Capital Parents Of Students With Disabilities: Are You Aware Of Parent Councils Mandated By State Law? We Need To Unify Now!!!!

Three years ago today, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill #33 into law.  Among the many changes to Delaware special education, one of the key facets of this legislation was the following:

  • 3125. Parent Councils.

Each school district and charter school enrolling any child with disabilities shall, on an annual basis, contact the parents of each such child to attempt to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a parent council for the parents of students with disabilities. Parent councils will advocate generally for students with disabilities and provide person-to- person support for individual parents and children. The charter schools and school districts shall collaborate and coordinate with existing parent groups and other information and support groups to facilitate creation, maintenance, and effectiveness of the Parent Councils.

While my own son was not in Capital School District when districts and charter schools were required to create the Parent Councils, he was for the 2017-2018 school year.  I contacted the Special Services Office at Capital this morning and was told letters went out to parents about the Parent Councils.  I advised them I never received such a letter.  Apparently there were three meetings during this school year.  The maximum attendance at any of these meetings was eight parents, at the first meeting.  There is absolutely no mention of the Parent Councils anywhere on the district website.  None of their school websites have this information on them either.

I don’t feel we, as parents, should have to wait around for the district to comply to state law.  To that end, I am creating a Capital School District Parent Group and I invite all to attend.  Please email me at kjohlandt70@gmail.com if you interested in joining this group.  Even though it is the summer and our kids are out of school, I believe we should meet and hold discussions on what the district is doing in terms of special education for our children.  Three meetings over one school year is not enough.  I believe we should meet monthly and if warranted to get things going, every other week.  It is also my intention that we should pick a spokesperson for the group to present our findings at each Capital Board of Education meeting each month.  They generally meet on the third Wednesday of each month.  Even if you believe the district is doing everything right, we want to hear from you.  I will also create a Facebook group which will be private so we can discuss things in a private forum.  If you would like to join this Facebook group, please message me on my own personal Facebook profile, under Kevin Ohlandt.

I find it very discouraging that a school district that continually stresses a need for parental involvement can’t proactively advertise for something that is required by state law.  Sending one letter out to parents (which I didn’t even get) for an entire school year is doing the bare minimum.  The United States Supreme Court ruled on a special education case dictating schools must do more than the bare minimum with special education services for students with disabilities.  While that case does not provide a case against Capital not advertising Parent Councils, it does show a consistent pattern in terms of special education.  As a Capital parent, I received robo-calls throughout the year.  Not one robo-call talked about Parent Councils.  My son had many IEP meetings this year.  As well, I was in constant contact with his Principal.  Never once were the Parent Councils mentioned.

I hope to hear from many of you as soon as possible.  For a school district that has 18.3% of their student population designated as Special Education (which means having an IEP) and probably higher due to 504 plans not being listed in that percentage, we need to band together now more than ever.  The district, based on their 2017-2018 student unit count has 1,188 students on IEPs.  8 parents out of 1,188 attended the district’s Parent Council meetings this year.  That is unacceptable and I would hazard a guess most of you did not even know this was an option.

Please share with as many parents of students with disabilities in the Capital School District as you can.  For parents of these students in other school districts or charter schools, please make sure your school or district is following Delaware state law under Title 14 in this area.  Thank you.

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Delaware House Passed Very Important Autism Bill

On Tuesday, the Delaware House of Representatives unanimously passed an Autism bill that will delight many parents and advocates in The First State.

State Representative Earl Jaques released the following statement on the House vote:

The House has unanimously passed my bill to enhance services for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. HB 292 would focus on implementing parent and family input through the enactment of the Parent Advisory Committee, along with additional review boards.

We want to help all students have a quality, inclusive education experience, and this bill will help accomplish that. The hope is to better help children get the Autism services they need in their local communities. The legislation also has the net benefit of creating more educational autism specialist jobs.

