Archive for the ‘IDEA’ Tag

An IEP is not a free pass, and other misconceptions about Special Education   5 comments

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in Twitter’s #SpEdChat (READ: I actually remembered it was taking place and added my two cents). I have a special place in my heart for Special Education; I made it through 4.5 years teaching without laying hands (CODE: Channeling Madea) on any students. More importantly, I managed to only mildly inform colleagues and administrators of their ignorance of Special Education’s purpose and when they directly violated any component of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act). But I digress because this post is about something else. It’s about teachers being proactive in gaining knowledge to do what’s in the best interest of their students. And I can always support that!

I noticed a theme during the #SpEdChat: A lot of General Education teachers are genuinely interested in learning about ways to help those students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), as opposed to ‘passing them’ simply because they have an IEP. My buddy @TheJLV and I were discussing the arrangements at his school: The majority of the kids served by Special Education participate in Inclusion classes, where students are essentially mainstreamed into Regular Education classes. (NOTE: This setting, as with any other, is determined by the child’s IEP team – parents, teachers, psychologist, administrator, etc. and his/her area of disability. This is covered by the FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education- provision of IDEA.) He shared that the staff attended an IEP training workshop, facilitated/led by the Special Education Department. That’s certainly a good first step, but I am sure some of the people were overwhelmed. Why? Because I was overwhelmed with writing IEPs for the first two years; reading them was much easier! In order to better educate teachers, both General and Special Education, it is absolutely necessary to for school’s to offer ongoing professional development regarding IEPs, IDEA, Inclusion, etc. One-shot workshops don’t usually work well for other education-related topics, so it’s no wonder why they don’t fare well with regard to Special Education.

So a few people asked questions about IEPs, including how do you write them, how do you understand them, etc. As I stated above, writing IEPs is a difficult and sometimes daunting task; however, when done correctly, a well-written one makes delivering quality instruction and assessing student growth a proverbial cakewalk. I cannot, nor will I attempt, to do a drive-by blog on writing IEPs because there is a lot that goes into that, but to start I will give you a quick run-down of what an IEP is/is not, and what it’s supposed to do-when followed.

What the heck is an IEP? (Not to be confused with EIP – Early Intervention Plan/Program)

  1. First and foremost, an IEP is a legal document; it’s contents & directives are protected by IDEA;
  2. An IEP is a confidential document. You should only discuss its contents with people who directly interact with the child;
  3. An IEP is required for any child diagnosed with any disability that impedes/affects (not stops) his or her ability to learn at the same rate or in the same manner as peers;
  4. An IEP is not a free pass for students to ‘skate’ through the system; do not let anyone tell you otherwise. You will do students a great disservice if you don’t hold them accountable;
  5. An IEP does not excuse (the majority of) students from learning the same standards/content. It does, however, provide for accommodations/modifications based upon the IEP team’s recommendations;
  6. A well-written IEP requires input from all stakeholders: Student (if appropriate age-usually 14); parent(s); teachers; psychologist; Lead Special Education Teacher (terminology may differ by state); administrator; school counselor; therapist, SLP, etc. when appropriate. This is a group effort and the child will only be successful if the requisite amount of time and knowledge are applied to writing and following the IEP;
  7. An IEP is integral to the success of any student with a disability. It should not, under any circumstances, be filed in some cabinet and ignored during the school year;
  8. By law, an IEP must be updated every year, on the anniversary date. Err on the side of caution: Schedule the Annual Review 7-10 days prior to the anniversary date. I have seen school districts sued by knowledgeable parents because the district failed to conduct the Annual Review. I have also seen students with 2-3 year old IEPs. Yes, the system is broken but we are still accountable for meeting the needs of our students.

