Withholding Information: The Dangers Of Holding Back

This article originally appeared on the McAndrews Law website.  Attorney Caitlin McAndrews wrote this and it is very important!  It has pivotal information that parents of students with disabilities need to know about during the IEP process.  Parents, even with the best of intentions, can make mistakes during this process.  I agree with the author: give as much information as you possibly can to help your special needs child succeed!

Parents sometimes withhold information from School Districts, worried that the District will find a way to “use it against them.” This can include privately obtained evaluations, information from outside therapists or medical providers, or changes in medication. Though the instinct to protect your child’s privacy is understandable, withholding this type of information from the educators who work with your student typically does more harm than good.

In the example of an independent evaluation, providing the report to the District only gives them more information about how your child learns, which they should use to appropriately program for the student. Hopefully, the District will use the evaluation to help provide appropriate supports and services; but even if they do not, the family can at least say they provided all available information to the District. If parents have to go to a hearing, and they withheld a private evaluation, a hearing officer may hold that against the parent, and may question why the parent withheld outside information about the child that could have helped the District understand and program for the child.

Additionally, the private evaluation might contain information that would trigger the District’s Child Find obligation – that is, by putting the District on notice that the child has certain needs/diagnoses, and might require special education support.  If the District never saw the outside evaluation, it may be harder to prove that the District knew of the child’s disabilities.

Similarly, Districts often request permission to speak to outside providers, such as private speech/language or occupational therapists, treating psychologists, or pediatricians. This information could help the District program for your child, and withholding it can make a parent appear uncooperative in front of a hearing officer.

In general, the instinct to hold back can be a very natural and protective one, but ultimately, parents should ask themselves, “What am I afraid will happen if I share this information?” and “What good could potentially come from sharing?” In the vast majority of cases, the potential good will outweigh the potential harm.

By Caitlin McAndrews, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

High Five Park For Children With Autism Opens In Newark! Preston’s Playground Coming Soon!

Newark is taking care of kids!  One park for children with Autism opened up last week and another park for special needs children is on the way!

Rob and Elizabeth Scheinberg have a daughter with Autism.  Two years ago they found out there were no playgrounds for children on the Autism spectrum.  As the Newark Post wrote today, the parents contacted the county and after two years, their dream became a reality: Delaware’s first playground designed exclusively for children with Autism.  Located at Glasgow Park, the park has many features that help children with Autism in what are otherwise sensory unfriendly environments:

Every piece of the park has meaning, from the large mirrored sphere at the entrance to the music area with chimes, xylophone, drums and interactive sound boards.

Elizabeth Scheinberg said children with autism love mirrors because they are visually and sensory stimulating, and playing music encourages kids to work with their hands and learn how to grasp. She said they also like circles and circular movements, so the never-ending paths that meander throughout the park and around the perimeter really appeal to them.

“The lines in this park don’t end,” she said.

The paths are made of squishy artificial turf, which helps children learn to maintain balance, as do the stand-up spinners, hammocks and basket swings throughout the playground.

Another inclusive playground for special needs children in Newark is under development.  Preston’s Playground will open at The Reservoir.  They are still looking for donations, so if you have the means, please consider donating for this excellent cause!  They are shy of their goal for this so every bit helps!
I think it is really awesome folks are getting together and making awareness around having playing areas for kids with disabilities.  Every child wants to feel like they are part of something.  But for many of these kids, the existing structures are not conducive to their needs or abilities.

A Back To School Note Regarding Acceptance

This has been floating around Facebook.  I don’t know who wrote it originally, but it brought a tear to my eye.  Many parents of special needs children see this going on with their kids.  It is heartbreaking when it happens.  Please, please, please, let your children know we all have differences and those differences are what makes each of us special in our own way!

I would just like to put this out there! If your kids are not around special needs kids at school and have never been taught that not everyone is the same then maybe you could take 10 minutes tonight to explain this to them because even though they may not be around these kids at school, they may see them at church, at the mall, at the grocery store or even at the park. In light of recent events on the exclusion of a child who has autism from participating in a school trip and a Down Syndrome child being kicked out of dance class because she couldn’t keep up, I felt the need to share this. There are boys and girls that nobody invites to birthday parties, for example. There are special kids who want to belong to a team but don’t get selected because it is more important to win than include these children. Children with special needs are not rare or strange, they only want what everyone else wants: to be accepted!!

The Search Is Over

Sometimes you find something you forgot you were looking for.

This was the case today.  My wife, son and I went down to Rehoboth Beach.  Our destinations: Funland and some of the arcades.  Just a loose, carefree trip with no hassles and no issues.  As many who read this blog already know, I have a son with disabilities.  Multiple disabilities.  His main disability is Tourette Syndrome, but with that comes a host of comorbidities.  Those include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Sensory Processing Disorder.  Sometimes they all collide at once and it results in an untenable situation.

This happened today.  When we got there, we got some Grotto’s Pizza and walked down to Funland.  My wife and son went on the pirate ship dragon ride and then we did the bumper cars.  After, my wife wanted to chill on the beach for a bit so I brought my son to the arcade.  You know those grappling hook games that usually cost a dollar?  The ones where you have to position the hook over something, the hook drops down, and if you are very lucky it will grab the prize you wanted and you get it.  I gave my son some money and watched him do his thing.  Yes, I know these games are a big scam, and I tell him every time we go.  He knows it before and after, but when he is playing it this seems to escape his memory.  In a sense, it is like gambling.

