Who comes up with these names? Dynamic Learning Maps? Really? When the U.S. Department of Education wants Delaware to implement changes, it is up to the Delaware Department of Education to come up with how they do it. What does Delaware do? They join a consortium with taxpayer dollars. We now have the latest from the DOE, Dynamic Learning Maps. What are they? Continue reading
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
As I delve into year five on this blog, sometimes it is healthy to take a look back at my humble beginnings. From the crazy legislation I proposed in 2014 to my modern-day attempt to get a Secretary of Education removed from power, it has been a crazy four plus years! It started out with a plan and turned into so much more! Continue reading
McAndrews Law Firm, a special education law firm with offices in Delaware, recently won a special education lawsuit that went all the way up to federal court. I imagine the price tag, once calculated, will be very steep for Campus Community School, a charter school in Dover. Continue reading
The Capital School District Board of Education will be holding a special board meeting on August 8th. Among the few items for consideration is a contract with Pathways of Delaware to run an in-school alternative program in some of Capital’s schools. The program is meant to prevent expulsions where students are sent to alternative schools.
Whenever I see outside contracts like this, my very first thought concerns students who have special education. Any contractor would have to follow the student’s IEP just as any district employee would. This program is not for every student. It is for students who are simply unable to function within a school for very serious behavior issues. Alternative placement is very expensive for any district or charter school.
What are your thoughts on this proposal? In reading the proposal from Pathways of Delaware, they included endorsements from the Christina School District. Do other districts have this program?
Last week, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education officially released the state determination letters for implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As I reported earlier this month, Delaware received a rating of “needs assistance”. In June, I reported the special education ratings for each school district and charter school. Both articles contain my thoughts on these ratings and how they don’t capture what it needs to.
The US DOE lags two years behind so these findings are based on the 2015-2016 school year in Delaware. This was the second year of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
As part of their release, the US DOE included documents for each state on how they reached their determination. Below is the Delaware documents. Also included are the letters sent for IDEA Part B and IDEA Part C.
According to Disability Scoop, the United States Department of Education is being sued by an organization called the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates for delaying a final rule regarding significant disproportionality.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, alleges that the agency is skirting its obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate services no matter their racial background.
The ruling was supposed to go into effect this year but the U.S. DOE delayed it for another two years. However, this is a part of each school’s matrix for annual determinations for how they are implementing special education.
Despite the delay, states are allowed to implement the new standard if they wish to, the Education Department said, and they are still obligated under IDEA to assess school districts for significant disproportionality.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is named in the lawsuit:
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia names DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Johnny Collett in addition to the department itself. It seeks to have a judge invalidate the Department of Education’s delay and reinstate the July 1 start date for the rule.
I seriously wonder why the U.S. DOE would put a delay on a ruling that makes absolute sense.
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for the United States Department of Education came out with their special education ratings for each state on July 5th and Delaware was rated as “Needs Assistance” in special education for IDEA Part B (ages 3 through 21). For Part C, which covers Birth through Age 2, Delaware was rated “Needs Assistance” for the second year in a row.
While OSERS did not release the letters sent to each state, they did put up a document covering what each state received for their rating. The individual letters are supposed to be up this month according to their website.
It is hard to give a lot of weight to these rulings by the US DOE. Most of the ratings are based on standardized test scores. I broke this down by school districts and charter schools a few weeks ago based on the letters sent to each district or charter by the Delaware Department of Education. When over 60% of the ratings are based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment or the SAT, by grade, we are failing to properly grade our special education. Students with disabilities, historically, are the worst performers on these type of tests. These tests do not give an accurate gage of the ability and knowledge these students need to succeed in school. While even the education reformers are jumping on the “standardized testing does not show the full picture in education” bandwagon, for the US DOE, the almighty standardized test is the basis of everything. These tests, based on Common Core, which President Trump swore up and down he would abolish (like he even could if he wanted to). Furthermore, these ratings are always two years behind. This current rating is based on the 2015-2016 school year.
