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It’s getting to be that time again…

27 Jan

Time to think about annual IEP reviews.  I know many teachers are still working on their GAA’s, but you need to be finishing those up and turning your sights on your next big thing which is IEP annual review season.

I don’t always agree with everything she posts, but Carol Sadler is definitely someone that is worth following on Facebook.  And she recently posted this:

Advocates Advice – We are quickly moving into “IEP Season”. Time to get your year end IEP meetings scheduled and on the books. Better to get scheduled in advance to make sure you have time to invite your help. Be sure to notify the school you will tape record the meeting and ask for a Draft copy of the IEP “that has been updated” with their proposed PLOP’s, accommodations and goals/objectives. Take the time to compare the Draft line by line to last year’s IEP to see what they changed and what they are proposing and make sure it is appropriate.

If you are a teacher and reading this, your hair might be turning a bit white or falling out.  Or you might be tempted to start pulling it out.  Let me tell you that what she is suggesting should be a matter of best practice for competent teachers.  Getting the meetings on the calendar early serves everyone well, and knowing who all is going to be attending will help secure a place that is big enough for everyone.

Tape recording the meeting (or using an mp3 recorder) is not a big deal.  If you are a teacher, bring your own to the meeting as well.  Both the parent and the district should be recording at the same time.  There is no presumption of privacy at these meetings, even though they are confidential.  You can’t podcast the meeting.  But by now teachers need to be getting used to being in the spotlight being recorded at any time, any where.  Transparency is our friend.  Stop being hostile to it, and open up your records, your mind, your intentions and your heart to the parents of the children you teach.  You might discover a wealth of rewards await you as the relationship transforms from confrontation to cooperation.

The idea of having a draft prepared a week ahead seems to always trip up teacher case managers. They can not seem to wrap their minds around the idea of moving their entire time table up one week.  You have to write this thing one way or another.  Stop the procrastinating and the excuse-making and just do it, and get it done.  You send it out a week or so ahead of time, with “DRAFT” written by hand in big letters, and attach a note “Please look over the enclosed proposed IEP DRAFT.  Please write down any concerns and/or suggested changes that you might have on the draft and send it back to me so I can include them and make sure they are acceptable to you before the meeting.”

Imagine an IEP that is less than an hour long, and everyone leaves the room smiling, and pleased and relaxed, feeling good about what just occurred.  If you have several annual reviews that are NOT like this then you should probably consider sending out your drafts well in advance so parents can look at them.  But aside from pleasing a parent, there are also other good reasons to move your time table up a week.  Remember you HAVE to write the thing regardless.  Why not do it well in advance when you can actually THINK about what you are writing instead of having that deadline looming over you?  You will discover that you make better choices and decisions when you are not rushed and pressured.  And if there are problems looming ahead, you have some time to begin addressing them before the meeting with the parents and the rest of the team.

I always did this as a matter of regular practice.  I always tried to get the draft done and out at least 4 days ahead of the meeting regardless of who the parent was.  If I get a parent making a request like Carol, guess what?  I move my time table up TWO weeks!  I want to swap IEP drafts, ideas and suggestions several times in advance of this meeting if at all possible.   If the parent is bringing an advocate, then I would rather the advocate look over my IEP, mark and bleed all over it with red ink and send it back however many times before the meeting, rather than rip me to shreds for hours in front of the rest of the team.  The advocate will have plenty of fodder for bloodletting at the meeting from other members of the IEP team but not me if I can do anything about it.

This is because the other members of my team balked at writing their portions in advance.  The occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech language pathologists have HUGE caseloads and I understand that.  BUT the workload is exactly the same whether you do it now or later.  I put all members of my team on notice as to the day the draft is going out.  It is up to them if they are ready or not, and 95% of the time, they failed to meet that deadline.

IEPs are exactly the same as alternate assessments that way.  If you procrastinate, you will end up under a huge backlog, and it will seem like a dark pit that you forever are trying to dig yourself out of as each deadline comes and overwhelms you.  You have got to get ahead and try to stay ahead.  Give yourself some wiggle room.  Waiting until the night before is a terrible choice that invites mistakes and trouble.

I actually attended one middle school meeting where everyone was there except the caseload manager.  When I asked the SLP where she was, I saw an eye roll and she whispered “She’s upstairs trying to write the IEP!”  This was a meeting that was already an hour late.  It was a good thing that parent was not paying Carol’s hourly rate!


1 Nov

I’m still in the market, but have been actually fortunate to have been able to be working steadily. I already have some GAA tasks underway, with a basic plan that will allow them to be carried through to completion IF the teacher who returned this week can follow through. Basically there are VERY few teachers left in the building who know how to do a complete GAA. And at the high school level, the GAA stinky dog acquired more fleas because now there are two more standards to address!


But in the meantime I am transitioning to regular substitute work until I take another longterm position in a couple of weeks. And after only a couple of days, it has been a really interesting experience being among a more “general” population. Regular high school freshmen are really interesting people. Very energetic and squirrelly and all over the place. I found myself spending the day teaching a freshman math class on Tuesday.


Most special educators have issues with math, I have found. And I am no except as I struggled with math all the way through high school. In college, I took the easiest math course offered and it WAS such a low level course, I don’t think they even offer anything like it anymore. So when I took chemistry courses, I ended up having to go back and teach myself a lot of the math I should have already learned.


All this is to say that I found myself teaching some geometry to these 9th graders. I found that aside from the high energy of the classes and some bits of unruliness, I was able to do it surprisingly well. I even heard a few murmurs from the kids “This guy is teaching more than our regular teacher!” It’s hard to know whether to feel glad or sad about that. I don’t know the regular teacher at all, but did have to deviate from the lesson order a bit. Plus the video he had was just TOO packed with information and I could see eyes glaze over after 10 minutes. So after the first period, I broke things down a bit more and did a LOT more teaching than the typical babysitting most subs are used to. But not knowing the students on a more personal level was a definite obstacle in trying interact with them. One can not emphasize rapport between students and teachers enough when it comes to teaching and learning and it is something a substitute has a hard time with, especially just starting out.


