Live, From The IEP Task Force Meeting in Dover, Delaware

It’s 4:21 pm and folks are coming in.  I see quite a few familiar faces.  Many people I don’t know…yet.  I will be updating throughout the meeting….stay tuned!

It looks like most of the people are here.  It’s a packed house here at the Collette Education Resource Center.  Many citizens of the state have come out to see what will happen here.  Quite a few parents.  There’s even a couple kids here!

Matt Denn is starting the meeting and greeting everyone.  Introductions are happening.  We have videoconferencing from Wilmington, sound quality is low.  They just turned it up.  No members of the public in Wilmington.    Four people will be giving public comment at the end of the meeting.

Matt Denn is going through Senate Concurring Resolution 63 which created the IEP task force.  Matt is citing the task force’s main goal as “difficult for parents to understand and navigate, and at worst in some instances, unfair and intimidating to parents.”

Denn said “Our challenge is figuring out how to protect those parents and those kids without negatively impacting the districts and parents.”

Delaware passed a statute in DE four years ago that gave a standard stating special education services need to be better.  Quoted statement from 1975 that “children with disabilities are entitled to a Cadillac education, not a serviceable Chevrolet.”  The statute indicated Delaware students do deserve a quality special education above and beyond, not just the most basic.  Denn expressed the following:  It’s complicated for families to work through an appeal financially for families.  Appeals are expensive due to expert witnesses.  Schools have that paid for already, but parents don’t.  Delaware changed the law a couple years ago.  If you win an appeal the attorney fees are paid by the school district.  Other attorneys take cases on contingency.

Eight meetings over next four months.  Last four will be for drafting report to Governor Markell.  Second to last meeting will be votes on recommendations.  Meetings will end by 6:30pm to allow all parents on task force and in audience to take care of children, especially those who are extending their work day.  Task force will take written comments and will be distributed to members of task force.

Matt Denn said “This is the place to tell your personal story.” Denn wants the task force can get a good idea of what is going on in our state with special education.  He express that this isn’t the place for pending issues with IEPs to get worked out.  Matt Denn said he will shut up soon!  Now we will get to the heart of this!

Kim Siegel from Denn’s office is talking about special education practices in other states.  13 out of 25 states provide parent guides.  Some were over 200 pages while one was only 5 pages.  Common parts of these include glossaries of terms and acronyms (of which there are many in this world), listings of community resources, explanations of legal rights, sample forms, and methods of dispute resolutions.  Massachusetts has it’s own Bureau of Special Education Appeals to help parents with dispute hearings.  Some states have several different options for parents knowing goals.  A lot of states are dealing with behavior issues in classrooms and committing to looking at it within the IEP.  Indiana actually has sections for the primary disability and secondary disabilities on their IEPs.

Denn talked about PIC (Parent Information Center) and how they are there to help with IEP meetings.  He is now talking about attorney situations that are unavoidable.  Delaware wants to do something in between, including supporting advocates attending IEP meetings.  He said lawyering up is not always the best solution.

Liz Toney from Delaware PTA gets IEP questionnaire in Brandywine School District in DE, asks for parent goals and thoughts.  She feels this is an excellent way to relieve tension prior to meeting.  Toney will provide copy of questionnaire, many feel it is a great idea.  This blogger agrees!

Doing second round of introductions due to some latecomers on the task force.

A member asked Siegel if information from other states was beneficial to parents, but Siegel said she was not able to dig that deep on it.  PIC rep Meedra Surratte advised they let parents know to think about what their goals are.  Mary Ann Mieczkowski from the Exceptional Children Group at DOE said PIC wrote a book on assisting parents through the IEP process.  Surratte said it was revised last year and is not too comprehensive and long.  PIC rep said reading level of book may go beyond some families reading capabilities.

Diane Eastburn, the Kent County parent representative, stated she likes parents to see copy of IEP prior to IEP meetings to add to parental clarity to event.  Surratte said good idea, but needs to be stressed to parent that it is only a draft, not a final.  Mieczkowski asking about how much is written beforehand, Eastburn answered she sees many situations where IEP is just read.  Dafne Carnwright from the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) said any IEP meeting is overwhelming, so parents having the IEP draft beforehand can relieve some of that tension.  Bill Doolittle from GACEC agreed with this.