This is the synopsis for HB #292:

This Act implements the recommendations of the March 2015 Autism Educational Task Force report regarding § 1332 of Title 14, the Program for Children with Autism and its Special Staff. Enacted nearly three decades ago, this law established a network of educational programs initially within a separate school structure known as The Delaware Autism Program (DAP). Today, this network continues as a combination of both separate school programs and within local school district support services. However, the current model does not reflect current practices in special education, especially regarding inclusive education, and parents’ desire to have their children educated in their local communities. In addition, the increase in students with an educational classification of autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) has made it difficult for the Statewide Director to provide the level of services and support that once was offered. This Act establishes the qualifications and duties of the Statewide Director and enhances the current mandatory committee structure to include a Parent Advisory Committee, in addition to the Peer Review Committee and Statewide Monitoring Review Board, to increase family input, monitoring, and protections. This Act creates a 3 year pilot program that revises the concept of DAP toward a system in which the statewide Director will work in collaboration with a team of experts to provide technical assistance and training to districts and educational entities. It allows for and provides adequate resources for all students with ASD in Delaware by eliminating the distinction between DAP-approved programs and other in-district options and by providing in-state experts at a lower cost than out-of-state residential treatment and consultants. The pilot program created under this Act makes changes that recognize and support the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff to be available to build capacity for teachers in all districts and other programs educating students with ASD. These changes expand available supports so that excellent, evidence-based training and technical assistance can be made available to all Delaware schools and the students who attend them. The pilot program created under this Act establishes a technical assistance team of educational autism specialists numbering a ratio of 1 for every 100 students (currently estimated at 15 positions). The fiscal mechanism to support the pilot program will be accomplished through mandated district participation that is consistent with the current needs-based funding system in Delaware and by redirecting state spending towards lower cost, community-based supports from out-of-state residential placements. The number of training specialists will be phased in over several years or until the pilot program ends. Finally, this Act is known as “The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law” in memory Alex Eldreth, who passed away unexpectedly on November 24, 2017, and his dedication to this work.                    

Congrats!  The bill was also released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday.  It has not appeared on the Senate agenda but I anticipate final passage of this bill by June 30th.

Video Of Diploma Bill Signing

A big huge thank you to John Young for filming this and getting it up on Youtube!

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.

Diploma Bill Takes Center Stage In House Education Committee Meeting Today

The diploma bill for students with severe disabilities is on the agenda for the Delaware House Education Committee today.  The bill caused a ruckus of sorts with State Rep. Earl Jaques, State Board of Education member Pat Heffernan, Robert Overmiller, and the Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

House Bill #287 is now HS1 for House Bill #287.  The new changes are as follows:

This Substitute Bill makes the following changes to House Bill No. 287: 1. It changes the name of the new diploma to a “Diploma of Alternate Achievement Standards” instead of a “Diploma of Modified Performance Standards.” 2. It adds a requirement that a student must be eligible to take a statewide alternate assessment to receive the new diploma. 3. The Act takes effect in the academic year after enactment.

But the spirit of the original bill is the same.

…provides the opportunity for schools to award students who meet the requirements of their Individualized Education Plans (“IEP”) a high school diploma which recognizes the accomplishment of having attained a level of performance that is modified from the State graduation requirements but aligned with their established goals and performance outcomes.

As much as those who oppose the bill talk about why they hate the bill, I still fail to understand their rationale.  This isn’t a business bill, this is a student bill.  I think it is very arrogant for big business to dare to intrude on legislation like this.  In my opinion, they have done enough “intruding” in public education to the detriment of students, teachers, and schools.  Most of our schools, teachers, and parents want this bill to pass.  To me, they are your key stakeholders, not the business community.

For Jaques, Heffernan, and Overmiller: two of you have family members with disabilities and one of you serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC).  I am unable to fathom your opposition to this bill.  You are certainly entitled to your opinion.  But, to me, it is not a coincidence that you all opposed opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Which is a grueling task and a flawed test for any student, but especially for students with disabilities.  The majority of the GACEC supports the bill.

I anticipate a large crowd for this House Education Committee meeting.  It is being held in the Joint Finance Committee room, not the House Chamber.  It begins at 3:00pm.  If you support this bill, please come out and give public comment.

Other bills on the docket are House Bill #292, relating to services for students with Autism, and House Bill #282, which would allow extra funding for field trips in schools with high concentrations of students with poverty

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.