The next day, I was co-teaching an environmental science class teaching juniors and seniors. What an amazing difference in maturity! And I was able to teach most of the day with an experienced teacher who obviously had a great relationship with his students as well the the other sp. ed. teacher I was substituting for. These students were so much more self-directed!


The next two days, I spent teaching U.S. History. Two sections were AP classes and the last class was a large regular class. I loved working with all of these students and they all needed a lot of work. Again, there was this sentiment expressed about wanting me or someone like me to be their regular teacher. And this was even expressed more mildly even from the few adults who happened to come in and see what I was doing.  So I feel pretty good about my skills as a teacher.  How to get potential employers to see it and buy into it is another thing entirely.


All-in-all it has been a bit of an eye-opening experience getting out amongst a “regular” population. After teaching a decade in an environment that is so utterly alien to the rest of the school, I was wondering if I could even handle life on the outside. And I am finding that while it consumes more energy, I’m able to make a good transition to a less restrictive environment with a minimum of difficulty. And I find myself enjoying the students a little bit more in that I can interact with them on a much higher level compared to what I’ve been able to do the past 10 years.


Making Waves

30 Jul

No, not yet. But I have made waves before and know that the day will come (and might be overdue) when I have to do it again.

In 2000, I can into this county as some one with some experience in special education, but none with the severe and profound disabilities. I had worked with mostly LD and EBD settings, albeit very restrictive in a psychoed and state hospital. But what I lacked in experience, I more than made up for with the fire in my belly from just recently having my oldest son diagnosed with PDD-NOS at the age of 18 months.  I had some extra motivation that needed an outlet, and fighting injustice was just the thing.

The situation I walked into was pretty appalling. We were getting students with more and more severe disabilities, but there was no changing area. We had one student who we had to catheterize and change and we did it on a computer table in our little office area. The school nurse was prohibited from helping us with catheterizations. There were no accessible drinking fountains. The conditions we were working in showed me that there was a very clear pattern of discrimination, exclusion and prejudice. So I amazed and shocked my new administration by detailing several of these injustices in writing, listing all of them as recipients and then filing it with the county special education director as a list of section 504 violations. Looking back it was an extremely audacious thing for me, a new hire, to do.

The special education director did come out to the high school to meet with us in order to rectify several of the issues. While she was amused at my boldness, she was supportive and worked with us to address my grievances. Not all of them were addressed right away. Some of them were never resolved. But we made gradual headway and progress. The administration seemed to be genuinely interested in meeting the needs of our students.

NCLB has not been good to students with severe disabilities. In fact, it has totally thrown all of us under the bus. Sure, there is lip service toward ensuring that all children have a quality education delivered by highly qualified teachers. But with the constant drumbeat of accountability and test scores, these students and their teachers are totally marginalized and alienated. It is all about college preparation. What does someone with an IQ of less than 20 have to do with a college prep curriculum and diploma? And what does that say to those who really work hard to get one if they just give one to these kids by virtue if their GAA and staying until 22? Administrators all over the country, faced with tough economic choices are following their keenest business instinct; getting “the most bang for the buck.” That means test scores. That means NOT my program. That means disproportionate overcrowding.

Consider this:

The state sets various limits on class sizes for various grades, as well as disability categories. The limit for a PID class is 5, with at least one para. For a regular high school class it has been around 30. This means 1 student with severe disabilities is about equal in support to 6 regular education students. So what if I have 8 in my class? An administrator might see this as still being a small class. Numerically, it is. But support-wise, it is equal to increasing a regular class to 48! Even under the toughest of economic times, I do not know of a single regular teacher who is expected to be with 48 kids for one class period, much less being with all of them all day long all year long. Even with extra para support, there is a limit to how many one teacher can handle, no matter the level of experience or competence.

Numbers alone never give an accurate picture of anything. IQ is not a measure of character, worth or how much dignity a person deserves. And yet, this is the climate that is driving more and more decisions that routinely leave those who most need support and care into situations that are rife with neglect and abuse. It’s time we push back before we get run over.


22 Jul

Believe it or not, the start of school is just around the corner.  We are scheduled to begin preplanning next week, but that may change in light of the latest actions of our beloved governor.  According to the link, we may be looking at a reduction in work (and pay) for 3 days and it is extremely likely that at least some of those days will come at the expense of preplanning.

No doubt, this economy is a giant crap sandwich and everybody is going to have to take a bite.  However, preplanning is about the worst possible sacrifice we could make.  As it is, I was staring in the face of a massive shortage of time to get ready.  In fact, in my building we are now looking at a perfect storm of chaos the likes of which we have never seen before.

It started last year, when the school board decided everyone was going to be on a block schedule.  Not a huge deal for me, but it was and will still entail a considerable about of time retooling and retraining all of us.  This would be part of preplanning.  Next, our building is the oldest high school in the county and was supposed to be undergoing major rennovations over the summer.  That meant thet my paras and I spent days and days packing up all of our stuff into boxes and labeliling all our shelves and cabinets and moving these things to storage.  Then, in reaction to the budget woes, the school cut para preplanning to one day, which is the day of our open house.  So now I am looking at having to reassemble my classrooom and all of our stuff by myself.  And then there is an annoying email informing us to NOT come in early because the construction crews are not finished yet.

In addition to training on the block schedule, there has to be at least one school-wide meeting lasting several hours, a department meeting lasting hours and a district-wide special-ed meeting lasting half a day.

Basically, we’re totally screwed all around.

So now I’m noodling how to respond to all of this.  First off, that email about the construction not being finished; I’m going to go in anyway to pick up my mail and to see how deeply my classroom area is affected.  If it’s not, I need to get started because it took 4 of us several days to pack and I haven’t the time to spare.  Next week will be a bust regardless.  One silver lining might be that if the board decides to take a day or two off the top, I can still go in without having to worry about the inane meetings.