Senator Nicole Poore said she toured ten schools throughout Delaware and said there is no consistency.  Her own son has had differing IEP goals and problems in the process.  Eastburn said it would be easier to do IEPs by birthdate instead of cramming so many in during certain times of the school year, which causes severe burden on IEP teams.  She cited one example where she saw the wrong child’s name on an IEP report.

Teacher on task force in Wilmington talking about how time is very limited for IEP development due to time constraints during the school day.  Stating problems with IEP Plus (system Delaware uses for IEPs) often crashes.  Another teacher is talking about how during IEP meetings staff picked to substitute aren’t always qualified for servicing certain special needs students.  Doolittle stated we need to start thinking outside the box, and do we always need to be pulling special education classes out of their classes?

Tracy Bombarra, a school service provider, said sometimes administrator’s often tell teachers just to read the report in the IEP meeting and then leave (against IDEA law).  She said she could be sued for not being there and taking minutes.  Said it is a no-win situation.  There was a question about service days, and Tricia Dallas, the administrator member of the task force from the Charleton School, said that could be looked at but service days are for professional development.  Denn said more professional development needs to be done overall.

Denn said there needs to be more school willingness to engage parents prior to IEP meetings.  Seth Kopp, a special education teacher member of task force, said parents just don’t understand the IEP process.  Denn said even the most knowledgeable, sophisticated parent can see an IEP meeting fall apart over disagreement with just one service not being provided.  He felt this creates an adversarial relationship with administrations, teachers, and service providers (ex. Occupational Therapist).

Senator Dave Larson talked about all the acronyms involved and how they can be very cumbersome .  He said plain English is the way to go.  Bombarra said interpreters are needed for uncommon languages for parents who may not speak English, Spanish or French Creole.  She has run against problems with Vietnamese and other languages where services were not available.

Someone in Wilmington talked about how we may want to look at more student-led IEPs.  LRE (least restrictive environment) was brought up by another Wilmington member, and said you can have the best IEP in the classroom in the world, but if it isn’t implemented in the classroom, it’s a waste.  Doolittle said he has run into situations where schools don’t know how to implement certain services.

Mike Hoffman, the Delaware State Education Association member, said as a paraprofessional he is not shown the IEP which makes his problems much more difficult.  Surratte said PIC recommends any paraprofessional attends IEP meetings.  Senator Poore strongly agreed with having the paraprofessional be a part of the process since they are the ones making sure certain services are attended to.  Hoffman said he asks IEP teams all the time “How in the world do you have stuff on the IEP without asking me?” since he provides so many essential services for students.   Eastburn said this can impact the data for the IEP goals and this can greatly affect whether students meet goals or not.  Carnwright said she often gets calls from parents who state that IEP goals can completely disappear from one year to the next, and the parents are confused about that.  They aren’t sure if their child met the goal or if it was left out.  Laura Manges, the task force member with the Delaware Association of School Administrators, stated children are served with the best of intentions.  She said many changes will require time commitment and additional funding.  She said teachers are still responsible for teaching special ed students Common Core standards and teachers are overwhelmed with what she labeled as “double duty”.  Bombarra talked about a need for more information on the IEP form for services and less for testing accommodations.

Denn stated certain things in IEP meetings are mandated by federal law under IDEA, but some things don’t have to be there.  He said he  wants to look at what the state has discretion over and what they don’t.  Denn wrapped up the discussion and said many topics have come up.  He said when the task force compiles the report that not everyone will agree on the report.  But he did clarify that any member is welcome to tack something on to end of report indicating why they don’t agree, which the Governor and the legislators will see.  (Really liking Matt Denn even more right now!)