Repeat after me, IDEA is more than a standardized test. IDEA is more than a standardized test.
Once the US DOE releases Delaware’s findings letter I will post it. Last year we were “Meets Requirements”. We tend to flip back and forth between “meets requirements” and “needs assistance”. In 2014 we were rated as “Needs Intervention” which upset me to no end until I found out just how flawed these ratings are.
Last week, at the Red Clay Board of Education meeting, a huge and heated conversation took place about the lack of diversity at Cab Calloway School of the Arts. It turned into something ugly and what I would not expect from a sitting board member. Continue reading
How were the Delaware school districts and charter schools rated this year for special education? Every single one is in here and the joke isn’t even funny anymore! Continue reading
Three years ago today, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill #33 into law. Among the many changes to Delaware special education, one of the key facets of this legislation was the following:
- 3125. Parent Councils.
Each school district and charter school enrolling any child with disabilities shall, on an annual basis, contact the parents of each such child to attempt to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a parent council for the parents of students with disabilities. Parent councils will advocate generally for students with disabilities and provide person-to- person support for individual parents and children. The charter schools and school districts shall collaborate and coordinate with existing parent groups and other information and support groups to facilitate creation, maintenance, and effectiveness of the Parent Councils.
While my own son was not in Capital School District when districts and charter schools were required to create the Parent Councils, he was for the 2017-2018 school year. I contacted the Special Services Office at Capital this morning and was told letters went out to parents about the Parent Councils. I advised them I never received such a letter. Apparently there were three meetings during this school year. The maximum attendance at any of these meetings was eight parents, at the first meeting. There is absolutely no mention of the Parent Councils anywhere on the district website. None of their school websites have this information on them either.
I don’t feel we, as parents, should have to wait around for the district to comply to state law. To that end, I am creating a Capital School District Parent Group and I invite all to attend. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you interested in joining this group. Even though it is the summer and our kids are out of school, I believe we should meet and hold discussions on what the district is doing in terms of special education for our children. Three meetings over one school year is not enough. I believe we should meet monthly and if warranted to get things going, every other week. It is also my intention that we should pick a spokesperson for the group to present our findings at each Capital Board of Education meeting each month. They generally meet on the third Wednesday of each month. Even if you believe the district is doing everything right, we want to hear from you. I will also create a Facebook group which will be private so we can discuss things in a private forum. If you would like to join this Facebook group, please message me on my own personal Facebook profile, under Kevin Ohlandt.
I find it very discouraging that a school district that continually stresses a need for parental involvement can’t proactively advertise for something that is required by state law. Sending one letter out to parents (which I didn’t even get) for an entire school year is doing the bare minimum. The United States Supreme Court ruled on a special education case dictating schools must do more than the bare minimum with special education services for students with disabilities. While that case does not provide a case against Capital not advertising Parent Councils, it does show a consistent pattern in terms of special education. As a Capital parent, I received robo-calls throughout the year. Not one robo-call talked about Parent Councils. My son had many IEP meetings this year. As well, I was in constant contact with his Principal. Never once were the Parent Councils mentioned.
I hope to hear from many of you as soon as possible. For a school district that has 18.3% of their student population designated as Special Education (which means having an IEP) and probably higher due to 504 plans not being listed in that percentage, we need to band together now more than ever. The district, based on their 2017-2018 student unit count has 1,188 students on IEPs. 8 parents out of 1,188 attended the district’s Parent Council meetings this year. That is unacceptable and I would hazard a guess most of you did not even know this was an option.
Please share with as many parents of students with disabilities in the Capital School District as you can. For parents of these students in other school districts or charter schools, please make sure your school or district is following Delaware state law under Title 14 in this area. Thank you.