Heaven help the new teachers who are going through their new teacher orientation this week.  Orientation is SO crucial to them in getting to know the school, colleagues, administrators, procedures and just getting ready for the kids.  Truncating that transition for them will be costly down the road even more than for the rest of us who have been through past openings and have some semblance of an idea of what is involved.

There are some ways that some aspects of preplanning could be streamlined:

– New teachers need to be introduced.  Have each make a short video bio and post it on our intranet so we don’t need a meeting to see it.  Now that I think about it, ALL teachers could do that, and it would benefit everyone in knowing each other throughout the year.

– Replace meetings with video presentations.  Last year our superintendent did that, and it worked very well, except the principal still called us all together to watch it.  We need to be in our rooms working, instead of waiting for a video to start.  The principal did one video last year, and I thought it worked well.   There’s no reason for taking up a lot of face time if we are not expected to interact.  In other words, administrators rarely want to field many questions during a faculty meeting and such questions could be fielded online in the open for future reference.

-Get memos and notices out electonically and early.  We always have to submit a syllabus, information and course descriptions.  Many of these could be done collaborative on the intranet (Sharepoint).

Special educators also have a huge stack of files to go through for new students, and get assorted medical and emergency plans ready for them.  Our paperwork machinery is already ginning out new forms and data collection precedures even while I’m writing.  Just finding a place for all the paperwork and forms is a chore!

So what it really means is that teachers will be doing what we alaways have been doing; donating a ton of time to the service of our students.  It’s just going to be especially intense this fall.

A Few Comments on the Supreme’s Ruling

25 Jun

Earlier this week, the SCOTUS made a ruling concerning special education and private tuition reimbursement.  you can get a quick summary from the Washington Post here.  You can also get a summary from the SCOTUS blog and read up on it in a couple of posts from Jim Gerle’s Law blog.  He’s also got a link to the pdf file of the decision slip.

I first want to correct the first line of the washington Post article:

Parents of children with disabilities may seek reimbursement for private school tuition even if they have never sent their children to public schools, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a decision with wide-ranging implications for Washington area school systems.

That is not necessarily the case.  Basically, this case involved a student who was entering high school and his parents were concerned about the student’s lack of academic success.  So they made a referral for services.  The school counselor did some testing and found that the student was not eligible for services.  As such, no IEP was written.  The parents were still concerned during the student’s 10th grade year but the student was still not deemed eligible for services according to school testing.  So the parents eventually obtained a diagnosis for learning disabilities and ADHD.  They withdrew him from his high school and placed him in a private school that specialized in providing services for students with LD and ADHD.  It was during this time that they began filing for due process against the school for failing to provide FAPE, and sought reimbursement for the private school tuition.

The student finished his junior year at the private school and graduated from there the following year in 2004.  Yeah, this case has been dragging on for six years! And for most of that time, the student was pressing the case forward since the parental rights trnasferred to him at 18.

The school argued that the law provides for the reimbursement for students who have already been served in special education for at least one year.  But this student was never served in special education.  The WaPo article leads the reader to believe that the student never attended the public school, but in fact he did for most of his school career.  But he never received special education services and never had an IEP.  One major argument given by the prevailing side in this case was the fact that a school district could easily avoid all special education costs by simply not identifying students, which clearly flies in the face of the intent of the IDEA.

The school district argued that having to reimburse tuition for students who never had received services and whose parents unilaterally put their child in a private school would place an undo burden on the system financially.  Private schools serving special ed. students are not cheap.  This one attended by this student was a residential school, so we could easily be talking over $100,000 for this one student.  So, yeah, the district is going to fight!

Will this result in bankrupting school budgets?  I doubt it.  Remember that by the time this thing settled, the student was probably graduated from college! The time and persistence in getting through all the legal proceedings routinely takes several years.  By the time this case got only to district court level, the student was already done with school.  But the school does have a case that parents might be more aggressive about pursuing their rights.  Given the time it takes to get resolution on a case like this, a parent needs to start early in order to be assured of getting their child needed services.  Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to be an attack dog on a school system because the culture of discrimination and prejudice runs so deep and is so pervasive.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the Atlanta Journal Constitution blog on the subject and read the comments.  Students with disabilities are routinely scapegoated in the comments, whether or not that is actually the topic on this blog.  They actually got off kind of light, here.

Another reason why the impact of this is going to be somewhat minimal is the simple matter of there not being very many private schools who are willing to take and cater to students with special needs.  Georgia already has a law that offers a $10,000 voucher/scholarship for any student that wants one and very few ever take advantage of it.  And you can simply forget about any of my students ever being included in anything like that.  The impact on my students and their parents because of this ruling is ZILCH because there is not a private school anywhere that is going to take them, even if parents wanted to take advantage of any scholarship.  And no private school would house a student through their 22nd birthday.

You’ll hear a lot of noise from both sides of this issue, but I think it’s mostly a zero-sum game.  Parents aren’t going to be able to get tuition reimbursements whenever they want.  Even if they did get a favorable decision, it would likely be several years and several thousands of dollars after their child started a private school.  A parent would need the means to afford the tuition well in advance of challenging a school district.  The district still has the upper hand, but with stakes a bit higher they have more of a reason to work with parents instead of blowing them off.

The RTI and POI procedures, if they are followed and implimented correctly will also head-off a lot of these sort of challenges.  These procedures were not widely implimented in 2003, if at all, so there is already a procedural safeguard with documentation that is built-in to the process.  Today, there would be more than just one test and a one-time procedure for getting additional help.  IF it is implimented.  That’s a big “if.”

I encourage anyone interested in special education law to read the case, as it isn’t often a special education case makes it in front of the Supremes.  I’m betting against this being a big decision that changes the game, but I could be wrong.

