IEP Task Force Bill Tabled Due To Delaware Charter Schools Network Interference

Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Delaware State Senator Nicole Poore, was tabled today in the Delaware Senate.  This legislation came about due to the hard work of 24 individuals on the IEP Task Force.  How does a bill, which passed through the Senate Education Committee, become LOT (left on table) when it is presented to the Senate?  Two words: Kendall Massett.  The director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network herself.

After the bill went through the Senate Education Committee with no unfavorable votes, with an amendment to clear up some of the language, Massett got involved and demanded the amendment to the bill be put in Title 31, which is the part of Delaware code covering welfare.  Why she was insistent on this being put there I can’t fathom because an IEP is an education issue which would belong in Title 14.  Unfortunately with the new General Assembly website, amendments to bills can’t be read.

Apparently, she didn’t like the fact that charter schools would be required to have one employee from each charter school getting specialized training from the Delaware Department of Education on the legal rules for Individualized Education Programs as well as access to resources available in helping students with disabilities.  Having attended every single one of the IEP Task Force meetings, I can say the subject of charter schools came up more than once.  I am not saying ALL charter schools, but many don’t have a clue in how to handle special education.  Many children have been denied IEPs at Delaware charters, “counseled out”, or denied entrance to charters because parents were told by charter school officials they don’t have the “resources” to help those children.

Any time this charter lobbyist gets her hooks into legislators, bills get screwed up in the General Assembly.  I would think the charters would want the extra assistance instead of paying out extra costs to special education attorneys and education funds for students.  But no, they want traditional schools to have this caveat as well.  Here’s a news flash Kendall: traditional schools can’t counsel students out and they can’t say “we can’t take your child”.  So if you don’t like the charters getting some heat, tell all your charters to do their job!

Do you want to take a wild guess why the task force didn’t include any charter school representatives?  Maybe it’s because the Delaware DOE picked the task force with approval from the legislators involved and knew who would be able to give expert advice on special education in Delaware schools.  When the DOE doesn’t think charters can give experts on a task force, you know something has to be seriously wrong.  If it was such a concern of yours during the task force, how come you didn’t show up to any meetings Kendall?  And now you want to stick your nose into a special education bill that is meant to help these disadvantaged students?  Just because your beloved charters got called out on actions they have themselves brought upon themselves for years?

Delaware legislators: this charter lobbyist is wielding WAY too much influence on your decisions for the good of ALL Delaware children.  The charter problem in this state is getting worse by the day, and many of you will do nothing but defend these schools and the money behind them.  You have allowed them to operate under very little scrutiny and when they are caught, you grow silent.  I am not saying ALL charters or ALL legislators.  But we all know who they are and far too many of you could care less.  As long as you keep the Governor happy you are content with segregation, discrimination and denial of services.  And while all this is going on, traditional schools are losing funding and resources while the DOE pumps money into companies that provide all these corporate education reform “services” and then turn around and fund other companies for more charters.  Wake up!  It’s seconds before midnight and you are still operating under the belief that charters are the next great thing.

Senators Brian Bushweller and Greg Lavelle must have received a mouthful from Kendall on this because they were the ones who initiated the discussion today that got this bill tabled.  In a Delawareonline article today, Bushweller stated the fact that charters weren’t represented on the task force was “very disappointing”.  And Lavelle, don’t even get me started.  He said he wasn’t aware of the amendment on the bill, but his wife was on the IEP Task Force.  This bill was introduced in January.  The IEP Task Force ran from September to December.  Did Bushweller or Lavelle, both of which voted yes for Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 in the 147th General Assembly which created the task force, even bother to read the recommendations or listen to the digital audio recordings from the task force?

It is a shameful day in Delaware when legislation that can and will help special needs students is tabled because the charter lobbyist decided she didn’t like some wording.  Shame on those who sided with her during discussion of this important bill.  Once again, everything has to be about the charters in Delaware.  Enough.