Public Comment time!  This blogger made public comment which I’ll put up later.  Wendy Strauss with GACEC talked about Disability Hub, a new informational website for children 14 years or older and adults with disabilities who are in transition post high school.  She said the IEP process is very emotional and that my comments were very emotional.  She believes teachers and parents need to know what is in the IEP, and it needs to be reread it throughout the year.  She said several teachers, when asked, are not able to say what exactly is in the IEP.

Sonja Lawrence commented and said she assumes the IEP team has children’s best intentions at heart.  She said her child is visually impaired, and braille instruction is an accommodation but it isn’t provided in the classroom and parents are asked by administration to make a choice at that point in time which is difficult.  That choice is the braille service or classroom inclusion, but parents want both, according to Lawrence.  She talked about the many problems with visually impaired programs in Delaware.  She had concerns about large classrooms and 28:1 student teacher ratios.  She said teachers are beholden to cases across the state and they are unable to service all those children.  She had three recommendations:  1) Let’s put something in place that allows teachers to put services in as a whole, 2) Braille instruction is required by law, 3) Student services are under resourced and under funded.  Debbie Harrington spoke next, and she has a daughter in high school, who is also visually impaired.  Like Lawrence, she also wants more representation in Delaware for the visually impaired.  She said there are too many inconsistencies in the process for the state.

The final public comment came from Greg Mazotta, who he was very surprised there were no school psychologists on the team, but believes the group has many strong members and thinks it is a good start.  He said there needs to be more sustainability in the IEP process.  He wants to volunteer his services for the taskforce to help improve quality services.  He said there are several places to go to find workable services and best practices.  He said strategic plans in school districts for continuous improvement don’t always include ancillary services.

Denn concluded the meeting, and said several things were brought up today that are very important.  He asked if there were any other concerns, and a member of the Wilmington task force said health education is not being serviced to children with IEPs and they are most vulnerable in terms of sex education.  Doolittle said he also wants to hear positive examples of how the process works.  September 30th at 4:30 pm is next meeting.  Nothing said about subgroups yet.  Meeting adjourned.

Notes: It was very difficult to know who was speaking in Wilmington, so I apologize if I misrepresented anyone there.  I will write more later, but I thought it was a great meeting.  So many topics were introduced, including my own which I will post about later.  This is going to be one busy task force.  I really like that Matt Denn was making it very informal, and invited public response so graciously.  I apologize if I raised fears in folks that this would be all about Common Core.  Based on what I was hearing, as little as two days ago from an absent member of the legislative side of the task force, indications were pointing that way.  It is not DOE focused as I also feared, and I believe good things can come from this.  For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful about special education in Delaware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Parent Opt-Out Legislation for Severely Cognitively Impaired Students Passed by Senate, House Bill 229**Updated** #netde #edude

This bill would allow for students with either autism, multiple disabilities or a moderate or severe intellectual disability to potentially be opted out of state standardized assessments.  But the caveat here is only the parent can request it.  In lieu of the standardized test, a parent would request a “portfolio review” to show student progress.  No member of a school or IEP team can request this.  Another key part is the child must have an IQ of 50 or less.

Another important part attached to this bill deals with children with dyslexia or an inability to read by the age of 7.  The way it is worded is a little bit confusing.  It looks to me like if a child isn’t reading by age 7 they should have an IEP.  As well, it pretty much says those children would have automatic Extended School Year services in their IEP unless there is  a major reason for not having those services is written into the IEP.

This does not take away the emergency opt-out clause, for students who have a major, sudden illness right before the test.

I don’t think they wanted to pass this bill until HB 334, which allows for Smarter Balanced Assessments to take over DCAS, was passed.  This passed 20 minutes after HB 334 passed.  How children will do on the Smarter Balanced Assessments is very much up in the air.  Other students with disabilities may see something familiar in a year if they don’t do well on that test.

UPDATED, July 1st, 2014, 3:55pm

After careful review of this bill, does it really say what it is meant to say?  The key is in the amendments and the exact wording.  The parent can request the portfolio assessment, but it has to be agreed on by the IEP Team, the school superintendent OR charter school leader will make the decisions regarding the style of the portfolio.  And if a school requests too many? Then the DOE steps in who will already be deciding the nature of the portfolio assessments.  So what does this bill do for these students that they don’t already have?  It looks like they will be counted for the participation rate for schools whether they take this or the SBA.

