My mission is to explore how other countries around the world are dealing with education and special education issues.
I would like to visit and observe different types of schools that have proven records of success, wherever those schools may be. I would like to meet with school directors and administrators, government officials, leaders in the business world, and others who are responsible for implementing education systems or otherwise connected to education to learn more about how education is being addressed in their communities.
If you know of any remarkable schools in other parts of the world (especially special needs schools), please let me know about them. If you know of any education experts who are engaged in remarkable work in this field, please introduce me to them.
Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the above. Read more about my mission here.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
Speech and language services: Some of these amendments have stirred up a bit of controvery, such as the elimination of the minimum speech requirements for (a) students with autism and (b) students who have language disabilities. The old regulations required that "instructional services shall be provided to meet the individual language needs of a student with autism for a minimum of 30 minutes daily in groups not to exceed two, or 60 minutes daily in groups not to exceed six." The highlighted portion is being eliminated and students with autism are not guaranteed any minimum level of services. The change is unsettling because (1) the public schools, which are horribly unequipped to properly educate children with autism, should be looking to enrich their education rather than take away from it, and (2) it has been suggested that this reduction in services is the result of fraudulent activity emanating within the New York State Education Department regarding the delivery of speech services, and the consequences are now being felt locally in the city schools. In addition, the amended regulations which previously provided for a minimum of two 30-minute sessions each week to those students whose disabilities necessitate speech and language services, have now done away with that requirement.
Integrated Co-teaching (ICT, CTT, Inclusion): Typically in this type of class 60% of the students are general education and 40% are special education which would mean that in a class of 24 students, 14 students would be general education and 10 would be special education. Under the current version of the regulations, "the number of [special education] students in such classes shall not exceed 12 students." Under the amended regulations it seems that this number could presumably jump to 14 students. That suggests a larger clas, which would be in line with the current trend of growing class size in NYC public schools.
Other changes include: eliminating the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) and replacing it with the NYSED's Office of Counsel and Office of Special Education; providing that a CSE meeting absolutely "does not include informal or unscheduled conversations with school personnel and conversations on issues such as teaching methodology, lesson plans, or coordination of service provision"; and changing the name of the Office of Mentally Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).
Monday, November 22, 2010
The district court explained that the IHO applied the wrong legal standard because parents do not have to show that the child progressed at the private school, only that the private school program was properly designed to allow the child to make progress. This is significant because, otherwise, any parent who reasonably enrolled his/her child in a private school that seemed suited to the child's needs would be denied reimbursement if the child didn't actually make progress. Here the court is basically saying that if the parents make a reasonable, well-informed decision and place their child in a school that is tailored to meet the child's needs and likely to result in educational progress, that's good enough.
Friday, November 19, 2010
SRO 10-069: Agreed with IHO and determined that school district offered FAPE
SRO 10-070: Overruled IHO's award of reimbursement and determined that the school district offered FAPE because the program it recommended was appropriate and the parent's alleged procedural violations did not rise to the level where relief under the IDEA would be warranted
SRO 10-073: Overruled IHO's award of reimbursement and determined that the school district offered FAPE
SRO 10-076: Agreed with and upheld IHO's denial of reimbursement and held that the program offered by the district was appropriate and parent's alleged procedural violations did not rise to the level of a denial of FAPE
SRO 10-079: Overruled IHO's award of tuition reimbursement and held that the school district offered FAPE
SRO 10-081: Dismissed the appeal as untimely and didn't not reach the merits of the case
SRO 10-094: Overruled the IHO's award of reimbursement and ruled that the school district fulfilled its obligation
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
The facts in 10-094 are interesting. A CSE meeting took place on February 24, 2009 to develop an IEP for the 2009-2010 school year. The child had been at Mary McDowell, a private school, every year since the 2004-2005 school year. In fact, the parents had signed on for the 2009-2010 school year as well when they signed the tuition contract on February 6, 2009. They failed to share this fact with the CSE when they convened for their meeting on the 24th. For some reason the IEP was not delivered to the parent until the middle of April, and the DOE did not send out a school recommenation until the middle of August. Normally, a parent would go down to the proposed school to "check it out" - tour the school, see the class, meet the teacher, observe the other students. Instead of doing that right away the parents waited until December. There is no evidence that they made efforts in August, September, etc. to call the school and set up a visit, so they probably went in December just to look good for their upcoming hearing. Here's the twist - when she arrived at the school they would not let her see the classroom. It's pretty standard for the parent to expect that when she goes down to the school she will get to see the classroom and will take that into account in determining whether the program is appropriate, but that didn't happen here.