To read about Delawareonline’s take on this, which included NO mention whatsoever of the sneaky, crafty maneuvering of Kendall Massett, please go to:

http://www.delawareonline.com/story/firststatepolitics/2015/03/24/debate-delayed-disabilities-legislation/70401932/

Delaware IEP Task Force Final Report Released Today

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn released the final report of the IEP Task Force today.  It’s a good start, but there is still a lot that needs to change in Delaware for special education to be great.  I really hope the 148th Assembly, beginning their legislative session on January 13th, will reassemble this task force.  I firmly believe there should be many more parents on this task force, and they could trim some of the heavy-handed school personnel.  If it does continue, parents need to come and give public comment.  I went to every meeting (more than some of the task force members).  Take the time special needs parents.  You never know, if enough people complain about the same thing, change could happen.

The Task Force’s Mission

Senate Concurrent Resolution 63 established an IEP Improvement Task Force in order “To Examine Means to Improve the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Process for Students in Delaware Public Schools.” The resolution noted that the process of developing IEPs “is, at best, difficult for parents to understand and navigate, and at worst in some instances, unfair and intimidating to parents,” and that it “does not always result in the best outcome for students with disabilities.” Most significantly, the task force was tasked with recommending to the General Assembly and Governor “potential legislative, regulatory, funding, or other improvements to Delaware’s IEP process.” The task force was also charged with informing the General Assembly and Governor about practices being used in other states that are different from Delaware’s, different IEP practices used within Delaware, research and other academic evidence regarding best practices in IEP development, and federal and state law restrictions on changes to the Delaware IEP process.

Members of the IEP Improvement Task Force

The Hon. Matthew Denn Chair
Dr. Pam Atchison Delaware Association of School Administrators
Marissa L. Band, Esq. Delaware State Bar Association
Tracy Bombara School service provider
Dafne Carnright Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Tricia Dallas Special education teacher
Bill Doolittle Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Diane Eastburn Kent County Parent Representative
Rep. Debra Heffernan House Majority Caucus
Mike Hoffmann Delaware State Education Association
Seth Kopp Special education teacher
Ruth Lavelle New Castle County Parent Representative
Sen. Dave Lawson Senate Minority Caucus
Laura Manges Delaware Association of School Administrators
Maryann Mieczkowski Department of Education
Rep. Joe Miro House Minority Caucus
Sen. Nicole Poore Senate Majority Caucus
Shawn Rohe Developmental Disabilities Council
Howard Shiber Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Meedra Surratte Parent advocate
Jossette Threatts School service provider
Liz Toney Delaware PTA
Brian Touchette Governor’s designee
Karen Wagamon Sussex County Parent Representative

Federal Statutory Law Governing Delaware’s IEP Process

Because Delaware receives federal funds under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is required to submit a plan to the United States Secretary of Education showing that the state has in effect policies and procedures to ensure that an individualized education program meeting the requirements of federal statute is developed, reviewed, and revised for each child with a disability.

The federal IDEA statute has a number of very specific requirements as to what must be included in a student’s IEP. The IEP must include:

a statement of the child’s present level of academic achievement and functional performance (including how the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum, for preschool children as appropriate how the disability affects the student’s participation in appropriate activities, and for children who take alternate assessments aligned to alternate standards, a description of benchmarks or short-term objectives);

a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to meet the child’s need resulting from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs arising from the child’s disability;

a description of how the child’s progress towards meeting annual goals will be measured and when periodic progress reports will be provided;

a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child;

an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in regular classes and activities;

a statement of accommodations necessary for the student to take the state’s student assessment or explanation of why the student must take an alternate assessment and why that alternate assessment is appropriate;

the projected date for the start of services and the anticipated frequency and duration of services; and

for IEPs that will affect students 16 and older, measurable post-secondary goals and transition services needed to assist the student in reaching those goals.

These required elements of an IEP are minimum standards set by federal statute, but there is no reason that a state cannot add additional required elements.

The federal IDEA statute also contains minimum requirements for who must be on a student’s IEP team. Required team members include parents, at least one regular education teacher if the student has one, at least one special education teacher, at least one district or charter representative who is qualified to supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the needs of children with disabilities, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results (who may be a member already required by another provision of the statute), any individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child who the parents wish to have present, and whenever appropriate the child in question. The statute also enumerates the factors that must be considered in developing the IEP, and requires consideration of positive behavioral interventions and supports for students whose behavior impedes learning and other special factors for students with other specified disabilities.

