VISIT OUR WEBSITE
Visit our website: www.dayanlawfirm.com
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.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
You may remember that Friday was the day of the fog. For much of the close to two-hour-drive up to Monticello, I was looking out at a wall of whiteness. I was surrounded by snowy mountains, snow on the ground, and an intense, consuming fog that all seemed to blend into one. The road was quiet. The visibility on the road was awful. Many times the road disappeared, and I changed lanes to get behind a car that I could follow closely because I figured as long as I could see the car that meant there was still road. Once I got over the initial shock of the daunting driving conditions, I began to appreciate the stark beauty. The bright white and bare trees created a somewhat eerie but incredibly peaceful landscape which I said I would describe as "fantastical" if others asked. I felt myself breathing in the beauty of my surroundings by inhaling them through the air vents on the dashboard. My senses felt heightened and I kept myself from turning on the radio because I didn't want to ruin the moment. Though my day had only barely started, I was feeling very glad to be making this trip.
I arrived at The Center For Discovery around 10 a.m. The school grounds cover 1,500 acres of land with various campuses, which are set up thoughtfully to meet the unique needs of the students housed at each campus. For example, a campus intended for children with autism, was expertly designed by none other than Temple Grandin whose goal was to construct the campus in way that was sensitive to the sensory needs of its students, as children with autism can become easily overwhelmed by light, sound, and smell. I also saw a kitchen that was tailor-made for individuals in wheelchairs such that all of the kitchen equipment could be adjusted higher or lower according to the student's height. The school primarily serves individuals aged 5-21, who, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, may be entitled to funding for the cost of the program. The Center also serves individuals above the age of 21, but as a general rule those individuals would need to obtain funding through Medicaid and the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The oldest individual currently enrolled is 85 years old.
The Center began in the 1940's as an institution for the education of individuals with cerebral palsy, but gradually evolved to include students with a range of issues including autism and multiple physical handicaps. The Center For Discovery, like the Ann Sullivan Center, emphasizes functional education, rather than rote learning of academics that may have limited practical application in the real world. Students learn hands-on by participating in a panoply of activities including gardening, cooking, dancing, farming, and working in the Center's on-site restaurants and cafes that are designed to teach important skills. During these activities, student receive ongoing support from school staff which focuses on teaching important skills necessary to function in the real world and aims to prepare students for an eventual transition to a less supportive educational setting or, where possible, an appropriate work environment tailored to the specific interests and abilities of the particular student. The Center is primarily a full-time residential program, which means that the students live on campus 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with some exceptions for family visits and vacations. To a lesser degree, the Center functions as a day program for students who are bussed from nearby districts. There are currently about 500 total students in the two programs. There are about 1,500 staff members including teachers, psychologists, social workers, related service providers, behavior specialists, and "integration specialists." Classrooms typically consist of 6 students and approximately 3 staff members. Students are grouped according to their needs and abilities. Reverse inclusion provides mainstreaming opportunities for students to interact with typically developing peers from the community through sporting activities and other opportunities to socialize and mingle.
The Center For Discovery has a research arm in addition to the hands-on instructional program described above. Partnering with different institutions around the country, the Center is actively pursuing answers to questions concerning effective approaches to the education and development of individuals with disabilities. The Center is active internationally by participating in conferences around the world concerning various special education topics. The Center also conducts assessments and evaluations to help families better understand what supports and interventions are necessary for their children to make meaningful gains. The Center also works closely with local school districts through staff trainings and workshops, which has allowed the Center to extend its reach to help students outside of its own program. The Center is working on plans for expansion in order to make its services available to a wider population.
I would like to thank the wonderful people at The Center For Discovery who welcomed me warmly and spent over three hours showing me around, discussing their amazing program, and sharing a glimpse of some of the very exciting things that they have planned for the near future. Thank you for the fantastic work that you do, and good luck with your new endeavors!
