Tag Archives: Special Education

Can School Districts Really Ignore Students Who Need Help?

On Disability Scoop this morning, there was an article on school districts and their obligation to identify students with special needs under the “child find” clause of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  But this school district (in Compton, CA) was more worried about being liable for  “educational malpractice” than getting this student help. This case was about a girl who was promoted to 11th grade after testing below the 1st percentile level and who performed at less than a 4th grade level as a 10th grader. Counselors and teachers noted issues, but no one ever suggested she get evaluated.

Yes, budgets are tight; yes, there are many students who need help, but what are we educating our children for, if not to get an education and not just be shunted through school, grade after grade even though there are signs of trouble.

School District’s can’t ignore students who may need Special Ed services and then claim they had no duty to notify the parents. In this case, “[t]he School District asserts that, because it chose to ignore Addison’s disabilities and take no action, it has not affirmatively refused to act. The School District therefore contends that the notice requirement does not apply… We reject this argument.” Thankfully, the 9th Circuit rejected this argument outright. Frankly, I don’t know how that school district made that argument with a straight face – “we ignored it so we have no duty to notify the parents of an issue???” Really? If that were true, school districts would ignore every issue and claim no duty to do anything about it. THE Court went on to say, “[t]he School District’s wilful inaction in the face of numerous “red flags” is more than sufficient to demonstrate its unwillingness and refusal to evaluate Addison.”

There are many reasons the signs may be missed that a child need special ed services – but something seems off, you just can’t put your finger on it. Sometimes their performance (or lack thereof) may be attributed to behavioral issues or to something the child will grow out of. At the end of the day, we all (the parents, the child, the School Districts, and society as a whole) have a vested interest in educating every child. This case was decided on the pleadings, meaning that facts weren’t presented, that means there aren’t a lot of factual details presented.

The few facts that are mentioned in the case directly: “Addison’s mother was reluctant to have the child “looked at,” and School District officials decided not to “push.” Instead, the School District referred Addison to a third-party mental-health counselor. The third-party counselor recommended that the School District assess Addison for learning disabilities. Despite the recommendation, the School District did not refer Addison for an educational assessment, and instead promoted Addison to eleventh grade.

In September 2004, Addison’s mother wrote a letter to the School District explicitly requesting an educational assessment and Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meeting. The assessment took place on December 8, 2004. The IEP team determined that Addison was eligible for special education services on January 26, 2005.”

There are many lessons to be learned in this case — put requests in writing, find out your rights as parents (read the handbook that the school district hands you), don’t trust that school districts or school administrators know the law,  inform yourself and don’t stop asking questions about how your child is going to be helped, specifically.

What I find most fascinating in this case is that the Supreme Court is requesting the Obama administration to weigh in on the situation. I think the Supreme Court is capable enough to balance public policy needs versus what the law plainly says and requires.

If you have thoughts on this issue, please share them in the comments.

You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

After 4 previous attempts, I finally saw the movie Race to Nowhere last night and I later posted a comment on a Race to Nowhere share on Facebook:

Sonya L. Sigler I have been an advocate for no homework for so long – I wanted our school to volunteer to be a test bed for a “no homework policy.” I would prefer that my kids play sports or take music or do nothing or explore the park down the hill from us… and I was lucky enough to see the movie tonight in San Carlos, CA.

By this morning, I had been attacked for my opinion that supported a “no homework policy” that our elementary school district had merely discussed 4-5 years ago.

Susi Crowe OK Sonya, no homework for high school students, really!?? Explore the park down the hill with the girlfriend, a case of beer and country music playing…or let’s make sure kids have time to play, which nowadays means playing on the computer, the Iphone, the Xbox. Great productive plan that you have, let’s you off the hook from being involved w/ your kids homework and spending the time as a parent taking them to activities they are interested in, so YOU have more free time……

It was interesting to me to see that 1) all kinds of judgments had been made (I don’t do homework with my kids; I don’t take them to activities they are interested in; I hold this opinion about homework so I can have more free time; my kids listen to country music..I could go on) and 2) leaps to certain conclusions had been made without even asking for more information or an explanation of why I want my kids to do things other than homework or why I would think that volunteering our school to test the policy was a good idea. I had one comment of support:

Sarasota Homes ‎@Sonya – I LOVE your attitude and thoughts toward education. I was a high school teacher/coach for 16 years. I don’t want my kids “racing to nowhere” and that’s exactly where politicians (on both sides) demand they go…. Kids NEED to be kids. Great support here!

