November 21, 2013
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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. See 7/17/13 blog entry.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
November 21, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
En mi experiencia como abogado de educación y "educación especial," he tenido la oportunidad de luchar por individuos con habilidades diferentes para assistirlos obtener los programas y servicios que necesitan para avanzar y transformarse en miembros independientes y productivos en la sociedad. En los Estados Unidos, tenemos leyes extensas y generosas para proteger a los estudiantes que tienen varias discapacidades psíquicas y desórdenes del desarollo. Ya sė que países diferentes tienen leyes diferentes; algunas les dan mas servicios, y algunos menos. Recientemente, he desarollado un interės en lo que otras paises en el mundo están haciendo en el campo de educación, en general, y "educación especial," en particular. Me gustaría reunirse con personas del gobierno, del sector de las empresas, y del sector privado para aprender más. Si el gobierno tiene planes para mejorar o ampliar acceso a la educacion para individuos con habilidades diferentes, me gustaría comprender que acciones está tomando. Si hay empresas que se han hecho esfuerzos extraordinarios para emplear e incluir a individuos con habilidades diferentes en sus empresas, me gustaría saber cómo nació el programa, cómo se opera, quiėn tiene los requisitos para el empleo, y quė planes hay para crecerlo. Naturalmente, tambiėn estoy interesado en observar programas de "educacion especial" en las escuelas de Peru. Verdaderamente, esa es una de las razones principales de mi visita. Me gustaría comprender quė son los metodos filosóficos y pedagógicos que están utilizando, cómo los estudiantes están progresando, cómo se los integran con la sociedad convencional, y dónde hay espacio para mejora según las escuelas.
Here is the basic English translation:
Looking forward to an interesting and meaningful adventure!
Friday, October 4, 2013
I saw the documentary Salinger recently so, as I'm writing this blog post, J.D. Salinger is fresh in my mind. There's something about that last scene in The Catcher In The Rye depicting children being saved just before falling off the edge of a cliff that has had a deep, visceral, and lasting impact on me. I think that profound scene can be related to the practice of special education law, which at times involves saving children with special needs from falling toward academic failure and developmental stagnation when they have been neglected by their local school districts. I think families who are the most needy - those who have children with special needs AND lack necessary financial means - require the most help because school districts can be especially difficult in these kinds of cases. The recent case of A.R. v. New York City Department of Education, 12 Civ. 4493 (PAC), is one example of our legal system upholding a child's rights in the face of a school district that would have preferred to let the child fall off the cliff.
On appeal, the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in A.R. considered a parent's claim for private school funding as a result of the district's conceded failure to provide an appropriate public school education. The school district admitted it didn't do its job, but still didn't want to pay for the kid's services. The Court addressed a number of issues, including whether a parent's financial need and inability to fund the cost of a private placement should bar an award of funding for the private program. Those familiar with this area of the law may recall the case of Mr. and Mrs. A. v. NYC Department of Education, where the SDNY considered this issue and determined that, where parents lack the financial resources to front the costs of private school tuition, parents who satisfy all other factors have a right to retroactive direct tuition payment relief.
In A.R., the school district argued that the parent obviously couldn't afford to front the cost of the tuition, that the parent never made any payments to the private placement, that the private school never demanded payment, that the private school waived its right to payment by failing to enforce the terms of the enrollment contract, and that the enrollment contract was a sham. The SDNY rejected all of these arguments. The SDNY affirmed the decision in Mr. and Mrs. A., quoting from that case and saying that "it would be a grave error to conclude from the fact that [the parent] did not have the means to pay for a private placement that her daughter is precluded from receiving the free appropriate public education that the IDEA is intended to guarantee." In A.R., the SDNY said that "[t]he fact that [the parent] ultimately expected to prevail in her claims against the DOE does not indicate that she believed that she had no obligation to pay under the contract." Therefore, the contract was not a sham. With respect to the district's assertion that the parent never intended to send her child to a public placement, the Court observed somewhat mockingly that "[t]he DOE pretends to have peered into the [the parent's] mind and ascertained that she 'never seriously considered sending the Student to a public placement," and pointed out that there is a difference between (1) wanting a private school and, at the same time, being open to public school recommendations if they are appropriate, and (2) not being open to public school recommendations at all. With respect to scenario (1), "[s]uch a view is entirely consistent with a permissible desire to keep the Student enrolled at the same school she had been attending . . . , but a willingness to consider other forthcoming proposals from the DOE," said the Court.
As a result, the parent's claim was upheld and the school district was ordered to fund the cost of the child's private placement.