The IHO was sympathetic to the parent and determined that it was a denial of FAPE for the DOE to wait as long as it did to send the school recommendation and then to deny the parent access to the classroom. The SRO, however, didn't like this at all and reversed the IHO's determination, asserting that: (a) the district's delay in recommending the placement was not a denial of FAPE because it was still prior to the first day of classes; and (b) the lack of an opportunity to visit the proposed school prior to the start of the school year and their inability to visit the classroom did not rise to the level of a denial of FAPE. The first point is understandable but the second point is unsettling. How is a parent to know whether a recommended school is appropriate for her child if she cannot see the school and observe the class? This may be the SRO's way of saying to the parent, "You shouldn't have waited until December and that leads me to conclude that you had no interest in placing your child there," but such a blanket statement (irrespective of the authority cited) that a parent does not have a legal right to see the proposed school and classroom is very concerning.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
How to evaluate teachers has been an especially hot issue lately. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg tried to disseminate this same type of information but the teachers' union took him to court over it. So what's the deal with teacher assessments and how should they be conducted? The benefit of value-added assessments is that they offer a look at how a teacher's performance has affected student progress. A pitfall is that it is a one-dimensional analysis that leads teachers to "teach to the test." Many people agree that teacher assessments should be composed of a number of different factors, not just value-added assessments, but what these factors should be is not so clear. Perhaps some of the following would be helpful factors: (1) how are the students in this classroom doing (i.e. exams, homework, other assignments); (2) what are the students' impressions of their teacher (e.g. does she motivate them to want to learn more); (3) are the students able to have an intelligent conversation/debate about the material; (4) has the teacher been observed in the classroom on a regular basis by a professional and does that professional conclude that she is teaching effectively; (5) does the teacher bring the material to life with other tools (e.g. visual learning aids, auditory aids, class trips, experiments); (6) can the students generalize this knowledge to the everyday real world. These are just examples of some of the important points that could and should be addressed.
Without commenting on the benefits of effectiveness of teachers unions, I have three major issues with what teachers unions represent: (a) they firmly oppose changes to the tenure system (which have proven to be more of a means of protecting bad teachers than rewarding good ones); (b) they won't entertain changes to the pay scale which could mean significantly better salaries for effective teachers; (c) they are against the release of public data on teacher performance and teacher accountability. With respect to this last issue, the teachers' unions claim that reliance on value-added assessments hinder efforts toward comprehensive teacher evaluations. Randi Weingarten claims that the union has "proposed a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation that more than 50 districts have adopted." If that is the case, perhaps they could share with the rest of us what that so-called comprehensive system involves...
