Preparing For The New School Year For Students With Disabilities

Michael Connoly, Esq., of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. just wrote an excellent article every parent of a child with an IEP or 504 plan should read.  As we send our kids back to school, it is important to know everything is in place for the continuation of your child’s special education services.  New teachers or possibly a new school can bring many changes.  Most public schools in Delaware start next Monday, but some started today.

Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again.  Commercials on television of gleeful parents purchasing school supplies abound as we are quickly approaching the end of the summer and beginning of a new school year.  While every parent of a school-aged child is going through their own pre-school-year checklist of supplies and clothes and trying to get in those last few days of sun and fun, there is another entire set of considerations to think about as a parent of a child with a disability.

The most obvious consideration is to make sure that your child’s program for the new school year is set and ready to go on the first day of school.  Is your child’s IEP or 504 Plan up to date and ready to be implemented?  Hopefully, your child’ IEP was updated as necessary at the end of the last school year, but if you are aware of any issues or have any concerns you should be reaching out to your school district in these last weeks of summer for any needed changes.  If your child participated in Extended School Year (“ESY”) services over the summer, consider whether his ESY performance revealed any new areas of need or concern that should be addressed by the IEP before school starts.

Make sure you, and more importantly, your child, are familiar with his or her schedule and curriculum, particularly if either is changing from the previous year.    A new school year often brings a lot of change and can be stressful, and at times anxiety provoking, for any student and especially for a student with special needs.  Ensuring your child is comfortable with his or her schedule and classes may go a long way in easing some of the stress and anxiety that can go along with the new school year.   Similarly, if your child is moving to a new building (for example, going from elementary school to middle school) or an unfamiliar area of his or her current building, an opportunity to tour the school, follow his or her schedule, and meet new teachers before the first day of school can also help reduce any new school year anxiety.

One of the most common beginning-of-the-school-year glitch involves transportation.  Not being picked up by the bus, being late to school, or being picked up by the wrong bus can be a particularly traumatic event for a student with special needs (and his or her parents).  If your child requires special transportation or certain supports while on the bus, you want to confirm with your school district that the necessary arrangements have been made, and that the schools transportation department/service is aware of any accommodations that your child requires.

While it’s not possible to ensure that no beginning-of-the-school-year glitch occur for your child, going through your own child’s pre-school-year check list using the above considerations should hopefully help to keep those glitches to a minimum.

by Michael Connolly, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.

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Guest Post by Lauren O’Connell Mahler with McAndrews Law About Delaware IEPs

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Lauren O’Connell Mahler is a special education attorney in the Wilmington offices of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.  McAndrews has two offices in Delaware, the one in Wilmington and one in Georgetown which opened last year.  The original article appears on the website of McAndrews Law Offices.  This article was republished with the permission of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C. This is a must-read for Delaware parents, especially now when IEPs are in the creation process or getting an annual revisit.  Special education law is very tricky and many parents are unprepared for what is allowable by law and what is not.  Parents are the #1 advocate for their children with disabilities and they should always prepare ahead of time for any IEP meeting.  Know your child’s rights with special education!

Learning to read your child’s Delaware Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be an intimidating task. IEPs are filled with legal language and educational jargon that can be overwhelming. Without a basic understanding of your child’s IEP, you may be feeling reluctant to offer input at your child’s IEP meeting.

As a parent, you are an equal member of your child’s IEP team. Thus, it is essential that you understand your child’s IEP so that you can help the IEP team develop the IEP, monitor your child’s educational progress, and advocate for his/her needs. The following is a list of the basic components that make up your child’s IEP in Delaware. Items are addressed in the order in which they typically appear in Delaware IEPs:

  • “Disability Classification” – Your child must meet one of the 13 eligible disability classifications in order to qualify to receive special education services. The categories are Autism; Developmental Delay; Deaf Blind; Emotional Disturbance (ED); Hearing Impairment; Learning Disability (LD); Intellectual Disability; Orthopedic Impairment; Other Health Impairment (OHI); Speech and/or Language Impairment; Traumatic Brain Injury; Visual Impairment; and Preschool Speech Delay. The classification does not dictate the services that your child can receive. His/her services should be based on your child’s unique, individual needs.
  • “Data Considerations” – Here, the IEP team should list all current data about your child that they reviewed in developing the IEP. This includes, but is not limited to, current school district evaluations, independent evaluations obtained by the parent, State and local test results (such as DCAS scores), classroom test results, progress reports, and the parent’s educational concerns. The data should serve as the basis for the services and supports that the team puts into the IEP.
  • “Other Factors to Consider” – These list special factors that the IEP team might need to be aware of with your child. The boxes should be checked if your child has difficulty with communication, is blind or visually impaired, is deaf or hearing impaired, is limited in his/her English Language proficiency, needs Assistive Technology, or has a print disability that prevents them from using materials presented on a physical page.
  • “Transition Services” – This page is included in  beginning at least by age 14 or 8th grade. It should include a statement of your child’s measurable, individualized goals for life after high school, including where they plan to live, work, and whether they intend to pursue any higher level education or training. It should be based on data (such as Parent and Student Transition Surveys). It also lists the classes your child is taking, which should be tailored to help them achieve his/her post-high school goals, as well as any activities they will complete to help them reach his/her goals, and any outside agency who will help your child prepare for the transition to adult life (such as Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, DART Bus Service, and POW&R).