IEP ideas for Parents: 8 tips for avoiding a butt-long (and ugly) IEP

2 Apr
Let’s make a special note of my standard disclaimer since this post ight annoy a few people!
  • I remember a few years ago I went to an autism conference where a parent advocate was talking about IEPs. She described various methods she used in order to successfully advocate for her son and get him the services that she needed. I wish I could remember her name, but it is probably better that I don’t because right now I am am feeling very hostile toward these adversarial strong-arm tactics. I’ve been a victim of strong-arm tactics from both sides: those inflicted by the school system, and those inflicted by a parent. At the moment, I’m having issues with the stupid tactics parents are using. The main one being the long, drawn-out, slow, painful, watching-paint-dry, line-by-line meeting.
    We are getting more and more and more parents that are adopting this tactic in my county and it has some very real, very painful and very detrimental consequences.
    I’ve talked a bit before about how the itinerant teachers are in a bind when it comes to having IEP meetings. Feedback from other teachers around the country indicate that they help mediate the crush of meetings by having annual reviews throughout the year. This makes some sense to me if there some meetings at the beginning of the year, and some at the end, instead of doing them all at the end. However, given the nature of the educational beast (i.e. testing) there are end-of-the-year meetings that are unavoidable. It becomes difficult to plan for a student’s upcoming year if you don’t know if they will be able to advance to the next grade and that depends pretty much on test scores. Are you going to write an IEP for the 9th grade and high school or another year of 8th grade? There’s a big difference in the level of support needed. Depending on the the graduation test or end-of-course tests, it might be the difference between graduating or doing another year in high school. I suppose you could write an IEP anticipating a best-case or worst-case scenario, but you can expect to be holding some addendums later. I prefer just having the one meeting.
    Like it or not, we are in IEP-Full-Tilt season. And now we encounter several parents who arrive to an 8:00 a.m. IEP with a picnic basket for lunch and pizza coupons for dinner and possibly a cooler and snacks if they are feeling generous. These folks take a day off work and fully expect and anticipate spending an entire day for an IEP. I have major problems with this tactic, because it causes a hardship that radiates out beyond just the one school, parent and student. But the problem is that most parents that do this don’t care about the other students because they make it their sole business to advocate for their own. This is all well and good. The hard-core advocates are correct in that parents are the first and best knowlege-base when it comes to their own children. No one will advocate like a parent (mothers in particular) and parents should be willing to go to the mat. However, waiting until the day of the IEP to decide to become and Advocate Mom is not the best way to do it. Advocacy is a continuous thing that demands diligence the entire year and not just on a single day during a single meeting. Properly done, advocacy can actually make IEP meetings less traumatic. I’ll share a few ideas about that, but first I want to share why this is bugging me right now.
    It is our county policy that we need at least 3 people in order for an IEP to be legitimate. LEA, parent, and case manager are a minimum along with a regular ed. teacher and then other service providers on top of that. Of course, parents and teachers can invite many more participants. I’ve had meetings with nearly 20 people that included the nurse, cafeteria manager, someone from transportation, DFACS, a healthcare agency, and two sets of parents plus other teachers, administrators and therapists. That was just an annual review, not a manifestation. And we did go on for a couple hours on that one but it was only my second year at this level. But while all of the teachers and therapists were at my longish meeting, there were NOT serving any other students. They were not at any other meetings for any other students. They were in that one meeting, mostly not saying or doing anything when other students in the county were being denied services. There are no such thing as substitute OTs, PTs or SLPs. These are highly skilled positions that you can’t just grab someone off the street to do. Would you want the just laid-off Microsoft programmer giving your son or daughter PT services while the PT is in an IEP meeting? Substitue teachers might have a degree but they do not have specialized skills our kids need.
    In my case, my son is not going to get OT or speech services for the next couple of months because of IEP meetings. The kids that I teach will get a reduced number of services because of IEP meetings. And many of those same service providers will not be attending IEP meetings for my students because they will be attending one meeting that is sure to last all day. I tried to schedule several of mine during the one day when most services were at my school. That happens to be a day when Advocate Mom is having an IEP for her child at another school, so all of the itinerant services are going to be there and they will not be allowed to leave because Advocate Mom brought a lunch along and possibly an attorney. No special occasion, it’s just the way she decides to operate on a yearly basis.
    I need to be perfectly clear that I do not know who this particular Advocate Mom really is. I did not ask because even though the lives of my students (and my own) are being disrupted here, it isn’t any of my business. I do happen to know more than one Advocate Mom who does operate in this way and if I happen to get an opportunity I intend on sharing my concerns directly in a less public forum to whoever. So indulge me in making some suggestions as parent and teacher so that you can have your say, your rights and your time while not wasting the time and efforts of others:
    1. Keep communication open all year. Do NOT wait until the annual review to unload a bunch of issues that have been brewing for the last 7 months. If you are concerned, you have a right to bring them up at the point you are concerned directly with the provider responsible. If you make no headway, work your way up the chain of command as needed. But communication is truly the key. If everyone is open and transparent, there really is the possibility of everyone walking away happy.
    2. Submit proposed goals and other input ahead of time. I strongly advocate that teachers share their proposals well in advance, and this also goes for parents. If you have stuff you want included in the IEP, let it be known far enough in advance that it can be included in the draft presented at the meeting. If you have independent evaluations and data from other providers, it can really help write a better draft that requires less niggling.