So, although a child's IDEA-mandated rights are not always respected and enforced by local school districts, there is a legal system to which parents can appeal in order to ensure that their children receive the programs and services that they require to continue progressing and growing, and staying far away from the edge of that cliff.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Friday, August 23, 2013
I just finished reading the The Smartest Kids In The World And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. It’s a great read and I truly enjoyed every minute of it. Ripley mainly examines the education systems in Finland, South Korea, and Poland (other countries are mentioned but not discussed as thoroughly) to consider what we can learn from different models around the world. When she described the culture of the hagwons in S. Korea, I felt the tension coursing through my veins as I flipped through the pages. Ripley describes the unique S. Korean culture so vividly, allowing the reader to form colorful images of young Korean students hunkered at their desks during after-school hours gripping their pencils tightly with sweat dripping down their foreheads as they review their lessons feverishly with instructors pacing the aisles and watching over them. The icing on the cake was the author’s raid with the hagwon curfew police who traveled from street to street searching for illegal studying establishments to bust!
Ripley’s descriptions of Finland and Poland were interesting too. The description of those cultures didn’t pop as much as S. Korea’s. There was an interesting bit about Poland’s history and the country’s efforts to revamp itself. With respect to Finland, which is considered the top education model in the world, it was interesting to read about the predominant, maybe even universal, understanding among children and adults about the importance of education as well as the freedom that Finnish students are afforded by their parents and teachers.
Throughout the book there is a big emphasis on quality of teachers, quality of curriculum, and level of expectations for students. Ripley talks at length about making teachers’ colleges more competitive, increasing the prestige of the teaching profession, etc. These are insightful and important points. However, I would have also liked to read more about other subjects – like the dynamics of teachers unions and local government, poverty, race and diversity. For instance, the teachers’ unions, which are mentioned but not really explored, are a huge issue in the U.S. right now. I’m curious as to Ripley’s thoughts about how powerful unions can exist abroad without getting in the way of positive education reform. The book is only 199 pages (excluding appendices, author’s notes, etc.), but I would have enjoyed reading more.
Some other interesting takeaway messages: the importance of failing (contrast with “the self-esteem culture” in which everyone gets a trophy, everyone’s a winner), the relative unimportance of sports in a school setting (i.e., as opposed to participating in sports outside of school with private organizations), quality parental involvement at home on academic skills vs. frequent involvement in extra-curriculuar school events and PTA meetings, economic imperatives leading to consensus about rigor (do we need to hit rock bottom first?), and PISA.
At the end of the day, The Smartest Kids In The World is a highly enjoyable read. Even though the personal details about the lives of the exchange students can, at times, feel fluffy, they enhance the reader’s interest and quicken the pace of the book. Ripley also includes a great appendix dealing with the subject of “how to spot a world-class education system,” which, among other things, cautions to “ignore the shiny things” that are not always tied to academic progress.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Congratulations Amanda on your wonderful accomplishment and best of luck with your next endeavor.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
But about the solution...
Friday, July 19, 2013
I don't think I realized the full import of the decision when I first read it. In my initial reading, it seemed as though we had done everything right. We had proven that "the three prongs" should be determined in favor of the parents because (1) the district failed to provide an appropriate education, (2) the private school was appropriate, and (3) the parents had always communicated their concerns and cooperated. Usually, when you win the three prongs...you win!!
So what happened? The IHO had read into the law a new prong: if the parents lacked the means to pay the private school's tuition, the tuition contract must therefore be a sham and the parents must therefore be denied funding. The IHO disregarded recent federal case law (see Mr. and Mrs. A v. N.Y.C. Department of Education) that had established that a parent's financial hardship should not be the sole basis for a denial of funding.
We quickly appealed the IHO decision to the state review officer. I poured everything into that appeal. And I guess it showed because the school district folded. They decided not to continue litigating the matter. We reached a settlement agreement whereby the district agreed to pay for the cost of the child's private school program. Redemption!
But here we are, more than a year later, and we have another IHO decision from the same IHO coming down in a similar way. Since the IHO's ruling in my case, courts have reiterated that parents who lack the means to pay a private school's tuition should not be denied reimbursement/funding where the three prongs (a.k.a. the "Burlington/Carter" prongs) have been proven. Those cases also explain the reasons that this should be so. That the IDEA was meant to protect the most disadvantaged children, including those whose parents lack financial means. The IHO, however, thought otherwise and denied the parents claim for funding.