“Unique Educational Needs and Characteristics” – The middle pages of your child’s Delaware IEP should list each of your child’s unique educational needs. The need will be identified in box at the top, left-hand corner of the page. The rest of the page will detail the services and accommodations being provided to address that need as follows:

  • The top, right-hand box includes a statement of any supplementary aids, modifications, services, or accommodations that will be put in place to address your child’s unique educational need. These should be based on the supports that were recommended in your child’s evaluations.
  • “Services, Aids & Modifications” – This is a statement of the duration, frequency, and location of any special instruction that your child is receiving to address the unique need (for example: Small Group Reading Instruction – 3 times per week for 30 minutes in a Push-In location). Push-In means within the general education classroom. Pull-Out means in a separate classroom.
  • “PLEP” – The Present Level of Educational Performance is a specific statement of what your child is currently able to do in that unique area of need. It should be based on current data and should be measurable. The PLEP is the starting point for setting an annual goal and measuring your child’s progress.
  • “Benchmark” – These are the interim steps your child will take over the course of the year to reach his/her annual goal. They are typically measured each marking period. Monitoring whether your child is meeting his/her benchmarks will help you determine if they are making sufficient progress toward his/her annual goal. If your child is failing to meet his/her benchmarks, his/her IEP may need to be revised to provide more support.
  • “Annual Goal” – This is a statement of what the IEP team feels the child can achieve within 1 year’s time. The goal should be specific and measurable and should clarify how it will be measured. The amount of progress should be realistic and attainable, but not trivial. The language in the annual goal should be aligned with the language of the PLEP and benchmarks.
  • “Related Services” – Related services provide extra help and support to your child in needed areas. They can include, but are not limited to, any of the following: Speech/Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Counseling Services, Parent Training and Counseling, Social Skills instruction, Audiology, Therapeutic Recreation, Social Work Services, School Health Services, Medical Services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, Orientation and Mobility Services, and Psychological Services. The IEP must specify the frequency and duration of these services.
  • “Consideration of Eligibility for Extended School Year Services (ESY)” – The team must document whether your child is eligible for extended school year services. ESY is different from summer school or credit recovery. It is based on the needs and goals in your child’s IEP. There is no single factor that determines whether a child is eligible for ESY. Instead, the IEP team must consider a variety of factors, including whether the child has made meaningful progress towards his/her IEP goals or has a tendency to regress in critical skill areas during the summer. Note: Under Delaware law, children classified under certain disabilities automatically receive 12-month educational programs.
  • “Least Restrictive Environment” – The IEP must specify what placement your child is in. The placement (or LRE) is the extent to which your child will not participate in general education classes and extracurricular activities. The IEP lists a continuum of placements ranging from Setting A (for children who spend at least 80% of the day in the regular classroom) to Settings E, F, and G (for children who are in separate Residential Facilities, Homebound or Hospital placements, or Correctional Facilities).
  • Additional components attached to Delaware IEPs – If your child has a Behavior Intervention Plan or Positive Behavior Support Plan, this should be attached to your child’s IEP and is part of the document. Additionally, if your child needs accommodations on the State-wide Smarter Balanced, DCAS, or SAT assessments, the checklist of Smarter Balanced, DCAS, or SAT accommodations should be attached to the IEP.*

This article was designed to provide you with a basic framework for understanding your child’s Delaware IEP. The information within this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

Editor’s note: The * in the last bullet point was edited by myself to reflect the Smarter Balanced and SAT assessments as well as DCAS.

 

 

Senator Nicole Poore Looks Out For Students With Disabilities In Transition

Students with disabilities have big choices to make when they turn 18.  But some of them are not able to make those choices of their own cognizance.  Delaware Senator Nicole Poore introduced Senate Bill 180 yesterday which would allow for those students to have an educational decision-maker to make those decisions for them in educational decisions.  I fully support this bill.  It also states for those students who do have this capacity to retain those rights.  Co-sponsored by State Rep. Deb Heffernan, the bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.  We need the IEP Task Force to reconvene Senator Poore and Rep. Heffernan!  Please make this happen!  This group is needed now more than ever.  Former Lieutenant Governor, now Attorney General Matt Denn wanted this task force to continue when he served as the Chair.  With so many changes in education occurring on a daily basis, we need to make sure our students with disabilities are given a fair shake in all aspects of education!