The federal IDEA statute requires that the student’s IEP be reviewed at least annually to determine whether annual goals are being met, to be revised to address lack of expected progress, the results of any re-evaluations, information provided by parents, or other matters.

Finally, the federal IDEA statute contains a number of detailed formal procedural safeguards in addition to those described above. They include provisions governing parents’ access to records, designation of educational surrogates for students whose parents cannot be located, written notice to parents of proposed changes (or refusals to change) an IEP, opportunities for mediation, the contents of required notifications to parents of complaints relating to due process and other procedural irregularities, and the specific procedures that must be followed by the state when a parent files a due process or administrative appeal of a school district or charter school’s decision.
Enhancements to the IEP Process Under Delaware State Law

In 2010, the Delaware General Assembly amended the Delaware Code to provide for a substantially more detailed definition of the “Free and Appropriate Public Education” that is required by the IDEA statute (and therefore required to form the basis for an IEP), and to incorporate specific terminology from case law in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that was more favorable to students with disabilities than the standard that was being applied by some school districts prior to the 2010 amendments. Under House Bill 328, IEPs must provide for an education that is individualized to meet the unique needs of the student, provides significant learning to the student, and confers meaningful benefit on the student that is gauged to the student’s potential.

Delaware law also contains new provisions requiring that certain elements be included in the IEP of a student 7 years or older who is not yet readingand a student who is deaf or has a hearing deficiency, and a relatively new provision requiring that that local school boards be kept better apprised of appeals of IEP decisions.

Although there are lengthy federal and state regulations that also govern the IEP process, they do not affect the facets of the IEP process addressed in this report in a way that differs from the statutory framework described above.
Best Practices With Respect to the IEP Process

There does not appear to be any national or academic consensus on what constitutes best practices with respect to the preparation of IEPs. Although the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education have endorsed “standards-based IEPs” as a best practice, there has been controversy both in Delaware and nationally as to what that term means and how it is actually used with respect to the preparation of individual IEPs. For that reason, the task force takes no stance at this time with respect to using standards-based IEPs. With respect to the specific issue of the preparation of IEPs for students age 14 and older, there does appear to be a consensus — including a recommendation from Delaware’s State Transition Task Force – that IEPs for children age 14 and older should be student-led when possible.

TASK FORCE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The task force met eight times, and at each meeting also allowed members of the public to speak. Early in the tenure of the task force it became apparent that the list of issues that task force members and members of the public wished to address relating to the IEP process was longer than the task force would have time to thoughtfully discuss in the time permitted by its enabling legislation. Therefore, the task force members settled upon a number of priority recommendations, which are reflected below. However, the task force also recommends that it be reconstituted by the General Assembly so that it may return to some of the important issues that were raised but could not be discussed due to time restrictions, including district and charter school determinations of eligibility for services, and the use of standards-based IEPs.

The task force recommends that the state take the following steps as soon as reasonably possible in order to improve the IEP process for students and their parents. The task force’s recommendations apply to all public schools, both traditional public schools and charter schools. The task force recognizes that there are time commitments and costs associated with some of its recommendations, to the extent that those could be specifically calculated they are reflected in the recommendations.

Structural Support for Parents and Students in the IEP Process

Ensuring Representation at IEP Meetings for Parents Who Need Assistance. Several task force members and members of the public noted the complexity and potentially intimidating nature of IEP meetings, and thought it necessary (a) for parents to clearly understand that there were organizations that could either prepare them to better handle IEP meetings or attend those meetings with them, and (b) for those organizations to have adequate resources to be able to assist parents who might reasonably require their assistance. The task force focused on two options currently available to some Delaware parents requiring assistance with the IEP process. One is the Parent Information Center, which provides training and advice to parents and, in some instances, has non-attorneys attend IEP meetings with parents. The second is Community Legal Aid Society of Delaware, which provides free legal representation to a limited number of parents with specific legal issues in the IEP process. Therefore, the task force makes the following recommendations:

The state should require schools to provide specific, clear guidance to parents as soon as (a) the school has notice that their child has a disability, (b) a child is identified by the parent or school as needing evaluation for a potential disability, or (c) a child transitions as he/she approaches age three from the state’s Child Development Watch program, that the parents may be able to receive assistance through the Parent Information Center, Community Legal Aid Society, or private legal counsel.