A month ago, I posted some articles about a far right-wing group called Project Veritas. I didn’t know much about them but their videos intrigued me. I gave the Delaware State Education Association a hard time and that may not have been very fair on my part. Today, when I read an article by Cris Barrish with WHYY, DSEA President Mike Matthews impressed me a lot! The article was about Senate Bill 234, which passed the Senate yesterday and will be heard in the House Education Committee in the next few weeks, if not sooner.
Mike Matthews, president of the Delaware State Education Association that represents teachers and other school employees, said crimes and violations like those cited in this article spurred his union’s lawyer to work with state education officials, attorneys and others to craft the legislation.
I remember talking to Mike about some of these horrific crimes that were making the media such as Karen Brooks in Smyrna. He was as disgusted as I was. A few years ago, Delaware Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf came out with a similar bill but this one was much better. I firmly believe DSEA’s role in the writing of Senate Bill #234 made it a much stronger bill.
Matthews said the DSEA “strongly supports” the bill because it could prevent the ability of child abusers to “bounce around’’ to different school districts with their teaching license intact while a serious allegation goes through a copious investigative process at the district level. The bill would also provide extensive due process to protect teachers who are unfairly accused by students, parents or other faculty, he said.
Amen Mike! We don’t want ANY teacher or educator milking the system when they are abusing kids. My take on teachers like this? They shouldn’t be anywhere near children or teenagers. But at the same time, we don’t want to necessarily punish the innocent. Unfortunately, there have been situations where teachers have been victim to false claims.
“It clarifies the process that I think maybe has been muddied for some time,” Matthews said. “It kind of separates this idea that the employer, the district and board, has to take action before [the state can take action] to revoke or suspend an educator’s license when there are allegations of a serious crime.”
My take on this? Most districts or charters don’t necessarily want the publicity when things go down. If there is an arrest, they can’t help it. What happens when an investigation is a stall tactic? Forcing the state to take action tells the district or charter- “we know this is going on and we will take action when you won’t!”
“The bill takes necessary steps to remove those educators if there is clear fear of harm coming or having come to a child. I like to believe that like any other profession we are always going to have those who do not represent our profession well and need to be exited when it comes to these allegations and potential crimes.”
A fast exit!
What I didn’t foresee with this bill was how it could affect special education. Barrish wrote about this aspect of the legislation when discussing the “letters of concern” portion of it.
The bill also has a provision that could apply when the state determines that no violation has occurred which warrants disciplinary action, but that “an act or omission” by the teacher is a “matter of concern.” Such a concern could be that the teacher creates inadequate Individualized Education Programs for students who are identified as in need of special education services.
I have very mixed thoughts on this. A teacher could write a draft IEP before the IEP team convenes to discuss it. Putting the onus on a teacher for what could be team decisions is very dangerous. Yes, the teacher is the one that writes the draft, but the team decides what is final. Any IEP team should include an administrator (usually the Principal or an Associate Principal), the school psychologist, the school special education coordinator (also called an Educational Diagnostician), the school nurse (unless the parent says it is okay for them not to attend), a special education teacher, and a primary teacher. And of course the parent or parents. When students reach 8th grade, they typically attend the IEP meetings as well. Is one teacher out of a whole IEP team the only one that should get a “letter of concern” if the school winds up getting sued for not following an IEP? Or writing a bad one? This could open a huge can of worms. I have always told parents, do not sign an IEP unless you are satisfied with it. There is nothing preventing you from doing so. And if you find the IEP isn’t working, you can always request another IEP meeting to revise it.
Now when it comes to teachers not following very specific parts of an IEP, such as not having the student do every other math problem as an example, that is a different matter. If a teacher willfully doesn’t follow what is written in an IEP, I can’t defend that. I may need to see more on this part. The big question would be what happens if a parent sues a charter or district over special education matters. Would those “letters of concern” become discoverable evidence? Would the district or charter put themselves in a position of legal vulnerability? Or would the special education law firm have to subpoena the Delaware DOE to get those letters?