In this case, Holmes-Ramsey vs. District of Columbia (D.C. District Court, November 2, 2010), the court said that in order to state a claim under Section 504, the parent has to show that the child was discriminated against solely because of her handicap. BUT, in order to make out a Section 504 claim in the context of an IDEA case, the parent must show that the district acted in bad faith or with gross misjudgement. It's not exactly clear what would make it an "IDEA case" per se. But in such a case, it is not enough just to show a failure to provide a FAPE under the IDEA. You need to show something more than that to make out your 504 claim. One might say: "If anyone who has protections under the IDEA has the same protections under Section 504, it should be enough just to show a violation of IDEA to make out your 504 claim." Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. The correct way to think about it is that the IDEA is made up in part by Section 504 and in part by other stuff, and showing a violation of "FAPE," for example, which is guaranteed under the IDEA but not under Section 504, is not necessarily a violation of Section 504. Section 504 is a discrimination statute intended to protect individuals with disabilities being treated differently because of their disabilities. But it doesn't say anything about ensuring that a child with a disability will get an educational program that is specially designed to meet his/her unique educational needs -- that's the IDEA's job.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
New York City's public school system is the largest in the country with a reported 1,600 public schools and 1.1 million students. Those are some big numbers. And what does Ms. Black know about running a school system? I get that she's a "superstar manager" as Bloomberg puts it, but how is that going to translate into fixing the major problems that are currently plaguing our school system. You question whether she has ever even been inside a public school and whether she knows anything about how the system works. And what perhaps is more concerning is what her relationship is going to be with the unions. "I've had limited exposure to unions," she said. Well I hope you have some innovative ways of dealing with them because they are kind of standing in the way of progress and reform. What does it mean when the president of the UFT offers to "help her" - is that some type of overture? And how much longer are the teachers' unions going to continue putting their needs before childrens' needs while claiming that they are putting children's needs first? I'm not ruling out that Ms. Black can effect positive change - but I hope she understands the magnitude of the job she is taking on.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Unfortunately the parent's arguments were rejected. For the 2007-2008 year, the district court stated that there were baselines because the 2007-2008 IEP took into account the most recent testing that was available, the child's various teachers and evaluators participated in the meeting and identified present levels of performance which were included in the IEP, and there were clearly written goals which provided directions about the baselines to measure progress.
Regarding the parent's second point, the court didn't find it problematic that part of the resource room instruction was happening in the general education classroom. It believed that it was a legitimate goal to use the mainstream setting to help the student generalize his/her skills. The part that was confusing was the way the court reasoned through this while also quoting NY regulations saying that "specialized instruction can best be accomplished in a self-contained setting." There was also evidence to suggest that the resource room teacher was teaching another class (a reading class) at the same time, which would cause you to raise your eyebrows.
Finally, the court pointed out that other Orton-Gillingham based methods were available at the proposed school and the fact that the parent didn't get the specific one that she wanted -- the Wilson program -- is not enough to amount to a denial of FAPE.
These same points were basically reiterated with respect to the 2008-2009 school year and tuition reimbursement was denied for that year as well.
It is interesting that we don't know how the child actually would have done at this public school -- could be that it would have been horribly bad and not conducive to academic progress -- but since the parents never gave it a shot, the court went based on what the schools would have been able to offer, and concluded that the school would have met his special education needs. Pretty speculative but it is what it is. The court concluded with these oft-repeated words: "School districts are not required to furnish every special service necessary to maximize each child's potential or provide everything that might be thought desirable by loving parents." What a gem.
Monday, November 8, 2010
SRO Munoz also reiterated an important point regarding recoupment by the school district for money expended during pendency proceedings (which has was discussed on this Blog in a previous post re Recoupment), stating that "the current prevailing caselaw prohibits the district from recoupment of payments made pursuant to pendency" regardless of whether it is determined that the school district offered FAPE.
SRO (Munoz) decision 10-072 deals with the issue of IEE's. The facts are a bit convoluted but the main issue was the the parents disagreed with the DOE's findings and wanted the DOE to pay for a private evaluation. The hearing officer explained that (1) the parents must have objected to the evaluation conducted by the DOE, and (2) the type of evaluation for which the parents are seeking reimbursement must be the same as the type of evaluation done by the DOE. There was some disagreement about whether the private evaluation obtained by the parents was a psychological evaluation or a neuropsychological evaluation, but it didn't really matter because the hearing officer ruled that the parent had not properly disagreed. Therefore, the school district was not obligated to reimburse the parent for the private evaluation (which is somewhat weird because the facts suggest that the school district had already paid the parent $3,000 out of the $3,500 it cost for the private evaluation). The hearing officer also relied on the principle of "res judicata" in ruling that since the parents could have brought up this issue previously and didn't, they could not bring it up now. (In a prior hearing, the parents had initially sued for reimbursement for the private evaluation but then withdrew that request and filed it again later on.) The SRO upheld the determination by the hearing officer and explained that "res judicata precludes parties from litigating issues that were or could have been raised in a prior proceeding."