 

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.

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: Kim Williams & Her Awesome Bill In Circulation”

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

For The Love Of Special Education

Yesterday morning, I read a Facebook post on a friend’s feed.  She didn’t write it.  It is one of those “copy and paste” things on Facebook.  I usually tend to ignore them, but this one tugged at my heartstrings.  I felt obligated to put it down here, on this blog.  Because this teacher reminded anyone who read this what is truly special about special education.

I don’t remember the exact moment my life was changed by someone with a disability. The memories seem far away, blurry, as if they don’t belong to me. But this is what happens after you’ve been working with people with disabilities for years. You change.
They don’t tell you that when you’re filling out your application. Instead, they tell you about the hours, the health benefits, the 401(k) plan, the programs and the strategies. But they don’t tell you about the fact if you do it right, you’ll never be the same.
They don’t tell you it will be the most amazing job you’ve ever had. On other days, it can be the worst. They can’t describe on paper the emotional toll it will take on you. They can’t tell you there may come a time where you find you’re more comfortable surrounded by people with developmental disabilities than you are with the general population. They don’t tell you you’ll come to love them, and there will be days when you feel more at home when you’re at work than when you’re at home, sitting on your couch. But it happens.
They don’t tell you about the negative reactions you may face when you’re out in the community with someone with a disability. That there are people on this earth who still think it’s OK to say the R-word. That people stare. Adults will stare. You will want to say something, anything, to these people to make them see. But at the end of the day, your hands will be tied because some things, as you learn quickly, can’t be explained with something as simple as words. They can only be felt. And most of the time, until someone has had their own experience with someone with a developmental disability, they just won’t understand.
They train you in CPR and first aid, but they can’t tell you what it feels like to have to use it. They don’t tell you what it is like to learn someone is sick and nothing can be done. They can’t explain the way it feels when you work with someone for years and then one day they die.
They can’t explain the bond direct service personnel develop with the people they are supporting. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who has been labeled non-verbal or low-functioning. After working with someone for awhile, you develop a bond so strong they can just give you a look and you know exactly what it means, what they want and what they’re feeling. And most of the time, all it boils down to is they want to be heard, listened to and included. Loved.
When you apply for this job, they do tell you you’ll be working to teach life skills. But what they don’t tell you is while you’re teaching someone, they’ll also be teaching you. They have taught me it’s OK to forgive myself when I have a bad day. There’s always tomorrow and a mess-up here and there doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They have taught me to slow down, to ponder, to take the time to just look around and take in this beautiful world and all of the simple joys we are blessed to encounter every day.
So when did I change? I realize now there wasn’t one pivotal moment. Instead, it was a million little moments, each important in their own way, that when added together changed me. And I’m grateful for each one.

I would love to know who the original author is.  I would shake their hand in a heartbeat!

Seaford Mother Outraged Over Potential Abuse From Seaford Teacher Towards Her Child With Autism

Tonight, Rob Petree with 105.9 wrote an article about a Seaford School District parent who is claiming a teacher took unnecessary physical measures against her child with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism spectrum.  The mother explained what happened.  When the student was told he could not go to the office when he became upset over not finding his writing journal, the mother claims the teacher took things a bit too far:

“My son said the teacher went so far as to stand in front of the door and block the door and not let him out. The teacher told him to get back in his seat, and he said ‘no I want to go to the office,’ and the teacher told him ‘no get in your seat or I’m going to put you in your seat,’ and Landon once again said no he wanted to go to the office, so the teacher grabbed him by his arm, picked him up, carried him across the room and slammed him down in his chair. Landon said he then got back up out of his chair and tried to go out the door again and the teacher wouldn’t let him out of the door. So he went over and sat down in the chair at the round table near the door, and the teacher again was telling him to get up and go get back in his seat and Landon refused. The teacher went over to try to grab ahold of Landon and Landon got upset, jumped up out of the chair, and grabbed the back of the chair and slammed the chair into the floor, trying to get around the teacher to get out the door. He said at that point the teacher said ‘I’ve had enough of this,’ and grabbed him up by his arm and physically carried him out of the door of the classroom, banging his forehead into the metal door facing in the process, and Landon said at that point as soon as the teacher sat him down in the hallway he ran straight to the office, and that’s when he called me.”

