What is confusing me is why different states are taking advantage of different timelines for their draft plans.  For example, Delaware wants to get their plan in by the end of March.  In Florida, they are not submitting their plan until the end of July.  The Delaware DOE wants to have their plan in place by the 2017-2018 school year.  Florida’s wouldn’t fully kick in until 2018-2019.  The Delaware DOE wants to have their first draft done by the end of October.  In 37 days.  While it is a draft and would most likely be amended based on public feedback, I don’t like that short of a time frame.

Is that enough time to heal the rifts between the adults involved in education?  Is that enough time for us to decide, as a state, what is best for students?  No.  I don’t like the idea that we are rushing to get a basic plan done, with public comment to possibly tweak that plan, and then again after the end of the year.  I would much rather see something more solid in the beginning and build from there.  I want a foundation that is grounded in fixing the already existing problems with a definitive action plan and a path forward to fix them.  While some may see ESSA as a grand opportunity to get things right, are we rushing to get certain plans that are representative of the more powerful at the expense of the majority?  I believe we are.  Delaware needs more time.  With the vast amounts of money we spend on education, I would think there could and should be a way to get more voices involved.

When many education bills are submitted in the General Assembly, they are symptomatic of larger things that are broken.  If we don’t fix those bigger things, the small solutions don’t always work.  So, I guess, I’m putting this out there for the Delaware DOE, Secretary Godowsky, and the Governor to think about.  What is the harm in waiting another four months to put forth our ESSA plan?  Yes, it’s another year students may not have something.  And many of those things they need now.  But if we squander a gift of time and having true collaboration, at a state-wide level, to get things right, then all the plans in the world won’t help.  It would also give the General Assembly more of a sense of what this will cost over the five and a half months they are in session.  By submitting the plans by the end of March, it will force the General Assembly to most likely scramble to introduce legislation to make it all fit.  Why not let the General Assembly have until the end of June to do their thing while the rest of us, and I mean ALL of us, do our thing?  I have no doubt the DOE has a very good idea of what they would like to see.  But I don’t think the rest of Delaware feels they have been given enough to do this.  We need more time.

This isn’t a rant against the DOE.  It is a heartfelt plea to all involved in education to use the time we could have.  We need to come together, for the kids.

Which States Allow Opt-Out of Standardized Testing?

I’ve heard differing answers to this, so I figured I would check for myself.  Two states have very clear and distinct laws which allow parent opt-out of standardized testing, and those are California and Utah (Utah code Ann. Paragraph 53A-15-1403 (9)).  However, many other states have enough weight in their laws which can easily allow for opt-out.

In Pennsylvania, a student can be opted out of the standardized assessments for either religious or moral reasons.  But the parent has to review the assessment and make a decision.  A child can only graduate if they either do a project-based assessment due to being opted out or if the superintendent gives a waiver.  What is very interesting about Pennsylvania though is the 95% Federal requirement.  This does not apply to Pennsylvania since they filed for a No Child Left Behind waiver on this provision and it was granted to them.

In Tennessee, a child can be opted out by a parent if they are required to take a “survey, analysis or evaluation” (Tenn. Code Ann. §49-2-211) but it isn’t clear if this applies to the state assessment.

Wisconsin has a rather odd law  (Wis. Stat. § 118.30(2)(b)3) that stipulates any student in 4th and 8th-11th grades can be opted out if a parent wants that, but for standardized test purposes, 3rd and 5th-7th must test.

Oregon (OAR 581-022-1910) allows opt-out for disability or religious reasons and it does not affect a student’s graduation requirements as long as they can show proficiency in understanding the state Essential Skills in reading, writing and math.  Schools are held to the federal benchmark of 94.5% instead of the usual 95% for participation rates.

These are the key “opt-out” states, however many states currently have legislation like Delaware’s House Bill 50.  In New Jersey, their bill cleared their House unanimously and it is waiting for a Senate vote.  I will be updating those states this evening.  All of these would be contingent on a Governor signing the laws, and some states it is very doubtful a Governor would, but you never know.  If Delaware passes it, I am very curious how Jack Markell would handle that…

Delaware Resident Makes Compelling Case For Later Start Time At Schools

A Delaware resident recently sent an email to some very high-level Delaware politicians and members of the media.  Floyd McDowell, a New Castle County resident, has many ideas for change in education.  This, in my opinion, would be an excellent start.  Why do we subject our youth to “farming” hours at many of our schools?  And so many want to actually increase the school day?  We need to take the lessons from Finland about what is physically appropriate for our children.