The state should ensure that the resources necessary to meet the anticipated demand for legal services are made available to the Parent Information Center and Community Legal Aid. Specifically, the task force urges the General Assembly to grant the request of CLASI’s Disabilities Law Program for $100,000 in funds to continue its special education advocacy project, which would allow it to train or assist 250 families in the IEP process, and to make $88,500 available to the Parent Information Center in order to allow it to hire two additional full-time parent consultants to meet anticipated increases in its demand for its services.

Parent Councils. The task force saw great value in schools facilitating communication between parents of students with special needs new to the IEP process and parents who have more experience with the process. Therefore, the task force recommends that the state require school districts and charter schools to facilitate the creation of parent councils for the parents of students with disabilities. These parent councils would have two purposes: first, to advocate generally for children with disabilities within their school districts, and second, to provide person-to-person support for individual parents and children attempting to navigate the IEP process.

Procedural Changes to the IEP Process

Eliciting Input From Parents Prior to IEP Meetings. The task force believes that a more open-ended effort to solicit parents’ input about their children’s needs prior to an IEP meeting would result in IEPs that better reflect the viewpoints of parents and children about the unique educational needs of that child. For that reason, the task force recommends that Delaware statute require school districts and charter schools to formally elicit, through the use of a voluntary questionnaire, the viewpoints of parents and (where age appropriate) children in advance of the preparation of a draft IEP or holding of an IEP meeting. The questionnaire should elicit the parent and child’s views on the child’s progress to date and additional steps that should be taken to adjust the child’s goals, curriculum, services, aids, modifications or other elements of the student’s IEP.

Providing Parents With Information Prior to IEP Meetings. One problem that was repeatedly identified by task force members was the fact that in some IEP meetings, parents were presented for the first time at an IEP meeting with a draft IEP report and expected to comprehend, consider, and approve the draft IEP in a single sitting. One proposal made by the task force to improve this process was to amend Delaware statute to require that a draft IEP be offered to parents prior to an IEP meeting if one is to be considered at the meeting itself, so that the parent has the option of carefully reviewing the draft IEP before the meeting and better participating in the meeting. Any draft document provided to the parent prior to the IEP meeting should be clearly and prominently labelled as a draft document that is for discussion purposes at the impending IEP meeting. The draft IEP would be offered to parents only if such a document had been created prior to the IEP meeting, and would be accompanied by a letter clearly indicating to parents that the document is a draft for discussion and possible revision rather than a final document. In addition to a draft IEP, parents should also be able to request prior to the IEP meeting data pertaining to their child’s needs and/or disability. With respect to this recommendation and the prior recommendation relating to eliciting input from parents, information should either be provided to parents in their native language where required by law or assistance should be offered to parents to translate the information.

Providing Protections to Teachers and Staff To Ensure Free Discussion During IEP Meetings. Some task force members noted that teachers, staff, and contractors of school districts and charter schools can feel constrained from freely engaging in discussion at a child’s IEP meeting for fear of later repercussions for their comments. The task force recommends that the General Assembly amend the Delaware Code to prohibit School Districts, Charter Schools, and/or the Department of Education from retaliating or causing teachers, staff, or contractors to face other negative repercussions as a result of their expression of a student’s needs and/or rights in connection to the IEP process.

Discouraging the Use of Acronyms and Technical Terminology in the Preparation of IEPs. The task force noted that the use of acronyms and technical terms in IEPs can be confusing to parents and children and discourage those parents and children from understanding the IEP and participating in its preparation and revision. The task force recommends that the state, in its training and instructional materials for school districts and charter schools, discourage the use of acronyms and technical terms where they need not be used, and provide a glossary to parents and children so that they can comprehend those terms where they must be used.

Enhanced Discussion of Transition Planning. Although funding challenges make it unlikely in the short term that individual representatives from relevant state agencies can participate in IEP meetings at an earlier stage than they presently enter the process, the task force strongly recommends that schools and school districts hold informational meetings for parents of students who are approaching transition age where parents and children can receive information from relevant state agencies and incorporate that information into the IEP process. The task force also recommends that each school district and charter school have an employee who serves as a designated transition coordinator.