For more information about The Center For Discovery, visit the school's website:
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Sunday, December 8, 2013
It's hard to sum up the trip in just a few short words but I have some thoughts…
The government in Peru does very little in the way of providing supports for individuals with special needs. At first I found myself asking about concepts that are foreign to people in Peru: government funding, residential schools, group homes, autism research groups. For the most part these things do not exist there. I realized that I needed to leave behind some of the assumptions and biases that I brought from my experiences back home.
In Peru, there is a tremendous gap between what the government provides to special needs students compared to general education students. Some of the problems that people described to me include a dearth of laws protecting individuals with different abilities, corruption in politics, lack of awareness, lack of media attention, lack of special education programs, lack of funds, and lack of a structured legal system by which to enforce existing rights. These negatives forces have created a maelstrom that helps to explain the awful situation in which parents of special needs children finds themselves. For example, during one school visit, I observed special needs kids in complete squalor in a makeshift “school” in a dirt field surrounded by filth, rats, and infestation. I was told that under no circumstances would the government allow such circumstances to continue for general education students.
Do special needs students have any rights? On paper, they do have some rights. But even in cases where legislation has been enacted, the accompanying regulations have not been passed, so no one has any idea of how that law is supposed to be implemented. The government has not spelled out a process by which parents can enforce those rights when they are being denied. When I mentioned that in the U.S. we have federal legislation that both protects children with special needs and creates a mechanism for enforcement, I was met with a smile that to me communicated a deep sense of longing for more of that in their own country, and a sense of how far off they felt it was.
In some instances, where the government has failed, private schools have stepped in as discussed below.
Role of the family
The importance of the role of the family in the education and development of a child with special needs may seem like an obvious point, but at the Ann Sullivan Center (Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru, or CASP, in Spanish), a private special education school in Lima that educates children with severe developmental impairments, family involvement and collaboration is practiced day in and day out and it permeates everything the school does. The school's mantra says that the school is 30% responsible for a child's education and development, and the child's family is 70% responsible. Parents understand this idea and embrace it.
The kids at CASP only attend school for approximately 4-5 hours per day, 4 days per week. And the school does not provide every therapy under the sun. At first, I was skeptical of such a model. However, I quickly came to appreciate the tremendous impact of the program. Given their limited financial resources, CASP has created a system where learning and development occur around the clock, not merely within the confines of the school walls.
Teaching functional skills
At CASP, children are taught functional skills that they will need for real life based on the school’s Functional/Natural Curriculum. This approach was developed by a U.S. behavioral expert but rejected by U.S. institutions. The idea behind the curriculum is to focus on skills that children will actually use, rather than to teach rigid academic skills that may have no practical value for them later on.
Students at the Ann Sullivan Center are prepared for employment through regular job training exercises, which are supported by CASP as part of CASP’s overall mission to prepare students for gainful employment. I observed kids receiving their job training at a real life restaurant, re-arranging the chairs, setting the tables, handling the silverware, and cleaning the room in preparation for the expected customers. These students, for example, might continue to be trained at the restaurant for another year or two, and then transition to a full-time restaurant job if they have learned the necessary skills. It was interesting for me to see kids who had seemed to struggle with significant functioning difficulties be able to apply themselves in a focused, attentive, careful, diligent way in the work setting.
I wondered if we were doing enough of this in the U.S. . . .
Families maintain a connection to CASP well beyond their children’s turning 18 or 21. CASP is a continuing and constant presence in the individual’s life. Parents understand that they, and not the school, need to be doing the heavy lifting with respect to the education, development, and growth of their children, but also know that CASP is there to continue providing support across all environments including work and home life.
Generalizing skills to the home
A parent applies the training he/she has received at CASP in the home. Examples that a parent shared with me during a home visit included speaking to the child in a way that allows the child to understand the rationale for doing something, maintaining consistency between what the parent does in the home with what the other teachers work on in school, and presenting a situation to the child so that the child must solve the problem by considering what needs to happen next to fix a particular situation (rather than just giving the child a direct instruction).