This email message and two attachments discuss the need to change school start times to enable our state’s Middle and High School students to get adequate sleep each night. Much readily available medical research informs us that adolescent sleep deprivation is a serious cause of many adolescent mental and physical health and school problems.

One of the two attached articles is based on information in a publication titled Adolescent Sleep Needs and School Starting Times. There are a number of publications listed on Amazon.com under Adolescent Sleep Deprivation. Other information is available on the internet by accessing the same topic. Every adult citizen with an adolescent family member in our state’s Middle and High Schools should become informed and advocate for a sensible solution which is to schedule needed school start times. The second attached article is a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics that more thoroughly discusses this sleep deprivation problem and how to eliminate it. Another similar report was issued by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Our State Constitution gives the responsibility for efficient public schools to our General Assembly. Our Governor has equal responsibility as this elective office appoints members to our State Board of Education and our State Secretary of Education. These responsible educational decision-makers will be the first to receive this information and a request to simply solve a harmful statewide problem by simply changing the start times for the 2015/2016 school; year for all adolescent students. This information will also be sent to state educational organization leaders in the Delaware State PTA, Delaware State Education Association, local School Board members and others. I will also send it to over 200 Delaware citizens on my email list who have shown involvement in activities to improve our state’s civic and political cultures.

As with all other information I share, I am always available to answer any questions or provide additional information for anyone requesting same. Our minds are like parachutes and umbrellas; “They simply won’t work unless open.”

Let’s Do The Timewarp Again! A Peek Into The Past At The DOE Shows Current & Future Agendas

This is the FOIA file that keeps on going, and going, and going…

This one shows a document from October, 2013 showcasing what the DOE’s most important goals are, especially for the current academic year.  Once again, we get confirmation that SATs and PSATs are being aligned to the Common Core Standards.  This is happening at a national level as a state does not have the ability to dictate what appears on these tests.  The College Board does all the legwork for these assessments.

I would have to guess at this point that Accountability 2.0 is the new accountability standards the DOE is trying to get in place for schools.  This would involve legislation according to this memo, so look for something to be introduced in the General Assembly at any time.  It will be interesting to see who sponsors this legislation at first, because that would mean they are probably in tight with the Delaware DOE.

House Rep Sean Matthews Tackles Tricky Issue Of Immunization Exemption

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While many Delawareans are talking about parents opting their child out of the state assessment, rookie Delaware State Representative Sean Matthews is proposing legislation that is very controversial at best…the subject of immunizations.  Under this proposed legislation, any child who is unvaccinated during an outbreak of what is a disease that can be vaccinated would be required to stay home from school during the outbreak.

Details on this potential legislation were released yesterday in the House Democrats weekly newsletter, Legislative Hall Insider.  Matthews is working with Delaware Senator Bethany Hall-Long on the legislation.

Bill Would Add Language to Immunization Opt-out

Lawmakers this week announced a proposal designed to raise awareness of the risks involved with not immunizing school-aged children and to encourage families to have their children vaccinated.

The draft proposal, spearheaded by Rep. Sean Matthews, would amend the state’s religious belief exemption affidavit for the public school immunization program. Currently, Delaware requires all children attending public schools to receive vaccines for certain preventable diseases – such as polio, whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella – while allowing parents exemptions for medical reasons or religious beliefs.

In Delaware, the Division of Public Health reports that 0.8 percent of children are exempted because of religious beliefs, while 0.1 percent are not vaccinated due to medical reasons.

Rep. Matthews’ proposal would amend Delaware’s religious belief exemption affidavit for public school immunizations, incorporating a section that expressly informs parents or guardians of possible outcomes of not vaccinating their children. The affidavit language is spelled out in existing state code and the affidavit itself must be notarized.

The section would spell out that should an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease in an area of the state be declared, any unvaccinated child could be temporarily prohibited from attending a public or charter school to prevent the spread of the disease. In that instance, even if an unvaccinated child doesn’t show symptoms, he or she could be barred from attending school until the declaration is lifted.