    3. Try to cut a deal before hand. Yeah, I know that the IEP is supposed to be a committee process, but as a parent you have most of the cards. Go ahead and play ahead of time and see if there are points that you can get agreement on before the meeting from the folks who you need to win over. If you want para support for your son or daughter, try running it by the director of special ed. in advance. Your case manager is likely to support your efforts, and he/she can help you make your case. If you run into a dead-end, then at least you know ahead of time and can go ahead and pack the lunch and pizza. But a lot of bargaining and discussion can take place ahead of time over the phone and with stakeholders. It happens at schools among the staff all the time. There’s no reason why you can’t be in on the preliminaries. A few things to put on the table in advance: ESY, para support, major placement change, adding service hours, an evaluation request. These are all things that may require extra forms, paperwork and consultation. If I know you might want an evaluation we can actually start getting consents and screenings done ahead of time instead of waiting for the meeting.
    4. Request a draft of the IEP, copies of mastery records and data ahead of time. I know teachers and service providers really grouse about doing this, but it really can save a lot of grief in the long run. If they are not giving their stuff to you voluntarily, send a note in demanding it by a certain time, say 5 days or so before the meeting. I suppose you could make the holding of the IEP contingent upon that condition. If they refuse, you simply turn the tables…go to the meeting and table it as soon as you get the stuff. School systems will automaticaly table a meeting if you show up with an attorney without giving them advance notice. You have the same right to NOT be surprised.
    5. Look for other ways and times to communicate. Special Olympics can be a good time to touch base as well as other events that happen during the school year. Some of it might involve volunteering. Afterall, you don’t have to be a nuisance ALL the time!;-) Communication and being open is a real key to getting the best services possible for your student. If I know you want a certain service or device in advance, I can hunt around and look into it. I might find something better than what you wanted. But if I’m surprised by something at the annual review, I’m going to have a more difficult time agreeing to it. We all have a hard time agreeing to things we don’t understand or are unprepared for.
    6. Be realistic. “Realistic” is a very subjective thing, and I get that. In fact, this concept of realism probably causes more conflict than anything else. Yes, we have the technology to put your son or daughter inside of a space capsule and launch them into orbit around the moon and bring them back safely. But when you’re asking tax payers to foot the bill for your moon shot, we’re going to have some problems. And do you really want the school system building that rocket? While school systems are capable of many things, I’ve come to realize that the school system is not terribly capable of doing many things very well. You’ll get para support and ESY but the folks doing those things may not be as skilled and committed as you want. It’s a given that they will not be as committed as you, the parent. So by “realistic” I think parents need to realize that they are much better equipped to deliver most of the skills their kids need themselves. I only have 7 students, but they are the neediest students in the building! On a good day, I can get 45 minutes with each individual student, and that includes changing diapers and feeding. If you want your child mainstreamed, the ratio gets worse. Para support involves a new level of devilry addressed next…
    7. Get the student involved (as appropriate). With my SID/PID population, it is going to be somewhat negligible as it is with very young students. However, by the time they are a middle schooler, most students should be writing some sort of “Fact Sheet” indicating their own interests and their own understanding of their limitations and strengths. I have been in many meetings where parent and school system are squared off and a very capable student is in the middle left saying absolutely nothing. That student needs to be in the middle, but not as a spectator. Which gets back to para support, because a para often becomes a sort of surrogate parent. For the very young or the very impaired, this is often what is needed. But as students age, that para support needs to be dimished and independence needs to be increased. Same with testing accomodations. The best example of a student self-advocating was one time when we were discussing testing accomodations and the teacher was ready to include extra time and a small setting “just in case he needed it.” The student shot back (quite forcefully) “I just took the PSAT and had no problems with 100 other students for 3 hours. I hink I’ll be okay taking other tests without all that!” Okay, this fellow might be an exception but the point is, is that he was ready to shed the support and let it be known.
    8. Let My People Go! It’s not just something Moses said to Pharoah, it’s good for the rest of us. If you feel the need to have an IEP that lasts several hours, okay. But please let the service providers go do what they get paid to do or at least attend some other parent’s meeting. I have 5 meetings on one day, and all 5 of those parents deserve a shot at talking to people who serve their children, just like you. Allow those participants who need to leave after the first hour to do it, if you can. I know no one likes the “revolving door” of many meetings with people coming and going, but this truly is the nature of this beast. We simply have not mastered the ability to be several places at the same time. It really is rare that a teacher or service provider can spare more than an hour for these things, but we do what we have to.
    Surprises are NOT anyones friend during the IEP process. Time is also not a friend. The whole “wear them down by making everyone stay long” might get you what you want but there are consequences which I’ve outlined. Okay, you don’t give a crap about other students, the teachers, the service providers or anyone else but your own kid. But the bad will you generate WILL trickle down to your student whether anyone intends for it to be so or not. It’s just human nature. While I don’t know exactly who Advocate Mom is, if I ever found out, I do not think I would be looking forward to ever teaching this child no matter how sweet he or she is. Every one of my students deserve my time and attention and I resent stuff that gets in the way of that, even if it is a well-intentioned parent. For my son, I expect the teachers and service providers to do their jobs to the best of their ability with a minimum of fuss. If Jane and I have to fuss at the school, we will. But by and large we’ve found ourselves taking up more and more of an active role in the education of our children. And we’re trying to teach them how to take a more active role in their own learning. If you’re depending on the government school to do it all, you’re going to be perpetually frustrated. As parents, we’re not just a child’s best advocate, we’re also their first and best teacher. Teachers, parents and administrator; I haven’t met any of them who really looked forward to an IEP. But if we work together we can make this a bit less stressful for everyone. Surely there must be someone else you’d rather have a picnic with than an IEP committee!
  • How We’ll Become Even more Endangered

