New Mission

New Mission


My idea is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. I’d like to see different successful schools, wherever they may be, up close. I’d like to sit down with directors and administrators. I’d like to speak with government officials who keep a pulse on the education affairs of their communities. I want to learn more about education around the globe through speaking with locals, seeing the schools, and shaking hands with the people responsible for implementing the systems. If you know of any outstanding (public or private) special needs schools in other parts of the world, I’d love to hear about them. If you know any education experts from around the world, I’d love to be introduced to them. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas. Read more about my mission.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winston Transitions

Since visiting the Ann Sullivan Center (CASP) in 2013, I have been searching for programs in NYC that offer support to students transitioning from high school to the real world.  I had the opportunity this week to attend a presentation about the Winston Transitions program in Manhattan.  Winston Transitions is a new program for students with learning difficulties particularly in the areas of language, attention, processing, executive functioning, and social/emotional skills.  The presentation was given by John Civita, Director of Winston Transitions, and Elizabeth Mendelsohn, COO at Winston Prep and Director of the Winston Innovation Lab.

I found the Winston Transitions presentation to be extremely informative with respect to addressing the needs of students who are transitioning out of high school but not yet ready to move on to college or work.  The school offers a full-time program as well as a part-time option for those students who may be otherwise engaged with college or work.  The full-time program occurs five days per week roughly from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Through constant assessment, the school identifies the needs, abilities, and interests of each student, and customizes each student's program accordingly.  The school's academic curriculum focuses primarily on reading, writing, and math.  Classroom instruction occurs in small groups and is highly individualized.  Through the FOCUS program, students have the opportunity to receive 1:1 instruction in areas of need.  Much of the workload is project-based, affording students an opportunity to work independently and seek out assistance as needed.  There is also a heavy emphasis on social and interpersonal skills.

One of the aspects of the school that impressed me the most was the internship program.  Internships occur two days per week for roughly ten hours per week, and are tailored to the students' particular interests and strengths.  In order to foster independence and self-advocacy, students do not receive the support of job coaches.  Instead, constant collaboration occurs between Winston Transitions and the students' internship supervisors.  Students also receive training and feedback at the center, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the students' internship experiences, discuss how to handle internship-related situations, and practice the skills necessary to succeed in a work environment.  This practical piece, in my opinion, is crucial to the learning process, and I was amazed by the manner in which the school has been dealing with it.

Winston Transitions is affiliated with Winston Prep, a highly-regarded special education private school for students with language-based learning disabilities, but students need not have attended Winston Prep in order to be admitted into Winston Transitions.  It is also worth noting that the school building is conveniently located at 240 Madison Avenue not far from Grand Central station.  The floor includes a living room space, an activities room, classrooms, a kitchen, and a recording room (used to create podcasts), and offers a warm learning environment for its students.

A substantial number of the families enrolled at Winston Transitions receive government funding pursuant to remedies available under federal and state law for students with disabilities who have been denied an appropriate education by their local school districts.  Students who have received a high school diploma may not be eligible for such funding.  Parents should be mindful of this and consult an attorney for advice regarding how to approach this issue.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Transition Planning Event at the Rebecca School on November 8

Helping students transition from school to work and adult life is an important part of the special education progress that can be confusing and daunting for parents and is oftentimes overlooked by school districts.

If you would like to learn more about transition planning, the Rebecca School is presenting a panel event on this subject on November 8:

Transitions Panel 
Tuesday, November 8th, 11am – 1pm 

Rebecca School 
40 East 30th Street
New York, NY 10016
(212) 810-4120

Hear from & meet leaders in various post-21 capacities: Supportive Employment, Residential, Supportive Housing, Self-Direction, Parent and Consumer Perspectives, Entitlements, Financing, Higher Ed. 

Confirmed Speakers: Gil Tippy (Rebecca School), Kathy Kelly (AHRC), Amy O’Hara (Littman Krooks, LLP), Nelson Castro, Gina & Don Barone (Parents of RS alumni), Sam Wilkinson (RS alumni) Amel Whiteside (YAI), Meg Henderson & Martin Gitt (Camphill Triform), Frank Bresnick & Allison Sanchez (Jespy House), Nadine Daley (Center for Family Support), Samantha Fineman & Raul Jimenez (New Frontiers in Learning), Katrina Roberts (Job Path), Joseph Campagna (Home Connect) 

Panel: 11am – 12:30 pm 
Lunch & Networking: 12:30 – 1pm 

FREE. Open to RS parents, family members, & the public. 
Overlaps with the 3rd Annual Rebecca School Sibling Day. 
Space is limited. 

RSVP or for more info: Josh Noble, RS Transitions Coordinator. jnoble@rebeccaschool.org, 212-810-4120 x294

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 798 F.3d 1329 (10th Cir., 2015), to consider what level of educational benefit is required for a student with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Every child with a disability has a right under federal and state education have to receive a free appropriate public education from his/her local school district. What constitutes an "appropriate education" for a student with a disability, however, is the source of much litigation. Typically, an appropriate education is one designed to allow a student with a disability to achieve more than trivial advancement but courts have generally held that a school district need not maximize a student's potential.