Read more about this proposal here.

Delaware State Rep. Kowalko and Senator Lawson Sponsor Parent Opt Out Legislation To General Assembly

Parent Opt Out Legislation.  A House Bill.  Currently in circulation amongst members of the Delaware General Assembly.  This is it Delaware.  It is time to contact your state representatives and senators and give your support to this bill.  I will be posting an article soon with district maps for the House and Senate as well as each and every State Representative and Senators email address.  Contact them by next Wednesday, February 11th with your support for this potential game-changing legislation.

Sponsor: Rep. Kowalko & Senator Lawson

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 148th GENERAL ASSEMBLY

HOUSE BILL NO.

AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO EDUCATION ASSESSMENT.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE:

Section 1. Amend § 151(k), Title 14 of the Delaware Code by making deletions as shown by strike through and insertions shown by underline as follows and redesignating accordingly:

(k)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision in this section to the contrary, any parent or guardian of a student in any public school or charter school shall have the right to opt out of the statewide assessment.

(2) The parent or guardian must notify the student’s school in writing at least 2 school days prior to the scheduled exam. Schools shall honor any timely request and provide alternative educational activities during testing times.

(3) There shall be no academic or disciplinary repercussions on the student’s record for opting out of participating in the statewide assessment.

(4) The Department shall maintain a data system to track the student’s opt-out decisions.

(5) The Department shall report opt-out numbers in accountability ratings to provide context and impact on school and district ratings.

(6) Schools shall notify all parents or guardians of this right no later than 15 days after the start of the school year via school website and telephonic communication.

(7) A student having reached the age of majority shall solely possess the opt-out rights under this subsection. (l) Rules and regulations pursuant to this subchapter shall be proposed by the Secretary subject to approval by the State Board of Education.

SYNOPSIS

This bill creates the right for the parent or guardian of a child to opt out of the annual assessment, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment System.

 

Bi-Partisan Education Bill Could Be A Game Changer For Delaware DOE

On Saturday, Delaware State Representative Jeffrey Spiegelman wrote a letter to the editor in The State News.  He announced a new piece of potential legislation that would severely limit some of the shenanigans the Delaware Department of Education has done in recent years.  This bill would prevent the DOE from implementing any rule, regulation, or administrative procedure during a current school year unless approved by the local school board.  They would have to implement any regulations over the summer so the schools can budget accordingly, as well as implement the changes without any interruptions to students and staff in the middle of a school year.

This bill hasn’t even been released yet, but it should gain traction fast.  It seems like every time the DOE wants to make new rules, the local school districts are the ones that face the consequences.  For example, the Priority Schools weren’t even announced until September 4th last year, already into the new school year.  It came as a shock to Christina and Red Clay, and they were not happy about it.  Had this been done over the summer, it could have given the districts and the school boards more time to prepare and strategize before all the students came back.  It would also show the DOE they can’t do whatever they want whenever they want.  It’s easy to sit down in Dover and make all the rules, but the reality on the ground is vastly different.  I look forward to seeing what happens with this legislation!

Spiegelman is in his 2nd term as a Republican State Representative for the 11th District of Delaware.  When he isn’t doing the legislative thing, he is an adjunct professor at Wilmington University and Delaware Technical and Community College.  Other legislators are attached to this potential bill, but as of “press time” I have not received an okay to put their names on it.  The other co-sponsors on the bill are Senator Greg Lavelle and State Representative Earl Jacques who also serves as the head of the House Education Committee.

IEP Task Force: Legislation To Keep The Special In Education #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

A couple months ago I was finishing up “A Father’s Cry For His Son” on Kilroy’s Delaware. I had many potential ideas for legislation that I introduced in the epilogue. I still agree with many of those ideas. Since then, a lot has happened in the special education arena. The Feds said Delaware needs intervention, the ICT group has come into focus thanks to Elizabeth Scheinberg, another charter school is up for potential closure, and the Common Core battle is getting bigger and uglier by the day.

These were the ideas I introduced in the epilogue:

1) All IEP and 504 meetings must be digitally recorded. Of course, FERPA will protect the rights of these students, but they could be very useful if something goes wrong.