Prioritizing Competitive and Integrated Employment Options. Competitive and integrated employment settings should be thoroughly discussed during the IEP process as the top priority employment option for students with disabilities. This is consistent with HB319 signed into law July 2012 which declares that it is the policy of this state that competitive employment (including compensation at or above minimum wage) in an integrated setting shall be considered the first and priority option when offering or providing services to persons with disabilities who are of working age (14 years of age or older).

Format and Structure of the IEP Meeting Itself

Participation of Relevant Faculty and Staff. Several task force members and members of the public noted that in some cases, paraprofessionals and other staff who may work with a child more extensively than anyone else at the school are not included in IEP meetings. The task force did recognize the logistical challenges presented by having multiple staff people present at IEP meetings, at the same time that all other students in the school need to be supervised and educated. In an effort to balance these realities, the task force recommends (a) that parents be explicitly invited prior to each IEP meeting to recommend any staff members who they believe should be present at the meeting, and (b) that schools be required to ensure that those staff members be present for at least a portion of the IEP meeting, even if their schedule does not permit them to participate in the entire meeting. This recommendation reflects not only what the task force believes to be a good practice, but also applicable federal law.

Preparation Time for Teachers and Staff. Teachers and staff members on the task force who participate in the preparation of IEPs expressed concern with the absence of sufficient time to adequately prepare for IEP meetings. The task force recommends that school districts and charter schools develop a mechanism by which the scheduling demands on teachers and staff specifically allow for preparation time for IEP meetings.

Use of Computer Programs for Preparation of IEPs. A number of task force members involved in the preparation of IEPs expressed strong concern with the computer program whose use the state has mandated for preparation of IEPs. Specifically, task force members stated that the computer system frequently does not work – that it shuts down or freezes during preparation of the IEP or the IEP meeting itself, not only inconveniencing parents, students, teachers, and staff, but also causing valuable instructional and therapeutic time to be lost. The task force believes that there is real value to the use of a working computerized IEP preparation program, but the current program often does not work and is an impediment to the preparation of IEPs and the overall instruction of students with disabilities. Therefore, the task force recommends that the state legislature direct that the Department of Education make a formal report to the General Assembly and Governor by March 1, 2015 on (a) the functionality of IEP Plus, (b) specific plans that are in place to remedy any problems with IEP Plus, and (c) available alternatives to IEP Plus which would provide a more usable computerized system for preparation of IEPs.

Reporting to Parents on Student Progress

Improving Reporting to Parents on Students’ IEP Progress. Task force members noted that the current manner in which some school districts and charter schools report student progress on their IEPs is not helpful or, in some cases, coherent. The task force recommends that the state adopt specific standards for districts and charters to report to parents on IEP progress, which should include a clear and simple manner of communicating whether a student is meeting his or her stated IEP goals and specific information reflecting the degree to which a student has received related services that are required by his or her IEP (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy). Progress reporting for students with transition IEPs should include progress toward activities and services leading toward all post-secondary goals.

Random Auditing of District and Charter School Compliance With State and Federal Law

The Need for Random, Open-Ended Examinations of School Districts and Charter Schools to Ensure Compliance with State and Federal Law Governing IEPs. In the course of discussing other recommendations, it became clear to the task force that although the state reviews the written records of school districts and charter schools to ensure compliance with the law, and surveys parents anonymously to gather statistical information about the IEP process, there is no current effort to make inquiries with parents about the IEP process that would reveal concerns with that process which might not be evident from a review of written records. The task force recommends that the state directly inquire of a material number of parents from each school district and charter school each year who have participated in the IEP process as to their satisfaction with the process, and use the information gathered in the course of that inquiry to conduct follow-up examinations with school districts and charter schools as to their good faith compliance with IEP laws and regulations.

Specific Needs of Charter Schools

Technical Assistance and Professional Development for Charter Schools. The task force noted that there is a deficiency among charter schools, often because of their limited size compared to school districts, in training and expertise relating to the development of IEPs and knowledge of statewide programs that are available to assist with the education of students with disabilities. The task force recommends that charter schools be required to have responsible persons at their schools receive appropriate training from the Department of Education designed to ensure that they are aware of their legal responsibilities relating to IEP preparation and aware of the resources available to them to comply with those responsibilities.