I watched him getting frustrated after the third or fourth attempt and I told him he may want to give up.  I got “the look” and was told to go away.  Sometimes you have to learn lessons and this was obviously one of those times.  It’s happened before with a simple shrug and then he gets over it.  Keep in mind, there are tons of people in there and sounds coming from all the different machines.  After he had been on two amusement park rides with thousands of people all around us.  The overwhelming smell of different foods and the sea salt smell coming up from the ocean, the sounds of people laughing, talking, crying, the sights of flashing lights in the arcade, bumper cars coming at him, the slight ugh feeling from the pirate ride, and severe frustration building up from the rigged grappling hook games.  I advised him he didn’t have too much money left and he might want to save it for something else.  This is when his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder kicked in.  He had to beat this game of rigged chance no matter what.  It was all-consuming to him.  After he blew his money he became very upset.

I told him I would talk to the manager about the hook did grab three things on three different games only to release the object of his choice and drop it in stunning defeat.  The manager said that is just how the games are set up but people do win prizes at times.  I knew this.  But I had to make sure my son knew it.  He was allowed to spend x amount of money and that was it.  He blew it in ten minutes.  Like I said, these things happened before, but today was just the perfect storm of whatever was bubbling up inside him heading up to the surface at lightning speed.  I called my wife and asked her to come up from the beach.  She came up and we tried to console my son.  We could have given him a million dollars right then and there and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Words were said, and we were all upset.  People were looking at us.  This happens with children with disabilities.  For us, this is normal.  For those watching who don’t have children with special needs it is like watching the worst dysfunctional family ever.  I’ve grown immune to this over the years and I don’t let it bother me.  They haven’t walked in our shoes, so they just don’t know.

I decided to get something to drink.  If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is this: when both my wife and I try to help him, it seems to him like two against one.  One of us had to walk away.  That was me.  I came back and I took over.  My wife went back to the beach and my son and I sat there for about ten minutes.  Not speaking to each other because I knew he needed his space.  We got away from the crowds to a quieter area.  All of a sudden, he got up and just wanted to walk.  Sometimes the best way to get out of a storm is to walk away from it.  We checked out some of the shops on Main Street.  Tons of stores all around.  He was looking at phone cases in one store.  One of them had a buy one get one free sale.  He called my wife who was able to find her serenity watching the waves come in from the Atlantic Ocean.

We stopped by Snyder’s Candy Store.  He actually had a lot of fun in there.  They had Pez dispenser collections with sets of four Presidents in them going all the way back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  There were action figures and candy-flavored crickets and all sorts of funny distractions for him in there.  The store was empty aside from us and the three workers.  My son found a little canister of “thinking putty” and asked if he could get it.  We have given him putty to use when he gets stressed out at times and it usually does the trick for him.  I said okay but he was still looking around.  I was looking at some of the different candies the store was selling.

Flashback to 1997.  At the time, I was living in Sweden.  That winter, I was in a candy store and they had these chocolate candies called chocolate rum balls.  It was a ball of chocolate with rum mixed in with chocolate sprinkles around it.  During the next five months I lived outside of Stockholm, I would frequently visit this store and get bags of these chocolate rum balls.  When I moved back to America, I couldn’t find them anywhere.  When I went back to visit some friends in Sweden in 1999, I brought a whole bunch back with me.  Ever since then, if I happened to be in a candy store, I would sometimes ask “Do you have chocolate rum balls?”  “Sorry, we don’t.”  After years, I just kind of gave up.

At Snyder’s Candy Store, I asked the cashier if he had these.  I think he thought I meant actual liquid rum was inside of them and he said they didn’t have them.  As I was paying for my son’s thinking putty, on the top shelf of the chocolates right next to the cash register they were there.  I yelled out “Oh my God, they have them!”  My son jumped back at his Dad’s weird moment of excitement.  I bought a quarter pound of them which gave me about fifteen of them.

ChocolateRumBalls

My wife called and she was getting something to eat at a Mediterranean restaurant so my son and I walked back to meet her.  We were all fine again.  A happy family.  He had his thinking putty, my wife had this dish she raves about every time we go to Rehoboth, and I had my chocolate rum balls I was looking for the past seventeen years.  Of course, the moment when only a 12 year old could give when telling my wife what I was eating with his silly grin didn’t escape me.  I offered some to him, but I think he thought his dad was a very odd man at this point and said no.  I savored every single one of those chocolate rum balls.  The taste brought back the memories of a 27 year old young man in a foreign country who missed home and knew he would be heading back at some point in the future.  I knew the language enough to get by and I had friends there, but it never felt like home.  In the winter, it could get very lonely with only a few hours of sunlight.  In the summer, I would frequently wake up at 2am in the morning as the sun came blazing in the window.  The circumstances that led me to Sweden were long and varied, but those circumstances were changing.  It was hard to leave, but it would have been harder to stay.

But I always missed those damn chocolate rum balls that were as elusive as a shooting star on a cloudy night.  I wasn’t meant to stay away from circumstances which led me to where I am now.  If it meant not eating chocolate rum balls for seventeen years, that was what had to be.  Life had an unexpected journey waiting in the wings and I had no clue about any of it.

Today, my long search ended.  I was able to taste memories long since forgotten.  Today was a day of senses for my entire family.  Sometimes they got to us, and other times they provided us comfort and strength.  Life isn’t perfect.  It never was and it never will be.  There will always be hurdles.  I accept that.  I have learned, and continue to learn, when my son needs my wife or I and when he just needs to work it out himself.  Sometimes I stumble with this reality.  Sometimes my patience is stretched to its limit and I lose my cool.  We all do this.  We all have our inner coping mechanisms that allow us to ride out any storms life throws at us.  Sometimes it is thinking putty.  And sometimes it is chocolate rum balls.