I still think this is a good idea. Not so parents can sue the pants off of any school when something goes wrong, but in case there is a disagreement or something that needs clarification, the team can go back to figure out what was said.

2) All school board meetings, for any school that receives public funding, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must digitally record their board meetings and have them available to the public within 7 business days. (This is already House Bill #23)

This needs to happen, and here’s why. The situation with Moyer, and what happened at Pencader. These may not have happened if there was more transparency with their boards. I went down to Legislative Hall, as promised, to drum up more support for HB23. It was a Lone Ranger mission, and nothing happened with the bill, but it did put me in a position to meet different legislators. I think the IEP Task Force should make sure this bill is reintroduced in the new legislative session next January so the public is more aware. As evidenced in the notes and the audio session of the June Delaware DOE Board meeting, what is put in writing is much less than the wealth of information that can be found on an audio recording. Charters need to stop isolating themselves and think they aren’t accountable to the public. Because they are.

3) All school districts, charter, public, vocational and alternative alike, must have psychiatric or neurological consultation available for any suspected neurologically-based condition within twenty days of a parent’s request for an IEP.

This is a must. Nothing against school psychologists, but they are not experts at neurological conditions. Most of them haven’t even been through clinical training. And yet, IEP teams continue to believe the school psychologist’s word is the gospel truth. Say it ain’t so! Psychiatrists and neurologists know much more about the vast majority of the disabilities and disorders that warrants most IEPs. They could do the IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) at the forefront to get to the heart of a child’s problems or difficulties.

4) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall put on their own website, the number of IEPs, 504s, IEP denials, and 504 denials they have had in the past month, to be updated monthly. For public schools, this must be put on the district website, as well as the website for each individual school in the district. They shall also share annual numbers as well, for each school year AND on a 12 month rolling basis. If a student changes from a 504 to an IEP, or if a decline becomes either an IEP or a 504, the school must make a note of that with the monthly numbers.

I brought this one up to members of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, and it was quickly shot down. An excuse was given that they have a hard enough time with the schools reporting what they already do. I found this to be an example of what is so wrong with the system already. If you hold the schools to a low standard, this is what you will get. If you push them to be more accountable, and explain why, you will find they should be more willing to comply. I’ve also heard this could put any child at a labeling risk because people could figure out who the child is. This is far-fetched. If you only have one child with an IEP at any given school, sure, this could happen. But these are all excuses. This will prevent fraud and abuse, plain and simple.

5) All school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, shall be completely transparent on their website. All staff must be listed. All board minutes must be listed. All attachments must be listed with the exception of something that can only be handled in an executive session. All monthly financial information shall be listed. With that monthly financial information, you must break down the sub-groups of funding you are receiving.

I’ve read many school board minutes, and the one consistent thing I see over and over is these words “See attached”. And about 99% of the time, there is nothing to be seen. Parents want to see attached! If your staff changes, update your website. It isn’t hard. I’ve seen schools that haven’t updated their staff listing in over a year. A good number of the teachers aren’t even there anymore. I know the Charter School Office at the state DOE already requires some of these, but there is nothing to hold the schools accountable if they fail. With financial information, break down the sub-groups. Show what areas of federal funding are being dispersed to (i.e. IDEA-B, Title I, etc.). Show specific areas for teacher salaries (i.e. special education, tenured teachers, new teachers, etc.).

6) All schools must report to the DOE, on a monthly basis, how many current IEPs and 504 plans they have, as well as any IEP or 504 denials.

I’ve found out the schools are required to report to the DOE on how many current IEPs and 504 plans they have. But the denials, this needs to happen. The DOE doesn’t seem to think a denial is that important. But most of the special education lawsuits stem from denials for IEPs. If the state is okay with millions of dollars going out in private lawsuits, then sure, don’t look at the denials. But take a position of caring rather than a position of blind arrogance.

7) The DOE shall do a yearly audit of all school districts, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, not only for already established IEPs and 504 plans, but also denied IEPs and 504 plans. The individuals doing these audits must be highly qualified special education professionals who understand IEPs and 504 plans, as well as all of the disabilities and disorders that these plans accommodate children for. If the DOE determines an IEP or 504 plan was denied for the wrong reasons, the school district must contact the parent(s) within 5 business days and explain to the parent(s) of their procedural rights as well as mail a letter to the parent(s) with the reason for the change as well as a copy of their procedural rights. The Department of Education shall publish the results of these audits within 30 calendar days of their completion.