 

Visually Impaired Students

Separate Task Force Recommendation. A number of public members and task force members believed that the unique educational needs of students with visual impairments were not being met through the existing IEP process, but that the number of changes necessary to remedy this problem exceeded the time or scope of this task force. Therefore, those members suggested – and this task force recommends – that the state set up a separate task force assigned to specifically address the needs of visually impaired students.

**UPDATED**Delaware, Meet Your IEP Task Force #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

UPDATED 8/29/14: We do have a Kent Country Representative!  Congrats to Diane Eastburn.  Diane has extensive background on IEPs as a special needs parent, caregiver, and an advocate for parents.  Diane is an excellent choice to represent Kent!

Thanks to the individual who sent me this list, but I did notice there is no Kent County parent rep.  As per Michele Rush at the DOE this person has not been finalized.

Members of the IEP Improvement Task Force
The Hon. Matthew Denn – Chair
Dr. Pam Atchison – Delaware Association of School Administrators
Marissa L. Band, Esq. – Delaware State Bar Association
Tracy Bombara – School service provider
Dafne Carnright – Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Tricia Dallas – Special education teacher
Bill Doolittle – Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens

Diane Eastburn-Kent County Representative
Rep. Debra Heffernan – House Majority Caucus
Mike Hoffmann – Delaware State Education Association
Seth Kopp – Special education teacher
Ruth Lavelle – New Castle County parent representative
Sen. Dave Lawson – Senate Minority Caucus
Laura Manges – Delaware Association of School Administrators
Maryann Mieczkowski – Department of Education
Rep. Joe Miro – House Minority Caucus
Sen. Nicole Poore – Senate Majority Caucus
Shawn Rowe – Developmental Disabilities Council
Howard Shiber – Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens
Meedra Surratte – Parent advocate
Jossette Threats – School service provider
Liz Toney – Delaware PTA
Karen Wagamon – Sussex County parent representative

And the Agenda for the first meeting:

IEP Improvement Task Force Agenda

September 4, 2014

1. Introductions

2. Expectations of task force

3. Identify problems in the existing IEP process

4. Subcommittees

5. Next meeting

6. Public Comment

Nothing was said about the location yet, but the rumor mill has shared that the Dover location may be the Collette Building.  I will certainly let all of you know once I hear something official.

 

 

The IEP Task Force: Who Is In Charge? The Legislators or the DOE? #netde #eduDE @DEStateBoard @Matt_Denn

The IEP Task Force begins next week.  In nine days.  With no public notice of a location and who the members on the task force even are.  I do know the following: Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn is the Task Force Chair, and Senators Poore and Lawson and House Representative Heffernan (whose husband is on the Delaware Board of Education and was the chair for the DOE Advisory Council for Special Education Improvement) are the designated members from Legislative Hall.  I’m not sure who the minority Republican House Rep will be, but it is required in the legislation.  I am hearing many differing reports on if the task force is fully staffed yet.  According to the DOE, it is. See page 49 on this PDF from the DOE’s “Advisory Council” on improving the IEP process (same wording as the legislation, even though this advisory council has been meeting since earlier in the year): https://eboard.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=190001&AID=7329&MID=339

According to someone in the know in Legislative Hall, it isn’t.  So who is right?  Or is the DOE just taking over the whole thing even though Senate Concurring Resolution 63 creating the IEP Task Force explicitly states who picks the members in designated areas?  Because Michelle Rush at the DOE has been designated as the coordinator for the task force.  No locations have even been announced, and no public notice has gone out.  It is scheduled at 4:30pm, virtually ensuring many working parents won’t be able to attend.  Public comment has been reserved for the end of the meeting, when focus will be dwindling amongst the members.

If this IEP Task Force is anything like the above link, then it will be all about aligning special education students with Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment (with faulty accommodations for special ed students and no form to even go into IEPs yet).  I pray it isn’t about that, and it will address the true problems with special education.  I pray the task force chair, Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn, has the sense of purpose that these students need an individualized education plan, not making them more similar with other students and forcing them to adapt to the “rigor” of Common Core.  This was exactly why I insisted parents be added to the task force, to prevent this from happening.  But if the DOE has the final say on the task force, then the IEP process will not be improved, it will be diluted.  The Delaware DOE needs to understand this IEP Task Force was not created as their task force.  It was written by legislators, serving the will of the people who pay for your jobs.