As we drove back from the beach, I found myself lost in thought.  Just staring at the setting sun and seeing the beautiful farms of Delaware all around me.  My son was asleep in the back seat and my wife had headphones on listening to music.  It was quiet.  Serene.  I wouldn’t trade today for anything.  Spending quality time with my wife and son, for all the angst in the beginning, was worth it.  Sometimes, when they don’t know it, I just look at them both and feel nothing but love.  These two people who God sent into my life.  The woman I love so much and the son I am meant to teach, guide, and love as long as I am able to.  God threw an extra piece in with his disabilities.  I don’t write much about the daily situations that manifest as a result of those disabilities.  But they happen.  It is as much a part of my life as anything else.  I could complain about how tough it is, but that doesn’t help my son.  I can try to mitigate situations the best I can, for him and others.  Which always leads me back to here.

He is why I fight.  Him, and every child like him.  The adults can bicker and make their silly rules, but I can clearly see that what matters most is the kids.  The ones who don’t always have someone looking out for their best interests.  The ones who don’t know half the crazy battles us adults play on their behalf.  The ones who are shut out of those conversations.  The ones who don’t get to decide where the money goes.  But these decisions affect their lives and play into their education.  Every subject I write about on here, I question if the things I find are good for kids.  Sadly, the answer is no most of the time.  This causes me to get in tug-of-war fights all the time.  Even my allies question what I do sometimes.  Some people think I’m crazy doing what I do.  Let them.  It’s not about them and it never was.

Today was just another walk on my journey through life.  It was a special day, with highs and lows, just like any other day.  Little victories to be won and moments to deal with.  But I have to think I was being told something today.  That at the moments when giving up seems like the best thing, and all you want to do is ask why, that I have to get past that and ask God to help my son instead of me.  He answered my prayers.  And I got a little extra something in the bargain!

It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again

-The Foo Fighters

 

A Special Education Journey Like No Other

SpecialNeedsChildren

What if I told you there is a place where all special needs children are accepted and loved?  They don’t take the Smarter Balanced Assessment or the DCAS-Alt1.  Common Core doesn’t exist.  They are given a great education and they even have a sensory room!

Special education is a bit of an enigma.  We have all these nice federal laws in place, but the way the system is in public education, it is almost impossible for any school to be able to follow it with fidelity.  This isn’t a knock on public education.  I’m a huge believer in it.  With all the mandates coming from states and feds, it is fast becoming a crisis in classrooms.  They can put all the grit, rigor, and personalized learning into a classroom as they want, but for many students the joy of learning has been sucked out of them.  For students with disabilities in public schools it is even worse.  But for my son, for now, he needs something different.  An IEP is only as good as the implementation of it.

After my son went through a charter school, a traditional district elementary school, a traditional district middle school, and a private school in Dover, I was at the end of my rope with education for my special needs child.  For those who may not know, my son has Tourette Syndrome.  It is NOT the swearing disability as so many seem to think it is.  It can be, but only for about 10% of those who have it.  For my son, education has been hard because Tourette Syndrome is very rare.  While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated there could be only about 1-2 children with TS in any given school.  Compared to ADHD, Autism, and Dyslexia, TS is not the norm for disabilities.

We took a risk sending our son to a private school.  We knew this from the get-go, and so did the school.  His needs were too much for the private school to handle so it was back to the drawing board.  As fate and faith would have it, a friend of mine recommended a program she put her son in.  It is called the Journey program at Glasgow Christian Academy in Bear, DE.  I was reluctant to go the private school route so soon after the last one didn’t work out, but we went up there and did a visit and interview.  We were so pleased with the program there really wasn’t any hesitation.  My son started there the second week of December and I haven’t worried about his education since.

The Journey program is solely for special needs students.  There is no inclusion in this program.  I always fought for inclusion, with every fiber of my being.  But for my son, it was obvious most schools couldn’t handle his unique needs.  The Journey program is vastly different than any education classroom I’ve been in.   They are having an open house this Thursday, March 24th at 6pm.  If you are at the end of your rope, and feel your child needs much more than what the public education system is able to do, I would strongly recommend taking the opportunity to see what they are all about!  Parents are asked to commit to homeschooling their children 2 days a week to supplement their learning experiences at school.  As many parents of special needs children know, there can be days that are so overwhelming you really don’t know what to do.  To that end, the Journey program has a parent support group that meets once a month.

I interviewed one of the teachers, Elizabeth Greenwell, to talk a bit more about the program.

Can you please describe the Journey program?

The Journey Program is a program for children in elementary school through High School who have special needs. The program meets 2-3 days per week and parents work with their children on assigned work the other days.  It was started as a ministry to reach students who are unable to do well in other school settings or homeschooling on their own.

What is the teacher-student ratio?

This year, our Middle level class had 2-3 teachers with 8 students, so it was 4:1.  Our elementary class this year had 3 students with 3 teachers, so 1:1.  We never have more than a 4:1 ratio.

Do you use Common Core or standardized testing?

No.

What are you doing different than the traditional public schools?

We provide multiple accommodations and adjust those accommodations based on the needs of the child. We communicate with families daily about the progress of their child.  We provide a sensory room.  The teachers, in addition to college education and teaching experience have special needs kids of their own.  So we have walked the walk.  We also have a parent support group.

As a private school, you are not beholden to follow IDEA, but as a special education program do you feel IDEA covers what is needed for students with disabilities?

Yes, in general I believe IDEA was very important legislation.  However, there are many gaps in what public schools are actually providing.

What are some of your greatest success programs in the Journey program?

We have a student who couldn’t read or add.  3 months later he was doing multi-digit addition, simple multiplication, and reading at a 2nd grade level. Other kids who have been bullied in every other program feel safe to come and for the first time have friends. 

Is public assistance available for tuition costs?

No.  But we have limited financial aid from fundraisers and private donors. 

How have students reacted to the program?  Parents?

The response has been amazing.  The kids love coming. When we sent out surveys, all of the parents had positive things to say.

What do you envision for the future of Journey?

Next year we will have 4 level classes including 2 high school programs. Students will be able to earn a High School diploma.  I hope we continue to grow. Our goal for next year is 20-25 students between all 4 levels.