16 To Watch In 2016: The Delaware Met Kids

On December 17th, the Delaware State Board of Education revoked Delaware Met’s charter.  Over 200 teenagers, in 9th and 10th grade, will have to find a new school after January 22nd.  Most will go back to their feeder districts.  Some may go to charters.  Some could even drop out.  Even though I wrote a lot about the fall of Delaware Met, I truly feel bad for these kids.

I hope whichever district or charter ends up receiving these kids, that they take a very thorough look at what these students will need.  And not just academically.  We know over 60 of these kids have IEPs.  We know some of them are “troublemakers”.  But at the end of the day, they are scared.  They are facing a very uncertain future.  If any of them gained trust with the Delaware Met, it is going to be twice as hard for them to begin again at a new school half way through the year.

It is incumbent upon the DOE and State Board of Education to make sure these kids transition as best they can.  They made the decision to open Delaware Met and they delivered their final verdict.  The last thing we should want for these kids is for them to drop out and call it quits.  They need to know they will be accepted, no questions asked.   I am not saying it will be easy for any receiving district or school.  But compromise and allowances need to be made for these kids.  The Del Met kids will also have to realize their new schools aren’t the free-for-all Delaware Met was.

Governor Markell Showing Clip From Warner Priority Schools Announcement In Extremely Bad Taste

In Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s weekly message to the citizens of Delaware for July 4th, he showed a series of video clips to highlight his bragging about how great education is in Delaware.  Included was a clip from the 9/4/14 priority schools announcement at Warner Elementary School in Wilmington.  I find this to be pretty disgusting and vile considering what that announcement meant to so many educators, students, parents, legislators, leaders in Wilmington, and the citizens of Delaware.  I wouldn’t consider that a proud moment Governor Markell.

To the above people, this was a shocking announcement, and this began the end of your reign as the supreme education watchdog in this state.  You showed the people of Delaware, that no matter who questioned your wisdom on this decision, you were going to be a bully about it. Until that moment you couldn’t anymore.  That day in January you and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy received two letters.  The first was the letter from the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee asking you to hold off on any decision for the priority schools in the Christina School District.  The second was the letter and petition from Parents & Teachers for Public Education.  The one with well over 600 signatures protesting the priority schools initiative.

Everything changed after that.  The legislators started hammering out bills that would limit the power of the DOE.  Parents started opting their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in force.  Charter schools lost their veil of secrecy as first Family Foundations Academy and then Academy of Dover had their dirty secrets brought to light.  Your appointed Secretary got multiple votes of no confidence and you actually kept him, weakening you from many citizen’s viewpoint.  Since then, a lot of your plans haven’t gone the way you wanted them to.

But one did, and we both know what that is.  The way those bills flew through the General Assembly you would think it was for the welfare and security of the state.  It will be very interesting to see how this all comes out in the end.  I have a very good idea, and I know you know that.  I foresee some radical power player changes in the next year and a half.  Yes Senator Sokola and Representative Jaques, I’m talking about you.  I will be keeping a very close eye on any who have engineered this redistricting of Wilmington and how they land when all is said and done.

What is even more puzzling is your choice of a weekly address.  Delaware balanced the budget, but not without a lot of consequences.  Instead of going into detail about that, you babbled on and on about education.  Like we haven’t heard it all a million times.  What I took extreme offense with was your statement about children with disabilities.  I think it’s great that you want to make sure they get jobs when they are adults, but I never hear you talk about special education in the schools.  I imagine your advisors would have a cow if you praised it because pretty much everyone in the state knows how bad it is for most special needs students.  There is so much more to these children’s lives than savings accounts and transition into the adult world.  They need that solid foundation.  Something your standards and assessments and rigor have prevented from happening.  I fear for these children every day.  I fear for their general well-being and their future.  It is YOU who allowed this to happen.

I would think you would have talked about the economy, and legislation that will make it better.  Wait, there wasn’t much of that during this legislative session.  Instead we saw deals and compromises made behind closed doors with no public transparency.  So much for letting the sun shine!

My best guess, and I have nothing to base this on, would be that you needed to get another pumped up message about Delaware’s education out there before you need to make a big decision this week.  Yes, House Bill 50.  Your decision is eagerly awaited by the parents and advocates who fought tooth and nail to get it passed by a majority in the House and Senate with lots of issues along the way.  We find out this week if you will honor us.  If you will let the voice of the constituents mean more to you than your glorified standardized assessment, the Smarter Balanced.  As I told you in my email to you, this is the KEY legislation of your tenure as Governor of Delaware.  This is the one you will be remembered by.  House Bill 50 is your legacy.  You may not even realize this yet, but it will determine how the people of Delaware remember you.  While other state governments are wisely questioning the usefulness of education reform that includes high-stakes assessments, you are actually going around saying “Smarter Balanced is the best test we ever made.”  Somewhere along the way I think you forgot the definition of “we”.  When you are a Governor, “we” is the people you serve, who voted you into power.  Not the corporate interests that have you in their back pocket.

