Diploma Bill Clears Senate, Goes To Governor Carney For Signature

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  It was an archaic and outdated thing in our public education system.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.

The Dream Becomes A Reality: Exceptional Advocacy for Delaware Students

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 kjohlandt70@gmail.com and we can exchange phone numbers from there.

Breaking News: Delaware House Passes The Diploma Bill!

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!

Diploma Bill Released From House Education Committee

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.

DON’T BLINK!

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.

DON’T BLINK!

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.

DAPSS Faces CSAC In Final Meeting Today As Queen Margie Reigns Supreme & King Herb Is Making Big Money

I’ve seen some arrogant stuff from charter schools in my day but this one takes the cake!  Separating herself from the rest of the Board of Directors, Margie Lopez-Waite must be thinking her name adds extra oomph to the struggling Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security.  Yes, being a Chairperson or President of any school board does give you a certain amount of power and responsibilities, but to distance yourself from the other equal board members is not a good idea.  It makes the rest of the Board look weak in comparison.  I’ve seen many charters where the head of the Board calls the shots.  The rest of the Board winds up becoming a rubber stamp.

For Queen Margie, she has gained absolute control at the school.  Obviously they need something since they are on formal review but I would prefer like-minded people working together as opposed to this self-created hierarchy.

Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security came out with their response to the initial Charter School Accountability Committee meeting.  We learned Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting turned down the school’s request to submit a major modification to reduce their numbers.  That makes sense since you can’t do that when you are on formal review.  The school also made an attempt to compare their test scores to area high schools and show they really aren’t that bad when you compare them like this.

Since their modification won’t happen, that means they can’t switch their location for this school year or even next school year if they remain open by that time.  That means they have to renew their lease with Fatima, the church that holds the lease on their building.  Given that the school is at least $184,000 in the hole, this spells trouble.  My sense is they are deeper in the hole than suggested but they found a way to hide it.  Even though THIS WAS DISCUSSED AT THEIR FIRST MEETING WITH CSAC.

We also learned their teaching staff has some glaring holes in it.  Out of their eight core teachers, three are on emergency certificates, two are vacant positions, and one has an initial license.  What does that mean?  This school’s teaching population is not up to snuff.  75% of them are not fully certified teachers.

Does Herb Sheldon make $185,000 as Principal of this school?  According to their proposed budget for the 2018-2019 school year, that’s what it looks like.  I hardly think a school of 200 students needs a Principal making THAT much money.  Especially since he has NO academic background aside from human resources at another charter school.

What disturbed me the most about this school was their attrition rate with special education students.  If you look at the below graph, you can see the number of students with disabilities dropping considerably each year as they go on to their next grade.  What happens to these students?  Are they counseled out?  Expelled?  Or do parents just say enough is enough and pull them out?  Where are these students going when they leave DAPSS?  To other charters or back to their regular feeder pattern?  For their Grade 9 that started last year, they were at 32.9% special education.  This year, those students in 10th grade are at 0% special education.  What happened to those 25 students on an IEP?  Same with the 9th graders that started in 2014-2015.  In two years, they went from 27 IEPs to 16 to none.  For a school that boasts about being able to handle high-needs students, I’m not seeing it!  To begin training on special education law at a state and federal level before the 2018-2019 school year does NOT show a commitment to these students.  That training should be going on NOW!

I love how the school talks about all the programs brought about by their former Curriculum Director, Erica Thomas, who is no longer with the school.  Way to take someone else’s work and make it your own!

To read the pitiful response from the school, please see below.  To read the appendices mentioned in the report, please go here.

 

Untold Tales: Delaware DOE, Dave Morgan, & Three Days That Scared The Hell Out Of Me

For a few months there, I had a great source at the Delaware Department of Education.  When Delaware MET went down at the end of 2015, there was a lot I didn’t publish about what was going on there.  You will find out why shortly.  I’m glad I trusted my gut and didn’t send Wilmington into chaos mode.  The below emails, between Dave Morgan and myself, not only shed a lot of light on Delaware MET, but also the Delaware DOE itself.  Different names are thrown around in these emails.  Going back and reading these is always fun!  The last email between Dave Morgan and myself is particularly enlightening given that DAPSS is finally under formal review.  The incompetence at the DOE is plain to see in these emails.  I wish I could have met Dave in person.  I probably did but didn’t know about their secret alias with me.  I’ve had a few suspicions over the years, but have been unable to prove it.  Some parts of these emails I redacted for a few reasons.  That’s my business! Continue reading

Sussex Montessori Appears To Be Clueless On Special Education & Basic Charter Formation

Sussex Montessori School went through their first Charter School Accountability Committee meeting in their application process.  I thought for sure, given this was their second attempt to apply for a charter, they would get it right and everything would be smooth sailing.  Instead, their application is missing a lot of information.  The committee smacked them up and down the court.