Parent support system
Parents believe that they are in it together, and they support each other along the way through regular parent support group sessions. They understand that they are part of a community of parents, children, staff members, and specialists who are joining together to ensure that each child is given an opportunity to succeed in the real world, in whatever way feasible for that individual, in order to become a contributing member to society. CASP is as ready to learn from the insights of a child's parents, as the parents are ready to learn from the teachers and staff. I think this validates the parents' concerns, and helps the school learn more about the child to better meet his/her needs.
The corporate side of supportive employment
Children who are considered individuals with disabilities in the U.S. are thought of as “children with different abilities” at CASP. The school devotes itself to identifying each child’s unique skills, abilities, and interests so that the school can cultivate them throughout the child’s attendance at CASP. And when that child is ready to start working, the school matches up the child’s skills, abilities, and interests with a job that fits. Both the individual and the employer receive ongoing support from CASP once that individual begins working. This form of "supportive employment" is a critical feature of the CASP program, and I believe it is also an essential component of preparing individuals with disabilities to become independent, self-sufficient, contributing members of society.
To understand this better, I met with corporate agents from Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Central Bank of Peru, two companies in Peru that employ individuals with disabilities. Both companies are happy to work with CASP because of the support and training that CASP provides. CASP teaches its students how to manage work-related situations and provides job coaches for on-site guidance throughout the day. For the corporations, this has resulted in tangible benefits to hiring people with different abilities.
What are we doing in the U.S. to transition our children with special needs to an employment setting?
After finishing up at CASP in Lima, I traveled to a city called Cusco, which gave me an opportunity to examine Peruvian education in a more rural setting. I also got a closer look at real poverty. While in Cusco, I learned from staff members about the various forces that a school might have to contend with such as parents who don’t want to be involved in their children's education, unhealthy environmental conditions of the schools, and kids being hidden from sight and not exposed to any form of education because of parents who are either uninformed or in denial. The corruption of past presidents whose actions have harmed local citizens, including accusing the teachers’ union of being terrorists and killing individuals who were studying to become teachers, has not helped matters.
Where the government fails, the private sector sometimes steps up to the plate. The same way this became obvious at CASP, it was also observable at Manos Unidas, a private special education school in Cusco for children with severe developmental disabilities. Manos Unidas, was started around 2007 in a small house as a result of the terrible special education conditions in Peru in general and Cusco in particular. The government does not provide any funding. Nevertheless, the school, located in a very quiet rural community overlooking the mountains, educates approximately 30-40 students. The classrooms are small. Children receive individualized attention (usually 2 teachers per classroom of 4-6 kids). Teachers use autism-specific methodologies, personalized daily schedules, and specialized communication systems. Approximately 20 students are currently enrolled in inclusion programs with the continued support of the Manos Unidas staff by their sides within the mainstream setting.
Reaching far-flung impoverished communities
On the subject of special education in rural Peru, I met the director of a project whose mission is to bring special education to children in distant rural communities. The organization behind the project deals with various areas of concern for individuals with disabilities of all ages including health, work, family life, and rehabilitation. The idea is to get these kids the additional supports that they need to become independent and productive citizens. She too spoke about how difficult it is to get money from the government. It's great that these types of schools and organizations exist, but it’s unfortunate that their work cannot reach more of the population due to their limited resources.
A global issue
These are global issues. CASP, for example, is influencing special education on a global scale through its research projects, its international conferences, and its efforts to spread awareness and to share the CASP model with other countries. Every country, even a world superpower like the U.S., could benefit from learning from Peru. On the one hand, the United States is so incredibly ahead of Peru in terms of civil rights, wealth and resources, government involvement, and availability of information. But still, schools in our country could learn a great deal from a school like CASP. The CASP model was recently adopted in Panama, where it is being implemented as part of a state-sponsored program. Representatives of the Dominican Republic were on site during my visit to learn more about how they could apply the model in their country. The CASP program was recently highlighted by the Chinese media (unfortunately my comprehension of the news segment was limited since it was in Chinese and without subtitles; the only words I could make out were “Ann Sullivan”). CASP has plans to expand to Africa.
This trip was a heady experience for me. Since returning home, my mind has been racing with thoughts and ideas about education and special needs. I hope to have the opportunity to arrange more trips of this kind in the future.
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.