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading “Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing”

Governor Markell Gave Keynote Address At UN For World Autism Awareness Day

Governor Markell travelled to New York City today to give the keynote address for the observance of World Autism Awareness Day by the United Nations.  From the Governor’s website:

New York, NY – With an opportunity to advocate alongside the head of the United Nations, Governor Markell today gave the keynote address at the UN’s observance of World Autism Awareness Day. Joined by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as multi-national corporation executives, civil society advocates, education and policy directors, and advocates and members of the autism awareness community, his remarks focused on ongoing efforts in Delaware and across the country to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The Governor’s leadership on this issue, most prominently through his initiative as chair of the National Governors Association, was cited as the reason behind the invitation to provide the keynote address.UNAutismAwareness

“We absolutely can greatly increase the number of people with autism and other disabilities in the workplace, but to address this challenge on a large scale, we need everyone to do their part,” said Governor Markell during his remarks. “Let’s not make this someone else’s problem to solve. Today, let’s take responsibility for what we can change and let’s give millions of people with autism the opportunities they deserve.”

With “Employment: The Autism Advantage” as its theme, the event focused on the work and employment of people with autism, with the goal of this day’s observance leading to the establishment of a coalition of companies pledged to employing persons with autism in the future. Also appearing were Specialisterne founder Thorkil Sonne and Computer Aid, Inc. Managing Director Ernie Dianastasis, who have partnered with the Governor in efforts to increase employment of people with autism in Delaware.

Governor Markell’s remarks (as prepared for delivery)

It’s an honor to join you for this special event. You have helped to debunk myths, while ensuring governments and their citizens understand what the diagnosis of autism really means and how to best serve people across the autism spectrum. That has meant a better quality of life for so many. However, we gather today knowing that to give these individuals a chance to realize their potential, we must do more to give them access to employment. Anyone with the ability to work deserves the chance to experience the self-fulfillment, confidence, and gratification that comes from a good job.

So the employment statistics are discouraging. A recent study found that among young adults with autism, only half have ever held a paid job outside the home even though many more want to work. That figure reflects a long-time struggle to increase employment among people with disabilities.

In the United States, we passed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act nearly a quarter century ago. But today only about 30 percent of working age people with disabilities are in our workforce. We can change these trends. A more rewarding future is possible for millions of people with disabilities, including millions of people with autism.

As chair of the National Governors Association a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to choose the issue of increasing employment of people with disabilities as a year-long initiative. After engaging with the disabilities community, business leaders, and government officials across the country, we developed a roadmap – a series of straightforward ways that government and business can partner to solve this challenge.

I’m going to speak more in a moment about the findings of our national effort and why that should rally us to put more people to work. But there is no better inspiration for realizing the potential of people with disabilities and of people with autism specifically than one of our presenters today.

Let me briefly tell you the story of my friend Thorkil Sonne, who moved to Delaware two years ago, leaving Denmark with his wife and their 16 year old son, Lars. Until 14 years ago or so, Thorkil was an executive at a Danish information technology company.  He was on the fast track, creating a good life for him and his family. Around that time, Lars was diagnosed with autism. Thorkil and his wife didn’t have much experience with autism or with disabilities generally. Like for so many families, having a son with autism wasn’t something they had considered as part of their life plans. And they didn’t know what the future held for Lars. The more they learned about autism, the more they worried that Lars’s future was limited and learned why parents of children with autism worry that their kids will grow up with few friends; few social opportunities; and few chances to get a job.

So in a great act of fatherly love, ten years ago, Thorkil quit his job at the IT company and created a company called Specialisterne, which translates as “the specialist people.” He just knew that people like Lars could contribute real value for businesses and other employers if given the chance. But he could tell they too often were not given that chance.

Thorkil tells the story of watching Lars one day take out a blank piece of paper and start to draw connected and overlapping boxes with letters and numbers inside. Thorkil was puzzled, but then had an epiphany.  He went out to his car to pull out one of those books of maps of Europe and looked at the front pages. He had remembered that several months earlier, his family had taken a trip through Europe and Lars had sat in the back seat looking at the maps. Now, several months later, without using any reference materials, Lars sketched out a replica of those boxes and numbers – without error.

That kind of memory and trait is something that many people with autism share – and it’s highly valued by lots of employers for jobs like software testing, programming, data analysis, data entry, and the like. I’ll let Thorkil speak about his mission, but I’m proud that his organization — Specialisterne — is based out of Delaware. And you will hear today from others who have been inspired by his work.