This “no homework policy” that I mentioned was merely a discussion that the school board had 4-5 years ago (three superintendents ago) and it hadn’t even been implemented.  As far as I know, not one of our district schools has tested a “no homework policy.” What I do know is that schools in our elementary school district (San Carlos) and high school district (Sequoia Union) have made strides to coordinate homework assignments and work loads. I posted a further explanation:

Sonya L. Sigler I have a little bit longer explanation about what no homework means in our family and with the school my kids go to AND what the “no homework policy” was that was discussed in our school district about 4-5 years ago. We, as a family, focus on music, sports, scouting, and visiting National Parks. So, it is different homework than busy work sheets and homework given because the teacher couldn’t get to the info in class. Then there are chores on top of that. My kids also go to a project based school so there isn’t a lot of busywork homework; most of the homework assigned is related to a project unit. The “no homework policy” that was discussed in our school district 4-5 years ago that I wanted to volunteer our school for would have looked at a few things: 1) coordinated homework among the teachers so that not every subject had an hours worth of homework every evening; 2) the homework time (targeted time to complete it) would vary by grade level; and 3) the homework was related to reinforcing concepts in the curriculum as opposed to busy work. Thankfully we do most of these at our school already. But I am sure there are improvements that we can make related to homework. My kids are in a K-8 school so we haven’t gotten to the heavy work loads in high school – however my philosophy remains the same for that and the high schools in our area are trying to coordinate the homework assigned among the classes.

I think there is enough work for our children to do in school and in class without giving them more than an hour or two of homework each night. One of the main points of the movie was that after a certain amount of time the point of doing the homework becomes ineffective — I think it was an hour for middle school and two hours for high school students. The high schools in our area ARE trying to coordinate the type and amount of homework given across the subjects. At SCCLC, we have targeted homework by grade level and I think that the time expected to be spent on homework is not excessive as it relates to each grade level at our school.

From a family perspective, it all comes down to managing priorities and choices. Everything is a choice. Spending 4 hours on homework instead of playing baseball is a choice. Spending time playing an instrument instead of doing busy worksheets is a choice. Spending time exploring National Parks is a choice. Spending time with Boy Scouts is a choice. It’s all a choice. We choose to have our kids play sports, play an instrument, participate in scouting, and explore national parks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework, or as suggested in the snarky facebook comment, playing video games. BTW – We do limit screen time of all types – we don’t ban it, we just limit it to 2 hours on the weekends. And, even with a full time job, I do squire my kids around to activities that they are interested in…currently, for my three boys that list includes baseball, basketball, flag football, bowling, rifles, archery, 4H, Scouts, soccer, dance, and music lessons – I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of not being involved with my kids – some would say they are over scheduled and that I’m too involved. But, truth be told they are doing the activities that they choose to do.

Our family has chosen to concentrate our time on the activities that are important to us – sometimes that doesn’t include homework. The consequence of these choices will vary – sometimes my son has to wake up earlier to do homework or stay up later than usual to finish it. Sometimes he may have to spend lunch or recess time finishing up something. Sometimes he may not turn it in at all – this has led to an interesting discussion about doing extra credit work to cover times when he can’t finish his work or turn it in. But, at least we know what the choice is that we are making as opposed to blindly trying to do it all.

Re high school, my thoughts on homework are the same. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all just because someone has assigned homework. Talk to the teachers, advocate for your child – or better yet, have your child advocate for themselves (or in a group of students)  when it comes to managing homework loads.

Part of what the movie was shedding light on is – take a step back and evaluate the situation. What is right for your child (and why)? The sky isn’t going to fall if your child doesn’t get into “a good” college. Taking AP classes just to get into “a good” college is a prime example of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing well in an AP course is a choice; does it mean that you have to read the entire textbook? No, it means you need to be able to understand concepts and understand the bigger picture – that is what is tested on AP tests. The point of an AP class is that it IS accelerated learning. It requires you to digest an enormous amount of information. If all of your child’s courses are AP courses – you are really saying that they should be in college – becuase those AP test scores translate into college credit. The point made in the movie is – look at what your child is doing and why they are doing it. If your child  is only taking an AP course because they think it will get them into the right college – rethink the situation and make a change, if necessary.