Are there students without disabilities in the program?

No.  All of the kids in the program have a special need – examples are Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, Down Syndrome, and Dyslexia.

Please describe an average day in the Journey program.

Students take all of their core subjects, social skills, bible, and electives like martial arts and art. The students have frequent breaks to go outside or use the sensory room.

As a faith-based program, do you believe this adds to the quality of Journey?

Yes.  It is important to put our faith in Christ and to teach the next generation about His faithfulness.

To read more about this very different school for students with special needs, please go to the Journey homepage.

This is what some parents have said about this amazing program:

“I am happy with Journey because my son is so happy and enthused about school.  I didn’t realize how great an impact of him attending a school where he is accepted and feels safe was to him.”

“Journey has absolutely helped my son academically.  We love the small class size and individual attention he gets.”

“My son’s social skills and confidence have gone up a lot.  He enjoys having a group where he can belong and be appreciated just for being himself.  He’s never worried or anxious about the class and he enjoys his teachers and classmates.”

“Overall we love Journey!  The teachers have been very helpful, receptive and loving to our son and our family.  I highly recommend it to everyone.”

“Journey exceeded our expectations because we didn’t think our son would be challenged enough and he is.”

“The wealth of knowledge and amount of experience and patience the Journey staff has with the students impresses me every single day.”

“The best part has been how dedicated and passionate the staff is.  Connecting with the Parent Support Group has been wonderful.  The level of compassion is unparalleled.”

“I love the support of the other moms and teachers.  I know that all of the teachers genuinely care about the success of each student.  My son loves all the kids and the teachers.  I love that my son enjoys attending and I love the friends and support I have received.”

As I said at the beginning, I was at the end of my rope about four months ago.  A year ago, I would have never dreamed my son could feel so accepted in a school, but the Journey program has been absolutely incredible for him.  I don’t tend to talk about my son too much on this blog, but I felt this was a situation that was warranted.  I strongly encourage parents of students who have gone through similar hardships in Delaware public schools to check Journey out.  It has changed my son’s life immeasurably and I am extremely grateful to the school, his teachers, and to God.  Everything happens for a reason in this world.

Generous Delaware Family Donates $4 Million For Autism Program At Nemours/A.I. duPont

The News Journal just reported that the Katzin family of Greenville donated $4 million to enhance an autism section of the Nemours/A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington.  This is incredibly awesome!

Although Nemours has treated children with autism for decades, the Katzins hope their gift will serve as seed money to make the hospital and Delaware a major center for the understanding and treatment of autism. Their son Jack was diagnosed in 2002.

The donation will help neurologists and doctors better understand how autism works in the human mind and will allow them to research more effective treatments for the disability that has seen a spike in diagnosed cases in the past twenty years.

“We have a chance to put together something unique to better understand the scientific causes of autism and to work toward better treatments and better support,” said Diane Chugani, who has been director of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Autism Center.

Any additional funding for disabilities is great.  This could certainly help Senate Bills 92 and 93 in Delaware which face a steep price tag in a coming fiscal year budget deficit battle where everyone will be fighting for funding.

#StopESEA @DelawarePTA @DSEA1 @gacecoffice Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid!!!!

Delaware PTA, DSEA & Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens:

You  hold a great deal of power in your groups.  We the people need you to band together and unite for the students of Delaware.  The ESEA reauthorization is all about more testing, more federal mandates and waivers, and even “social impact bonds”.  I know your bosses in the National PTA, NEA and Governor Markell are all behind this federal legislation.  But that does not mean you need to endorse legislation that has not even been seen by the public yet.

Delaware PTA: You know I love you for your support on the opt-out movement and House Bill 50!  We need you to take a serious look at the personalized learning models and competency-based education supports embedded in this legislation.  These are not good for students over the long-term, especially those students who are most in need.  This bill is big on accountability systems created at the state level, and we all know what that kind of power can have in a few corrupt minds in our state.  Please, do not endorse this bill and let your National PTA know they shouldn’t either.

DSEA: I have to admit, you folks are an enigma to me!  From my perspective, the best words I can think of are this- you always want a seat at the table but don’t realize you are actually on the table as the main course.  I’ve seen this with the Delaware School Success Framework, teacher evaluations, and Race To The Top.  I know you wish there didn’t even have to be opt-out, but the plain simple fact is that it is here and it is necessary for parents to do this.  I get that teachers endorsing opt-out could put them in rough waters, but they are already in that position because of the state and federal mandates coming down.  Please do not endorse this bill that will make sure teachers lose even more voice.

GACEC: You are a Governor’s council run by the state, which puts you under the shadow of Governor Markell.  But your mandate is to look out for exceptional citizens, those with disabilities.  Please tell me how supporting the Governor against opt-out helps those citizens.  Please tell me you truly want the best outcome for children with special needs.  Please tell me you do not support this latest edition of the ESEA reauthorization.  We’ve seen the outcome of Smarter Balanced for our children with disabilities.  They are now further behind.  That isn’t progress, and I’m sure you have seen how Delaware wants these children to go from 19% proficiency to 59% in six years.  That is insanity, brought on by Governor Markell.  Please stop siding with the DOE on matters that only negatively impact our kids.

 

New Parent Advocacy Group For Special Needs Children & At-Risk Youth In The Works

I can now reveal why Bill Doolittle stepped down as President-Elect of the Delaware PTA.  He is in the process of forming an advocacy group for the children in Delaware who need it the most!  And he wants parents help in the formation of this group.  Bill asked me to help get  the message out:

Beginning today, I am starting the effort of forming a group of parents/families and other interested individuals to begin the formal process of developing a mission/vision, purpose and to incorporate as a nonprofit for such an organization.