SPONSOR: Sen. Poore & Sen. Hall-Long & Rep. Longhurst & Rep. Q. Johnson & Rep. Ramone & Rep. M. Smith
Sens. Blevins, Bonini, Bushweller, Ennis, Henry, Marshall, McBride, McDowell, Peterson, Pettyjohn, Sokola, Townsend, Venables; Reps. K. Williams, Jaques

DELAWARE STATE SENATE, 147th GENERAL ASSEMBLY

SENATE BILL 229

AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 14 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO THE EDUCATION OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

WHEREAS, under current Delaware law as interpreted by the Department of Education, all students are required to take a standardized assessment at regular intervals regardless of the nature of their cognitive disability, unless the student is suffering from extreme illness or injuries or has recently experienced severe trauma; and

WHEREAS, this requirement of state law often compels students who in the opinion of medical experts are literally unable to produce valid results on these tests to nevertheless sit for the tests; and

WHEREAS, some Delaware students with severe cognitive disabilities are currently required to take statewide standardized assessments over the objections of their own parents and teachers; and

WHEREAS, mandating that students with severe cognitive disabilities who are clinically incapable of producing valid results on standardized assessments can be harmful to those students; and

WHEREAS, teachers who now attempt to prepare such students for standardized assessments would prefer to use their classroom time to convey skills or information that their students could put to use in a vocational setting; and

WHEREAS, a limited number of young students in Delaware have dyslexia and other disabilities that severely limit or prevent them from decoding text; and

WHEREAS, the state should ensure that school districts and charter schools are being appropriately diligent about providing early, evidence-based interventions to these students so that they can learn to read;

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

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

§ 151 State assessment system; rules and regulations.

(j) Notwithstanding any other language in this Title, a student who has a measured intelligence quotient of 50 or less, has been formally classified as having one of the three following conditions, and whose parents or guardians, and IEP team, and school district superintendent or charter school leader believe will not produce valid results on either the standard or alternate assessment, shall be granted a special exemption from taking either assessment. The definition of each of the following three conditions shall be the same that is in effect on the date of passage of this Act in Title 14, Section 922 of the Delaware Administrative Code.

(i) Autism;

(ii) Multiple disabilities;

(iii) An intellectual disability.

The Department of Education shall promulgate regulations establishing a procedure for the review and approval of special exemptions requested under this subsection (including acceptable means of measuring intelligence quotient) and for further reviews of individual schools and/or school districts that request an unusual number of special exemptions.   The Department of Education shall also promulgate regulations providing for a method of measuring academic progress by students receiving a special exemption from the state’s assessment, which shall provide objective criteria by which student progress can be planned and measured and shall be developed in consultation with the Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens. Students who are granted a special exemption under this subsection shall not be included in the participation rate calculation for schools and school districts.

Section 2.Amend Section Chapter 31, Title 14 by making deletions as shown by strike through and insertions as shown by underline as follows:

§ 3110 Rules and regulations.

(e) With respect to any child with a disability who is not beginning to read by age seven, each IEP prepared for such student until that student is beginning to read shall (a) enumerate the specific, evidence-based interventions that are being provided to that student to address the student’s inability to read, and (b) provide for evidence-based interventions through extended year services during the summer absent a specific explanation in the IEP as to why such services are inappropriate.

Section 3.It is the intention of the General Assembly that $500,000 of the funds appropriated by Section 189 of House Bill 200 of this General Assembly shall, if such funds are reappropriated by a subsequent General Assembly, be specifically designated beginning July 1, 2015 for the annual provision of regional evidence-based summer reading instruction for students who are not beginning to read by age seven.

Section 4.The provisions of this Act are severable, and a finding that any individual provisions or sections are unenforceable shall not prevent enforcement of all other provisions.

