New Mission

New Mission

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 26, 2012

COPAA Statement Regarding The Newtown School Tragedy

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, as families continue to search for ways to cope with the unfathomable, and as the gun control debate rages on, child advocates are re-examining the need for early identification of special needs when a child is struggling in school and the prompt implementation of appropriate interventions to deal with those issues.  Special education interventions are not only for academic difficulties.  Children with emotional and behavioral difficulties require, and are entitled to, special supports as well.  Below please find a recent statement from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) addressing some of these issues:

December 22, 2012

Towson, MD

The members of Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) work in schools every day with teachers and on behalf of the 7.1 million children with disabilities in the United States. Because of our work, we feel intense, personal pain over the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We express our deepest condolences to all of the families involved and the entire Newtown community.

In 1974, with the passage of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Congress delegated to school districts the responsibility to identify, evaluate and program for children with all types of special education needs. Thus, by design, the neighborhood public school is the first responder for many children with disabilities. As attorneys and advocates representing children and families in the special education process, we are too familiar with the struggles of families to obtain appropriate services for their children and the many issues that come with raising a child with a disability. We also know the dilemmas faced by schools to provide learning environments that are safe, positive, and secure for all students. It is time to acknowledge that fully-funded, appropriately designed special education and related services for students with disabilities are a critical piece of the solution.

The national debate triggered by Newtown needs to include strengthening our country’s education system. We need to work collaboratively to ensure that children with disabilities are identified and provided with services at an early age and that children are not excluded from school based upon their disability. Unfortunately, we have already seen students excluded from school since Newtown. The IDEA can make a huge difference, if it is fully funded and if educators work collaboratively with parents to utilize the panoply of tools available under it, including positive behavior supports, mental health counseling, and parent training. All students can progress through school to become responsible and contributing members of their communities. COPAA stands ready to face these challenges shoulder-to-shoulder with public school systems to ensure safe and high quality education for all children.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Recent SRO Decisions

Decisions from the SRO have been significantly delayed over the last several months.  While there is generally an expectation that an SRO decision will be rendered within 30 days from the request for review, recently parents have waited many months.

I’d like to review some of the last available decisions here:

SRO 12-135 upheld an IHO’s order of reimbursement for the Rebecca School, affirming that the district had failed to provide FAPE and that the Rebecca School was an appropriate placement.  This decision emphasized the importance of an IEP sufficiently identifying a student’s present levels of performance, including an accurate description of the student’s needs and corresponding goals to address those needs.  A central issue on appeal, however, appears to have been compensatory education and how the amount of such instruction/services is determined.  The SRO modified the award of compensatory services by reversing the part of the IHO’s decision that awarded 105 hours of speech-language therapy (according to the SRO, the area of speech-language needs was not sufficiently challenged in the parent’s due process complaint) but affirmed the award of 105 hours of special education services(1:1) to put the student in the position she would have been in had the district offered FAPE during the school year at issue.

SRO 12-096 is a strange case.  At the IHO level, the hearing officer initially found that the district had denied FAPE and ordered tuition reimbursement for the Rebecca School (summer) as well as the cost of a home program and related services.  Apparently, the IHO then amended her initial decision, reversing her own initial finding of the appropriateness of the home program in her original decision.  Huh?

The SRO annulled the second decision and considered the merits of the appeal from the first.  The SRO dismissed the parents’ arguments regarding the CSE’s evaluative information and the present levels of performance in the IEP.  With respect to goals and objectives, the SRO agreed that the IEP goals lacked measurability, but disagreed with the parent regarding the sufficiency of “baseline data” and asserted that the objectives accompanying those goals were sufficiently measurable.  In considering the issues of an FBA and BIP (common in autism cases), the SRO seemed to suggest that because the student was attending Rebecca at the time of the IEP meeting, the CSE may have been absolved from conducting an FBA, and defended the CSE’s actions regarding the student’s behaviors and her BIP.

The parents’ arguments relating to the recommended public school were shot down too.  The SRO echoed a recent SRO trend of asserting that where the child didn’t attend the public school program, the sufficiency of the program is to be determined based on the IEP itself and not a school’s ability to implement it.  This arguably is at odds with the holding in Forest Grove which states that a child need not have attended a particular public school program in order for a parent to assert that it is inappropriate.  Wouldn't we still want to know whether the program actually could have been implemented even where an IEP “looks good”?  Yes, we would.  The SRO actually then proceeded to consider what the implementation of this program would have looked like and concluded that even such an analysis would not result in a finding of a denial of FAPE, summarily rejecting the parents’ points regarding student grouping, environmental and sensory concerns, transitioning, and related services.  With respect to grouping, I am perplexed by the assertion that “cognitive skills are not a necessary component of determining the similarity of individual needs."  Someone please explain it to me.  

Not sure what to make of this case. It will be interesting to follow it if/when it goes up on appeal.

Note:  Although it might seem that the last available decision on the SRO website is from September 12, 2012, upon closer inspection one finds that the decisions are just out of order.  SRO decisions 12-079 and 12-081 are from October.  In both cases, the SRO reversed IHO decisions ordering reimbursement for unilateral placements for the 2011-2012 school year because, in the SRO’s opinion, FAPE had been provided and proven by the school district.