I have an initial concept which is a non dues (donation only) grassroots organization for parent/families and others who are interested in making sure that every child at risk can be fully supported to have the opportunity meet their potential. I see the efforts including: providing information, peer-to-peer support and of course strong focused advocacy. My initial vision is of Delaware as the first chapter with 2 divisions. One for children with disabilities and special health care needs and a second for children living in poverty and impacted by other environmental factors such as trauma, home and food insecurity, non-English speaking, any type of discrimination and so forth. Of course it will be the people who join in this effort to make the final decisions as to all of this.

I am asking for individuals who are interested in being part of the formation, or who simply want to add their voice once it is formed, to contact me. The emails I am using for this initiative is DEARCPA@gmail.com

Shortly after I first started this blog, Bill contacted me about starting a group like this which I was looking to do eventually.  I firmly believe now is the time for a non-partisan, non-State Government affiliated group like this to get going.  Far too often, our state only listens to groups that are already a part of state government and that needs to change!  I will certainly be adding my voice to this effort, and I strongly encourage all like-minded parents to do the same.  Parents are an integral part of education and the community at large, and our voices need to be heard!

I Of The Storm

Four years ago, I first heard “Little Talks” by Of Monsters And Men.  This band from Iceland was a fresh new sound.  They released their first album in America the next year.  For three long years I had to wait for their next one.  The wait was worth it.

One of the songs from their new album, “I Of The Storm”, touched me the first time I heard it.  It reminded me of what children with disabilities go through sometimes.  The manifestations of their disabilities can leave them isolated and segregated at times.  People don’t understand, and these children can be cruel at times.  This song is for these children.  They develop ghosts in their minds at a young age when they should have friends.

Family Voices Hosting Workshop for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum in Sussex & Kent Counties

This information, sent to me by a Good Samaritan, is awesome!  I would definitely register for this if you have a child on the Autism Spectrum.  Parents of special needs children need all the help and support they can get.  Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware have been lacking in this kind of support over the years, but things have been on the upswing the past few years.

Kent and Sussex Parents:
 Are you a parent of a child with ASD?
Please share your invaluable experience!
Come out to our 1 day Parent to Parent Workshop!
Become a Certified Support Parent

The Delaware Family Voices P2P and Autism Delaware have partnered together to offer the Parent to Parent program specifically to families whose children have Autism Spectrum disorder.

Delaware Family Voices is the official Delaware Parent to Parent (P2P) State Chapter and alliance member of Parent-to-Parent USA.

P2P USA has been providing emotional support to families of children with special needs, most notably through the one-to-one matching of parents seeking support with an experienced, trained “Support Parent”.
Become part of a national support network!

Delaware Family Voices P2P provides the training for parents of children of any age, with any special health care need.  This training will be specific to ASD. 

HYPERLINK “http://delawarefamilytofamily.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/introducing-the-delaware-parent-partners-program/2012septp2pusaimage/

If you would like to train to become a Support Parent and share your knowledge, experiences, and support with someone newer to this journey, please register for this specialized training.

Lunch and light breakfast will be provided during the training

                         Wednesday April 15, 2015   9 A.M.-3 P.M.
The ASD-P2P Training will be one-day training.
                          Autism Delaware Office
      17517 Nassau Commons Blvd. Unit #1    Lewes, DE 19958

Registration is required as materials are sent out in advance and space is limited.

Childcare reimbursement is available upon request.

Please contact Ann Philips (302) 669-3031 or annp@defv.org Thank you.

Governor Markell Ignores The Plights of Special Needs Students While Serving Corporate Interests

NGA Summer Meetings 2014, Guest Speaker, Vice President Joe Biden

So let me get this straight Jack: You want to boost the “great” schools in Delaware, many of which have already been named in a complaint that’s currently in the hands of the US DOE Office of Civil Rights division, but you won’t even mention the word special education?  Are you out of your mind?  Here’s the facts Jack.  These kids are treated horribly in many of our schools, or they aren’t even allowed to go there based on asinine laws that fit the mindset of a racist America.  It’s not really “choice” if some can go and some can’t.

Let’s not even get into your “World Immersion” program which is already causing pockets of schools to be re-segregated due to this clever idea.  Is this your plan for the non-Wilmington schools since the charter network can’t get their hooks in?  Set it up so the schools that don’t have these programs have lower scores because the “smart” kids want to take Chinese?  For children with an IEP or a 504 plan, this program is of course open to them, but isn’t recommended due to the “rigor” involved.

Everything that comes out of the castle of Markell stinks of corporate education reform and most parents are clueless.  The number of parents catching on is rising, but not nearly enough.  Do the districts even know what the long-term ramifications of your plans are?  Or do they just see dollar signs and think it’s okay?  I guess whether a student takes the Smarter Balanced in English or Chinese is immaterial to you, as long as they take your precious test.

I’ve already heard from some that your plans are designed to take advantage of those who need it the most.  While certain legislators are doing their best to take care of these students, you and your kind just steamroll right past them.  Little do you realize, these children will be taking care of you and yours when you are unable to take care of yourself.  Are you really going to guide them on a one-way street to discrimination and non-inclusion?  Of course you are, you haven’t done much to help these students at all except put them in a corner and ignore them.

Delaware State Rep. Earl Jaques Issues An Apology

From his public figure Facebook page:

Recently I made a comment regarding standardized testing in Delaware that was hurtful to some families of children with special needs. For that I am truly sorry.

As a longtime volunteer with Special Olympics Delaware, and the grandfather of a child on the Autism spectrum, I understand the challenges that parents face every day with children who have intellectual disabilities. I have witnessed the extraordinary accomplishments these children achieve and I would never underestimate their abilities. I completely understand that their parents will take the appropriate actions they see fit regarding their education. That is why I co-sponsored SB 229 last year, which allows parents of students with cognitive disabilities to make their own choices when it comes to standardized testing.