    16 Jan

    Here is a copy of a press release from Govenor Sonny Perdue’s office:

    Governor Perdue Announces Proposals to Transform Education and Improve Economic Environment

    Tuesday January 13th, 2009

    ATLANTA– Governor Sonny Perdue discussed education, economic environment and transportation this morning at the Eggs & Issues Breakfast hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce at the Georgia World Congress Center.

    “During these times we continue to focus on government’s core mission,” said Governor Perdue. “Now more than ever we must make sure that we get out of government what we put into it.”

    At the breakfast, the Governor announced three proposals to match the state’s educational spending with its desired outcome. The first proposal recognizes the important role of leadership at the school level. Under the proposal, high school principals who demonstrate improvement in graduation rate, SAT scores, and End of Course Tests compared to their school’s most recent 3-year average will be eligible for a $10,000 performance bonus. Principals could also qualify by leading a school that is in the top 5 percent of high schools in the state in these three areas.

    The second proposal recognizes the role that quality teachers play in producing positive educational outcomes. The proposal for teachers is based on the Master Teacher program and would allow exceptional teachers who are willing to serve as instructional leaders and mentors in their schools to be eligible to receive pay increases of ten to fifteen percent.

    In response to a shortage of math and science teachers and increased demand in these content areas, the Governor proposed taking a business-like approach to recruiting these teachers. The Governor’s proposal, based on recommendations by the Alliance of Education Agency Head’s Math and Science Task Force, would start new fully-certified math and science teachers at the same salary as a fifth year teacher. Teachers in these fields with less than five years experience would also be brought up to the fifth year pay level. In an effort to encourage and reward elementary teachers who increase their competency in math and science, the Governor’s proposal will also provide a $1,000 annual bonus to elementary teachers who hold a math or science endorsement. The three proposals all call for the incentives to be available beginning in 2010-11 school year, which would be the Fiscal Year 2011 state budget.

    “It has long been one of the chief fallacies of government to focus on inputs, usually on how much you’re spending, instead of outputs – on performance and achievement,” said Governor Perdue.

    The Governor also proposed school board legislation to ensure that every student has the benefit of responsible leadership at the school system level. The legislation standardizes board ethics policies and board training, clarifies law delineating the roles and responsibilities of superintendents and board members, creates minimum qualifications for board candidates, and gives the state the ability to find responsible citizens to serve on school boards when existing members fail to serve the interests of their students.

    “Never again, do I intend for the state to be handcuffed by our current law and powerless to help students who are being failed by the adults in their community,” the Governor said.

    Make a note of the part in bold above. There is a big elephant in the room. Can you spot it?

    Our beloved governor is referring to the critical teacher shortages in certain subject areas (math and science), promising bonuses for those who choose to move into or get certified in those areas. But he left one out. He always leaves this one area out in his pet incentive programs. In his Master Teacher Program (designed to be an alternative to National Board Certification)…he left it out.

    Just where does special education fit into all of this? Special education has been identified federally as one of those critical shortage areas and it is equally true in the state of Georgia as it is for the nation. The failure to mention or address this area is either blatant ignorance, flagrant incompetence out outright discrimination on the part of him and his educational advisors. In fact, he has introduced a measure that promises to make the shortage of special education teachers worse!

    I just recently received an email from another special education teacher who was asking about the GACE because she was looking to migrate away from special education and into science. And this was composed and sent before our governor announced his plans to transform the education and fix the economy through incentives for math and science teachers. And I passed my GACE science last last year, so am in a good spot to migrate if I choose. By failing to address the special education teacher shortage, Gov. Perdue is promising to turn the disturbing migration of special education teachers out of the field into even more of a crisis. As it is, people are being nabbed off the street in order to fill empty positions. Now there is even more of an incentive for special education teachers to move out of their specialty area and create more openings that will go unfilled and result in more of the most disadvantaged students being underserved.

    A visit to Georgia’s teacher recruitment website ( shows where the shortage areas are. Yes, there are quite a few math and science openings. But special education dominates the vacancy list. Throw in speech language pathology, ESOL and a few of the other categories and special education as a field totally rules the teacher vacancy positions in the state of Georgia. Special education has ruled the vacancy list for the last 20 years. It will probably rule for the next 20 years, thanks to this governor and his incentive dis-incentive.

    I suppose someone might try to make the case that special education does not add economic value like math and science. To them, I would point out that special education students, as a group, represent the subgroup most likely to drag a school into “Needs Improvement” status. The unemployment rate of this subgroup is well over 50%. And current educational policy seems absolutely bent on marginalizing them (and their teachers) even more. So in a sense, having a large cadre of highly paid engineers is going to be necessary in order to bear the economic and social costs of carrying people who the current educational system chooses to leave behind.

    C’mon, Governor! Are you addressing teacher shortages or not?

    This just further illustrates and underscores the pervasive culture of discrimination that seems to always be perpetrated against individuals with disabilities and those who serve them.

    Just to add one more bit of news along these lines, the waiting lists for those waiting for various medical or transition services has been totally frozen since the economic downturn. One of my former students who aged out last year is still on the waiting list. Which means he is pretty much just sitting around at home. The money should have been in place the second he graduated since he had been on the list since middle school. But once again, individuals with disabilities are shunted aside in favor of other priorities. They are at the bottom of the list, even in the best of economic times, and in today’s climate they are totally abandoned.

    What kind of economic recovery is it when it is borne by those who are least able to carry the rest of us? While we bail out auto executives we keep kids on a waiting list for needed services. Not a very noble picture is it?

    “You’re not so bad, after all!”

    3 May

    That’s what Thomas’ teacher said yesterday after our IEP meeting. There wasn’t a whole lot of drama, but there were issues that we managed to work through.

    One was the issue of PE. The regular PE teacher described the atmosphere of PE as about 60-70 kids in the gym, doing all sorts of different activities (several groups running at the same time) with different equipment all going at the same time. It was described as organized chaos and extremely loud. Basically I was wondering how anyone could function in an environment like that! The adaptive PE teacher is someone I know very well, and she was there and offered to try to help with modifications. So we postponed an APE referral because he probably wouldn’t qualify anyway.

    The input statement went over really well. His case manager really doesn’t work with him at all, so she was really searching for some input for his current level of functioning. This turned out to be a gold mine for her, which wasn’t exactly the intention, but it still served a very important purpose and it will again in the fall.

    They had community goals written and I told the case manager that we could just skip those and delete them all. There was nothing in the present level to indicate the need for CBI services. It was just something the 1st grade teacher recommended that she thought would be nice. The CBI teacher was there, and I know her fairly well. I think she got a bit defensive about the fact that I didn’t want him in CBI, but I did smooth it over later when we went ahead and okay’ed resource services for him with her as his resource teacher and case manager. She was basically really wanting and needing some sort of affirmation of her abilities.