In response to concerns voiced by some teachers and administrators during the chat: IDEA states that teachers who have direct instructional contact with the student are required to attend IEP meetings. Attendance by a building administrator is also required. I would suggest that the Special Education Department Chair collaborate first, with the principal to develop a master calendar of potential IEP Annual Review dates. Then, work with other department chairs and inform all teachers of their responsibilities. I understand that teachers now have 1,001 things on their plates, but I am sure they would much rather make time for meetings than be named in a lawsuit.

When in doubt, follow IDEA. Every state/district/school must use IDEA as a foundation for developing their respective Special Education programs. Anything above and beyond IDEA is up to their discretion, but the federal guidelines cannot be altered as long as federal funds are involved/accepted/spent.

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It’s a conspiracy…a C-O-N-spiracy!   4 comments

Last week I wrote about the plight of one Gwinnett parent, whose child has a disability. At the time, we thought dealing with the ignorance would be contained to Special Education issues but as I learned this morning, we were both wrong. Dead wrong. This is the text I received this morning:

‘Guess what Monise, the principal of Meadowcreek had the Parent Coordinator tell me that he doesn’t want me to volunteer any more because I spoke up at the Title I meeting held on Friday here at Meadowcreek HS. And that my interest isn’t in the best interest for the school.”

I couldn’t believe that (actually I could but didn’t think any person was actually dumb enough to tell the parent of a child they could not volunteer, especially when federal dollars are tied to Parent Centers). In fact, I am still a little shocked and a whole lotta pissed. Why? Because we have heard people say that parents, especially those of the Black and Brown hues, do not care about education because we only show-up for sporting events or when our kids are in trouble. Here we have a parent, armed with the assistance of an (free) advocate, a grasp of Special Education Law and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), who asks some questions (apparently the right ones) about the qualifications of her child’s teacher. How does the administration respond? The same way they usually do when they realize people are ‘on to them:’ They shut down and the walls go up. READ: ‘She knows too much and we don’t want her in this building everyday, talking to other parents and informing them of their rights.’ Kinds sounds like the reasoning slave owners used to keep slaves from learning to read. Only this time, the overseer (principal) is Black. Yep, direct descendant of Uncle Tom.

Now let me break-down the steps of the Conspiracy Theory:

  1. Talking heads and education ‘experts’ say parents don’t care. READ: Black, Brown, and low SES parents don’t care about education;
  2. Federal government waives extra money at districts to create Parent Centers to increase parental involvement;
  3. Districts indoctri, er…. hire people they know will only give parents enough information, but not too much;
  4. Said people mentioned in #3 should, when possible, be members of said disinterested parental groups, also known as tokenism in an effort to thwart any claims of racism when the superintendent says something stupid;
  5. Once this Parent Center is established, make sure that the building principal has complete control and liberty to select volunteers (yes, that’s an oxymoron);
  6. Any parent who asks questions of the Stepford Parent Coordinator should be annihilated immediately. Inform them that their services as a volunteer are no longer needed.
  7. If steps 1-6 are followed as directed, you can continue to assert (lie) that Black, Brown, and low SES students cannot and will not learn because their parents do not care about education;
  8. Repeat as often as necessary to perpetuate the opportunity gap.

Sometimes I feel like I am living in a bad dream..people can’t really be this stupid and careless, can they?

It's a conspiracy…a C-O-N-spiracy!   3 comments

Last week I wrote about the plight of one Gwinnett parent, whose child has a disability. At the time, we thought dealing with the ignorance would be contained to Special Education issues but as I learned this morning, we were both wrong. Dead wrong. This is the text I received this morning:

‘Guess what Monise, the principal of Meadowcreek had the Parent Coordinator tell me that he doesn’t want me to volunteer any more because I spoke up at the Title I meeting held on Friday here at Meadowcreek HS. And that my interest isn’t in the best interest for the school.”