I offer my sincere apology to these families and their children.

While I appreciate the apology, I am very torn on what it means.  This wasn’t just a shot against special needs kids, this was against ALL kids who are opted out, and their parents.  His apology doesn’t even offer the words opt out, just standardized testing.

Furthermore, his reference to Senate Bill 229 troubles me.  This bill allows children with severe cognitive disabilities to be opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment to take something called DCAS-Alt.  It is a great bill, don’t get me wrong.  But he also voted yes for House Bill 334, which allowed the Smarter Balanced Assessment into the state code.  As well, he voted yes for Senate Bill 51 which allows for teachers to be evaluated based on standardized test results.  In addition, most special needs children would not even qualify for the alternate assessment.

I still don’t have faith in him as the Chair of the House Education Committee, so my petition will stand, unless he apologizes to ALL students and parents who have gone through the opt out process.  Being American is important to me, and I take it as a slight when I am told I am not being American.  Being American also gives people the ability to make certain choices, so I am exercising that right.  I also think he needs to reach out to more than the Delaware Teachers of the Year to get a gage on this test.  I have to wonder, has Earl Jaques taken the Smarter Balanced Assessment?

As a father of a special needs child, I accept that part of the apology.  But on behalf of ALL the children who are forced to take this test and the lucky ones who have been opted out, none of which are failures, I just can’t.

Podcast of WDEL Interview w/Rick Jensen on Parent Opt Out of High-Stakes Testing

I had an awesome time with Rick Jensen today talking about parent opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.   There was so much more I could have said, but I had an hour.  Some folks called in.  John Young from the Christina School Board, Delaware State Rep Sean Matthews and Delaware State Rep John Kowalko.  Rick and I talked about special needs children, the Delaware DOE, Smarter Balanced Assessment, and how it is not illegal to opt your child out in Delaware.  We talked about the “scare tactic” letter the DOE wants districts to give to parents when they opt their kid out and how it is based on state code that does not include parents at all.  I hope to do this again soon!

The Delaware Battle For Public Education Is America’s War

In the grand scheme of things, six schools in the 2nd smallest state in the country really doesn’t amount to anything.  But the six priority schools in Wilmington, Delaware could change the face of education.  It’s not about making the schools better for the students.  It’s about two forces colliding in a battle that’s been in the making for over a decade.

On one hand is Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education.  Their public claim is the students aren’t reading up to their grade level, their standardized test scores are atrocious, and the beefed up funding will bring the schools back up again.  On the other hand are the Christina and Red Clay Consolidated school districts.  While Red Clay has already signed their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and submitted it to the Delaware Department of Education, Christina is holding out and will vote on their draft MOU at their next board meeting on January 7th.

Both school districts have vehemently and publicly opposed the priority school initiative.  The biggest demands, new principals at $160,000 a year and teachers must reapply for their jobs, has insulted and demeaned many individuals throughout Delaware.  Recent Freedom of Information Act requests have shown a collusion with the major media outlet in Delaware, The News Journal.  Meetings with the Delaware DOE have been cut short, and language from the Secretary of Education Mark Murphy to certain members of the public have been extremely rude.  Murphy refused to answer questions from the public at a Wilmington City Council meeting in October.  FOIA emails have also shown that event was largely planned by the Delaware DOE and the Governor’s office.

The methodology for the priority schools has been controversial since day one.  The DE DOE has focused on these six schools, all within a square mile of the Community Education Building designed to hold charter schools.  Bank of America donated this building to the state, and only two charter schools reside in the large building with another one slated to open in the Fall of 2015.  Prior turnaround schools, such as Booker T Elementary School in Dover and Eastside Charter School in Wilmington have been held up as the biggest gainers in test scores, but mitigating factors have contributed to those increases, whether it has been rezoning of a district or massive expulsions changing the student dynamic and decreasing the size of a class by more than half.

So why should America care about these six schools in a city that was just labeled Murdertown, USA?  Three words: Governor Jack Markell.  He has taken a very active interest in education in this first state to sign the constitution but the last to follow.  In fact, he was on the original committees for Common Core and he holds a very powerful position among US Governors when it comes to education.  Many view him as a lame duck, which he is in Delaware.  But nationally the man can continue the corporate education reform until 2020.

In 2012, there was talk about US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan possibly leaving his post, whether voluntary or by force.  There were two names lobbied as potential replacements: Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of schools for Washington D.C., and Delaware Governor Jack Markell.  While Rhee has fallen from public favor, Markell is still seen by many in political circles as the new voice for education in America.  The election of 2016 will work in Markell’s favor no matter which way it goes.  If the President-elect is a Democrat, Markell could very well be picked as the new US Secretary of Education.  If the country decides for a radical change and puts a 3rd Bush in office, Markell will still be picked for this slot.  Jeb Bush is very high in the food chain for corporate education reform, and you can bet your bottom dollar Markell has been cozying up to the former Florida Governor.

It all comes down to the Christina School District Board of Education.  As one of four school districts in Wilmington, Christina has always been the thorn in the DOE’s side.  They are fighters, and they don’t take kindly to bullying by the state.  Their refusal to follow the demands of the state with the priority schools has already put a chink in Markell’s armor.  On October 29th, at the Rodel sponsored Vision Network conference, Markell gave a speech and publicly stated he would not hesitate to takeover these schools if it came down to it.  Many in the audience were shocked at Markell’s overexertion of executive power, including many out-of-state guests.

This is what you will see if Markell takes over these six schools and turns them into charter schools:

-A precedent will be set in Delaware, and the DOE will be able to use flawed methodology via standardized test scores to “prioritize” any school in the state and turn it into a charter school.

-The DOE is already working on plans to penalize defiant school districts and potentially lead to the creation of Priority School Districts, which could then result in all schools within that district being turned into charter schools.  If you don’t think this can happen, look at New Orleans and York, Pennsylvania as cities that have turned into charter school towns.