The outcome of this case could significantly affect the landscape of IDEA litigation and, more importantly, have broad implications for the rights of students with disabilities.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Talk Event with David Denby and Samuel Abrams

I am excited to pass along the following information for what promises to be a very interesting book talk event on Tuesday, June 28th at 7pm with David Denby, author of Lit Up, and Samuel E. Abrams, author of Education and the Commercial Mindset.​  

http://www.bookculture.com/event/columbus-david-denby-sam-abrams

Samuel E. Abrams is the Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College.
David Denby is the author of Great Books, "an acclaimed account of returning to college and reading the Western classics during the curriculum wars"; American SuckerSnark, and Do the Movies Have a Future?  He is a staff writer and former film critic for The New Yorker,  and his reviews and essays have appeared in The New Republic, The Atlantic, and New York magazine, among other places. He lives in New York City with his wife, writer Susan Rieger.

 
Event address: 
450 Columbus Ave
New YorkNY 10024

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Facing History And Ourselves

Throughout school I hated History. I dreaded going to class, doing the homework, and studying for my History exams. I complained that it was "boring" but what that really meant was that I found it challenging to process and understand what I was learning because I had difficulty imagining myself in the shoes of the people I was learning about -- people of different cultures from my own, who were from far-flung countries that I knew little about, and who lived in distant times in the past. Because I was a diligent student who cared deeply about succeeding academically, my difficulty with History was a big blow to my confidence. I developed a strong aversion toward it and avoided it as much as possible. Over the years, this weakness nagged at me. At some point I decided to do something about it and began brushing up on my own through books, movies, travel, and other forms of learning. Today I am fascinated by History.

When I recently became acquainted with an organization called Facing History And Ourselves, I was immediately intrigued. Facing History is a non-profit international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism and prejudice in order to help students make the connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. I have had the opportunity to learn more about the organization by familiarizing myself with its pedagogical principles, observing a classroom lesson, attending a teacher training workshop, and interacting with instructors and program directors. For example, during the class I observed, I listened to students discussing a piece of art depicting the Holocaust and considering what the artist may have been thinking or feeling while creating it. During the teacher training workshop, I listened to a room full of educators debating Indian Residential Schools (schools that were set up to re-educate Native American children by stripping them of their Native American heritage in order to get them to assimilate European customs) and considering what activities and exercises they might use in the classroom to teach this lesson to their students. The workshop sparked debate about identity, morality, racism, and religious/cultural intolerance. I have also found the reading materials to be well-organized, manageable in size, and thought-provoking.

I am amazed by how the program forces individuals to examine history through a critical lens -- considering difficult issues such as racism, discrimination, and genocide -- and asking important questions about what led to these events, how they could have been prevented, and what lessons can be derived for the future. Facing History emphasizes that the atrocities of the past didn't happen in an instant but, rather, in many cases they were the result of years of cultural and societal tensions.  

What I find most impressive about the program is how it connects the past to the present. I think Facing History has the power to help young students understand what I could not -- that history is intertwined with and relevant to our daily lives because we have the ability to draw from the lessons of the past to positively influence the present and future.

For more about Facing History, you can visit https://www.facinghistory.org/.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next

I liked Michael Moore’s new documentary, Where To Invade Next. What stayed with me most were his ruminations on education, society, and shared responsibility. The film highlighted various inequities in the U.S. such as our failing public education system, unfair drug laws, harsh prison system, and broken healthcare system. He posed the question, Why don’t we take better care of our own?

I’ll focus on education. In the U.S., our education system is broken in many ways. Moore travels to Finland, France, and Germany to glean important insights regarding education. In Finland, Moore learns about educating the whole child. Finnish schools assign little, if any, homework and have few, if any, standardized tests. Students are encouraged to play and socialize, think critically, be creative, and become independent. There is also equity in Finland, which means that most schools are of high quality, so children can attend their zoned schools instead of parents having to shop around. In France, school lunch programs are taken seriously. They boast a level of culinary excellence that does not exist in the U.S. They also have an instructional component, and students are taught how to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. In Germany, schools are exploring ways of teaching about the Holocaust. Their emphasis is on owning their country’s history (good and bad), recognizing where moral failures occurred, making amends for those failures, and improving their society as a result. We should be striving for these things in the U.S. American children would benefit from receiving a more well-rounded education, and learning how to live a healthier lifestyle. There should be a greater emphasis on recognizing our country’s moral failures, discussing them openly in a constructive manner, and grappling with how to learn from those experiences in order to improve as a society. I think there should be a greater push for this in our schools.

An Icelandic woman in the film remarked that, in the U.S., there is no shared responsibility and we don’t care about our neighbors. That our focus is more on “me” and less so on “we.” I reflected on that for a while. While I don’t fully agree with her, I do think we could do a better job of taking care of our own. Our country would be stronger for it. And taking care of our children by providing every child with a quality public school education would be a great place to start.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Celebrating Six Years

I started my law firm six years ago today.  I moved in to 100 Church Street by myself with a pad and a pen and nothing else on December 3, 2009.  I took a short-term lease to test out the waters; I wasn't sure what the future would hold.  "Okay, what do I do now...?" is a thought that ran through my mind a lot during those early days.  Of course I felt both excited and nervous, like the feeling of your first day of school.  But if I had to pinpoint the feeling, I'd compare it to being out at sea.  Sitting on a boat, in the middle of a vast ocean, surrounded by water as far as your eyes can see.  You have a destination, and you know it's right there, straight ahead, but you can't see it yet, and you are in awe of the vastness of what's in front of you.

So much to be done, but where to begin?  

I started with to-do lists.  Lots and lots of to-do lists to organize myself and keep focused.  I stayed busy and positive.  Build a website, place ads, print business cards, network, speak with parents, meet with schools, and find clients!