This is the big one. I know it would be impossible to do audits of every single IEP or 504 plan. But the DOE needs to do more than what they currently do. There is a middle ground somewhere. The DOE loves to make reports, so I am sure an annual report can be generated with a lot of this audit information without compromising the identity of any particular student. If the DOE holds the threat of interference over schools, the individual schools will be more likely to get an IEP or 504 plan right the first time. I’m quite sure no school would want parents getting a call from the state DOE about something they did wrong.

8) All Delaware parents, custodians, guardians, et al, shall receive, along with their child’s teacher and supply list, prior to the start of the next school year, a pamphlet indicating what Child Find is, a full disclosure that any evaluations a parent requests must be done at public expense, what IDEA is, how it works, a listing of every disability covered by IDEA, even those covered in other-health impaired, an IEP timeline, a sample copy of an IEP, what a 504 plan is and how it differentiates from an IEP, a sample copy of a 504 plan, and parents procedural rights, whether a child has a disability or not.

I talked to Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director for the Exceptional Children Group, about this idea back in early July. She didn’t commit to anything either way. But I think it’s important for parents to be given more proactive information before they are put in a position where they have to spend countless hours trying to figure out what to do. It also shows a willingness on the schools part to have a better relationship with parents, as opposed to an adversarial one.

9) Any school district found in violation of three or more individual special education audit failures, shall be put on the newly created Special Education review, which shall have the same weight as any other criteria that would cause a school to go under formal review.

This is the one that would have to radically change. For a school that has two hundred IEPs, this could conceivably happen. But if a school has ten, that’s more of a big deal. How about we limit this one to charter schools since they have more issues with special education than public schools.

10) All school boards, public, charter, vocational and alternative alike, must have a parent of a special needs child as a member of their school board.

This one is simple and easy. Most school boards tend to have 6-10 members on their board, and if 13% of kids in Delaware have special education, it’s a no-brainer. Someone needs to represent these children on each school board. A lot of them already have a parent in this category, but with this legislation it would be required. This parent would also look at special education practices in each charter school or school district.

11) No charter school may ask on an application if a child has an IEP, has special needs or any questions relating to a disability. If a child is selected to attend a charter school through a lottery or the school accepts an application prior to that, then the charter school can ask that question after a student has been accepted.

This is the core of the special education issues with charter schools in Delaware. With the exception of Positive Outcomes and Gateway, which specifically cater to these types of children, most of the other charter schools practice this type of behavior. It is discrimination, pure and simple, and it needs to be abolished.

12) All charter school lotteries must be a public event, published on the school web site 30 days in advance, with two members of the local school district board members in attendance, and all names from applications must be shown to them before they are placed in a closed area prior to the picking of names.

This goes along with #11 to prevent enrollment preference. These “lotteries” are anything but. They are never a public event, and this allows cherry-picking to the highest degree. Enough is enough.

13) All public, charter, vocational, and alternative schools shall change the number of suspensions that warrants a manifestation determination from 10 to 3. As well, if a child is removed from a classroom setting 5 times for a period of more than 30 minutes, a manifestation determination must kick in as well. For any child with an IEP or a 504 plan, a Functional Behavioral Analysis must be completed as well as a Behavior Intervention Plan or modification of an already existing Behavior Intervention Plan. Ten suspensions is too much missed instructional time and doesn’t benefit anyone.

This is another big one. If a child is suspended that much, there is obviously an issue. Schools and the DOE need to be more proactive at recognizing when something is obviously going wrong. By the time a student has been suspended ten times, most school officials and teachers probably see him or her as more of a problem child than a student that needs extra attention and support. Labeling has already happened, and I would be willing to bet administration has already written this student off. For a special needs student, this could easily lead to an ICT (Interagency Collaborative Team) placement that can be detrimental to a student and the family involved. As well, if a student is spending a good deal of time in the office, that is not helping the student or the school. It’s just ignoring what is right before them. I know many schools do this already, but disciplinary action should use positive behavior supports rather than negative. This has been proven time and time again, and many great teachers use this technique. I firmly believe all teachers should to help eliminate punitive action that is neither helpful or successful.