-More Teach For America, The New Teacher Project, and Relay Graduate School teachers invading Delaware schools like a Nazi Blitzkrieg out of World War II.  These are teachers who excel at teaching to the test and are groomed to become future leaders of schools, with minimal training and hands-on experience in classrooms.

-The eventual busting of the unions.  The education unions are among the most powerful in the country, and corporate education reformers have found a way to finally break them up.  While some see these unions as a major detriment to education, they are the last man standing in the complete slaughter of public school district education.

-Even more Common Core, for not only English and Math, but also Science and Social Studies.  This will result in even more standardized testing through PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Consortium.  The US DOE used “waivers” to manipulate and blackmail and bribe states into accepting their reforms.  If the school districts didn’t comply, they would be labeled as failing due to No Child Left Behind guidelines.  Every single one of these waivers benefit the exact blueprint Markell and Rodel CEO Paul Herdman helped to create ten years ago, which has resulted in the current landscape of Delaware education.

-As more lower paid teachers come into schools, it sets up Rodel and Markell to initiate their “personalized learning” agenda through a company called 2Revolutions, which will result in the elimination of hands-on instruction in the classroom and will turn students into complete virtual zombies.  This will give the students of the future more screen-time than ever.  When they aren’t looking at screens all day at school, they will go home and do homework on the screen.  When they aren’t focused on school, they will be on their iPads and Xbox.  This “personalized learning” plan has already stated schools would need to do away with extracurricular activities like sports and band, or plays and art clubs.

-Special needs children will suffer the most from this plan, and they will be put at the bottom of the barrel.  Arne Duncan has already put things in place that will eliminate the very heart of IDEA law.  Do not believe for one second that states want to narrow the proficiency gap between special education students and regular students.  They are using this data to make huge decisions with our schools.  They will sacrifice a few of their own beloved charter schools to make this point.  For every charter school that is closed, there are many more waiting in the wings.

-Minorities and low-income students will continue to be targeted and clumped together in charter schools with their own.  Segregation will become the de facto method for all of education.

-Who benefits from all public school students going to charter schools, doing all their work in front of a screen, eliminating the diverse choices students have in schools, and being tested like guinea pigs in high-stakes testing?  The companies that have backed all of this and the politicians who have set up the pieces on the board to allow it to happen.

Do parents and the current school districts have a choice anymore with what happens in education?  Of course they do.  It is not too late.  Stopping Markell in Delaware would send a clear message to these companies that would benefit off the backs of our children.  The time has come to stop rallying on Facebook on our state “Stop Common Core” pages and actually do something.  Every single state in America that is driving these agendas needs to be stopped.  Citizens need to start sending Freedom Of Information Act requests to their governors and state DOE.  They need to expose these charlatans for what they are.  This isn’t something that can be held off.  You can’t wait and see.  You have to take a stand if you are against this, and it needs to be done NOW.

If the little state of Delaware Governor Jack Markell is not held in check, he will most likely be the next US Secretary of Education and that means more of the same in education, with even more steps being taken to destroy what we have.  This nonsense would continue until January 2021 at the earliest, if not longer.  By then, all that public school district education has will be gone.  It will become a whisper, and hundreds of thousands of educators will disappear.  Markell is viewed by many in Delaware as a dictator, and if he is allowed to be set loose as the leader of education in America, all bets are off.

This is the future of education in America.  Don’t let anyone fool you.  Don’t let them say you are crazy.  The people telling you this are already in key positions that are allowing this to happen.  Once you enter this matrix world of corporate education reform, the connections these people have and the paths they take become very obvious.  They are all pieces of the puzzle that lead to the complete annihilation of education as we know it.

Right now, Delaware needs your help America.  We have formed a group called  Delaware Parents and Teachers for Public Education.  We have started a petition against the priority schools.  We need your voice.  We don’t just want 1,000 signatures.  We want a million.  We want to send a powerful message to those that want to dictate rather than collaborate.  So please, sign our petition.  It is not about Delaware.  It’s about freedom, and voice, and our children.  It’s about America.

Please go here to sign our petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/lets-make-priority-schools-a-real-priority-2

 

 

My Email To Matt Denn About The IEP Task Force, Denial Is Not Just A River In Egypt @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de @RCEAPrez @Apl_Jax @ecpaige @nannyfat @roof_o #netde #eduDE #edchat #Delaware

Tomorrow night, November 12th, is the 5th meeting of the IEP Task Force.  Lieutenant Governor/future Attorney General Matt Denn has indicated the task force will continue past the drafting of the Governor’s Report, due in January 2015.  But there is one major issue this task force has not discussed, and it was brought up in public comment by myself and others.

I wrote the following email to Matt Denn as a plea for the future of the students with disabilities in Delaware abused by this process.  Not only is it a Civil Rights violation, it is also against Federal Law.

Hi Matt,

Congratulations on your victory in the election for Attorney General.  I am confident you will do great things in this role. 

I had some concerns about the IEP Task Force.  My number one problem, and always has been, is the amount of IEP denials that occur.  This occurs often in charter schools.  I spoke with Mary Ann Mieczkowski last summer about this, and she informed me there is NO protocol for monitoring the amount of denials.  No audit takes place to suggest if a denial was warranted or not.  What tends to happen is the IEP is denied, and either a 504 plan might be given or nothing happens.  The amount of protection offered by a 504 is minimal compared to an IEP for a special needs student.  For children with behavior issues who are denied an IEP, they are often “counseled out” by a charter or expelled.  Their behavior is the catalyst for these actions, but with no special education accommodations given, these students don’t stand a chance.