IEP Task Force in Delaware To Begin September 4th, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn Will Chair Group #netde #eduDE @TNJ_malbright

The IEP Task Force, which came out of Senate Concurring Resolution 63 in Delaware, will begin their meetings on September 4th, at 4:30pm.  The purpose of the task force is to improve the IEP process in the state of Delaware.  The meetings will occur in Dover, with video conferencing available in Wilmington.  No locations have been designated for both locations as of yet.  The members of the task force have not been released, but the legislation states it will include the following:

  1. Two members of the State Senate, a member of the majority party appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem and a member of the minority party appointed by the Senate Minority Leader;
  2. Two members of the House of Representatives, a member of the majority party appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a member of the minority party appointed by the House Majority Leader;
  3. The Secretary of Education or his designee;
  4. The President of the State Parent Teacher Association or the President’s designee;
  5. The chair of the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council or the chair’s designee;
  6. Three representatives of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens, to be selected by the chair of the Council;
  7. The Governor or the Governor’s designee;
  8. The Lieutenant Governor or the Lieutenant Governor’s designee;
  9. A representative of the Delaware State Bar Association, to be selected by the President of the Delaware State Bar Association;
  10. The President of the Delaware State Education Association or the President’s designee;
  11. Two representatives of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, to be selected by the president of that organization;
  12. Two persons who teach special education in Delaware public schools, to be selected by the task force chair;
  13. Two persons who provide services to children with disabilities in Delaware public schools, to be selected by the task force chair;
  14. One non-attorney who advocates for parents and children in IEP proceedings, to be selected by the task force chair.
  15. Three parents, one from each county, each having a child who has had or currently has an IEP, to be selected by the Senate and House Task Force members.

This notice was written on Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn’s public Facebook page:

During my tenure as Lieutenant Governor, I have made improving the services we provide to children with disabilities a top priority. We have had some notable successes, but there is still an awful lot of work to be done. Last June, I worked with legislators to create a task force focused on improving the way that Delaware schools prepare individualized education plans for students with disabilities, and Senate President Patricia Blevins has asked me to chair that task force. Our first meeting will be on September 4th at 4:30 p.m. – we have tried to schedule it to allow parents and school employees to attend. We will soon be announcing meeting locations (the first meeting will be held in Dover with a videoconferencing hook-up in Wilmington), and each meeting will allow members of the public to offer comments at the end of the meeting. If you have an interest in this subject, I encourage you to put it on your calendar and plan to attend. If you can’t make it to the meetings, audio recordings of all the meetings will be posted on the Lieutenant Governor’s office web site.
 
I think this task force can do some good work if they do not solely concentrate on tailoring IEPs to Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessments.  I’m sure the topic will come up, but there are far more important things to look at with special education in Delaware.  As many special needs parents know, schools do not always do the right thing when it comes to IEP implementation, or even IEP approval.  While DOE input will be needed, parent input will most likely be more important due to the complexities of the IEP process.  For schools, it is a professional matter as part of their business day.  This isn’t to say they don’t have personal feelings about it, but at the end of the day, it’s their job.  For parents, it is deeply personal and can change the outcome of a family’s life.
 
I strongly encourage all special needs parents in the state of Delaware to make it to these meetings.  We all need our voice to be heard.  If you are unable to attend, I will be more than happy to send any messages to the task force as I will be at each and every meeting.  Feel free to email me at kevino3670@yahoo.com or leave messages on my Exceptional Delaware Facebook page.  If you have specific examples of how the IEP process has worked out for you or your child, please include that information.  All information will be protected and kept anonymous if you choose.
 
The final report is due to the Governor in January, 2015.  The group is planning to meet twice a month.  From what I am hearing, public comment will be available at the end of each session.
 

How Many Complex Special Needs Children Did Delaware Ship Out Of State In Fiscal Year 2014? #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

Last month, I did a long article on the Interagency Collaborative Team (ICT). This team decides where to place the most severely complex special needs children into a residential setting. More information from the original article can be read here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/category/delaware-special-education/

At that time, I did not have the numbers of students placed in residential treatment centers for the 2013-2014 school year. However, Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Childrens Group at the Delaware Department of Education, provided this information to me.