So parents should remember to clearly express disagreement with the DOE's evaluation and make sure that the private evaluation is the same type as the DOE's. And more generally: if a parent has had a full opportunity to raise an issue in a previous proceeding, and the current proceeding involves the same people as the last, the parents may be prevented from raising that issue again.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Whether District 75 actually accomplishes this mission is a separate issue. But what about the fact that of the 15,000 children turning 5 who were recently referred to District 75, only 1,000 actually belonged there? This is straight from the mouth of a person who knows -- the new superintendent of District 75, Gary Hecht, who has been with the DOE for 30 years and was previously the deputy superintendent of District 75 before taking over as superintendent. Mr. Hecht also stated that he wants to help the DOE with its initiative to move children out of special education private schools and back into the public schools' special education programs. But the whole reason that parents removed their children from the public schools in the first place is that they lacked the resources and ability to properly educate these children. If Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein, and the DOE intend to bring students back, isn't it reasonable to expect that they would make changes to and improve these public schools? Perhaps Mr. Hecht could begin with figuring out why 14,000 students who don't belong in District 75 were referred there, and then determine what would be an appropriate setting since we know that District 75 is not that place.
District 75 is not an actual "district" the way that term is commonly understood, but rather is a program based in various pubilc schools. The reality is that it is a "self-contained" program which connotes a high level of segregation because it includes all students who have serious needs. This program has become a dumping ground, to put it crudely, where school principals can dump children with special needs when they don't feel like dealing with that child's special needs.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Putting aside your beliefs about marijuana and whether it should be legal or illegal, there's no denying that our public schools would benefit from more money. There's also sense in the idea that if we educate our children properly now, we won't have to pay for the ramifications of their criminal behavior later. Without getting too scientific, studies have shown that people turn to crime when they believe that the cards are stacked against them and they have no hope of advancing in society. Despair and desperation breed crime. So invest more money in the public schools as a preemptive strike now and nip the problem in the bud. The question is not whether to do it but how, and the government needs to make it a prirority and figure this out.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
In M.H. v. New York City Department of Education, a May 2010 U.S. District Court case in the Southern District of New York, the judge upheld the impartial hearing officer's determination that the child's special education private school was appropriate even though the school did not provide Speech, OT, or PT. The parents were neither seeking that the services be provided by the district nor were they receiving private services and looking for reimbursement. The child in that case was autistic and, presumably, could have benefited from those services. Nevertheless, it was evident that the child had made significant progress even without the services and the parents were awarded tuition reimbursement.
In contrast to M.H., there's SRO 09-119 where the parents were seeking reimbursement for the private school tuition and related services from the district as per the child's IEP. This is distinguishable from M.H. where the parents were seeking only tuition and not services. In 09-119, The SRO completely denied tuition reimbursement because the child required services which the school did not offer. The student received counseling, speech, and OT but those services were funded by the school district through Related Service Authorizations. The parent did not at any point dispute the appropriateness of these services. Based on this, the SRO ruled that that parent did not prove that the private school met the student's needs in the areas addressed by the related services of counseling, Speech, and OT. Tuition reimbursement was denied in its entirety.
The SRO decision was decided in December 2009 by Paul Kelly who we know has since resigned. District courts have overruled a number of his decisions in recent weeks since his resignation. SRO 09-119 is currently being appealed in federal court and a decision in that case should help clarify the picture.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The district court said that it has to determine whether the proposed evidence is relevant and useful in determining whether Congress' goal has been reached for the child involved. This is a case-by-case, fact-based determination. The statute's language says "shall hear additional evidence at the request of the party" -- which suggests that the court is obligated to do it. But the court nimbly worked around this language and reasoned that additional evidence could still be kept out if the proposed witness has no knowledge of the facts and the testimony would not help the court in reaching its decision. In this case, it seemed that the school district wanted to present an attorney as its witness to testify about what the law means, how the law is meant to be implemented, and whether the New Jersey school district was doing it right. You can imagine that a judge might take offense to this since interpreting the law is generally a judge's role. The judge made sure to convey this to the school district's attorney, saying that it is "well-settled that matters of statutory construction are not a proper subject for expert testimony, but rather, questions of law to be resolved by the Court." Read between the lines.