SYNOPSIS

Section 1 of the Act would permit the state’s students with severe cognitive disabilities, with the consent of their parents, IEP teams, and school districts, to receive special exemptions from taking either of the state’s standardized assessments. The academic progress of those students would still be measured in order to ensure that they are being challenged and provided meaningful instruction.   Sections 2 and 3 of the Act attempt to ensure that evidence-based interventions are provided for young students who have dyslexia and related disabilities, to ensure that they are receiving necessary assistance in learning to read.

Author: Senator Poore

With Senate Amendment #2

AMEND Senate Bill No. 229 by deleting lines 20 through 36 in their entirety and substituting in lieu thereof the following:

“(j) Notwithstanding any other language in this Title, a student who has been formally classified as having one of the following four conditions, and whose parent, IEP team, and school district superintendent or charter school leader believe will not produce valid results on either the standard or alternate assessment despite accommodations and adjustments, shall receive his or her alternate assessment through consideration of work samples, projects and portfolios, which facilitate authentic and direct gauges of student performance with respect to both relevant state standards and the student’s IEP (a “portfolio assessment”). The definition of each of the following four conditions shall be the same that in effect on the date of passage of this Act in Title 14, Sections 922 and 925 of the Delaware Administrative Code:

(i) Moderate Intellectual Disability

(ii) Severe Intellectual Disability

(iii) Autism, accompanied by intellectual functioning equivalent to Moderate or Severe Intellectual Disability

(iv) Multiple Disabilities, accompanied by intellectual functioning equivalent to Moderate or Severe Intellectual Disability.

The parents of a student classified as having one of these four conditions shall be informed of their child’s rights under this section, but no IEP team, school or school district shall advocate that parents exercise those rights. Only a student’s parents may initiate a portfolio assessment request under this Section, and when such a request is made, the student’s IEP team and school district superintendent or charter school leader shall make their determinations regarding the portfolio assessment within 60 days of said request. The Department of Education shall promulgate regulations establishing a procedure for the design and evaluation of portfolio assessments requested under this subsection and for further reviews of individual schools and/or school districts that request an unusual number of portfolio assessments. The Department of Education shall also promulgate regulations providing for a method of measuring academic progress by students receiving a portfolio assessment under this section, which (i) shall provide objective criteria by which student progress can be planned and measured, (ii) shall be developed in consultation with the Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens, and (iii) shall satisfy the requirements of 20 U.S.C. § 1412, 20 U.S.C. § 6311, and any other applicable federal laws or regulations. Students who are granted a portfolio assessment under this subsection shall not be included in the participation rate calculation for schools and school districts.”

FURTHER AMEND Senate Bill No. 229 by adding the following to end of line 36: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of the Department to approve exemptions from assessments for students not covered by this subsection.”

FURTHER AMEND Senate Bill 229 by adding a new Section 5, to read as follows:

“Section 5. All regulations required by this Act shall be promulgated by the Department of Education within 90 days of enactment into law, and shall be subject to the approval of the State Board of Education and any entities required by federal law.   The process authorized by Section 1 of this Section shall not begin until it is approved pursuant to this Section, and the Secretary of Education shall report to the General Assembly every 90 days beginning 90 days after enactment of this Act into law with respect to the Department’s progress in fulfilling its obligations under this Act.”

SYNOPSIS

This amendment makes six changes to Senate Bill 229.   First, it amends the terminology in Section 1 of the bill to adopt existing definitions and standards from existing Department of Education regulations rather than creating new definitions and standards. Second, it clarifies that students covered by this Act will still have their academic progress assessed, but by a means other than the existing DCAS alternate assessment.   Third, it limits to parents the right to initiate requests under this section, and establishes deadlines for schools and school districts to respond to such requests. Fourth, it clarifies that any regulations promulgated by the Department of Education must be consistent with existing federal law governing assessments. Fifth, it establishes deadlines for the Department of Education to promulgate regulations relating to this Act and clarifies that those regulations are subject to approval by the State Board of Education and federal agencies. Finally, it clarifies that the Department of Education’s existing authority to grant special exemptions for circumstances such as sudden, severe illness are not impacted by this legislation.