    I’ve encountered this several times during Thomas’ IEP meetings where the service providers all want to hear something that affirms that they are doing the right thing. I don’t always deliver, and it’s not intentional. I’m not trying to make people feel bad or incompetent; I just deliver the reinforcement to those most deserving at the time. I never thought of the lack of positive feedback as a big negative, but they sometimes take it that way.

    Anyway, he will still be getting speech and OT plus an hour/day for resource. This future-resource teacher has been to most of Thomas’ meetings and it wasn’t till the end that I discovered that she really wanted to be his case manager all along. Who knew? I would describe her as experienced and competent, and feel okay with her helping him and the teachers and paras he will be dealing with. She’s had some of the same training that I have in the area of autism and is one of the few in the building that knows anything about it. So I’m hopeful that he can continue to make progress in all areas.

    I saw his achievement test results and was like, “YOWZA!” Given the WJ mini-Battery, his reading was in the 5th grade range and his writing was in 4th grade range! His math and factual knowledge was pretty much right on at grade 1.6. So academically, there’s not much reason for the extra support, it’s all the behavioral stuff which I think is common for many individuals with autism. It was certainly the issue for me when I was his age. I didn’t like all the busy work that teachers gave and to me it seemed pointless to keep doing the same exercises over and over. This is why I’m not very good at helping him with his homework because it gets to a point where I sort of see his point: I know he can do this. He knows he can do it. His teachers know he can do it. So what’s the purpose of wasting the time in proving mastery over and over? Let’s just get it over with so we can watch Sponge Bob!

    The meeting went well, all things considered, and we actually finished in about 2 hours which is a record for us. I notice a LOT of people are hitting my IEP series as it IS the season for these things. No matter which side of the table you are on, I’m hoping all of your IEPs are stress and drama free.


    IEP Service Options

    27 Apr

    Erin recently posted a question about placement and placement decisions. Namely:

    What are the IDEA classifications that allow a student to be placed in a resource setting? What is the boundary between a CBI/EBD and just a resource class?

    Placement/services is the trickiest question most IEP committees deal with and it is often the most contentious. The fact that Thomas’ first grade teacher is recommending CBI is a case in point. Just because her child is in CBI doesn’t mean it is appropriate for someone else. And is adaptive PE a reasonable option?

    In my IEP series, I wrote an article that dealt with the service option question, but didn’t go into detail as to exactly how such a decision is made. We consider the present level of performance, special factors, accommodations and modifications, goals and the transition plan and all of these should point to a possible group of services. This is why, if you are a parent, you can best shape the placement by contributing to these earlier sections of the IEP. I’ve seen many parents sit tight lipped through almost the whole meeting, enduring all of the earlier spiel only to open up and let loose when we discuss placement options. But by then, it is too late.

    The law is pretty plain in that the least restrictive environment (LRE) is the main aim of placement and service options while delivering appropriate services. As a parent, teacher or LEA, I find myself being pretty aggressive in this regard. Many other committee members will take a very cautious and conservative approach with the idea that they don’t want the kid to fail. However, a more restrictive environment also means less chance of meaningful success. Of course Thomas can succeed in adaptive PE! He has very few physical limitations! Is it meaningful for him to succeed in some sort of Special Olympic competition against those who do have significant physical limitations? So I’m more likely to go ahead and test a student and offer the less restrictive as an option if needed. More conservative committee members want to offer a more restrictive service or setting and offer the less restrictive option contingent on success in the lower setting. But the bind is that they will later claim the more restrictive setting is working, so why change it?

    The most restrictive setting is a self-contained setting. In the elementary grades, several disabilities may be in the same classroom together with the same teacher and para almost the entire day. The class will be smaller and hopefully more structured. However the abilities of students can vary widely which makes this a very difficult setting in which to teach. The EBD student may be doing some advanced material while the MID student is doing material that is very basic and way below grade level. You can guess a major downside of this; the MID student will be learning some new behaviors from his EBD friends that his parents might rather he not. Also, the EBD student has few positive behavioral models with whom to practice his social skills. The LD student typically needs both academic and behavioral assistance. One of the few positive results of No Child Left Behind is that the self-contained setting is limited to those with the most severe disabilities, while the milder disabilities are spending more time in the mainstream environment. Even those with severe disabilities are getting more regular education time.

    Things have to be fairly bad for me to recommend a self-contained setting for a child. And even then, I’m going to push for some classes in the regular setting. The intention of the law is to compel school systems to consider as many accommodations as possible before modifying the curriculum. So a student should have failed in the regular setting repeatedly and even with lots of accommodations before I go to the self-contained route. And sometimes, even with failure, I’ll try to go a bit further. As Erin points out in another post, the collaborative teachers are sometimes a fry or two short of a happy meal and aren’t giving much help. This is one reason I’m looking at getting into that side of the business.

    Resource is the service model that seems to be the most common. It is relatively cheap, easy to implement and does not impact LRE nearly as much as a self-contained placement. It can also have dubious value as it depends heavily on the skill of the teacher. This might be the way we go with Thomas, but I’m a bit reluctant to go from full-inclusion to the resource model. The resource setting serves many functions and purposes. It is sometimes used as a study hall, so students can get their work done. It also functions as an enrichment setting, where supplementary instruction is delivered on organization, test taking, studying and social skills. It’s the latter that they are pushing for Thomas, but I’m thinking just giving Thomas a break from the regular setting might be beneficial for him, his regular teacher and his para. So much of what I end up hearing is the result of emotional fatigue caused by having a student that is so disruptive and demands so much attention.