Even more alarming is the Seaford Middle School Principal’s response to her when she asked to see the video of the incident:

Today, I had a meeting with the Middle School Principal and basically what they told me today was that the teacher said that he asked Landon to leave several times and Landon wouldn’t leave the room, and that Landon was throwing pens, pencils, chairs and desks, and that they seen this on video; however, no one was able to produce any video to me showing my son behaving the way they said he behaved. I honestly, truly believe my son, and I believe this teacher is doing nothing but trying to protect himself and the school the same way. I cleaned my son’s locker out today, and he’s not going back to that school as long as that teacher is there.

This is unacceptable.  I found out today the same thing happened to the parents of the child who was assaulted last week at Caesar Rodney High School.  The district refused to release surveillance footage that captured the incident (and I will have more to say on that whole thing that hasn’t been made public yet).  I tagged tons of our state legislators on my Facebook page with a link to the 105.9 article asking for legislation that would demand schools release video to parents whenever their child is harmed in any possible way.

The district will not respond to any of this.  They will shut up unless they have to fire the teacher.  People ask me why I write so much about bad stuff happening in our schools instead of the good.  Sorry, this kind of crap outrages me.  You can have many great things happening in schools, but this is what folks remember and talk about.  This is a travesty.  Even if this teacher used proper restraint and seclusion practices as dictated by state law, the district should still release the video to the parent.  Instead, they are covering their asses.

A former board member for a district did tell me that video like this is released to the police department.  They will review it and eventually it would be shared with the parent(s).  I explained that the video could help a parent understand what happened.  It could be necessary for them to see it so the parent can seek sufficient medical or counseling treatment for their child.

I wrote an article last year on the Delaware Dept. of Education’s annual Restraint & Seclusion report.  Seaford Middle School had 13 incidents of restraint in the 2015-2016 school year.  Compared to Milford’s middle school which had 1.  In Seaford, they had 38 incidents of restraint affecting 21 students.  But if this situation played out anywhere close to what the mother is claiming, this was no ordinary restraint.  If it went down how she said it did, this teacher should face criminal charges for assault.  Dealing with special education students can be challenging for teachers and parents.  But if you don’t have the proper training required to take action like this, you should do nothing and contact someone who can help.  Sadly, for this student, it will be a day he will never forget.

I don’t care where a video is: cafeteria, classroom, bus, hallway or anywhere on school property.  If a parent asks to see it, you show it to them, no questions asked.  The act of withholding something like that immediately sends red flags up with parents.  Or saying you have it but then you don’t.  You reap what you sow with that kind of logic.  In the case of the Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA), that applies to educational records.  If a parent requests records on their child, the school is obligated to produce it.  But is surveillance video considered an educational record?  That will be the argument here.  But I don’t care.  If a kid gets hurt, you do the right thing and show the parent.  Cause it could mean the difference between a parent deciding whether or not to sue the district.

This should NOT happen in our schools.  Tonight, I am very pissed off.  At this.  At Caesar Rodney.  At other districts where I am trying to help parents navigate through special education issues with schools.  So much of what I help parents with are things every school should know by now.  Districts and charters complain all the time about getting sued so much and the “predatory” law firms.  Guess what?  The very act of protecting yourself is usually what gets you sued.  How does that work out for you?

Updated, 9:50pm: A big thank you to special education advocate Devon Hynson for providing a link to what FERPA says about surveillance videos-

Schools are increasingly using security cameras as a tool to monitor and improve student safety. Images of students captured on security videotapes that are maintained by the school’s law enforcement unit are not considered education records under FERPA.  Accordingly, these videotapes may be shared with parents of students whose images are on the video and with outside law enforcement authorities, as appropriate. Schools that do not have a designated law enforcement unit might consider designating an employee to serve as the “law enforcement unit” in order to maintain the security camera and determine the appropriate circumstances in which the school would disclose recorded images.