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.
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.