Working with Specialisterne, the giant IT firm SAP has committed to employ hundreds of people with autism over a few years. And CAI, another IT company based out of Delaware, has committed that three percent of its consultants will also be people with autism.

As a former business executive, when I meet the people hired through these initiatives on the job – people like Patrick Viesti of SAP – I see they are as focused and determined as you could ever hope an employee would be. Parents of the young people that find jobs call the opportunity a godsend for their children. It allows families to see a career path that wasn’t visible before when barriers that prevent people with autism from getting a job are removed. Thorkil’s success is proof that with leadership and determination, we can identify and fill jobs in areas in which people with autism excel.

Thorkil, as well as companies like SAP and CAI, should inspire us to take action. Through the National Governors Association initiative I mentioned, we outlined the actions that can make the most difference.  We called the project “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.” That title was meant to focus attention on one of the key points of our initiative: employing people with disabilities makes good business sense. As many CEOs involved in our initiative emphasized, employing people with disabilities is better for their business’s bottom line.

Focusing on employment of people with disabilities is also smart for government.  It is a workforce competitiveness issue. It is part of preparing for an aging workforce and meeting the needs of business for skilled workers. And it’s reducing the reliance of this population on government assistance while taking advantage of what they can contribute to their communities.

Our NGA Blueprint offers these five recommendations: First, making employing people with disabilities part of the broader state workforce strategy; Second, we must find and support more businesses who hire people with disabilities; Third, government must be model employers of people with disabilities; Fourth, we must prepare youth with disabilities for the workforce including through promoting opportunities for internships and career exploration; and fifth, we must make the best use of scarce resources to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

I’m proud that in the State of Delaware we are following through on a commitment to address employment in our efforts to support the disabilities community. In July, 2012 I signed the Employment First Act (HB 319) legislation to further help open the door for people with disabilities to work side-by-side with other employees. It encouraged State agencies to give people with disabilities more choice and more independence seeking competitive employment as their first and primary option toward independence. Today, more than 20,000 Delawareans are contributing, are engaged in their communities, and have purpose like never before.

Employing people with autism and other disabilities is simply a win-win-win situation. It makes good sense economic sense for business, it helps government improve the competitiveness of the workforce, and it transforms the lives our citizens who often want nothing more than to use their skills to contribute to society.

I applaud companies like SAP, CAI, Walgreens, and so many others represented here. You are setting an example of what is possible in workplaces around the world, both through the commitments you’ve made and because of the awareness they are raising.  To the larger business community, and to companies needing IT help in particular, remember that the commitment you are being asked to make today is not in response to a request for charity.

We absolutely can greatly increase the number of people with autism and other disabilities in the workplace, but to address this challenge on a large scale, we need everyone to do their part. Let’s not make this someone else’s problem to solve. Today, let’s take responsibility for what we can change and let’s give millions of people with autism the opportunities they deserve.

The Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council Needs YOUR Help!

If you are an adult with disabilities, or a family member of a child with disabilities, or a caretaker for a person with disabilities, please take part in this online survey to hopefully get better services for our citizens with disabilities in the State of Delaware!  It takes about 5-10 minutes depending on your answers.  This survey is only open until March 9th, this coming Monday.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/dmmasurvey

Thank you to the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens for bringing this to my attention!

Governor’s Advisory Council For Exceptional Citizens Looking Out For The Special Needs Of Delaware

Massey-station2

In Federal IDEA Regulation, each state must have an advisory council for disabilities.  In Delaware, that council is the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, or GACEC.  The group meets eight times a year to discuss issues with citizens for special needs at the George Massey Station building in Dover.  But don’t let that number fool you, because there is a lot of work going way beyond their meetings!

The GACEC has many functions and committees that perform these tasks.  The Policy and Law Committee will go through regulations that might impact the disabled in Delaware and will carefully review any pending or existing regulations or laws in the state.  The Children and Youth Committee will look at different special education practices or services in the communities for children.  The Adult/Transition Services Committee finds ways to make life better for adults with disabilities all over the state.  Another committee called Infant/Early Child Care tackles needs for our tiniest disabled citizens and looks for ways to make their life better as well.

The group has sponsored recent campaigns such as the DelAWARE DisABILITY Hub website, serving adults in transition.  Over the holidays and still continuing over the Winter is the Heart 2 Hugs program, which collects cold weather clothing for homeless children or those in foster care.

They recently met in November and just released their minutes from that meeting.  I really like what I saw.  From their November board minutes:

All public meeting minutes should be this detailed!  As you can see, this group works very hard for the exceptional of Delaware.  They are very thorough and committed to our most vulnerable of citizens!