There is one scene in the movie that was particular poignant for me – it was the scene where a boy says that he wanted to quit school altogether because he didn’t get the grade he wanted and now probably won’t get into the college he wanted. In retrospect, I did a lot of things in high school because it would look good when I applied to college. I didn’t get into Harvard or Stanfurd, which were my top 2 choices, and those rejection letters were very hard to take. My mom didn’t even believe me when I called her at work to tell her I didn’t get in to Stanfurd. Ironically, I got into my back up school, UC Berkeley, on early admission, which was based upon my grades and test scores alone.  Granted this was in the 80’s and now admission to the schools in the UC system works slightly differently, but my point is that I survived and I went to a great college anyway even though it wasn’t my first choice. (As a side note – I really loved that there was a clip of the Cal Band in the movie – I spent a lot of time in the Cal Band when I was in college). Did I go to a school that matched what I needed (as the movie suggests)? No, I probably would have done much better at a school like Colorado College that does block learning on one subject per month, not 6 or 7 classes per 15 week semester. I think one of the most important points in the movie was to focus on finding what works for your child!

Many thanks to our San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council who sponsored the evening last night and worked hard to bring the Race to Nowhere movie to our District. I urge you to bring it to your school district! Have a panel discussion. Have schools explain what their homework policy is. Have kids explain how it is affecting them or how they are coping with the work loads. Proactively work at finding a solution for you and your child(ren). I urge you to see the movie if you have a chance.

If you have thoughts on this post or what can make the situation described in the Race to Nowhere better, please leave a comment.

Top Ten Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings

This is a “reprinting” (if you can actually reprint on the internet) of the Top Ten Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings

Posted: 23 Mar 2009 08:16 AM PDT
By: Matt Foley, M.Ed and DeAnn Hyatt Foley, M.Ed., Parents, Lubbock, Texas

(Reprinted with permission from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Kentucky School for the Blind)

The following article appeared in Parent to Parent, a quarterly publication of the Kentucky School for the Blind that contains information relevant to Kentucky parents and families of children who are blind and visually impaired.

Editor’s Note: While reading through various articles and looking at various websites, a friend of mine came across an article that contained information that would have helped my wife and I immensely when we started down the “IEP Road”. I thought it would be very beneficial to share this article with my readers. Although this article is based upon the federal regulations, some of the language or terms used within this article may be slightly different than what is used in your state since new regulations have been drafted. If you have any questions or need clarification, please feel free to email KSB Family Support Specialist Mitch Dahmke at mitch.dahmke@ksb.kyschools.us.

1. BELIEVING THE PROFESSIONALS ARE THE ONLY EXPERTS
It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals/educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Though most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. Parents are the experts in their own right. They provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team.
Parents also have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for nine years, we are still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. We encourage parents to follow their hunches, if something does not sound right, check it out. Usually after some research parents will discover their hunch was correct.

2. NOT MAKING REQUESTS IN WRITING
Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.
Documenting requests (i.e., teaching assistant, speech, etc.) for the IEP committee clarifies to the committee what you are requesting and allows you to use your own words (as opposed to the note taker paraphrasing your request). We encourage parents to type exactly what they think their child needs and list why they think it is educationally necessary. This helps parents think through why they are requesting a service for their child. Have the IEP committee record the written request as part of the IEP. At this point, the IEP committee has one of two choices; the committee can accept or deny the request. If the committee denies the request then they must follow the procedural safeguards in IDEA and provide written notice of why they are denying the parents’ request. This method makes it difficult for an IEP committee to tell parents “no” without thinking through the options. If the request is not written down then the school district is not obligated to provide the service. Make sure you write it down.

3. NOT BEING FAMILIAR WITH PRIOR NOTICE SECTION OF THE PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS (34CFR300.503)
All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice within a reasonable period of time. This notice must include the following:

(b) Content of notice

  • A description of the action proposed or refused;
  • An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
  • A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
  • A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
  • A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal (34CFR300.503)

We have found many instances where a parent requests an assessment or service only to have the IEP team tell the parent it cannot be done. By making all requests in writing and by requiring the IEP team to provide Prior Notice, the parent makes the team accountable for its decisions. This practice also takes issues out of the emotional arena, allowing all team members to focus on IDEA standards.