I couldn’t believe that (actually I could but didn’t think any person was actually dumb enough to tell the parent of a child they could not volunteer, especially when federal dollars are tied to Parent Centers). In fact, I am still a little shocked and a whole lotta pissed. Why? Because we have heard people say that parents, especially those of the Black and Brown hues, do not care about education because we only show-up for sporting events or when our kids are in trouble. Here we have a parent, armed with the assistance of an (free) advocate, a grasp of Special Education Law and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), who asks some questions (apparently the right ones) about the qualifications of her child’s teacher. How does the administration respond? The same way they usually do when they realize people are ‘on to them:’ They shut down and the walls go up. READ: ‘She knows too much and we don’t want her in this building everyday, talking to other parents and informing them of their rights.’ Kinds sounds like the reasoning slave owners used to keep slaves from learning to read. Only this time, the overseer (principal) is Black. Yep, direct descendant of Uncle Tom.

Now let me break-down the steps of the Conspiracy Theory:

  1. Talking heads and education ‘experts’ say parents don’t care. READ: Black, Brown, and low SES parents don’t care about education;
  2. Federal government waives extra money at districts to create Parent Centers to increase parental involvement;
  3. Districts indoctri, er…. hire people they know will only give parents enough information, but not too much;
  4. Said people mentioned in #3 should, when possible, be members of said disinterested parental groups, also known as tokenism in an effort to thwart any claims of racism when the superintendent says something stupid;
  5. Once this Parent Center is established, make sure that the building principal has complete control and liberty to select volunteers (yes, that’s an oxymoron);
  6. Any parent who asks questions of the Stepford Parent Coordinator should be annihilated immediately. Inform them that their services as a volunteer are no longer needed.
  7. If steps 1-6 are followed as directed, you can continue to assert (lie) that Black, Brown, and low SES students cannot and will not learn because their parents do not care about education;
  8. Repeat as often as necessary to perpetuate the opportunity gap.

Sometimes I feel like I am living in a bad dream..people can’t really be this stupid and careless, can they?

Special Education: Doing the ‘Right Thing’ even when nobody’s looking   Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about a parent I met this summer. Her son was diagnosed with several disabilities, but the story is the same: Parent of a child with a disability is completely overwhelmed with jargon and paperwork; s/he doesn’t understand any of it. Naively, s/he believes that the school/district have her child’s best interest at heart. I have seen this too many times, and not just in Georgia. The parent I met this summer lives in Ohio; I have also helped two parents who live in Indiana. This goes beyond coincidence. And it needs to stop.

So as I talked with this other parent last week, my frustration returned. I couldn’t help but wonder how other parents would feel so I thought I would ask you (that means you have to actually respond!). So, if you were (or actually are) the parent of a child with a disability, how would you feel if:

  1. Your child spent the first 2 weeks of school with a building sub instead of a certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ Special Education teacher? (Considering how often the education experts are always mentioning the importance of qualified teachers, this should be important, right?)
  2. When you ask the building administrator (‘leader’) why there is no qualified teacher assigned to the class, he responds: Well we have interviewed several people. I didn’t click with some of them but we have someone who will likely be hired by next Friday (August 27th), provided all the paperwork is completed and everything goes as planned.’ (GTFOH with that BS)
  3. After speaking with the ‘leader’ of the school, you speak with the Special Education Department Chair. In an effort to rectify the situation, she offers to do a student ‘swap.’ That is, she offers to remove a kid from the certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ teacher’s room to make room for your kid. (See parenthetical comments for #2 and repeat.)
  4. When given options about placement, you (parent) decide to withdraw your child and enroll him/her in another school that has the correct Special Education program and qualified staff. ‘Leader’ completes withdrawal paperwork and sends you to School B. You arrive at School B, where Special Education staff tells you that they have room for your child. Unfortunately, you cannot enroll your child on that day because School A did not give you all the required records/paperwork. You inform staff that you will return in the morning to enroll your child.
  5. (Next day) You contact School B to make sure that you can still enroll your child. You are told that there is no room available. Within less than 24 hours. After you drove from School A to School B and back to School A the previous day. (You already know.)
  6. Well, 2 weeks of the school year have already passed and you need to find a placement for your child. What do you do? Look at the list of schools accepting transfers. You decide that you need to find someplace for her to go and PDQ (Pretty Dam Quick) because you don’t want to have to deal with attendance issues with the district. So you settle on a school that is 16 miles away from your house. Each way. Four times a day. That’s 64 miles a day. Five times a week. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of driving that will require a lot of gas for the car. For a single, unemployed parent that’s a lot of money.