I’m going to take this time and publicly apologize to Mike Matthews for my Project Veritas articles. A DSEA email was provided to me the same day I saw Veritas’ videos. I published it without reaching out to Mike for more information. I regret that. While the email didn’t condone the actions of the subject of a Veritas video it didn’t defend it either. It was simply an internal email warning of potential Veritas spies hoping to entrap teacher union members. I was harsh on DSEA and I acknowledge that. Legislation doesn’t happen overnight and I will assume DSEA was working with the Delaware DOE on what became Senate Bill #234 long before the Veritas videos came out in May. I had no idea Veritas was going to jump on my article and put Mike in the spotlight the way they did. I remember seeing that video and gasping. Yes, I published it, but the more I found out about Veritas the more something didn’t seem quite right.
I look forward to Senate Bill #234 becoming the law of the land in Delaware! And I would hope James O’Keefe who seems to have made it a crusade to go after teacher unions can provide “fair and balanced” coverage to show the good things they are doing. But knowing O’Keefe, he would probably take the credit for it himself. That seems to be how he rolls! He can say what he will about some rogue union leaders out there, but here in Delaware, our union looks out for students as well as teachers!
Finally! One of the first things I pushed for on this blog almost four years ago was the funding for students designated as basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade. Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams just put the following on her Facebook page:
I am so thankful that the Joint Finance Committee voted to include funding for K-3 basic special education services in the budget. This funding will support necessary services that will help students close learning gaps and move forward to have bright futures.
This has been a true collaborative effort with my colleagues, especially Rep. Smith and Sen. Nicole Poore, my prime Senate sponsor, and I truly appreciate their leadership. These services will become a reality thanks to the advocacy of Delaware State Education Association, parents throughout the state and the many advocates coming together to support our youngest learners. Our children deserve our best efforts to help them learn and succeed through life.
Amen Kim! As I’ve always said, many kids develop their disabilities in these grades. Even though schools are obligated by Federal law to provide special education no matter what grade they are in, this obstacle to the funding schools would get sometimes led to students not getting the services they deserve. In some cases, schools would deny an IEP creating a toxic relationship with parents. Kim has worked hard for this ever since I met her all those years ago. She is the best education legislator in the state and she will ALWAYS have my support.
We don’t agree 100% of the time, but I will take those rare times any day because what she has done for Delaware education is nothing short of astounding! A big thank you to DSEA, Senator Nicole Poore, Rep. Melanie Smith, Delaware PTA, and all the parents who pushed for this as well!
The Delaware Joint Finance Committee put the funding in the budget today. Of course, the Delaware General Assembly has to approve the budget as a whole by June 30th, but I am confident they will do the right thing with this. Delaware’s projected surplus for FY2019 went up yesterday as the Delaware Economic Forecast Advisory Committee added $80 million to the surplus.
Updated, 5:32pm: The amount budgeted for the Basic Special Education for students in K-3 is $2.9 million. As well, $3.6 million went in for Reading Specialists for students in Kindergarten to 4th grade. It also looks like $2 million that was cut in last year’s FY2018 budget will be restored for school transportation.
Today was a perfect day. Not because it was perfect but because I wanted it to be. So much of what we are is how we think, our mindset. To cap off this beautiful day I’m sitting in a lawn chair outside of my townhouse. There is a slight breeze with a bit of chill to it but it is still warm enough. The crickets are chirping and the leaves are blowing. It is May in Dover, finally.
I came into 2018 with the best of intentions. It was a new beginning in so many ways. Life has a funny way of reminding you the battles aren’t over. Some of those skirmishes are tougher than others. This year’s were tougher than others for some reason. Those who know me best know how close this one hit. I could let it knock me down and shatter me. That would be very easy to do. But that’s just not who I am. Everything happens for a reason and it is hard to explain that sometimes. When the blood is on the field it is hard to show someone a better tomorrow.