The group meets again this Tuesday, January 20th at 516 W. Loockerman St. at 6pm in the George V. Massey Building in the executive conference room in downtown Dover.  Come and check it out and learn what goes on behind the scenes in our state for Exceptional Citizens!

To find out more about GACEC, please go to:

http://www.gacec.delaware.gov/

 

Live From The Last 2014 Meeting Of The IEP Task Force @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de #netde #eduDE #edchat #Delaware

This is it! The last meeting of the IEP Task Force based on the legislation from Senate Concurring Resolution #63.  The IEP Task Force may reconvene but this will be the last meeting prior to the report to Governor Markell.  Lieutenant Governor (soon to be Attorney General) Matt Denn indicated this will be a short meeting.  The members are going over the draft to see if any changes are suggested.

Diane Eastburn asked for clarification on distinctions in the draft about school districts and charter schools.  Denn clarified it is written like that because no charter school is part of a district (aside from the ones in Red Clay).  Deb Heffernan stated having an IEP with a gold standard is good but she wants to make sure they are implemented and kids are more proficient.  Senator Lawson said he wants to make sure all paragraphs mention school districts and charter schools.  Marissa Band added Department of Education to which Denn agreed.

Ruth Lavelle had questions about progress reports in terms of transition goals.  Dale Mitusevich with the DOE (sitting in for Maryann Mieczkowski) said these goals are post-secondary goals, but he suggested progress reports should show how the student is doing towards reaching those goals.  Lots of back and forth discussion regarding the exact wording.  Issue solved after a few minutes.

Meeting is about to end after public comment.  Senator Nicole Poore thanked Denn for getting it going.  Only public comment was from this guy, and I thanked Denn as well and Senator Poore and other legislators who helped push to get parents on the task force.  I told the task force we have a long way to go with IEPs in Delaware but I am confident the suggestions made from this task force will help the process.  I asked Matt Denn if he would chair the task force if it continues.  He said it depends on what the legislature decides about reconvening the task force.

IEP Task Force Meeting #6, Live From Dover, DE **UPDATED**

A week and a day after the last meeting, here we are again.  Back in the conference room we should have been in last week when the DOE hijacked the room from the task force for their town hall meeting.

Matt Denn asked for approval of minutes rom last meeting.  Everyone agreed. He said there are two meetings left before the report is due to Governor Markell on January 1st, 2015.  Denn will recommend to the legislature to continue the task force after that date to go over further issues that have come up.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) representative speaking about significant changes coming to transition through legislation. They serve many adults as well as students. No new funding with these new measures. Every high school in DE has a VR rep in high schools to deal with students in the year prior to their exit year. They have MOUs with every high school in the state. They help students get jobs after secondary schooling. Work with hospitals, such as Bayhealth. Also have program called Early Start to Employment. They have received a lot of good data on that program, including a 95% success rate. However, they had 60 students choose not to participate in the program so they want to get the word out since it is so successful. They are working with DOE on program for students w/learning disabilities and behavioral problems. These are students with a high risk of dropping out and not going to college. They need to get the buy-in from the education system to start this process early.  PETS services helps transition students who may not be a transition youth (need to do some research on this).  Many states don’t have partnerships with their state DOEs so Delaware is ahead of the game with this.  They think with upcoming IDEA reauthorization it will provide more useful language in the law for these kinds of transition matters.  Information on upcoming law will come out in January 2015.  The law is requiring them to be the gatekeepers for sheltered workshops.  They don’t normally do this anyways, but if the IEP states a student wants to attend this kind of program.  Student will need a statement stating they are so disabled they can only work in this type of environment, otherwise they can’t participate.

Matt Denn asked VR rep if transition can be included in IEPs earlier than junior or senior year?  She responded that due to capacity (and funding I’m sure) they don’t have the staff to do that.  They may able to do some consultative work but they can’t attend every IEP meeting.  She agrees transition planning should start at an earlier age.  Through working w/Dale Mitusevich at Delaware DOE, they have been able to work more with juniors in high school than seniors.

A representative named Andrea from In The Works, works w/many agencies including state Medicaid agency on a program called Pathways To Employment for students 14-25 years old.  God bless her, she’s talking very fast and dropping many abbreviations for state agencies.  I may have to go to the audio recording on this part.  Sorry folks.  They want to provide services that are “less like crisis management and more like support management.”

A rep from Division for Visually Impaired spoke about how resources are shifting to an older population in the state.  They provide braille instruction, consultative services, technology, employ child youth counselors, orientation services, assistive technology and an array of service providers.  They are currently serving 250 students across the state.  They are part of the PATHWAYS program.

Bill Doolittle asked how much grant amount might be, VR rep said $1,000,000.00.  Andrea said Pathways to Employment would be eligible for service if they receive Medicaid and meet other criteria.  DVI rep said they get $100-120,000 from DE DOE and $125,000 from other state agencies.