On appeal, the SRO disagreed with the IHO's conclusions. SRO Bates recognized that the IHO inappropriately jumped to the question of direct/prospective funding before first determining the Burlington/Carter factors. The SRO further concluded that "the IHO incorrectly found that the parents lacked standing after making determinations that the parents had not paid any tuition or incurred out-of-pocket expenses and that the student's private school undertook the financial risk of the student's education rather than the parents."
In the course of his analysis, the SRO also explained that, in some cases, just because a third party has funded a child's education does not mean that the child's parent should be precluded from obtaining reimbursement/funding:
[W]here there is a close familial relationship between the student and the individual who gifted the funds to the parents, it would not be consistent with the purpose of the IDEA or equitable principles to preclude tuition reimbursement relief solely because the funds contributed by a student's grandparent had gifted, rather than loaned, the funds to the parent [sic]. The IDEA was not enacted to discourage familial support of a student with a disability, and in some circumstances the IDEA itself contemplates that a grandparents [sic] may be among the individuals that may maintain an impartial due process proceeding on behalf of a student.After establishing that the IHO's grounds for denying funding were invalid, the SRO remanded the matter to the impartial hearing office for a determination on the merits of the parents' claims.
In light of the parents' allegations of hearing officer misconduct, the matter was remanded to a brand new IHO.
There will be a new impartial hearing, and the parents will have another opportunity to secure the funding they are seeking.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
I’ve had opportunities to travel recently, which have opened my eyes in new ways and left me wondering, What if I could travel to other countries with the purpose of learning more about foreign education systems? I’ve always had a passion for travel and education. What if I could combine the two interests?
A recent business conference that I attended helped shape these ideas. One of the themes of the conference was how to turn ideas into reality. 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.
I believe this endeavor will be worthwhile for my long-term understanding about what education is, what it could be, and what it should be. I think it has the potential to stretch my notion of education advocacy. I believe it could open doors in the future, whatever those doors may be.
Like any big idea, this one needs a support system. I don’t think I can accomplish it alone. Paolo Coelho once wrote, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I invite you to help me with this mission. 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. If this mission succeeds, I believe I will gain tremendous insight and become a more competent education attorney. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas about this topic. Thank you!!
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
It’s not that I think what I’m doing is so objectively remarkable but, when I examine it closely, I realize that it is remarkable for me. I went to law school wanting to help people, to establish a stable career, and, probably more than anything, to buy myself time to figure out what I wanted to do in life. I decided not to pursue my deep interest in psychology because I listened to the critics. “You can’t make a decent living as a psychologist! You’re going to struggle!” I guess I was young and impressionable and, at the time, thought I was making the responsible decision of giving up my aspirations for psychology and choosing a more stable career, which I thought would be fulfilling as well. (By the way, it turns out there’s no such thing as a “career that's always stable” and the year I graduated from law school started the economic crisis that gravely changed the face of the legal job market.)
Somehow I was fortunate to find a job as an associate at a small Manhattan law firm specializing in education law. If you had asked me in 2005 what an education law firm was, I couldn't have told you, and probably didn't even know that such a thing existed. By the way, what is the significance of the year 2005? Apart from being the year I graduated from college, 2005 was also the year that I first learned about autism as part of a child developmental psychology course which I happened to be taking in London as part of a study abroad program during which I finished up my psychology major and my last semester of college. That’s where the magic started. If I hadn’t taken that exact course under exactly those circumstances with that exact textbook, etc. – there's a good chance that my interest in this area would not have been sparked.
Fast forward to 2013. That sense of amazement I was talking about before, where I wake up and wonder how I got here… I’m amazed that I ended up in a field that meshes psychology and law as much as it does. I don’t know how it happened and I certainly didn't map it out this way. I just pursued what was interesting to me. Even though I chose not to pursue psychology initially, I was given a chance to redeem myself. I found the Autism Legislation Project during law school. I worked at the legal headquarters of The Children’s Place (which, actually, has nothing to do with special needs or special education as far as I know). And then I somehow found a firm that specialized in representing children with autism and other disabilities. And after that I took the plunge to start my own law firm. And now, somehow, I have my own practice doing work that I love which involves speaking with psychologists on a regular basis, reading psychological evaluations, and learning fascinating things about child psychology and development. I consider myself really lucky to have gotten a second bite at the apple.
So what was the impetus for this post? Well, I recently came across the phrase “living a remarkable life in a conventional world” and spent some time considering what that meant. After a while, I concluded that, even though I love what I do, I wouldn’t call it “remarkable" in the sense that it's so amazing or so out of the ordinary. My wife challenged me on that point. She helped me to remember how exactly I got to where I am. And now, when I think about it in those terms, I realize that, for me, it is pretty damn remarkable after all.