Tonight, I am at peace. It is a beautiful night. A pizza is on the way which I have relished for some time now. An episode of The Americans is waiting for me on the DVR. I cherish the memories I had today with my son. We had some really good father-son chats. Both of us had more smiles on our faces today than I’ve seen in a long time. Tomorrow is a new day. It might not be as perfect as today, but that’s okay.
I see some of my friends and the struggles they are going through. I wish I could take their pain and anxiety away. Their battles are just as real as my own. I pray they have days like today. They deserve it. I want them to be happy.
I heard a new song by the band called Blue October the other day. Their singer always sings from his soul. I’ve read a bit about this singer over the years and I know he has gone through many wars.
Just some random thoughts coalescing into a blog post here. A thought purge.
There will be days when you’re falling down
There will be days when you’re inside out
There will be days when you fall apart
Someone else will break you heart
They’re never gonna hold you back
I’m always gonna have your back
So try to remember that
I hope you’re happy
I hope you’re good
I hope you get what you wish for
And you’re well understood
After I listened to that song, I put my music on a random shuffle. A new song by a band called Lord Huron came on. They are an indie band. The singer reminds me of Jackson Browne. “When The Night Is Over”.
I feel the weather change
I hear the river say your name
I watch the birds fly by
I see an emerald in the sky
These posts never get a lot of hits. I’ve been slowing down on here. I was actually talking to someone about that today, about how you can only write about the same things over and over again. Legislators, administrators, and charters, oh my! Things have been quiet as well. No earth shattering news like there has been in years past. I’ve been spending a lot of time helping parents with their own special education issues for their kids. Sidebar conversations. I still want to be an advocate for parents at IEP meetings and when they have issues going on with schools. So helping out parents has been very helpful in that regard. It forces me to learn more. You can never know everything. The reality is this: things are chaotic out there. Things that make me shake my head in disbelief. Things that should be absolute no-brainers. It is picking up at an alarming pace.
We all need to recharge our batteries from time to time. There are some ticking time-bombs I’ll write about soon enough.
Capital School District managed to hold off a referendum for the past eight years but that will change in 2019 as they will be going out for an operating referendum.
According to their Chief Financial Officer, Adewunmi Kuforiji, at their March board meeting, the district will hold this referendum next year. The Capital Board of Education discussed placing school safety monitors (constables) in all of their elementary schools, their 5-6 middle school and hiring a Supervisor to oversee the 19 constables that will be in all their schools. The price tag for adding these constables? Over $400,000. Some of the funds would come from federal cafeteria funds. Since the state does not give that specific funding, the rest would come out of the district’s local funds. This would be in addition to the five constables in place now, three at Dover High School and two at Central Middle School which serves students in grades 7-8. The board passed the resolution with three yes votes (two board members were absent).
Board President Sean Christensen asked Kuforiji several times if this action would push the district closer to an operating referendum. Kuforiji responded it would not as they have room in their FY2018 budget for this along with their reserves. But he did say, in no uncertain terms, more than once, the district would have an operating referendum in 2019. He did not say when in 2019.
Nine years is a long time to go without a referendum. Their last referendum helped to build the new Dover High School and the new district office.
Many in Delaware feel school referenda are outdated and refuse to support them. Others feel they are a necessary beast in education funding. Education funding has been a huge topic this year. Property assessments in Delaware are severely outdated and based on formulas from the 1970s and 1980s. The state’s education budget has grown over the years but it bounces from education cuts to new initiatives. In my opinion, it is a very disproportionate system that does not focus on the students but rather the school staff and administrators. With the exception of special education (and even that is messed up for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade), no extra funding is given based on student needs (poverty, English language learners). Some support a weighted funding formula while others support adding to the current unit-based system. Some feel no extra money should go towards public education and actually support school vouchers where the money follows the student, even if it goes to a private school. How will Dover residents vote next year when their district makes the ask for more taxpayer money?