These are my favorite quotes from the report: Continue reading

Christina Missing A Special Education Director

When John Dewey retired from the Christina School District two months ago, it put the second largest school district in the state without a Special Services Senior Director.  This is the title for the person overseeing special education in the district.  So who is running special education in Christina School District?  With the number of complaints I receive about special education in Christina you would think they would make sure this key vacancy in their district is filled.  But nope, here we are two months later and nothing.  How long are they going to keep this key position vacant?

Hey Delaware DOE, You May Want To Make Sure Mitch & Our Schools Know This Stuff!

It would be my hope that all Delaware schools, be they district or charter, have seen this.  I would also hope the Exceptional Children Resources Group, the special education area of the Delaware Department of Education, led by Mary Ann Mieczkowski, circulated this to all our schools.  If not, I’ll make sure they get this.  And I won’t even charge them!  But just in case they haven’t seen this, they may want to read this from top to bottom.  Special education is NOT a choice.  And you are expected to implement it with fidelity and as per federal law under IDEA.  The below document, released by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education issued guidance about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on Endrew F v. Douglas County School District.

McAndrews Slams Delaware DOE In Federal Court Special Education Case

McAndrews Law Firm, the premier special education law firm in Delaware, just won a BIG case against the Delaware Department of Education.  The basis of their claim was that if a charter school goes under, the DOE is obligated to provide those services.  The DOE objected with twelve different claims, all of which were shot down by federal district court!  Way to go McAndrews!  From their press release:

Last week, we were gratified to report that McAndrews Law Offices had prevailed in an important federal court matter on behalf of children with disabilities who attended charter schools that go out of business. Just two days after prevailing in that important matter, MLO obtained another crucial federal court decision, this time in the state of Delaware, holding that states are responsible to ensure the rights of children and their families are protected when charter schools become defunct.

In MK v. Delaware Department of Education, McAndrews Law Offices negotiated a $30,000 compensatory education fund with a Delaware private charter school as part of a settlement agreement, but the charter school then failed to pay for the compensatory education services and went out of business. On behalf of the family, MLO brought an action against the Delaware Department of Education, asserting that under federal special-education law, the state must step into the shoes of the defunct charter school and provide the child and family their educational rights under federal law. The Delaware Department of Education asserted, in shotgun fashion through a motion to dismiss the case, nearly a dozen claims as to why the state had no responsibility for ensuring that the child received the protections of federal law. These claims were universally rejected by the federal district court, which held that “Congress considered the establishment of a single agency on which to focus responsibility for assuring the right to education of all disabled children to be of paramount importance.” With this motion to dismiss having been denied and the fundamental arguments of the state to avoid liability having been dismissed, a major procedural victory has been obtained on behalf of our Delaware clients.

I wonder which charter school this was? Delaware MET? Prestige Academy?  That’s just like the DOE, ducking their responsibility.  Do they really not get IDEA?  The fact that Delaware does not provide basic special education funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade shows how out of touch they are with special education reality.  By relying on Response to Intervention as a “childfind” measure, which is not the identifying criteria for special education under IDEA, the Delaware DOE and our legislators continue to disregard federal law.  This is all going to come to a head very soon and Delaware taxpayers will be the ones holding the bag when we have to bail out the state for their horrible special education policies and funding mechanisms.  The Delaware ACLU lawsuit over education funding in general will be a drop in the bucket compared to what is coming.  DOE needs to get their heads out of their imaginary clouds and start following federal law!!!!!

Controversy Erupts On Social Media Over Special Education Funding Task Force Resolution

House Concurrent Resolution #34, introduced on June 29th last year, will be on the agenda for the House Education Committee meeting tomorrow.  One line in the legislation offended many, including myself, when it was brought to my attention.

WHEREAS, special education represents a growing financial burden on school districts as the need for services increases.