Marissa Band asked if they would work with the DEDisabilityHub website.  VR rep said absolutely, and has worked with Wendy Strauss on matters already.  Liz Toney asked how many teachers they Div. of Visual Impairment employs, rep said 8 out of the 9 employed in the state.  She asked rep if task force is able to acquire additional funding and get more teachers if that would help.  He said they would have to examine other factors since they are not an education agency.

No more questions.

Matt Denn opened the floor to suggestions for issues of transition planning.  Nobody is talking.  Denn looks flustered.  Ruth Lavelle spoke up and wants services to come in at age 14.  She would also like to say large group resources to help get the word out better.  She stated it is a very confusing subject when first introduced.  She said there needs to be a better game plan in the earlier years.  Marissa Band said the transition task force recommended there be transition coordinators in every high school.  Matt Denn asked who those people would be, Band said it would be school district staff.  Said could spread out amongst middle and high schools.  VR rep agreed and said this was an important recommendation coming from that task force.  Dale Mitusevich (sitting in for Mary Ann Mieczkowski from the DOE) said every school district has one transition person assigned to their job duties.  He said DOE has a transition matrix, said it could be a teacher or an educational diagnostician.  He said this is a burden on these individuals.  Pam Atchison said Charleton School hired a transition coordinator, but later added that due to funding she had to pull a teacher from the classroom.

Dale Mitusevich said there was a meeting at DOE about transition today.  He said district reps coming in to transition cadre has to have an administrator on their team.  He said four charters are involed with this.  They have multiple transition training sessions with the charters throughout the year.  Denn said he wants to get a price tag for implementing a resolution to have a coordinator in each high school, independent of other duties.  He said he also wants to enhance abilities of PIC and Community Legal Aid to help parents.

Ruth from VR said career assessments need to be done as early as possible to help in the IEP planning to help people point students in the right direction.  Mitusevich would like to see more reaching out to higher education programs.  He stated transition planning in this group can be confusing due to lack of knowledge.  Ruth from VR said she has worked with the Autism Task Force and DAP has an assessment program that works very well.  Ruth said it doesn’t have to be a certified evaluator to do career assessment, she said it could be a paraprofessional.

Matt Denn thanked the guests, and now he wants to look at the 2nd draft that appears on the IEP Task Force website.  http://ltgov.delaware.gov/taskforces/ieptf/141120/IEPTaskForceReportDraft111714.pdf

Mitusevich said Delaware has a higher standard than many other states.  Marissa Band said she has some issues with language in the draft but she will put in information via email or talk with Kim Siegel.  Matt Denn said there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about what other states are doing in other states with IEPs.  Liz Toney brought up the presentation from the first meeting.  She brought up Wrightslaw as a good resource.

A parent gave public comment thanking the task force for their recommendations for visually impaired students.

I gave public comment about how special needs students at the priority schools and Gateway Lab School are victims of special education games in the state.  I referenced my article from last night about Rodel and Markell and how special needs children have suffered immensely in Delaware.  I also recommended the task force adds the subject of IEP denials if they continue past the Governor’s report.

Sarah Celestin from DOE gave public comment about Standards-Based IEPs, student led IEPs, and translating Behavior Intervention Plans into IEPs.  She said there is training and assistance through University of Delaware.  She said they have been working w/districts on standards-based IEPs (Common Core for the IEP in my opinion).  She said through funds from a Federal grant DOE wants all districts and charters in the state to have these IEP strategies in the next two years.  She asked Mitusevich to talk about student led IEPs.  He spoke about the transition conference at Dover Downs a few weeks ago.  He said there was a big group from DC to speak about these, as well as folks from Virginia, Dr. Jim Martin out of University of Oklahoma on student led IEPs and student active participation in IEP meetings.  He said this means a student doesn’t just read a script and actually participates in the IEP meeting.  Celestin said DOE is offering training and coaching.  Denn asked if this is required for districts to implement.  She said standards-based IEPs are not required but it is about standards not standardized.  She said parents and IEP teams have struggles with implementing these kinds of IEPs because they need to help students close achievement gaps.  She said teachers are struggling with this and stressed it is not required.  (as Steve Newton mentioned in an article on these IEPs, the measurement for it is the “fidelity” component of the grant in getting schools trained on it).  She did say through compliance monitoring in the future they will look at things that are part of standards-based IEPs in terms of students needs so they will hold IEPs to a higher standard and best practices.  Matt Denn said this isn’t a subject for the IEP Task Force report, but he is hesitant to make recommendations for  something that isn’t required.