From time to time, when I needed a distraction or an emotional boost, I would turn on an episode of The Office.  Yup, watching The Office in the office.  The show was a gift from my then-girlfriend now-wife who bought me the first couple of seasons on DVD when I told her I had never seen the show.  Something tells me, though, that she probably didn't intend for me to watch it in the office.

I pounded the pavement, and clients started to call.  I was eager to provide exceptional service, obtain outstanding results, and impress my clients.  I am proud of the results we have achieved.  At the same time, with every new client comes the responsibility of proving ourselves again.  That is a responsibility I continue to take seriously no matter how long we've been around, how expert we've become, or what results we've achieved in the past.

I remember a friend questioning my decision to start my own firm.  Something to the effect of "Are you for real?"  I might have brushed it off then if not for the fact that I was doubting myself the same way he was doubting me.  Six years later, though, I can say, yes - I am for real.  The firm has grown significantly, and I feel like I've come a long way.  Since starting out, I have hired a full-time associate and office administrator.  We've handled hundreds of cases, helped numerous children and families, successfully litigated and settled cases of substantial monetary value, and built a reputation for tenaciousness, dedication, honesty, and exceptional results.   I take great pride in that, and look forward to helping many more families navigate the special education legal process.  I continue to be deeply interested and invested in the practice of special education law, which has been both professionally and personally fulfilling, and I am excited to see what the future holds.

I am thankful to the parents who have trusted us to advocate for their children, and the various professionals from whom I have learned so much.  I am excited about developing the firm's global mission and sharing my experiences with you.

While I reflect on this very happy six-year anniversary, I also look forward to many more years of advocating for children, and being able to watch them grow, develop, and succeed.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families happy holidays and a wonderful new year.

All the best in 2016.  

AD

Friday, May 22, 2015

Speaking Engagement - Wednesday, May 27

I will be speaking at the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan on Wednesday, May 27 regarding the special education process for preschool and school-age students. Please find the relevant information below, and feel free to forward to anyone else who might be interested.


Special Education Services from the Department of Education

Date: Wednesday, May 27th 1:15PM

Location: Sephardic Academy of Manhattan
1274 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10065




Educational Technology - The Nordic Way

I recently attended Education Technology - The Nordic Way, an event that was part of the Oppi Festival (http://2015.oppifestival.com/), which happened in New York earlier this month.  I like to think of as an ed-tech version of Shark Tank with a Nordic twist.  A panel of judges critiqued business pitches from education-minded entrepreneurs from Finland and Sweden.  The range of business ideas included exam taking software, an animation application, a cloud-based math curriculum, a platform for project-based learning, gamification, interactive three-dimensional teaching software, and a music learning application.  The presentations were interesting, and helped me think differently about how to utilize technology to improve education.

See also: https://storify.com/yangbodu/nordicedtech

Finland: Exceptional Programs

In this last blog post, I wanted to highlight three exceptional programs that I visited in Helsinki.


The Resonaari Music School is an amazing program that offers a variety of programs and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. The directors of the program have incredible passion for their work, and the combination of their passion and the music thumping in the background entranced me. What struck me most about Resonaari was how the school supports people with special needs. While it is not exclusive to people with special needs, it provides a warm, nurturing environment in which they are able to discover abilities they never knew they had, connect with others through musical collaboration, and develop their sense of self-worth. Resonaari also provides extra support and modified instructional materials to those who require them. Observing one group of students, some of whom had special needs, while they practiced for an upcoming concert performance was one of the highlights of my visit.

I was also impressed by the program’s reach and influence. Resonaari has collaborated with the Finnish National Board of Education regarding the development of a national music curriculum. Resonaari is also engaged in ongoing music research, including how to adapt music for people with special needs. In addition, Resonaari has influenced the creation of similar music programs in other parts of the world, and is part of a global movement to connect people with music.

More information available at: http://www.resonaari.fi/


The Ruskis Center is a state-operated, publicly funded special education school for children with the most severe disabilities. The intensive level of support provided at this school includes very small classrooms, 1:1 instruction, and various related services. Additional resources include augmentative and alternative communication devices, wheelchairs and related equipment, a sensory gym, a state-of-the-art swimming pool for instructional aquatics, residential accommodations for students living away from home, and a trial apartment-living program for students transitioning to independent living. Students participate in non-academic activities such as music, cooking, and woodworking with specially designed equipment to meet their physical and developmental needs. Ruskis is well-known throughout Finland, and services students from all over the country. The staff is committed to the well-being of its students, and assists parents through the process of obtaining the supports and services that they require from the government.

More information available at: http://www.ruskis.fi/in-english.html


The Keskupuisto Vocational School is exclusive to students with special needs, whose issues range from attention to autism to severe psychiatric disorders. Keskupuisto offers a wide array of vocational programs including mechanics, photography, audio visual, technical design, music, dance, and cooking. Classrooms are small and structured, one-to-one support is available where necessary, and students are expected to complete a significant amount of on-the-job training in order to apply their in-classroom learning to real-life settings. The school offers both certificate and non-certificate programs, as well as unique opportunities for immigrant students. The facilities are immaculately clean and beautifully designed, and located just a few steps away from Helsinki’s Central Park. I toured some of the classrooms, and spoke with students and staff, and was impressed by the students' work.

More information available at: http://www.keskuspuisto.fi/en.php

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Finland: Public Schools

Part of me was expecting to visit Finland and immediately be blown away by a radically different approach to education. I visited several schools in Helsinki and Espoo, and that wasn't exactly what I found. What stood out to me was how well Finland is addressing the basic things that you would expect from a school.