So, what would you do if you were in this situation? The mom is pretty upset and I have already made some phone calls and sent some really ‘official’ sounding letters. People are starting to get nervous because: (1) I will not provide them with her name or the district’s name; and (2) I used the phrase ‘legal representation’ in the letter. Oh well. Sucks to be them because it’s obvious the district has violated the law. It’s really unfortunate because they thought by getting the name of the district they would be able to make things right before the mom has the opportunity to speak with an attorney. No dice. It’s time for people to do the right thing, even if nobody’s looking.

Stay tuned for the next installment in “I swear I couldn’t make-up this crap even if I tried,’ also known as public education.

Special Education: Doing the 'Right Thing' even when nobody's looking   Leave a comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about a parent I met this summer. Her son was diagnosed with several disabilities, but the story is the same: Parent of a child with a disability is completely overwhelmed with jargon and paperwork; s/he doesn’t understand any of it. Naively, s/he believes that the school/district have her child’s best interest at heart. I have seen this too many times, and not just in Georgia. The parent I met this summer lives in Ohio; I have also helped two parents who live in Indiana. This goes beyond coincidence. And it needs to stop.

So as I talked with this other parent last week, my frustration returned. I couldn’t help but wonder how other parents would feel so I thought I would ask you (that means you have to actually respond!). So, if you were (or actually are) the parent of a child with a disability, how would you feel if:

  1. Your child spent the first 2 weeks of school with a building sub instead of a certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ Special Education teacher? (Considering how often the education experts are always mentioning the importance of qualified teachers, this should be important, right?)
  2. When you ask the building administrator (‘leader’) why there is no qualified teacher assigned to the class, he responds: Well we have interviewed several people. I didn’t click with some of them but we have someone who will likely be hired by next Friday (August 27th), provided all the paperwork is completed and everything goes as planned.’ (GTFOH with that BS)
  3. After speaking with the ‘leader’ of the school, you speak with the Special Education Department Chair. In an effort to rectify the situation, she offers to do a student ‘swap.’ That is, she offers to remove a kid from the certified and ‘Highly Qualified’ teacher’s room to make room for your kid. (See parenthetical comments for #2 and repeat.)
  4. When given options about placement, you (parent) decide to withdraw your child and enroll him/her in another school that has the correct Special Education program and qualified staff. ‘Leader’ completes withdrawal paperwork and sends you to School B. You arrive at School B, where Special Education staff tells you that they have room for your child. Unfortunately, you cannot enroll your child on that day because School A did not give you all the required records/paperwork. You inform staff that you will return in the morning to enroll your child.
  5. (Next day) You contact School B to make sure that you can still enroll your child. You are told that there is no room available. Within less than 24 hours. After you drove from School A to School B and back to School A the previous day. (You already know.)
  6. Well, 2 weeks of the school year have already passed and you need to find a placement for your child. What do you do? Look at the list of schools accepting transfers. You decide that you need to find someplace for her to go and PDQ (Pretty Dam Quick) because you don’t want to have to deal with attendance issues with the district. So you settle on a school that is 16 miles away from your house. Each way. Four times a day. That’s 64 miles a day. Five times a week. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of driving that will require a lot of gas for the car. For a single, unemployed parent that’s a lot of money.

So, what would you do if you were in this situation? The mom is pretty upset and I have already made some phone calls and sent some really ‘official’ sounding letters. People are starting to get nervous because: (1) I will not provide them with her name or the district’s name; and (2) I used the phrase ‘legal representation’ in the letter. Oh well. Sucks to be them because it’s obvious the district has violated the law. It’s really unfortunate because they thought by getting the name of the district they would be able to make things right before the mom has the opportunity to speak with an attorney. No dice. It’s time for people to do the right thing, even if nobody’s looking.