The court left itself a little wiggle room, explaining that experts can sometimes testify on the specific issue of how a government agency applies and enforces its regulations if the statutory structures is complex and requires this type of testimony. BUT, in this case, since the school district never asserted this argument and never described the details of what this testimony would show, the evidence is excluded. The "additional evidence" has to be limited to what is relevant, non-cumulative, and useful in determining whether an appropriate education has been provided to this child. You have to make clear to the judge how the testimony is relevant and useful to this determination, and any vague or overly broad requests are going to be denied.
Monday, October 25, 2010
In Pennsylvania, parents of a 12-year old child with autism recently filed a class action lawsuit against the Gateway School District, accusing the district of "pervasive misrepresentation of students' educational progress." This type of problem comes up all the time where there's an issue of systemic wrongful conduct. The parents in this case have requested that the Court order the district to retrain its personnel on progress monitoring, re-evaluate the IEP's, and provide independent evaluations of all the district's autistic students. That's certainly a good start and seems to be a reasonable remedy but, unfortunately, courts have shown a reluctance to order this type of across-the-board action where there are allegations of systemic problems.
And with respect to the public school vs. charter school debate, what would happen if it were established that charter schools really do correlate with increased student progress (more research needed): would the teachers unions continue its opposition because they have become accustomed to the benefits and security offered by the union? What if the teachers union saved some of the millions of dollars being used to lobby for public schools and against charter schools, and instead utilized that money in a way that could improve the public school system? Perhaps to incentivize and reward good performance of its good teachers. The rights of children to receive an appropriate education should come first.
Friday, October 22, 2010
A number of issues are unclear with respect to this program: (1) If the child is not enrolled in public school, does that mean that the child would be enrolled in a private school program or home schooled; (2) If the child is in a private school program, does the alotted money go toward the private school program or toward outside services; (3) If a child's program is expensive (and some autism programs can approach $100,000/per year, sometimes more), can the money be used toward part of the tuition balance and, if so, who pays for the rest of the money owed. NOTE: One of the conditions for receiving this scholarship grant is that the parent agrees to waive its right to an impartial hearing, which raises a red flag as to how the balance of the money owed is going to be covered. Normally, a parent could file a claim against the school district for reimbursement of the tuition. If the parent is waiving his/her right to do so, how is the balance being paid? In addition, the program has several definite flaws which are still being addressed. These have to do with financial oversight of the program, quality of the services, and communication with the local public school districts regarding the child's progress (all of which have caused problems with the administration of the program thus far). So the program still needs to be tweaked, but it is an interesting, novel approach to address a pervasive problem.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
In NYC Department of Education v. S.S., the court pointed out "Congress' policy choice that all handicapped children, regardless of whether their case is meritorious or not, are to remain in their current educational placement until the dispute with regard to their placement is ultimately resolved," and ruled that the district cannot be reimbursed. This message was echoed in a recent federal court case in Georgia, Atlanta Independent School System v. S.F. These cases reinforce the idea that the pendency provisions are intended as a built-in protection for children with special needs and their parents. The only way to change this would be to persuade Congress to amend the law. Until then, school districts cannot be reimbursed for payments made during pendency.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
So then why does the Department of Education tell parents different? In a recent case, the mother of a child with autism exercised her right to continue EI services until January 2 following the child's third birthday. The mother told the Department that she would be needing a preschool placement for her child once the EI services expired. The Department responded that no programs were available and blamed the mother for extending the EI services. They were basically saying, "You should have come to us in September."
When the Department failed to recommend a program, the mother placed her child in a private school capable of meeting his needs and we filed a claim for tuition reimbursement. The Department ultimately decided not to fight the case because its position was not supported by the law. The claim was settled and the parent received 100% of the funding she was seeking.