I can pretty much guarantee any parent of a student with disabilities would take offense to that wording.  While it is true that special education costs have risen over the past decade, referring to those costs as a “financial burden” is not a wise choice of words.  Schools have an obligation, under both state and federal law, to provide those services regardless of cost.  Which is exactly how folks took it on social media last night.  I do not think that was the intent of the legislators who sponsored the bill.

As well, parents took offense to there only being one slot on this task force for a parent.  That seat would be determined by the Delaware PTA.  The bill has an odd mix of sponsors.  With the majority of the sponsors as Republicans, some wondered why Democrat State Senator Nicole Poore would sign on as the prime Senate sponsor.  In addition,  Democrat State Rep. Ed Osienski also signed on as a co-sponsor.

State Senator Brian Pettyjohn joined in on the conversation and doubted the resolution would appear in the Delaware Senate.

Last week, news from Texas regarding allegations against the Texas Education Agency shocked Americans everywhere.  A report said the TEA was limiting the number of special education students in The Lonestar State since 2004.  Their special education population dropped from 11% to 8% over a seven-year period even though most states saw dramatic increases in those student populations.  Many blame caps instituted by the Texas legislature on special education funding.  Which is eerily similar to the recommendations a task force like this could come out with.

While I don’t believe there was ill intent with this legislation, the optics on it could not be worse.  In conjunction with the news from Texas, a lawsuit filed by the Delaware ACLU today against the state has special education funding as part of the overall complaint with education funding.

I have been saying for years that Delaware needs to revamp how they submit payments in their state financial system.  No one follows the recommended spending codes so it is impossible to track how money is being spent.  Especially with special education.  That should be an easy problem for our legislators to fix but no one wants to take up the baton.  Not sure why.  It isn’t a change to the Delaware Constitution.  It would be a simple bill mandating our school districts and charter schools accurately code expenditures in a uniform process.  And the Delaware Department of Education would have to oversee this and implement regulations in regards to Delaware state code.  Any task force, committee, workgroup or other such thing looking at any facet of education spending is useless until this is done first.  Which legislator wants to twirl a baton?  Anyone?

Meanwhile, HCR #34 is on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.  Delaware State Education Association President Mike Matthews said DSEA does not support the legislation on one of the Facebook posts that came out last night.  I would hope that when legislation like this comes out that our state legislators would look at the wording of their bills or resolutions.  The people are watching them.

Earl Jaques Bows To The Delaware Chamber Of Commerce Over Special Education Diplomas

It looks like you need special permission to introduce legislation to help students with disabilities.  At the Joint House and Senate Education Committee today in Delaware, State Rep. Earl Jaques asked one of the presenters of the special education strategic plan if she checked with the Delaware Chamber Of Commerce first before pushing legislation for special education diplomas.  Currently, many students with disabilities with complex and intensive needs get a certificate in lieu of a diploma.  Many businesses will not hire these young adults after graduation because they do not have a diploma.

The legislation, which was filed last week by State Rep. Kim Williams, would award these students a diploma based on modified standards.  It is not exactly the same as a regular diploma because of those modified standards, but it is still a diploma.  That way, these students would be able to check the box on job applications indicating they have a diploma.

During a question and answer session after Michele Marinucci and Bill Doolittle gave the special education strategic plan presentation, State Rep. Earl Jaques (also the Chair of the House Education Committee) asked Marinucci if she consulted with the Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the business community over the proposed legislation.  Marinucci indicated she had not.  I took severe offense to this question from Jaques.  As if legislators need some type of special permission from big business to allow things to get better for people with disabilities.  We don’t need permission from the Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber should be begging for this type of bill to allow equal access to employment for ALL Delaware citizens.  As State Senator Anthony Delcollo pointed out, there exist certain laws already such as the Americans with Disabilities Act that prevents discrimination against disabled citizens.

The entire Delaware certificate system needs to disappear.  There are plenty of jobs where former students are more than qualified but this discriminatory certificate prevents them from getting those types of jobs.  Our legislators and Governor need to stop bowing down to big business in Delaware and do what is right for ALL the citizens, especially the most vulnerable.  While big business lobbyists run rampant throughout Legislative Hall telling legislators how they should vote and which bills they support and which ones they don’t, our legislators are missing the point of making laws.  It should be what is best for all the citizens, not just those with the fattest wallets.  There are those legislators who understand this, State Rep. Kim Williams being one of them.  But far too many listen to those who have the most money.