The first thing that struck me was the physical appearance of the schools. The buildings were beautiful and new. Outside spaces were vast with lots of room for students to roam. Indoor spaces were filled with natural light. The classrooms were clean, organized, and colorful.

I was impressed by the teachers. The teachers I spoke with came across as intelligent, serious, committed, and engaging, and they were enthusiastic about their work. I was also impressed by the amount of independence that the teachers possessed. Teachers were in charge of their classrooms without being accountable to a higher school authority, which I think promotes ownership. Since principals do not spend time monitoring their teachers in class, they can focus on broader school issues such as budget and development, which benefits the school and, in turn, the students. Teachers still obtain professional development throughout the year, but when it comes to their classroom teaching, they are trusted and respected as professionals, and given substantial freedom.  

I was impressed by the level of attention to each child. Teachers and staff meet frequently to discuss the needs of all students in the school - both general and special education. Based on those meetings, the school staff can respond to each child's needs in whatever manner is appropriate. For example, schools may provide extra academic support for students who need it, or reach out to social service agencies when children need the kind of support that would extend beyond the school day. Schools have designated special education teachers who move from class to class, and since they do not have their own classrooms to teach, they can provide varying levels of support to students from different classrooms, as needed. This allows school to be flexible about meeting students' needs as issues arise, and does not require a formal diagnosis or a complicated administrative process.

I also got the feeling that schools in Finland focus on the whole child. All students receive a free lunch, irrespective of family income, which has the positive benefit of (1) making sure that no students go hungry, and (2) not singling out students who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford lunch. In addition to the regular academic curriculum, students must fulfill demanding language requirements, which require them to master Finnish, English, and Swedish. Students also benefit from non-academic specialties such as sewing and woodworking. In general, the schools were warm and nurturing environments, and the students seemed happy, well-behaved, and engaged.

I think it's also worth noting that I did not detect concerns about onerous accountability standards or compliance requirements.  

All in all, the schools I saw seemed like nice learning environments that were committed to their students' success.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finland: University of Helsinki

I had the pleasure of meeting with several people from the University of Helsinki. First I want to note that, unlike the U.S. where teacher education programs abound, Finland has just a few teacher education programs, which are highly competitive and difficult to get into. I was impressed by the selectiveness of the schools, and the quality of the students who are admitted. It's no surprise that those students who gain admission and succeed in becoming teachers are highly respected in Finnish society.

Some of the points that stand out most in my mind from my conversations with people at the University have to do with inclusion, equity, high-stakes testing, and immigration.

Three-tier model – Finland’s three-tier inclusion model calls for escalating levels of support to meet the needs of those with special needs. Most students in Finland, at some point in their education, receive special education support, which could range from just a few hours of academic tutoring for a child with mild needs, to consistent academic interventions for a child with moderate needs, to a full-blown individualized learning plan for a child with severe needs. My impression was that these supports are implemented without a whole lot of red tape – i.e., it’s pretty easy for parents to access these supports. Teachers and administrators seemed to be laser-focused about helping the child, and less concerned about compliance and accountability. Resources are deployed to schools accordingly. In many schools, for example, part-time special education teachers who do not teach classrooms of their own are available to provide additional academic support on an ad hoc basis to any students in the school who require it.

Equity - Finland emphasizes equity a great deal. That’s not to say that every school is perfect, but the percentage of inferior schools in Finland is smaller than in most other countries around the world. Finland works hard to maintain a balance that allows parents to feel confident that their local school is as good as any other. In the U.S. there seems to be a much larger disparity between our good schools and our poor or mediocre schools. Our schools need to be more balanced.

High-stakes testing - High-stakes testing basically does not exist in Finland. There is only one high-stakes exam at the end of high school, and a number of low-stakes subject tests that students are required to take in certain subjects. These low-stakes subject tests are generally used to develop “best practices” for schools and teachers; they do not impact the students themselves. Since Finland doesn’t emphasize high-stakes testing, more time can be devoted to actual learning. In the U.S., there has been a lot of debate about the consequences of students losing out on classroom learning time because of test preparation. Maximizing in-class learning time makes sense, and I was impressed by Finland's emphasis on this.

Challenges - Finland has its share of challenges as well, including: (1) Budget - Even in a small country of 5 million people, resources are limited and decisions have to be made about where to give services and where to cut them, which can result in certain demographics being underserved; (2) Staff – Some teachers may have more traditional teaching styles and be less inclined to adopt new learning approaches; (3) Immigration - Immigration in Finland is increasing, and the government is grappling with questions about who to admit into the country and how to educate new immigrants. How the government addresses these issues in the future could have important implications for the Finnish education system.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Finland: National Board of Education

Having read that educational authority in Finland is vested in local municipalities, I was curious to understand the dynamics between federal and local government. I met with the Finnish National Board of Education (Board) to explore this further.

A little background about the Finnish education system may be helpful first. Compulsory school age in Finland begins at 7 years old. Preschool is available to children roughly between the age of 1 and 7 at no or little expense to the parents. Child care may be available to parents beyond the regular school day, on a sliding scale based on parent income. In general, students are not taught academic skills until they begin primary school. Instead, they focus on pre-academic skills such as play and social skills, concept formation, critical thinking, and problem solving. Most schools in Finland at the primary, secondary, university, master’s, and doctoral levels are free (though some private institutions and international schools do exist).  