Stay tuned for the next installment in “I swear I couldn’t make-up this crap even if I tried,’ also known as public education.

Help Somebody: Each one, teach one   Leave a comment

(Started this when I woke-up this morning) It’s only 9:18 in the morning and I am up. Not really spectacular, unless I tell you the other part: I didn’t get in the bed until 4:00 this morning! (Blame it on the not-so-good influences of @VisionSpeaks and @ClaytonMuhammad. Beware of the company you keep on Twitter!) On any other day I probably would have stayed in bed after the kids left for school, but today is different. I got another one of those phone calls yesterday (sometimes it’s one of those emails) from a parent of a child with Special Needs.

It all started a few months ago at the birthday party of my kid’s classmates. Initially, I had planned to do what the mom suggested, just drop-off the kid and come back later but for some reason I stayed. As the party went on, the adults sat around the kitchen table talking and playing Spades (y’all know how we do), we really got to learn a lot about eachother. It just so happened that the hostess had family members who drove in from Ohio, so there was a house full of kids and noise. As we talked, one of the kids came in from outside and began asking his mom for 1,001 things (y’all know how kids do!). Well this particular kid has Special Needs’ I don’t remember every diagnosis she rattled off but I was able to ascertain what his primary classification would be if he lived in Georgia.

Anywho, mom talked about the different doctor visits for various reasons, including experimenting with different medications. As we continued to talk, she explained that her son was on this and that, for this and that. I listened intently but I also watched her son’s behavior, trying to figure out why he was taking meds for ADHD when I hadn’t seen any signs of hyperactivity during the several hours I had been there. (Side note: They skipped a few doses during the summer since he was at home all day. But I still should have seen something.) Now I understand that there are some parents who prefer to medicate their kids for better behavior management and self-preservation. In no way am I judging those who do, but I always caution parents about starting kids on ‘new’ medications without doing research and being fully aware of side-effects and long-term consequences. I have seen both sides: Kids who should have been on something and kids who had no business being on their prescribed drug, or anything at all. I even had a student who fell asleep EVERYDAY and never ate while he was meds. I would have to force candy or some type of snack on him. But he was a completely different person when he didn’t take the meds: He was very active (which didn’t bother me) and he gained weight because he regained his appetite. Those obvious behavioral differences make me a little wary about giving kids meds just to keep them in a seat.

We continued talking about her son and some of the ‘problems’ he had during the past school year. I couldn’t help giggle a little because every time he came in the house he would look at me and smile. I was thinking: ‘Yeah, I can tell that he can be a hell-raiser when he wants to!’ But in all fairness to him, he has several health issues and has been on a slew of medications, but I don’t doubt that his outbursts were his way of saying ‘I’m not getting what I need and I am sick of all these damn pills!’ (Well, he probably wouldn’t say damn, but you get the point.) Also, he is non-verbal so I am sure that adds to his frustration. As she talked, I rattled off questions:

Me: Have you gone to every IEP meeting?

Mom: Yes.

Me: Do you understand everything they talk about in the IEP meetings?

Mom: No. I don’t understand a lot of that stuff.

Me: You have the right to ask questions. You are not required to sign anything. Has anyone ever told you that you have access to an advocate?

Mom: No. I can’t afford someone to help me.

Me: The advocates are free. If I am not mistaken, the federal government pays for advocates in every state. At least that’s how it works in here.

Long story short(er): I told mom that I would contact the Ohio Department of Education and find the person in charge of parent advocates, then pass on the info to her. And that’s exactly what I did. I thought that’s where it ended, but there was another family member (who resides in Georgia) who needed help. You will have to wait until tomorrow to read about that one because this post is already longer than I intended and I’m sleepy! But seriously, we are awaiting a response from someone at the Georgia Department of Education. I promise to give you an update!