While Jaques indicated he doesn’t want to see potential problems arise from persons with disabilities just checking a box and not being qualified for those jobs, there is also a thing called an interview process.  As well, many job applications do ask an applicant about their qualifications to meet the need for the job.  Having a certificate instead of a diploma is an instant barrier that serves to weed out these job applicants from the get-go.  I find this practice disgusting and barbaric.  For this comment to come from Jaques, who has publicly acknowledged having a grandchild with Autism, I found it  particularly disturbing.  I’m sure he is trying to get all his ducks in a row and making sure there has been enough stakeholder engagement.  And while I do agree the business community should certainly be a part of the discussion in how to best help students with disabilities and improve upon the process, I do not think any group involved in getting common sense legislation through needs permission first.  I wonder if Jaques read my article on the current Chair of the Delaware Chamber of Commerce from yesterday.  Maybe then he would understand why I am vehemently opposed to any pre-consultation with the damn Chamber over education legislation.

The actual presentation was top-notch.  The plan is designed to help students with disabilities and schools to improve special education.  While the plan is not set in stone and is a “living document”, I think it is a major step in the right direction.  This group did their homework and while I always think there should be more parents not affiliated with any other organization on these things, there is an excellent amount of diversity from all aspects of special education.  To see the actual strategic plan and what was discussed today, please go here.

I did see one moment of political maneuvering and it was very blatant in my opinion, but since I am unable to verify that as fact, I will stop right there.  I will say it did not involve anyone involved with the Special Education Strategic Plan.  But I expect more from that legislator than to ask questions on behalf of the Governor.  If the Governor’s circle of advisers want to ask a question, they should just do it themselves.  They are more than welcome to do so.  By using a legislator to get a point across is just slimy in my opinion.  Especially when it really doesn’t have much to do with the actual presentation being discussed and more about a priority of Governor Carney.  I will say to this legislator as well as Carney’s guy, the article I posted yesterday with the actual plan embedded into it was posted on the Solutions for Wilmington Schools Facebook page and was read by many.

In another brilliant moment of the Joint committee session, State Senator David Sokola (the Chair of the Senate Education Committee) suggested to Marinucci that they should really take a look at Finland’s special education and what a bang-up job they do recognizing special education needs at an early age.  State Rep. Sean Matthews replied to Sokola’s statement that the educational barriers that exist in Delaware, such as charter and choice school enrollment preferences, do not exist in Finland.  He indicated Finland is at the top of education in the world because they do not have those barriers and grant equal education to all in Finland.  As well, Matthews said you don’t see actions like “counseling out” going on in Finland.  That is a practice with certain charter schools where parents are told “we aren’t sure if your child is the right fit here”.  While I don’t know how much this goes on now, it has been an allegation thrown at certain charters in Delaware.  Many students in the past would wind up back in their traditional school district in the middle of a school year.  Many of these were also special education students.  Sokola is a firm believer in enrollment preferences, usually those that protect the largest school within his own voting district, Newark Charter School.

In terms of the entire House Education Committee it would have been nice if the Republican House members actually stayed for the entire presentation.  About twenty or so minutes in they all walked out.  But along those lines, State Rep. Melanie Smith was a no-show as she usually is.  No offense to the GOP guys, but if you are on a committee you should stick around for, you know, the actual meetings.  It is special education.  Not sure what was more important than that.  But I digress.  On the Senate side, the only missing Education Committee member was Senator Bryan Townsend.

Despite Jaques’ assurance to me yesterday that this meeting would be on the live audio feed on the General Assembly website, it was not.  But there were also issues in getting a smart-screen going for the strategic plan presentation so I would chalk that up to technical issues going on.  Legislative Hall is a very old building.

 

Joint Senate & House Education Committee Meeting To Hear Special Education Strategic Plan Tomorrow

**Updated, 4:22pm, 1/9/18: I spoke with State Rep. Earl Jaques and he okayed putting this joint committee session on the live audio feed.  The meeting is scheduled to start at 2:30pm tomorrow, but meetings sometimes start late down at Legislative Hall so be patient!  To listen, go to the General Assembly website and go to the “Listen Now” link.

The second leg of the Delaware 149th General Assembly starts today, but tomorrow the House and Senate Education Committees will meet together to hear the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Counsel’s ideas on how to improve special education in The First State.  The meeting begins at 2:30pm, but here is a primer: what is the plan? Who is on the committee? Who is on the sub-committees?