4. REQUESTING A RELATED SERVICE INSTEAD OF AN ASSESSMENT THAT SUPPORTS THE NEED FOR A RELATED SERVICE
Many times parents will request services such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. in the IEP meeting. Frequently the IEP committee will respond by stating that the student does not need the service. We recommend that parents do not request the service but request the assessment that supports the need for the related service. For example, instead of requesting speech for your child request a speech assessment. Only a certified or licensed professional is qualified to determine if a child needs or does not need a particular related service. As in number 2, list the reasons why you think an assessment is educationally necessary for your child and submit your request to the IEP committee as part of the IEP.
5. ACCEPTING ASSESSMENT RESULTS THAT DO NOT RECOMMEND THE SERVICES YOU THINK YOUR CHILD NEEDS
Sometimes parents receive assessment results that do not accurately describe their child and/or do not recommend the amount and duration of services the parents think their child needs. Under 34 CFR 300.502 Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), parents of a child with a disability have the right to obtain an independent evaluation at public expense if they disagree with the results of the school’s assessment. When the parent requests the IEE (in writing) the school has one of two choices; they may either provide the IEE in a reasonable period of time, or they may take the parents to due process. When an IEE is agreed upon, parent and school must come to an agreement as to who is qualified to assess the student. The examiner for an IEE cannot be employed by the school district. Parents should request the school district policy on guidelines and qualifications for their examiners.

6. ALLOWING THE ASSESSMENT INFORMATION TO BE PRESENTED FOR THE FIRST TIME AT THE IEP MEETING
Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. We encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.
7. ACCEPTING GOALS AND OBJECTIVES THAT ARE NOT MEASURABLE
Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child’s IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable. All goals and objectives come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components:

  • Formal assessment (ex. WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance)
  • Informal assessment (ex. classroom work)
  • Teacher/parent observation, and
  • Interviews

After the information has been collected about the student, it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report. If you receive an assessment report that does not give you recommendations for potential goals and objectives, the assessment is not complete. After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goal down into increments. For example: PLOP: Based on the Brigance and classroom work Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery. Goal: By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. Objectives: * By October 1, Johnny will be able to read fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. · By January 1, without teacher assistance Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery. A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (ex. a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask, “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?” If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer “yes”, then your goals and objectives are not measurable.

8. ALLOWING PLACEMENT DECISIONS TO BE MADE BEFORE IEP GOALS AND OBJECTIVES ARE WRITTEN
Many times after assessment information is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) the IEP committee must determine:
Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom? With the remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general classroom the committee determines: Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom with modifications and support?
This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment as necessary. IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.

9. ALLOWING YOUR CHILD’S IEP MEETING TO BE RUSHED SO THE SCHOOL STAFF CAN BEGIN THE NEXT CHILD’S IEP MEETING
This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when educators are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the educators have not given themselves adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child’s education.

10. NOT ASKING A LOT OF QUESTIONS
It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not understand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms. Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.

The preceding is a short list of common mistakes parents make during the IEP meetings and some suggestions for avoiding these mistakes. At some point in time we have made all the mistakes listed above. We developed the habit of debriefing after every IEP meeting as to our performance during the meeting. We have gradually accumulated information and developed skills, and we continue to trust our intuition.

We have found that when parents apply the suggestions listed above while working with their IEP team, they will see the results. It is important that parents continue to accumulate information and develop skills relating to the IEP process. Do not be discouraged in your pursuit to obtain the supports and services your child needs. We found it helpful to break the process down into small steps. When you use the suggestions listed above you will be that much closer to obtaining your child’s Free Appropriate Public Education. After using each suggestion listed, pat yourself on the back for becoming an even better advocate for your child.
To receive an electronic copy of Parent to Parent, or to submit an article, e-mail Mitch at mitch.dahmke@ksb.kyschools.us or phone 502-897-1583, ext. 221.

Additional Resource
Do you live in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas or Iowa? There’s an online resource that can help you through the IEP process. Special Education Parent’s Advocacy Link , LLC (SEPAL) are advocates in the public schools for parent’s who have children with special needs; they are also parents of children with disabilities. Marilyn McClure is a due process hearing panel member in Missouri and is an advocate for parents who have children in the public schools. SEPAL can assist you in drafting a child complaint for submission to your state’s education agency. Child complaints are used when a parent disagrees with what the school is/isn’t doing for their child with an IEP. Often, parents can accomplish what otherwise would have necessitated a lengthy due process hearing. SEPAL attends IEP meetings at the school with the parent. SEPAL attends 504 accommodations meetings too. SEPAL has a network of advocates in Missouri and Kansas who can serve parents in those areas with their special education concerns including learning disabilities, autism, and other special needs.

Get the help you need at http://www.specialeducationrights.com.