I do recognize I would be foolish to think these will all happen. But it would be a good idea for these to at least be looked at as part of the IEP task force. We are still waiting for a first meeting date and an announcement of who the members will be. If they are planning to have an August meeting, this needs to be announced very soon!

Important Legislation In Delaware Will Affect Exceptional Children

The following bills are being looked at by the House of Representatives and the Senate for the state of Delaware.  Their fiscal year ends on June 30th, so any bills that aren’t voted on will die or be reintroduced in the next fiscal year.

House Bill 23: All school boards must record!  This bill would mandate all public school boards (public, charter, vocational, and alternate schools) to digitally record their school board meetings and make them available to the general public within seven business days.  Many school boards already do this on a voluntary basis, like Red Clay Consolidated, Capital, Christina, Delmar, Brandywine and Colonial.  No charter or vocational schools currently do this.  I am definitely in favor of this bill.  In fact, I spoke to the sponsor of the bill, Deborah Hudson, last Thursday.  She said this bill was created because this is something parents want.  I asked why it has been sitting and collecting dust for so long, and she said it is not a priority.  But she did say she was going to speak about it officially during a House of Representatives legislative session.  It is still on the Ready List, so I hope it is discussed today.  The Speaker of the House, Peter Schwartzkopf, needs to get this on the Agenda ASAP!  I believe ALL parents should know what is being said during board meetings, and not just in public minutes cause they can’t possibly cover everything.

House Bill 337: This bill would allow a local school district to decide on applications to other schools in the district.  For example, in Kent County, if an application for a new charter school was submitted, Capital School District would have the ability to decide on the application based on capacity, economic impact and other factors.  This could have huge implications in Newcastle County because a part of the bill would allow for the local school district to decide based on desegregation plans that are court ordered. If an application was declined by a local school district, it would then go the Department of Education for further consideration.  This bill came about because of many allegations in Newcastle County that the charter schools are getting too much funding diverted from the public schools due to the rapid increase of charter schools in that area, as well as accusations that charter schools are not accepting African-Americans.

Senate Bill 229: This bill would allow for the most “severely cognitively disabled students” to be exempt from state mandated standardized testing.  If the Smarter Balanced Assessment is passed, this would allow these students to skip the test with no ramifications.  The House Education Committee will be meeting on this bill today at 12 noon as it has already passed the Senate.  This bill would exempt students with an IQ of 50 or less, and they must be autistic, have multiple disabilities, or have a specific learning disability.  These students would be required to take the Alternate DCAS 1, which they currently take.  If this goes through the education committee today, it could come up for a vote this week.

House Bill 334: This bill would pave the way for the Smarter Balanced Assessment to take over from DCAS.  It would also allow for a once a year assessment instead of two prep tests and the final one in the Spring as students have done for several years with DCAS.  Opponents of the bill (of which there are many) state the Smarter Balanced Assessment is a joke, and even adults can’t answer the questions as they are very confusing.  This is a very important bill, and as you can see based on my comment on this post from Kilroy’s, I strongly oppose it: http://kilroysdelaware.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/h-b-334-vote-will-be-defining-moment-if-delaware-public-education/

House Bill 340: This would require all schools to be compliant with the Omnibus School Safety Act by September 2014 instead of September 2017.  All schools would have to have two lockdown/intruder drills a year and two lessons a year on what to do in the event of a dangerous situation at a school.  This bill has been out of committee since 6/4/14.

Senate Bill 247: This bill just passed the Senate on 6/12/14 and it would require all schools to have a qualified school nurse within one fiscal year of hiring.  I would hope ALL school nurses would be highly qualified before they even apply to a school.  I would also hope all schools already had a highly qualified school nurse.  I believe all school and psychologists should be licensed with the Department of Education and the Professional License Board.

I agree with Kilroy that many of these bills could severely impact many elections coming up in November of this year.  I know I will be watching every single action or vote on these bills!  The Education Committee for the House will have many changes next year, and some of those could be based on what certain folks do in the next couple weeks.