Although the Finnish Board used to conduct school inspections to evaluate whether teachers were teaching effectively, teachers today are afforded a significant amount of autonomy. This frees up resources, which the Board can spend in other areas. The Board’s current role involves collecting information from schools (teachers and/or school administrators are expected to complete questionnaires), conducting research, and compiling statistics to inform conclusions about the school system as a whole. While some students may be expected to take standardized tests sometimes, high-stakes standardized tests generally do not exist in the Finnish system (with the exception of one standardized exit exam when a child graduates from high school). I was amazed by Finland's approach to oversight and accountability, which was strikingly different from the U.S.'s.   

The Board is involved with curriculum development to some extent, but the guidelines it develops are only loosely followed by the municipalities. The Board may dictate what skills should be worked on, but the local schools determine how those skills should be worked on. The Finnish curriculum sounded less onerous than the U.S.'s Common Core, but it would be interesting to take a closer look at how the two approaches compare.

How Finland is able to achieve and maintain equity among its different schools when the schools operate independently and without substantial federal involvement is a question that persisted in my mind throughout the trip. In Finland, schools and populations vary widely between regions of the country, so maintaining equity and ensuring that all school districts receive adequate resources doesn't come without challenges. I was impressed with the high level of quality among its schools despite those challenges, and I questioned whether federal involvement was important in order to achieve consistency.  

The idea of "special education lawyers" is foreign to people in Finland (not sure where that would leave me if I moved to Finland today). In Finland, the government usually provides the services that are required without legal proceedings being necessary. While there is a mechanism in place for parents who are dissatisfied with the supports being provided, those complaint procedures are rarely if ever used. When they are used, lawyers are typically not involved. I was impressed with the ease of accessing supports and services.   

Learning about Finland's education system at the national level piqued my interest in their education at the local level, which I plan to address in another segment.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Education Mission # 2: Finland

As you may know, I recently began a mission to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues. As part of that mission, I am excited to be in Finland right now. Finland is thought to have one of the best education systems in the world (see http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/06/opinion/sahlberg-finland-education/).

I have been visiting Finnish schools, meeting with educational experts, and exploring programs that are addressing education and special education in unique ways.

Over the next few days, I hope to report back about details from the trip and insights I have gained.   



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

White House Summit On Early Childhood Education

President Obama is hosting the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education today.  Presenters are speaking about the need for quality preschool programs, including topics such as the politics of establishing quality preschool programs and the research supporting the need for them.

Live stream available now through You Tube at :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtOogGU8_q0

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today I started something special - a law firm focused on education law that has allowed me to work closely with families who have children with special needs.  I look back on these five years with pride and fondness, and I feel thankful to all of the families who have provided us with the opportunity to help them.  Our firm has grown in size, and it continues to grow.  The scope of our firm has grown as well.  We have taken on a global outlook for effecting positive change in education policy.  We are networking, brainstorming, and exploring.  I feel fortunate to continue to be passionate about the work that we do.  I look forward to the next 5 years of helping more families and achieving exciting milestones.  Thanks to all of our clients, colleagues, and supporters who make our work possible!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Roses For Autism

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Roses For Autism (http://www.rosesforautism.com/), a non-profit rose farm in Guilford, Connecticut whose overarching mission is to benefit individuals with autism.  I first became interested in Roses about a year ago, and I was immediately intrigued by their emphasis on supportive employment and transitioning special needs individuals to the real world.

It was a pleasant drive from New York to Connecticut on I-95 on an overcast and crisp, but not yet cold, fall afternoon.  Foliage lined the highway.  I arrived at the Pinchbeck rose farm at about two o'clock in the afternoon.  Cows grazed on the side of the road as we pulled up to the main entrance.  We were greeted warmly by Tom Pinchbeck and Michelle Ouimette.  I had hoped to observe the employees in action, but they had just left for the day.  Tom and Michelle showed me around the premises. On the lot, there were two greenhouses, one of which was currently in use.  The one greenhouse produces around 500,000 roses per year.  Lilies are grown and sold as well, but those make up a much smaller share of the business.  A high-powered boiler room provides a steady flow of steam to the greenhouse to maintain an optimal temperature.

The individuals with autism whom Roses employs are responsible for growing, monitoring, cutting, packaging, and shipping the roses, as well as for other aspects of the business.  They are paid employees, not interns or volunteers - a distinction that Roses emphasizes to encourage ownership.  Since Roses is an "inclusive" environment, most of the employees are "typically developing" people who serve as mentors to those with special needs.  Students from local mainstream public and private schools volunteer at the rose farm.  Profits from the sale of flowers are invested back into the business to cover employees' salaries, to fund scholarships and career training programs, and to ensure that the business can sustain itself in the future.

If Roses is the business part of the organization, Discover Learn Work is the training part.  Individuals with autism and related disorders can enroll in Discover Learn Work for business training that may include coursework at college campuses, internship opportunities at various training sites, coaching through the job interview process, or support through gainful employment.

What I found particularly interesting is that Discover Learn Work works with local public schools to meet the needs of transitioning students who require vocational training.  In New York, transition programs and vocational training are a huge unmet need.  Discover Learn Work participates in IEP meetings to aid in developing transition goals, and works with IEP students to implement their transition goals at one of the Discover Learn Work training sites.

Roses is part of a larger parent company called Ability Beyond (http://abilitybeyond.org/about-us/), which is run by CEO Tom Fanning (http://www.rosesforautism.com/tf/) and operates in Connecticut and New York.  Roses is a growing company with plans for expansion.  Short-term goals include opening the second greenhouse and creating a stronger brand image.  Long-term expansion plans are still taking shape.