To read the entire Strategic Plan, please see below.  But here is a summary as per the Delaware Department of Education website:

The goal of the Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council is to develop a statewide plan that addresses the delivery of special education within Delaware through a review of existing evidence and within the context of a representative stakeholder process.

All children with disabilities can reach their full potential through a student-centered, individualized education system using a collaborative and supportive model. By asking stakeholders to lead collaboration between schools, families, and communities, Delaware will create inclusive education to ensure student success and growth, and equity of special education and related services across Delaware.

The members of the Delaware Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council:

  • Co-chair – Dr. Michele Marinucci , Woodbridge School District
  • Co-chair – Bill Doolittle , Parent Advocate
  • Dafne Carnright, Autism Delaware
  • Edward Emmett, Positive Outcomes Charter School
  • Katheryn Herel, PIC of Delaware
  • Jon Cooper, Colonial School District
  • Kendall Massett, Delaware Charter School Rep.
  • Rep. Kim Williams, Legislator
  • Kristin Dwyer, DSEA
  • Kristin Pidgeon, Down Syndrome Association
  • Dr. Lisa Lawson, Brandywine School District
  • Mary Ann Mieczkowski, Department of Education
  • Dr. Sarah Celestin, Red Clay Consolidated School District
  • Dr. Vincent Winterling, Delaware Autism Program
  • Wendy Strauss, GACEC
  • Annalisa Ekbladh, University of Delaware CDS
  • Dr. John Marinucci, DASB
  • Sonya Lawrence, Parent Advocate
  • Teresa Avery, Autism Delaware
  • Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Delaware School for the Deaf
  • Mark Campano, Delaware Statewide Programs
  • Dr. Josette McCullough, Appoquinimink School District
  • Mondaria Batchelor, Woodbridge School District

The sub-committees:

Students: To increase the success of students with disabilities by improving their ability to become active, valued, and participating members of their community, today and in the future, Members: Ed Emmett-Lead, Lisa Lawson, Bill Doolittle,  Sonya Lawrence, Wendy Strauss

Staff/Partners: To have a highly engaged and effective workforce with appropriate values, skills, and knowledge for today – and tomorrow’s – work, Members: Elisha Jenkins-Lead, Mark Campano, Annalisa Ekbladh, Josette McCullough, Kristin Dwyer, Kathie Herel

Delivery/Structure Systems: 1) To make available the same array of evidence based practices and models of service deliveries regardless of a student’s placement. 2) To modify delivery system to facilitate the achievement of other goals, Members: Mark Campano-Lead , Vince Winterling, Dafne Carnwright, Sarah Celestin, Jon Cooper, Kristin Pidgeon, Sonya Lawrence

Parents/Families: To increase the engagement with parents and families as partners in collaboration to support their children at home and at school with access and knowledge of the resources they need, Members: Josette McCullough-Lead, Annalisa Ekbladh, Kristin Pidgeon, Kathie Herel

Resources: To acquire more resources as needed and maximize the efficiency in use of our existing resources, Members: Kristin Dwyer-Lead , Michele Marinucci, Teresa Avery, Laurie Kettle-Rivera, Mary Ann Mieczkowski

Policy/Regulations: To add, delete, and modify policies and regulations to support our current and future goals and objectives, Members: Dafne Carnright-Lead, John Marinucci, Mondaria Batchelor, Michele Marinucci, Kim Williams, Bill Doolittle, Mary Ann Mieczkowski

The group has met since the fall of 2016.  Last year, they finalized the plan but I will add this is a fluid plan.  It will constantly evolve as matters come up.  So it is NOT set in stone.  It is a living document.  I strongly encourage all Delaware parents of students with disabilities read the below document.  As well, any educator in the state should read it as well.  I would hope every single member of the House and Senate Education Committees have read it by this point.

In addition to the Special Education Strategic Plan Advisory Council, the joint session of the House & Senate Education Committee will also hear from the Delaware Association of School Librarians tomorrow.

 

HB #286 Would Eliminate Special Education Emergency Certification In Delaware

State Representative Kim Williams pre-filed legislation today that would do away with emergency certifications for pending special education teachers in The First State.  As part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, this is no longer allowed in public education.  From the bill’s synopsis:

Enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act amended the Individuals with Disability Education Act (“IDEA”) by mandating that special education teachers must have obtained full certification and may not be working under emergency certifications. The Delaware Department of Education must stop issuing emergency certifications in special education in order for the State to continue receiving $36 million in federal IDEA funding for our schools. This Act creates a mechanism that is in compliance with federal requirements to enable educators to obtain a certificate of eligibility in the areas of special education. Educators will be able to meet federal requirements while being enrolled in an approved, alternative routes to certification program. This Act will allow local education agencies to staff special education classrooms while ensuring the educators are receiving high quality training working toward their standard certificate in the appropriate area of special education. This Act also makes technical corrections to conform existing law to the standards of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual.