I raised my hand to speak again, and Matt Denn jokingly said something about “or if anyone wants to give second public comment”.  I went up and responded to Sarah’s comment.  I advised I went over to DOE presentation to the GACEC (Gov. Adv. Council For Except. Children), and it absolutely is tying IEPs into standards based on “curriculum” which is code word for those who may not know what Common Core is.  I advised the word “rigor” is used in the document which is used by Common Core proponents all the time.  I said rigor is not a word parents like, especially special needs parents, because the way it is used would indicate students with disabilities need to try harder to get to a regular students level, which completely invalidates the spirit of IDEA.

My commentary on tonight’s meeting: Interesting stuff with these transition services coming in.  All of them said “we need more funding”.  In regards to comments made by DOE employees, I know these folks work very hard at their jobs, and for that, they have my respect.  But if Delaware holds such a higher standard for IEPs, why did you need Federal intervention in Special Education?  Why would you hold a higher standard for something that isn’t even legally required?  Cause you like what you have created?  If they look at best practice, why the hell won’t they look at IEP denials?  Who are they trying to protect? (I already know the answer to that, and they know I know but they don’t care) Sorry Sarah, you can say whatever you want, but any presentation that has the word “rigor” in it, which is one of those words that make opponents of common core flip out, is not going to work for me and many other special needs parents.

To Be Continued December 3rd…

 

University of Delaware and Delaware DOE hosting Transition Conference on October 31st #netde #eduDE

As students with disabilities become adults with disabilities, this transition can be a difficult process. To help ease these issues, the Delaware Department of Education and the University of Delaware, partnered with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Division of Visual Impairments, help to make these individuals well-informed about the things they can do to be more successful during this time. Each year, they hold an annual Community of Practice Delaware Transition Conference. The theme for this year’s event is “Shared Work, Shared Vision.” The event will be held at the Dover Downs Hotel & Conference Center on October 31st from 8:00am to 3:15pm.

This years keynote speakers are Chris Mielo and Chaz Kellem. Mielo has been paralyzed since he was a toddler due to a car accident from a drunk driver. He serves on the Governing Board of the Pennsylvania Youth Network and is an active participant in working with the HOPE Network to encourage kids to take part in adaptive athletics. Kellem is the Manager of Diversity Initiatives for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a rare disorder which causes bones to break easily. Although Kellem has gone through numerous operations, he is a shining example of overcoming hardship and excelling, having graduated with honors from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

This year’s conference will have a wide array of topics including Social Security Benefits, Student-Led Individualized Education Plans, Social Media, the new DelAWARE DisABILITY Hub transition website, transitioning to a college environment and more.

To register for this free event, with a meal also included, please go to https://delaware.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_bvjJmgQLzcGEZ4V&Q_JFE=0 and to find out a schedule of events, follow this link: http://www.udel.edu/cds/downloads/transition_conference_schedule. Please register as soon as possible so they can get an accurate count for food! Registration begins at 7:30am.

All parents of special needs students should try to attend this event, no matter what age they are. It’s better to start preparing for your child’s future now. Far too many people don’t seem to think a disabled child can be successful as an adult, but this is far from the case. Many individuals have the ability to overcome adversity and set an example for all of us and go on to do great things.

“The Specials”: New TV Series About Young Adults w/Disabilities & Transition Coming In September #netde #eduDE #edchat

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will be airing a full run of 13 episode series called “The Specials” on September 7th.  This series follows five young adults with intellectual disabilities over a four year time span that live together in England.  “The Specials” was originally a series of Webisodes in England, consisting of ten parts. 

The young adults in this series range from 19-23, and it will showcase how they transition from secondary schooling to a post-secondary lifestyle.  Many important “life” moments occur for the real-life characters.  Transitional services has become a big issue in the United States in recent years for special needs students so this could be an excellent series for all special needs parents to watch.

In a statement from the OWN website, “We were extremely thrilled to bring this series to OWN. We fell in love with the fun, adventurous energy and bond the housemates share,” said producer Carolyn Strauss. “It is our hope that viewers are not only entertained by their experiences, but inspired by their excitement for life and encouraged to accept and celebrate all people no matter their walk in life.”

To meet the characters, please check out this information on Oprah’s website: http://www.oprah.com/app/the-specials.html

Back To School: A Great Transition Meeting #netde #eduDE

Yesterday, we had a sort of unofficial IEP meeting with my son’s new school.  Transitioning from elementary school to middle school, my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to meet the IEP team in an unofficial capacity.  My son attended as well, and it was an excellent way of not only introducing him to his primary teachers, but to also let the team know what to expect with his Tourette’s Syndrome and other diagnoses. 

Everyone was very willing to listen to our understanding of TS and suggestions.  Many questions were asked in regards to certain scenarios that may come up.  It was a great way to clear the air and start the school year off on a good note.  I highly recommend doing this for any special needs child who may be transitioning from one school to another within the same district.  I have to give high props to Capital School District in Dover, Delaware for their excellent special education team!