On my way out, I purchased a few dozen short-stem roses and some lilies for the women in my family, who were enchanted by the scent and quality of the flowers.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Infant / Toddler Development Through The Lens of Reggio Emilia

There is a phenomenon we have all experienced when we hear a new word, phrase, or concept for the first time and then start to notice it everywhere…and I’ve been experiencing that phenomenon with regard to the Reggio Emilia schools.  I learned about Reggio Emilia a few weeks ago when I attended Brooklyn College’s Universal Preschool In Sweden event.  I quickly learned that the Reggio Emilia model is well-known throughout the education world.  A few days later, I learned about an upcoming event about infant and toddler development through the lens of Reggio Emilia, presented by Explore + Discover and My Learning Springboard.

I attended the event on Thursday and truly enjoyed the evening.  The event was hosted in a beautiful space in Tribeca.  Arriving guests were greeted warmly with music playing in the background and snacks and drinks awaiting consumption.  The crowd was intimate and diverse, with various professionals from different backgrounds in the audience.  Although a power point presentation and video clip guided the presentation, the conversation was informal and interactive, with audience members sharing their perspectives and personal experiences.

The presentation consisted of many of the same points as were presented at the Brooklyn College event: child-centered approach (letting the child’s interests guide instruction, rather than following a predetermined agenda set by the teacher), teacher/parent as researcher (understanding the child’s interests through observation of the child’s individual movements and patterns), and materials conducive to learning (easily accessible, natural, etc.). The overall message, to put it succinctly: encourage the child to explore and discover!

A point I hadn’t considered prior to this evening was the importance of recording children’s thoughts and comments as they explore and discover, which can help to track and understand the development of a child’s interests and his/her overall personal growth.  I developed an appreciation for the importance of exposing children to sensory stimuli early on.  Children also need to learn the consequences of their actions through guided exploration, rather than to fear the unknown because of overprotective teachers.  To conclude the evening, we explored the similarities and difference among the Reggio Emilia model, the Montessori approach, and Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s DIR/Floortime methodology.

Workforce Bill To Help Students Leaving Special Education

I read this week that the federal government is trying to renew a workforce bill (“Workforce Investment Act”) that would address the issue of individuals with special needs transitioning out of school settings and into the workforce.  The bill recognizes that some individuals with special needs are relegated to isolated jobs involving menial tasks, when they should instead be working side by side with nondisabled peers in as typical a work setting as possible.  The idea behind the bill is right on point.  For a long time I’ve been wondering about, and for the last several months I’ve been vigorously advocating for, assisting individuals with disabilities to transition into a workplace setting.  We spend all this money on resources to provide disabled students with an education that is individually tailored to meet their needs, but then abruptly terminate those supports when that individual ages out of school.  We have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but where is the Individuals with Disabilities Supportive Employment Act?  If supportive employment can be implemented by a small private school in Peru (see http://blog.dayanlawfirm.com/2013/12/reflections-on-peru.html), where the government cares little about funding the needs of children with special needs, why can’t we in the U.S., where the government, rightly or wrongly, plays such a significant role in education, implement it as well?

It’s unclear to me, however, whether this Workforce Bill is the right approach for addressing this issue.  According to Education Week (see http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/05/bipartisan_bicameral_workforce.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CampaignK-12+(Education+Week+Blog%3A+Politics+K-12), the primary purpose of the bill is not K-12 education but rather workforce training issues, including adult education.  But the bill continues to fund a number of K-12 programs, which I imagine would leave less money for supportive employment for individuals with special needs.  If the part of the bill that focuses on youths concerns itself not only with individuals with special needs but also high-school dropouts and disadvantaged youth who are pursuing GED’s or vocational training, which seems to be the case, how much of the funds would be applied toward special needs individuals?

I haven’t read the existing version of the bill, but I’d be curious to know if it addresses the following points.  What kinds of supports would these individuals receive to assist with transitioning to the workforce?  For instance, would there be daily support in the form of an on-site job coach or shadow, or perhaps a once a month group training session with some tips on how to act around the office?  What kinds of jobs would these individuals be transitioned to?  Who would qualify for this program?  That is, would more intensive supports be provided for individuals with more severe needs, or would those with more severe impairments be excluded?  What employers are participating or will participate in this program, and what training do they/will they receive?  How will compensation for disabled individuals compare to the compensation of their nondisabled peers performing the same job?

While this approach to legislation may be politically convenient for the reasons that Education Week identifies, I’m not convinced it represents the kind of broad reform that I think we need to help individuals with disabilities become independent and productive adults.  I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts on this, and would be interested in learning more about what other efforts are being made to address this important issue.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New Civil Rights Guidance for Charter Schools

I received the following announcement from the Council Of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has provided new guidance concerning charter schools' obligations to admit, and accommodate the needs of, students with disabilities. A link to the full memorandum is included below.

Dear Colleague:

The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance (versión en español) providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools.

The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

We hope that the guidance issued today will help enhance the role charter schools can play in advancing equal opportunity for all students. Our office stands ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it.