Also sponsored by State Senator Nicole Poore, this bill has many co-sponsors by several Democrats but no Republicans.  But that shouldn’t matter as this is a federal requirement now.  So what does this mean?  It means you can’t just be put into a classroom that has students with disabilities with an Individualized Education Program based on an emergency certificate.  You have to already be going through some type of program that would allow you to be heading towards full certification.  I expect this to pass with no problems.

As well, Williams also pre-filed legislation today concerning special education diplomas with House Bill #287 which I wrote about here.  To read the full pending legislation for House Bill #286, please go here.

2018 Preview

Happy New Year!  2018 began with freezing temperatures.  Anyone who ventured up to NYC to watch the ball drop is crazy in my book!  But you only live once.  This is going to be a big year.  So what’s coming? A LOT! Continue reading

18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Kim Williams & Her Awesome Bill In Circulation

I am predicting now Kim Williams will have a HUGE year in 2018.  Judging by a draft bill she sent into circulation for sponsors yesterday, she is already starting off 2018 on a high note for me! Continue reading

18 Who Will Make An Impact In 2018: Herbert Sheldon & The Board

What? Who in the world is Herbert Sheldon? Who is the Board? While you may not know this name right now unless you are very involved in Delaware education, you soon will. Why? Continue reading

Enrollment Count Report for 2017-2018 & Demographic Information For Districts & Charters: The Rise, The Surge, & The Cherry-Picking!

Which districts and charters saw big jumps with student enrollment? Which went down?  What is the state of special education in Delaware?  What key demographic is rising at a fast rate which contributes significantly to the budget woes in our state?  Which charter school, based on their current enrollment, should no longer be considered financially viable and should be shut down?  What is the fastest-growing sub-groups in Delaware?  And which cherry-picking charters continue to not serve certain populations? Continue reading

The Erosion Of Transparency At The Delaware DOE

Even though I’ve done my fair share of beating up on the Delaware Department of Education, I felt they were transparent in a few ways.  Most specifically on their website.  But now I am finding that transparency is evaporating fast.  There are three examples of this, most of which would not be caught by most people.  For a blogger like myself, those three areas contained a lot of information.

The first is their special education section.  For years I would look at their Due Process Hearing and Administrative Complaint decisions.  Each report would name the specific school district or charter school.  Since last Spring, they stopped doing that.  Now it just says “______ school district” or _____ charter school”.  What is the big deal?  Don’t parents of students with disabilities have a right to know what kind of special education complaints are happening at certain schools?

In looking at the above two screenshots from the DOE website, a pattern begins to form.  Last school year, there were three administrative complaints against charter schools in Delaware.  None of them are named.  I don’t need to be a forensic scientist to figure this one out.

The second area involves Department of Education personnel.  As long as I can remember, the Delaware State Board of Education would list changes to DOE personnel on their website as part of their agenda for each meeting.  That stopped a few months ago.  I did reach out to Donna Johnson, Executive Director of the State Board of Education.  She said the State Board does not control personnel at the DOE and they were the only state agency that listed personnel changes.  So it was a matter of consistency.  I get that, but it was also what made the DOE stand out above those other state agencies.  Not to belittle other state agencies, but the DOE is an important one and citizens have a right to know who is leaving or who is hired there.

The third area, which absolutely no one in their right mind would find is a bit tricky.  It involves their search engine.  I learned a few years ago that if you type “PDF” in their search bar it will bring up all PDF documents.  You can even tweak it so the results come up with the most recent documents.  I relied on this to see what was going on at the DOE.  The last PDF document that comes up on the search of most recent is from 5/2/2017.  I highly doubt the DOE is not creating PDF documents anymore.  I know that is the case because I’ve seen them.  But they somehow found a way to eliminate it from their search bar.  Maybe they figured out some crazed blogger from a specific IP address was always using it and disabled it.

It doesn’t shock me that these transparency issues coincide with the new Carney administration.  I, as well as others, have written about a continual lack of transparency coming from the state since Governor John Carney took office.  I guess the people no longer have a right to know.