Archive for the ‘Least Restrictive Environment’ 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.

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.

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.