HS1 for House Bill #287 unanimously passed in the Delaware Senate today after some rough waters when it was on the House side. Thank you to all the Delaware Senators and House Reps who passed this bill and recognized it’s importance. A huge thank you to State Rep. Kim Williams and Senator Nicole Poore for getting this out to begin with. And then thank you to the Special Education Strategic Plan Committee for making this a huge priority to begin with.
This is a landmark bill for students with the most severe disabilities in our schools. Provided Governor Carney signs it, we will no longer have these students get a certificate but an actual diploma. It was an archaic and outdated thing in our public education system. Students with disabilities are just as important as their peers and the bulk of our General Assembly gets it. And it looks like the Delaware business community began to recognize why this is important as well.
It all starts with an idea. But ideas that roll around in your mind will always be just that. It is now time for action! Therefore, this is the birth of Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students.
For almost four years I’ve been writing about education in good old Delaware. It’s taken me from the bottom of Sussex all the way to the tip-top parts of the state. I’ve been to Legislative Hall and the Delaware DOE building more times than I can count. And nothing has changed. In fact, I’m going to say it is getting worse. Especially with special education. But it isn’t just that. It is also issues dealing with school discipline, race, gender, bullying, classroom management, class sizes, safety, and trauma coming into our schools in ways our educators are just now starting to fathom and understand.
To that end, I am taking my email/Facebook/social media/cell phone advocacy out of the digital world and into the schools. This will be a huge task and I need your help!
These are the issues I am willing to advocate for students:
Special Education: whether it is IEPs or 504 plans, it is important to know your child’s rights, the parental rights, and the rights of the school. Many parents feel overwhelmed in IEP meetings. Trying to learn about federal IDEA law, Delaware State Code, and all the pending special education legislation is a task in itself. Do you have a child with a unique disability that may warrant very specific goals or accommodations in their IEP?
School Discipline: does the punishment fit the crime? Does the punishment meet the criteria of the school student code of conduct? Does it follow state law? If a student has an IEP or 504 plan was it a manifestation of their disability or just poor choices? What are the rights of students when there are School Resource Officers, constables, or armed security? When is physical restraint warranted? How does it work with transportation and busing when a discipline issue comes up?
Trauma: Is your child going through a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based on violence in their neighborhood? Or in their own home? Are their grades falling behind as a result of this? Are they acting out? These are students that may not be special education but need an advocate to help schools and teachers sift through these issues so they can give your child the best education possible.
Bullying: Is your child being bullied? Are you finding the school isn’t doing everything they can to put a stop to it? What steps can you take to make sure they do?
These are my goals:
To serve any of the above needs or potential conflict a parent may have with a school.
To guide parents on the appropriate ways to deal with the folks in the schools. This isn’t as simple as it looks, and when things escalate, there is a proper chain of steps to go through.
To work with every school district and charter school in the state to make sure Parent Council Groups for special education are up and running.
To advocate meaningful dialogue between parents and schools. This is crucial. But it is also important to make sure there is one adult in the room who can be unbiased and impartial. Screaming heads don’t get you far. It might feel good in the short-term, but it is not conducive to the best interests of the one person who matters the most- your child!
To inform parents of their child’s rights and how that applies to the school setting. To inform parents of the differences between legislation and regulation and what is enforceable and what is not.
To make sure due process rights are followed to the letter of the law in discipline situations.
I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be. I am just a parent with my own special needs child who has run the gauntlet with Delaware schools. If your child’s school building doesn’t know me directly, they know of me. All the district and charter leaders know me as well as the legislators. I have contacts all over the place and know exactly who to go to when things need to happen. I’ve helped parents out for years but it is time to take it to the next level.
I will be doing this work at no cost. But any organization or business (whatever this turns out to be based on demand) needs funding. Pure and simple. So I am asking for donations from folks in Delaware who see this growing need in our state. Whether it is a dollar or more, every bit counts. I am willing to go up and down our state to help our kids. I am centrally located in Dover so my door is open for all!
