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

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

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

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.

MUST READ! Fascinating Look At Special Education At A Delaware Charter School

As part of a Delaware charter school’s charter renewal, schools provide a vast amount of information in regards to efforts they have made to improve their school.  Campus Community School, located in Dover, is up for their charter renewal this year.  A year and a half ago, the school realized they were having special education issues and sought the services of a consultant to see what was and wasn’t working.  The below document is a very interesting read.  It really goes into issues between general education teachers, special education teachers, administration, and special education coordinators.  These are not issues that are foreign to traditional district schools either.  Delaware public schools, as a whole, have a lot of work to do with special education.  My fear, and I have always said this, is that as long as success is based on once a year high-stakes assessments, students with disabilities will always be marginalized and not given the attention they truly deserve.  With the release of Smarter Balanced the stakes have risen even higher and these children will be forever lost unless there is a change now.

I would strongly recommend the Delaware Department of Education thoroughly read this document if they haven’t already.  What is detailed in this document is going on in a lot of Delaware schools.  These students do not have the true supports they need.  Far too many incidents with “behavior” are manifestations of children’s disabilities and if they don’t have the proper support and services, this cycle will continue.  Perhaps with his massive amount of special education background, Interim Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will be able to change this.

The Coalition For Fairness & Equity In Schools Needs YOUR Help!

A new group has formed in Delaware called The Coalition for Fairness & Equity In Our Schools.  This group is looking for one thing in our schools, as per their Facebook page:

Diverse group advocating for statewide changes to discipline practices to eliminate suspensions for low-level offenses and adopt a restorative approach.

This group was convened by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware to help eliminate the “school to prison” pipeline coming out of many of our schools in Delaware, specifically the Wilmington schools.  You can read more about them here.

To this end, they have started a petition which can be found below, and I strongly encourage all to sign in support of this petition.  As a special needs father, I have seen first-hand what disproportionate discipline can create, and so much of what these children are exhibiting are manifestations of their disabilities.  This doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all, but it also doesn’t mean punish whenever you want, which leads to social stigma that is very damaging for so many students with disabilities.  I have always promoted a simple mantra: work with the disabilities, not against them.  When anyone tries to fight something that is natural, it becomes stressful for all involved.  This can make a minor situation become infinitely worse.  It isn’t just about social groups for students either.  The adults have a HUGE responsibility in this as well.

I have seen multiple videos from other countries where students disabilities are celebrated, not hidden.  The classes and staff are educated on them, and this creates a much more tolerable environment for all involved: the student with disabilities, their classmates, the teachers, the staff, the admins, and the entire school.  Aside from all this, there are very specific laws regarding disproportionate punishments and manifestation determination.  In Delaware, and also under IDEA and Section 504 law, if a student is suspended more than ten times during a school year, the IEP team or 504 team must convene to determine if a behavior was a result of the disability.  A parent can also request this if they believe this to be true in a discipline situation.

What should result from this is the stakeholders involved get together, talk about the issues and behaviors, and the school psychologist should do a functional behavioral analysis.  Based on the results of this, a behavior intervention plan should be established with all parties agreeing, not just the administrators of the school.  And I would caution parents to be very careful about the wording of these BIPs as they are called.  I highly recommend knowing your child’s disability to the best of your ability, and find out what is typical or atypical behaviors associated with the disability.

When all efforts have failed, and a parent feels their efforts for their child are not being met, that is the time to take further action.  There are numerous things you can do, but one I do NOT recommend is taking that action through the Delaware Department of Education.  Their best solution seems to be “mediate” which is good, but this can also stifle your rights for your child.  Sometimes, as many special needs parents can attest to, you have to fight for your child.  The DOE methods of resolution do not have the best odds of working to your child’s benefit.  I’m sure they would disagree with me, but the bare fact that there have been NO due process hearings in Delaware for two years and a smattering of administrative complaints over a ten year period is testament to this fact.  Their way just doesn’t work.

Furthermore, the number of special education lawsuits when parents reach their wits end (not to get rich quick, that is NOT what happens with these lawsuits) has skyrocketed in Delaware over the past few years.  This is a more proven resolution method for far more parents than the DOE has ever helped over  the past decade.  In fact, many of the curriculums and specific IEPs the DOE wants (which are not part of approved federal IDEA law as brought before the U.S. Congress but resolutions and regulations tacked on by the US DOE with no Congressional approval), will wind up being more harmful to many students in the coming years as they are forced to adapt to national standards that are controversial at best, culminating in standardized assessments that on the surface purport to close the achievement gaps, but will in actuality further widen them.  This will in turn bring in more “consultants” and “non-profit companies” who need to  help these “failing” students.  All the while, teachers who don’t have the proper resources and are dealing with very large classrooms will be evaluated based on these high-stakes assessments.  This is why I don’t trust the DOE, and why any special needs parent should be very wary of them.

But back to this coalition, I am in full support of this group, and this is very needed in our state.  I just wish I had known about it sooner!  I would strongly encourage this group to take a very strong look at various disabilities and the neurobiological events that take place when so many of these “behaviors” occur, as well as the exponential increase of them when unneeded stress is placed on these students from the adults in the school.

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading

Why Schools Need To Be Okay With Upset Parents of Students With Disabilities

I posted my last article of 2014 last night, and I talked about how my son needed an MRI after he received a concussion at his school stemming from his 8th physical assault since the end of August.  Since then, the number one question I have received is why.  That’s not an easy question for me to answer.  If I knew the answer I could try to fix the problem

It’s very easy for me to focus on Priority Schools, FOIAs, charter school financial mismanagement and non-profit tax forms for educational lobbyist groups.  The answers come very easy for me with just a little bit of investigation.  Disability bullying is a very tough topic.  It’s personal for me because it involves my son.  And I will need help from other parents who have gone through or are going through these types of ordeals.  This needs to be an ongoing conversations between parents and schools.  It can’t just be the schools. Continue reading

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!