I know I am not a member of the task force, but I am asking, no, begging, that this topic is introduced.  I’ve brought it up a few times in public comment, but it doesn’t even appear to be an issue amongst the task force.  I know charters were brought up at the last meeting, but this particular topic didn’t come up.  When a student “switches” to another school, long-term behaviors have become a part of this student’s thinking, and it is very difficult for the next school to get a student back on track.

I am proposing the Delaware Department of Education requires all schools in Delaware under their jurisdiction to have this information reported to them, and audited by them.  While the Federal government does not mandate this, there are specific laws written into IDEA that require the schools to do things which should prevent these issues from happening in the first place.  This is a major reason why there are so many special education lawsuits in this state. 

I know the IEP Task Force may be extended past the Governor’s report in January, but I feel this is the most important issue in the whole IEP process.  Every day when something is not done is another day when a Delaware student is suffering because they don’t have the supports in place to help them.  This is the ugly part of IEPs that the DOE and legislators don’t want to look at, but it is happening, right now, and parents and students with disabilities are paying the price.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to attending the meeting tomorrow night.

Sincerely,

Kevin Ohlandt

Delaware parents of special needs children.  If you have not already given public comment or emailed Matt Denn about your own situation where your child was denied an IEP at any school in the state that you feel was not justified, please attend the meeting tomorrow night in Dover or Wilmington.  Let this task force know what happened with your child and what the negative results may have been for them.  This is the time to bring this matter under the microscope so it can be eliminated from happening to any child.  I know it can be hard speaking in public about your child, but it is the right thing to do.  The system can’t change unless more parents speak up.

Many of you have shared your stories with me, whether it was email, talking, or on social media.  This is the same thing, but with the ability for great and lasting change.  I personally do not want any child in this state to suffer the way my own did, and I feel it is my responsibility and duty as a human being to make sure events like this never happen again.

Inclusion or Restricted Environment for Special Education: Which States Favor Certain Settings #netde #eduDE

In an article yesterday on Disability Scoop, results were announced from research done by Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. They surveyed states to find out where special education students were generally placed, in a restricted environment or inclusion, placed in a regular classroom setting.

Overall, the analysis found that Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin most consistently favored inclusion.

In contrast, Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. generally leaned toward restrictive settings.

When funding formulas for each state were examined, Kurth found that a handful of states appeared to incentivize placing students in more restrictive environments, but said that these monetary policies did not appear to have a “clear impact” on educational placement decisions.

The last sentence definitely jumped out at me.  Especially for good old Delaware!  More information can be found here: http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2014/09/08/inclusion-rates-sped-state/19652/

Delaware Special Needs or Minorities Parents: I Need Information #netde @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

If you have ever applied for a charter school in the state of Delaware, and the application was denied, and you feel it was based on your child being either a student with special needs or a minority, I want to hear from you.  If your child was accepted to a charter school, but you were then told by the charter school they could not accommodate your child’s needs, I want to hear from you.  If your child was ever “counseled out” from a charter school due to behavior issues and your child had special education, and the result was you pulled your child out and sent the child back to the local public school district, I want to hear from you.  If your child took a test for entrance and did well on it, but the application was still denied, I want to hear from you.  If you feel your child was put in a lower bracket of special education at a charter school and you knew there should be more services provided for your child, I want to hear from you.  If your special needs child was suspended more than ten times in a school year, or was expelled, I want to hear from you.  All information is confidential, and I may want to speak with you.  Please leave your name, email and contact number.  Information can be sent to kevino3670@yahoo.com

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy & Special Education

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

I just got back from seeing Guardians of the Galaxy with my son. It was a great movie, and everything I expect from a Marvel movie. With that being said, it made me think about special education. You can draw several comparisons between the Guardians and special needs children.

The Guardians are a group of five misfit heroes who start out on individual paths, but come together to fight the evil Kree Empire. While doing so, they save the lives of the citizens of Xandar. Starlord is their reluctant leader. Forced to deal with his mother’s death and a missing father, he is whisked away by Yondu as a child and is raised amongst a group of alien pirates. Gamora, a green-skinned alien, was adopted by the evil Thanos when he ravaged her planet. Drax the Destroyer is out for revenge against a Kree assassin named Ronan and Thanos. Rocket Raccoon is a sarcastic technical genius who was rebuilt as a walking talking raccoon. And Groot, all the kids will love Groot. Loveable, huggable, cuddable Groot. A walking tree who can only say three words: “I am Groot”.

You could say the Guardians are like special needs children. They have to deal with their anger and feelings of abandonment and group together in order to move forward. They are all vastly different, living lives of non-inclusion, until circumstances draw them together. The citizens of Xandar are the special needs parents and the regular parents who are against a universe ruled by a tyrant. The Nova Corps, the protectors of the realm, are the Badass Teachers, trying to make the universe a better place of peace and harmony. They want to allow people to have the freedom they deserve and to live without unnecessary compliance and micro-management.

The evil Kree Empire are the corporate educational reformers, charter schools that discriminate, and all those who favor a universe where everyone needs to be the same. The Infinity Stone, an object of immense power is Common Core and standardized testing. In the wrong hands, it is a force of destruction. Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, is Ronan the Accuser. He judges people who don’t fit his narrow view of the world. So who is the puppet master behind everything? The evil Thanos? That would be Bill Gates, the billionaire Microsoft founder. The one who wants to destroy everything educators worked so hard for.

The Guardians learn the value of friendship when the epiphany strikes them that despite their differences, they can do good in the universe. But they know if they don’t stop evil, they will be forced to live in a universe under the thrall of those who only want to destroy and make slaves of living beings. Sound familiar at all? That’s because this is going on now, in our very own country, with special education. So exceptional children and parents and badass teachers, let’s save the galaxy from the evil empire.

*I do not condone violence as depicted in the movie. Any comparisons are meant to show how people with differences are often hunted by those who do evil.