Thank you,

The Office for Civil Rights

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Recap of Universal Preschool In Sweden Event

Monday night's Universal Preschool In Sweden event at Brooklyn College was a standing room only affair, with lots of wallflowers along the back wall of the room for lack of a place to sit.  The focus of the evening's discussion was EDUCARE, Sweden's version of universal preschool.  Educare combines the two words which are the underpinnings of the program - education and care - in order to emphasize the importance of providing a caring and nurturing environment for preschoolers to promote learning (contrast with an accountability- and results-driven approach).  Educare serves students aged 1-7 years old, which was remarkable because in New York we are still trying to figure out how to scale pre-K just for 4 years olds.  Sweden starts from infancy.

Attendance is not compulsory but almost everyone attends.  The cost to families is reasonable: while the program is not entirely funded at public expense, parents pay, on average, approximately $2,000-3,000 per child per year...but that can vary depending on income.  Student-teacher ratio is approximately 5 kids per teacher, with approximately 17 children in a group.  Most Educare schools are publicly funded, but there are some that are privately funded as well.

Because Educare deemphasizes a rigid adherence to goals and outcomes, there are no formal goals that must be met at the end of the year.  There are only informal guidelines that can be utilized to inform the curriculum.  There does seem to be a national curriculum, however, and the extent to which individual schools feel compelled to follow that curriculum was not entirely clear to me.  When the Swedish presenters emphasized "evaluating the quality of the preschool program," I wondered to what extent that might be at odds with the notion of "no accountability."

Another point I found interesting was that Educare came about as a result of the work force expansion in Sweden in the 1970's.  When more women started working, someone had to look after their children.  For a while the program was run under the auspices of the social welfare system.  In 1998, Educare officially became part of the educational system.  

Educare takes a child-centered approach, letting the child's interests and curiosities guide the teacher's instruction.  Those who are familiar with the DIR Model of instructing children with autism may be familiar with this approach.  Those who know of the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy may be familiar with it as well.  The Swedish panelists cited Reggio Emilia as one of the inspirations behind Educare.  This was the first time I had heard of Reggio Emilia.  But I quickly learned that it is well-known within the education field for being a child-centered, creative approach with an emphasis on natural materials and documentation.   

Other thought-provoking points that were mentioned

Trusting the children and viewing them as competent individuals 

Structuring tasks in a way that relies on the children to figure out what's necessary to complete a task (rather than simply depositing pre-determined information into the children's minds). 

Some issues that were not adequately addressed

Diversity - no discussion about how to transport the Swedish model to a more diverse demographic such as in the U.S.  There was a brief discussion about "segregated areas" in Sweden where immigrant children can be educated in their native tongue.  However there is an ongoing debate about whether to educate them in a segregated manner, or in an integrated manner with Swedish children to promote mastery of the Swedish language.  

Poverty - no discussion at all.

Special needs children - not mentioned at all.    

Federal government's role - not clear what is the federal government's role and how Sweden establishes consistency among its various Educare schools and programs.  

Assessing quality of preschool program and student progress - there was some discussion about the "pedagogical documentation" that is maintained and analyzed to assess the quality of a preschool program, but it was vague.

Overall an interesting event that got the wheels in my mind turning!    

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Universal Preschool In Sweden: Inspiration For Progressive Early Childhood Education

With all of the current hype surrounding universal preschool lately, particularly in New York City, what lessons can we learn from Sweden? That question will be the focus of an interesting event called Universal Preschool In Sweden: Inspiration For Progressive Early Childhood Education, which will be happening this Monday night at Brooklyn College. If you are interested in education on an international level (like I am), or just want to be part of a novel discussion about our early childhood educational system, check out the information below:

Sweden is internationally lauded for its public, comprehensive, accessible and affordable Educare system, which provides all Swedish young children with some of the very best care and education. New York City is embarking on a massive expansion of pre-K programs. What can we learn from Sweden's experience?

What: Discussion: "Universal Preschool in Sweden: Inspiration for Progressive Early Childhood Education"
Who: The Brooklyn College Department of Early Childhood and Art Education and the Brooklyn College School of Education
Where: Gold Room, 6th Floor, Brooklyn College Student Center, Campus Road and East 27th Street
When: Monday, May 5th at 6pm
For Information: Contact bferholt@brooklyn.cuny.edu



Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Restoring Hope During Adolescent Crises" Panel Event at the Robert Louis Stevenson School on Thursday, April 3

The Robert Louis Stevenson School will be presenting an event on Thursday, April 3 called Restoring Hope During Adolescent Crises.  Please find the relevant information below.  Tickets are $22.09 a piece after fees. 

Parents and Professionals, Please Join Us at Stevenson for
Restoring Hope during Adolescent Crises
an evening of networking and panel discussion

Date: April 3, 2014
Time: 6:30-8:00 PM


Adolescence features major developmental tensions physically, socially, emotionally and academically. As a parent of an adolescent, you may feel hard pressed to know how to help your child with complex problems. Our panel of experts will provide you with key pointers for recognizing problems when they start and offer specific ways to help your child engage in a meaningful, well-balanced life. 

Questions to be addressed: When is intervention needed?
Does your adolescent need an alternative school environment? Will your adolescent ever go back into mainstream education? What are reasonable parenting expectations? What supports should you make sure exist on a college campus?  Professionals working with adolescents and their parents may also find this event quite helpful.

Our panel:
Sherri Maxman, owner of College Maven, LLC, has a specialty in providing college counseling for high school students with learning differences. Ms. Maxman is a graduate of the Independent Educational Consultants Association’s Summer Training Institute and is a member of NYSACAC.

• Matthew Mandelbaum, PhD, is the Director of Outreach at the Robert Louis Stevenson School, a college preparatory day school in Manhattan that offers a high-quality education designed to help students succeed. Dr. Mandelbaum is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Fordham University and holds a MA in Education and a MA in Psychology.