Thanks for muddling through this!

Special Education: Public Education's red-headed stepchild   Leave a comment

It’s a New Year, but I didn’t make any major resolutions for the year. I have recommitted myself to the same resolution I have made for the past 3 or 4 years: To have more patience with adults. I can deal with kids, their incessant questions, and energy. I expect grown, ‘educated’ folks to know better. Pretty sad when you have to make the same resolution year after year. I guess that’s the price you pay for being in the Education business. Anyway, I was checking the AJC for Maureen Downey’s ‘Get Schooled’ blog to see if she posted anything new. Today’s post, ‘Clayton professors describes “forgotten rooms” and children in alternative schools‘, was of particular interest to me because I am a former Special Education teacher. The article may carry a certain level of shock-value to the average person, but as a former educator, not much surprises me. I will admit that the principal’s nonchalance about the room’s existence is one of the reasons why I it is difficult for me to have patience with adults. She could have refused to use that room, especially knowing that a student hanged himself at another Georgia school in one such room.

But this post is not about that school, or the other 50 that still use the seclusion rooms for students deemed ‘too dangerous’ for their classrooms. As I have said before, if you tell someone something over and over, they begin to manifest those words but that’s a different blog altogether! I am writing this because I am somewhat pissed off. Why does it take this book, or any other, to draw attention to the apathetic attitude towards most Special Education programs and the students receiving services? For those of you teaching, have you noticed that classes for students in Special Education are all located in one area of the building? In trailers? If so, did you realize that was illegal? Probably not because no one wants you to know that. I raised that issue my first year teaching and was told “That’s the way it’s always been?” Of course, being the smartass that I am, asked “Does that make it right?” It’s no wonder kids are embarrassed about their different abilities: They are secluded and reminded of their disabilities for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in front of the entire school! When you have some time, read up on the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provision in IDEA. I am still amazed that some teachers/administrators/districts make no qualms about violating federal law.

Another issue I raised during my first year (yeah, in case you are wondering, I was in the principal’s office more than my students) was regarding the sham they call ‘Collaborative Teaching’ (also known as Co-Teaching/Inclusion). I had the opportunity to teach in that arrangement twice during my first year. The first semester was perfect: The General Education teacher and I actually both taught. She knew that I had a degree in History, so there was no issue about whether I knew the content. The students understood that we were both teachers, equally responsible for instruction, discipline, etc. In fact, our arrangement was so great that we never needed a sub when the other was out. Second semester was a completely different beast. I was assigned to ‘Co-teach’ in a U.S. History classroom. Well, that teacher felt that since I was a Special Education teacher I couldn’t possibly know anything about U.S. History. I didn’t have any space in her classroom; I was told that she would handle ‘her’ students and I would handle ‘mine.’ Never mind the fact that none of the students liked or respected her….Well, the semester progressed and I had made several requests to the department chair and principal about getting a Teacher’s edition. The principal told me that because I was the Special Education teacher, I was not entitled to a Teacher’s edition. Ha! The average person would have believed that and threw in the towel. I ain’t average, by any stretch of the imagination. I contacted the district office to get information on the correct procedure. The Lead Special Education Teacher assured me that I was entitled to those resources since I had students in the class. Guess what arrived a few days later? I will say that after that incident, I no longer questioned or defended myself when they referred to me as a Yankee. Damn straight! I don’t have a doormat on my back. I am sure they were glad to see me go!

That was a small victory. Unfortunately, the kind of advocates needed for Special Education are ‘Always outnumbered, always outgunned.’ I was fighting for more than a book. Hell, I could care less about the actual book but more about the message those attitudes send to the students. They have rights. Not just the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), but to be treated equally, with dignity and respect. Textbooks can’t teach those lessons. I hope every Special Education teacher finds his or her voice to ensure your students have the resources they need to be successful. The lesson starts with us.