If you are of mind to help get this going and help sustain this, any contributions are certainly welcome! Please go to the Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students page here: https://www.gofundme.com/exceptional-advocacy-for-delaware
If you are a parent who needs help in dealing with a situation involving your child at a Delaware school, please contact me as soon as possible. My email is email@example.com and we can exchange phone numbers from there.
The Delaware House of Representatives just passed HS1 for House Bill #287 which would allow for a small portion of special education students who would otherwise be given a certificate of performance to be given a diploma with modified standards. The vote count was 34 yes, 4 no, 2 not voting, and one absent.
The representatives who voted no were Stephanie Bolden, Rich Collins, Deb Heffernan, and J.J. Johnson. Those who refused to vote were Gerald Brady and Charles Potter. Only one Republican voted no and the rest were Democrats.
The next stop for the bill will be the Senate Education Committee. If it is released from there, it would go up for a full Senate Vote. Should it pass in the Senate, it would go to Governor Carney for signature. Upon signature, it would go into effect for the 2018-2019 school year. A great day for this segment of our special education students!
The first battle for HS1 for House Bill #287 was won today as the Delaware House Education Committee released it from committee. This puts the special education legislation on the Ready list for a full House vote.
All were in favor of the release except for State Rep. Deb Heffernan who voted no and State Rep. Stephanie Bolden who abstained. There was a great deal of discussion about the bill and who exactly it represents among Delaware special education students. Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education, attempted to answer these questions to committee members. The diploma with modified standards would apply to a very small population of Delaware students, approximately 1% of them. These are students with severe disabilities that affect their ability to perform relative to their peers.
Currently, these students receive a “certificate of performance”. Which means they are not allowed to check up the Diploma box on job applications. They are unable to have the opportunity to apply for many jobs. For parents of these children, as so aptly put by parent John Young, it is a resignation for their children that is very difficult to accept.
Much of the conversation was about the gap group of special education students between those this would apply to and those who receive a high school diploma. To qualify for this bill, you have to be approved by your IEP team to take the alternative state assessment. But that is only a little over 1% of Delaware students. Our special education numbers hover around 15-16%. Some of those students who do qualify for the Smarter Balanced Assessment have a difficult time passing rigorous high school courses and are unable to graduate. Many legislators wanted to see numbers from the Delaware DOE on this.
One public comment, given by Robert Overmiller, said this bill would be lying to these students. The Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, of which Overmiller is a member, had public comment from member Kathie Cherry. She felt it was important to note that Overmiller’s views on the bill did not reflect the overwhelming majority of the council who are in support of the bill. While I do agree with Overmiller on many education issues, I felt his opposition to this bill was unfair but he is certainly entitled to his opinion.
Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting gave the DOE’s approval of the bill, as did Delaware Autism, the Delaware Association of School Administrators, the Delaware School Boards Association, and parents.
This is an important victory for this bill. It still has a long way to go but I like the track it is going in.
Do me a favor. While you are reading this, play a little game with me. I am talking through the 3rd wall here, to you, the reader. Pretend I am on a stage and you are just one of hundreds of folks in the audience. This game is called “DON’T BLINK!”. You have to really focus.
I’m on the stage talking about your least favorite subject, whatever that might be.
You have to focus on not blinking your eyes. Easy, right? We’ll see.
As I babble on and on about your least favorite subject, DON’T BLINK! I want you to take out a piece of paper. I’ll wait for you. While you are getting it though, DON’T BLINK! Don’t even think about it. Keep those eyes open. DON’T BLINK! Did you get your paper yet? Did you bother to get a pen? DON’T BLINK!
Good, you have your paper and pen. I want you to write a set of numbers. It will be 13, 26, 39, and you have to write down the rest. DON’T BLINK! I need a set of 20 numbers. DON’T BLINK!
How many numbers do you have down? But wait, while you DON’T BLINK and you are writing down the numbers, I want you to yell out “VITAMINS”. But DON’T BLINK while you yell out “VITAMINS” while you are writing down the numbers. Don’t you dare! And don’t be caught off guard from the people staring and laughing at you because you yelled “VITAMINS”. Because you have an assignment you have to get done. And DON’T BLINK!