• Erika Nagy, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst specializing in helping parents who have children with learning issues, ADD and anxiety.  Ms. Nagy also holds a MA in Education and post-graduate certificates in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

• Victor Schwartz is the Medical Director of The Jed Foundation, the nation’s leading organization working to prevent suicide among American college students. Dr. Schwartz is recognized nationally as a college mental health leader.

• Sharon Thomas, MSC, MSED, Director of MAIAA Parent Resource Center and Educational Consultant at the Brearley School. Ms. Thomas is a learning disabilities expert and works closely with families to develop comprehensive individualized educational plans. 

Seats Still Available.  Kindly Invite Your Friends, Clients, and Colleagues.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Speaking Engagement at the Rebecca School on Thursday, March 27


I have been invited to speak at the Rebecca School on Thursday, March 27 regarding the special education process and the right to funding.  I am providing the relevant information below for all who may wish to attend.  Please feel free to forward this information to anyone else who might be interested:


What Every Parent Must Know
About The Special Education Process 

Presented by:

Michelle Siegel, Esq. 
Adam Dayan, Esq. 

Join us: 

March 27, 2014 
6:30 PM

Rebecca School
40 East 30th Street
New York, NY
212.810.4120

RSVP
Elizabeth O'Shea

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

COPAA Conference 2014


This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) conference in Baltimore, Maryland, a short and immensely enjoyable 3-hour Amtrak train ride from NY Penn Station.  This year's conference boasted the largest attendance ever, attracting approximately 550 attendees from all over the country.

This was my 5th COPAA conference.  As I contemplated this while roaming the corridors of the Waterfront Marriott where the conference was held, moving from one session to the next, this felt like a significant milestone for me.  As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to reflect on where I’ve been over the last year.  It was also nice to look around and recognize a significant number of the attendees.

Sessions

The conference offered the usual assortment of trainings and workshops.  Some highlights for me included:

Cross Examination of Experts - Great full-day workshop with Frank Hickman and Tracey Walsh focusing on the art of cross examination.

Legal and Academic Perspectives on America's Public Education - Big-picture, policy-related session considering the roots of education from the 1600’s through the present, new movements including online education and school choice, and the usual hot-button issues of accountability, high-stakes testing, evaluations, and teacher performance.  The afternoon portion of the day (a bit harder to get through perhaps due to sleep deprivation kicking in) addressed the intricacies of the Common Core and Universal Design for Learning, and their implications for special needs students.

Keynote Speaker LeDerick Horne - This year's speaker, LeDerrick Horne, truly delivered.  He spoke about the difficulties he experienced as a child with a learning disability and the constant fear of public embarrassment that he endured on a daily basis.  When he was close to breaking down, he chose instead to break through.  He pushed through elementary and high school, attended college, and obtained his undergraduate degree.  He has become an entrepreneur and performance poet who has worked as an advocate on the national, state and local level.  While he continues to struggle with his learning difficulties, he has devised useful tools to help him cope.  His presentation also included a poem or two.  More information available at www.lederick.com.

General Session - Matthew Cohen delivered an impassioned speech, acknowledging the gains we have made in the areas of disability and civil rights law, but emphasizing the big steps we still need to take to move forward.  He spoke forcefully, peppering the audience with real-life examples of injustices he has seen in cases he has handled, and the energy in the room rose quickly.  That led to a group discussion with the audience, which led to several people speaking about the importance of embracing the concept of individuals with different abilities and focusing what unique skills people have rather than focusing on what they lack, which resonated with me and reminded me of my visit to the Ann Sullivan Center.   

Life Planning for Families of Loved Ones with Special Needs - An emphasis on special needs trusts and guardianships, and how those issues can be tied into due process hearings and/or settlement agreements.

Creating a Winning Stay Put Argument - An interesting session that highlighted some of the many permutations that one might encounter when dealing with the issue of "stay put" and the question of what should be considered a child's last agreed upon placement.

Retrospective Testimony/Monday Morning Quarterbacking - Unfortunately I did not attend this event, but after hearing everyone talk about it, I wished I had.  The session focused on the issue of retrospective testimony, and the implications of recent court decisions regarding this issue.  

A Case Study: An Effort To Grow Special Education Advocacy Awareness - Andy Cuddy presented on his recent media campaign to reach impoverished special needs parents in Rochester through the use of television commercial spots.  The campaign emphasized raising awareness in a tactful way.  While some may have dismissed the event off-hand, I was glad I attended.  I found the presentation to be professional, informative, and thought provoking.  

Redefining Functional Skills for the 21st Century - This workshop helped me to reconsider what it means for a child with special needs to be "functional" in the 21st century, with a focus on inclusion in a general education setting.

Latest Top 40 Chart-Topping Decisions - The most entertaining case law review that I have ever attended (and it's no easy task to make this stuff exciting).  The presenters delivered their top 40 cases over the last several years in the format of a top 40 music countdown, highlighting fact scenarios that were particularly ridiculous and excerpts from decisions containing language that was particularly powerful.  
 
To Parents

COPAA is a great organization to join if you think you might benefit from a network of attorneys, advocates, parents, and others involved in the area of special needs.  Parent membership costs $50 per year and provides access to a wonderful community.  For more information, you can visit the COPAA website: http://www.copaa.org/.

COPAA 2015

Next year's conference is scheduled for March 5-8, 2015 at Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego, California!