In fiscal year 2014, 134 students came before the ICT. Out of those, 57 students were placed in residential treatment centers. Out of the 57, 39 students were placed out of state. This is an average of 62.7%. In fiscal year 2013, the average was 62.8%. If there are more students, and Delaware can only fit so many, why would the average be almost exactly the same? Advoserv had 17 Delaware student placements in 2013, and 19 in 2014. Did they add more room? As I indicated in my previous article, the ratios between those served in state and those served out of state has remained very close for the past 5-6 years.

Information I was not able to obtain was out of the 77 remaining students, how many were placed in day schools like High Roads.

In fiscal year 2013 as well, 32 students were placed in out of state treatment centers. With an increase of only 7 students in the next fiscal year, the costs for these out of state treatment centers skyrocketed this year. I went over the figures in the prior article mentioned above, but between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the costs for these schools (both residential treatment centers and day schools) went up well over $4 million dollars.

I submitted an FOIA request to the Delaware DOE for the service contracts between the residential treatment centers and the state of Delaware, but the public information office for the DOE, Alison May, informed me the school districts have the contracts with these centers, not the state. Yet 70% of the funding for these centers are coming from the State run DOE, and 30% from the school districts. Why would they not have access to these contracts?

What is even more astonishing is the rise in funding received by the Devereux Foundation between fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Factoring in the 30% the local school districts kicked in for fiscal year 2013, the amount was roughly $920,910.00 but in fiscal year 2014 that amount was $2,473,163.00. An increase of over $1.5 million dollars. All of the other residential treatment centers increased as well, but Devereux’ increase is very dramatic. Is it a question of capacity for Advoserv in Delaware as well as the other out of state residential treatment centers? Or is there something more to it?

The Delaware Autism Program (DAP) is the only state-wide autism program of it’s sort in the country. The Statewide Director for DAP is Vincent Winterling. He accepted that position in 2009. As per the Devereux website, Winterling was “Former National Coordinator, Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Former Director, Devereux Institute of Clinical Training & Research (ICTR) Consultants. Is there a connection between the rise in Devereux Foundation placements coming from Delaware and the head of the autism program in Delaware having very close ties with the organization?

I would have to imagine going from such prestigious positions with Devereux to a state paid position would have to result in a very large pay cut. But LinkedIn shows he also holds positions at A-B-C Consultants as Associate Director and Director of Vincent Winterling, Ed.D., LLC. All three of his current positions have been held since 2009, the same year he left Devereux after 19 years of employment there. No information was found for why Winterling left Devereux. In the years since he left Devereux, many school boards across Pennsylvania and New Jersey have hired Winterling for consulting services for special needs children.

In the fall of 2010, there was statewide concern about shutting down some of the residential group homes servicing autistic children within Delaware. On October 1st of that year, the News Journal published an article about the situation, and the journalist covering the story wrote: “Winterling, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said in an August interview with The News Journal that the homes should be closed and children in need of these services should be sent elsewhere. This would mean these children would be sent to neighboring states, with Delaware absorbing costs of $150,000 to $200,000 per child a year.”

Meanwhile, questions have risen amongst many school districts about what they actually paying for. In an article written by Melissa Steele for the Cape Gazette on August 16, 2013, she wrote “While all children are entitled by law to a free and appropriate public education, the high cost of residential care raises questions. What services are special needs children receiving in return for tuition costs? Who evaluates the cost of services, and who determines whether the services are effective? Months of effort to uncover answers to these questions have failed to produce any understanding of these costs. Repeated efforts to access facilities that accept taxpayer money or obtain information about services students receive have been met with refusals on grounds that providing this information would violate student privacy.”

I will be doing even more research into this subject in the future. If anyone has any information about the Interagency Collaborative Team, Devereux Foundation, Vincent Winterling or the other residential treatment centers Delaware sends these kids to, please email me at the address provided in the About Me section of this blog. In the meantime, it looks like the IEP Task Force, created through Senate Concurring Resolution 63, is set to begin meeting this month. One of the mandates of the resolution states the DOE and school districts must provide any information requested. Maybe the task force will be able to get more answers on this expensive, puzzling mystery.