    Collaborative classes can be used along with the resource model of service delivery. In our district, the special education teachers doing collaborative teaching are universally the most inexperienced and least trained of the lot. How the collaboration and regular teachers are paired up depends on the school. But consider the fact that it seems like the newest teachers always get the majority of mainstreamed special education students because the experienced ones have seniority. Pair them with the most inexperienced special education teachers and you can end up with the blind leading the blind. In theory, both teachers are supposed to be adding something to the environment and make it a better one for all students. In reality, it’s a bit different. I spoke with one young biology teacher who said she didn’t really want a collaborative teacher in her room because they didn’t seem to know what they were doing. And having a para was almost like having an extra student. So she handled the 10 IEP students in her class of 30 by herself. It’s teachers like her that I worry about because she’s obviously dedicated but she’s also on a fast track to burnout.

    Collaborative classes can be beneficial if the two teachers can get into a real teaching groove together. It takes some work and some effort but the payoff can be significant because it can allow some students to succeed in a regular setting where they might fail otherwise. Plus, in the land of NCLB testing, this addresses those students in the “golden band” who are just failing. Science remains the hardest part of the high school graduation test and yet this is where there are the fewest HQ collaborative teachers.

    Despite what I’ve said above, I’m a big fan of the collaborative model with or without resource. I think there is a lot of potential to give more access to the general curriculum for more students with this model. But it depends on the individual teachers involved. It would make more sense to me to pair a novice in one discipline with a veteran of the other just so one can learn from another.

    The consultative model is basically a transition out of special education or barely staying in with accommodations only. A student being served here should have shown mastery of the grade level content in the regular classes. My youngest will probably end up here next year because he needs very little support. He might still qualify for OT services and that’s about it. Academically, he is right where he needs to be. He’s not the brilliant super-fast learner his older brother is, but he also doesn’t have all the silly interfering behaviors, either.

    Most students in special education served under IDEA should be in the resource/ collaborative services. The whole concept of an alternative curriculum for students with mild disabilities is rapidly on its way out. Our school is still doing it, but I see things changing even though many teachers don’t like it. I think parents and teachers need to be fairly aggressive in moving students along to less and less restrictive environments if at all possible. In fact, I wish we had an elective or two that MY kids could participate in, even if it was just a few days a week. But the shortage of space and teachers has put us in a bit of a squeeze that way.

    I don’t know if I’ve clarified anything here, but at least I’ve cleared some of my own mental back-log!


    IEP Process: Manifestation Determination Part 2

    12 Mar

    This is the second post on manifestation determination, which is an important variation in the IEP process.  See part 1 here.

    Raising a child with a disability is difficult.You’ve been dealing with this person’s behavioral issues since day one.And you still love them because this is your child!Little Johny might not be an angel, but he’s trying his best.You may be getting many phone calls from the school regarding your child’s behavior and heaven knows you hear enough at the annual IEP meetings.

    But in about 7th grade, it might be a bit more serious.Johny or Joni might have done something for which they are being suspended.Perhaps it is something like getting into a fight or stealing something or bringing something they ought not to have brought to school.Formal charges might have been filed with the police.For most students, they will go through a tribunal or disciplinary process to determine the facts and then give out the punishment.But for students with disabilities, there is an added part to the process called a Manifestation Determination.

    The idea for doing this is because the disciplinary process could be used in such a way as to deny a student their right to a free and appropriate public education.If we can just frustrate a student with a behavioral disability long enough, they’ll do something dumb and they can be kicked out.

    To a parent, this manifestation is going to look an awful lot like a tribunal or trial.In a sense it is, but it’s not exactly what you think.If your child is up for suspension for fighting, the specific facts of the case will be brought up but that is not going to be the focal point of the discussion.This often confuses parents because they come to the meeting prepared to argue on behalf of their child staying in school.While this is what is at stake, it is not going to be treated directly.This is both good and bad.The good news is that there is at least one more meeting where the case can be argued if this one fails.The bad news is that it can be very confusing to parents.

    Using my example from the previous post, where a student accepted money that he knew had been stolen, it looks very bad for the student.How does a disability in writing influence whether or not a child steals?

    However, the present level of performance did reveal some impulsivity and a vulnerability to undo influence from peers.These are not untypical for individuals with various disabilities who lack social skills.It’s not so much the writing disability at issue as much as the topography of the entire disability.So a savvy parent could legitimately make the case that the incident could indeed be a manifestation of the disability.However expect heavy argument and dissention from the administrator.

    This is a good reason for a parent to have an individual private evaluation done and included as part of the IEP record.Such documentation is the key to turning things around.

    At one point during that manifestation I thought the parent might actually be on the verge of prevailing.Not on the first question, but on the second regarding the school’s implementation of the IEP.She started asking questions about her son’s teachers, specifically the special education teachers.He had several collaborative classes plus one resource class.The fact was, that one of the collaborative classes was staffed by a substitute all semester and the resource class only has had a para since the end of January.The fact is, fully one third of his services were not being provided in accordance with the law by having a highly qualified teacher.But the parent did not sufficiently pursue her line of questioning, and dropped the matter. When asked, the caseload teacher said the student was getting all the services as written in the IEP.

    My role in this meeting was not an active one, as I was not a case manager or a teacher of this child.  One can imagine the reaction I would have gotten if I had said anything resembling what I was thinking.

    I’ve tried to summarize something about manifestations that might be helpful.If you’re a parent, I would advise bringing in an advocate for a manifestation just because it can help to have someone who is not so emotionally bound up in the process who might be able to keep you from being steam rolled.It’s a lot like an IEP except more emotionally charged and consequences can be dire as far as suspension and alternative school.

    Hopefully I won’ t have to sit through one as a parent but I think I know enough about the process to make all parties involved very nervous. And they should be.

    Having said that, there are times when the action has no relationship to the disability.For instance I once had a student who went through a manifestation because he brought a porn tape to school and tried to play it.He intended to trade the tape for something else, but when he tried to play it he was busted.While he was being served in a self-contained EBD class, his actions were clearly deliberate and not related to being EBD.In fact, his deliberateness and ingenuity at working to get something he wanted by trading rather than intimidation might almost be seen as an improvement.So in this case, his trip to the alternative school was earned.

    I’ll write more about IEPs later, but thought this needed to be talked about at least a little bit.