While you are doing all this, I want you to capture whatever smell is in the room and focus solely on that smell. Smell it with every fiber of your being while you DON’T BLINK!, write down your numbers, and deal with the stares you got from yelling “VITAMINS”. How many numbers do you have down? If you cheated, you probably have the 20 different numbers. That is, if you blinked, didn’t focus on the smells in the room, didn’t yell “VITAMINS”, and only focused on the numbers.
For students with Tourette Syndrome, this is their life in the classroom. It can happen in other areas of schools as well. When they are younger, the tics come naturally. But as they get older, and notice more and more the odd little stares or classmates asking them what they are doing, they begin to do everything they can to suppress those tics. But those tics are neurological in nature. Little signals go out from the brain that affect those with Tourette Syndrome and command the body to do those things. Suppression can be done, but it is energy that can’t be destroyed. It comes out in other ways.
In the “DON’T BLINK” game, that exercise was for those who don’t suffer from Tourette’s. So they can possibly understand, at a very small and miniscule level, what those with tics go through every day. For far too many of these special needs students, that energy does come out in some way when they are suppressing tics. But the more stimuli they have around them, the harder it is to focus on that. Add a few different things to that soup, and you can understand why those who exhibit motor or physical tics have a hard time keeping their cool. It is almost like having a case of the hiccups, all day, every day.
Suppressing tics also has another side effect: exhaustion. It can be physically tiring to attempt to stop your body what it naturally wants to do. Most students with Tourette Syndrome do not suffer from just that disability. They have what are known as co-morbidities. We’ve all heard the alphabet disabilities: ADHD, OCD, and ODD. But add anxiety, depression, sensory processing issues, and yes, at times, rage. It can be a perfect storm.
There aren’t many students with Tourette Syndrome in Delaware. I know of less than ten myself. There could be more. But for even this small population of students, we MUST get it right for them. They are counting on us. For far too many Tourette Syndrome students across the country, schools want to address the disability the same way they would ADHD. It is a complex puzzle, but the pieces can be put together. It takes time, and patience, and calm. We have come very far with Autism but I believe if it wasn’t so prevalent, we would be just as in the dark as we are with Tourette Syndrome.
In my opinion, a student with Tourette Syndrome should be celebrated in schools. They are just like you and I with intelligence. Many TS students are wicked smart. But their body and mind can send out a signal on a dime without them even being aware. Or other times it is like when you know you are going to sneeze and you try to stop it. But most times, it is like trying to stop a case of the hiccups. I believe it is incumbent on our schools, from elementary to high school, to let everyone they can possibly tell in that building, exactly what those tics are and where they come from. Because if a student with TS is ticcing, they can’t help it. Let them tic. We wouldn’t tell a blind person to see or a paralyzed person to walk, right? It is the exact same thing. Let students and staff know it isn’t weird. Do the “DON’T BLINK!” game with the students. Let them know and feel what it is like for the TS student. Talking about tics is VERY different from experiencing them.
This isn’t just about special education. It’s about doing what is right. We want to educate the “whole” student. We want “compassionate” schools. But we need to practice what we preach. All schools need to do a better job with understanding manifestation of disabilities. So many want to treat things as a behavior. Unless you are 100% sure, assume it isn’t. If you are a teacher or staff member in a school that doesn’t teach a TS student, let me make a recommendation for you. You might be generally aware a student has disabilities but you may not be sure what the manifestations are. Ask your building leader or special education coordinator if you can see their IEP. I’m pretty sure most parents wouldn’t object to any adult in a school wanting to know more about their child with Tourette Syndrome. As parents, we can only educate so many. We have restrictions the school might not have. We don’t have access to every single teacher or staff member.
Students with Tourette Syndrome go through things daily you and I can’t imagine. At the end of the day, they want what we all want- to be loved and accepted. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.