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, 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.
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.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Thursday, May 9, 2013
But the book does pick up. Kirp spends some time reviewing the history of New Jersey's educational woes. He explains how the tribulations of the past have played a role in the success that Union City has achieved today. He discusses the Abbott case (or I should say cases since they were a string of decisions over the course of many years) and the implications for the future of New Jersey's most impoverished and needy children. Kirp explores the role that politics plays in education reform. He highlights Brian Stack, the mayor of Union City. These sections of the book are fascinating.
The book continues to pick up steam toward the end. Chapter 9 titled What Union City Can Teach America grabbed my full attention with Kirp's ruminations on controversial authorities such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, ruling by fear vs. leading by encouragement, voucher programs and charter schools, the Eli Broad scholarship fund, and the recent cheating scandals. In contrast to some other chapters of the book, Chapter 9 seemed to be thorough and meaty.
To sum up - I probably wouldn't give this book an "A" for readability (contrast with Class Warfare by Steven Brill which is a page turner). The content of the book is somewhat narrow in scope but I guess you had to know that going into it. Nevertheless, I think it does paint a vivid picture of a collaborative, goal-oriented, caring, trust-based, supportive, data-driven educational environment which other schools may be able to learn from. Kirp's presentation of this information made me think about familiar ideas in new ways and I think, on the whole, it was worth the read.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The main thrust of the R.E. decision is actually something different. The Second Circuit, in ruling on R.E., admonished against the use of retrospective testimony to prove the appropriateness of a placement, which means that testimony about information that was not made known to the parents at the time that they were making the placement decision cannot be used to prove the appropriateness of that public school. If a child has a seafood allergy, for example, and the recommended public school is not seafood free at the time of the parents' visit, but the school principal testifies at a subsequent impartial hearing that changes would have been made to make it seafood free, that is an example of retrospective testimony that may not be used to prove the appropriateness of the public school placement. Similarly with related services, if an IEP fails to provide for specific services that a child requires, a school district cannot rehabilitate that deficiency in the IEP with testimony from public school personnel stating that those services would have been provided at the public school.
Recent federal court decisions demonstrate that R.E. does not stand for all of the propositions that school districts would like to believe it stands for. And why should it? If an IEP team agrees that a child requires a small, structured school environment, how could a school district take the position that it does not have to present any testimony regarding the recommended public school to prove that, in fact, the public school offers a small school environment? But this is how school districts have been operating. And in a place like New York City where the Department of Education seems to have "categories" into which it places students (or "buckets" as I once heard a colleague articulate it) rather than investing the time and resources to make more individualized recommendations that take into account the child's unique needs, these problems can become even more pernicious.
School districts have a tendency to think with their purses. It is perhaps understandable, but by no means justifiable, that a school district might make important decisions about a child's education based on the resources it has available and not based on the individual needs of that child regardless of cost. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has previously recognized that "school districts striving to balance their budgets, if left to their own devices, will favor educational options that enable them to conserve resources." It is now well-established, however, that a school district's obligation is to provide children with disabilities with interventions and supports according to the unique needs of those children, and not based on administrative convenience or what resources the school district has available.
In the course of its decision, the Second Circuit did state that a school district "may select the specific school without the advice of the parents so long as it conforms to the program offered in the IEP." What exactly that means may be open to interpretation. It is not clear to me why it would make sense for a school district to choose a public school without giving the parents an opportunity to voice their opinion and/or concerns about that public school. With respect to that narrow issue relating to parental involvement, an appeal is being sought from the Second Circuit's opinion. Therefore the case may be heard by the United States Supreme Court if a writ of certiorari is granted, in which case Justice Ginsburg would have another opportunity to chime in on the questionable practices and purported policies of cash-strapped school districts.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Over the last couple of years, I have continued to cross paths with Chancellor Goldstein on occasion. I had the pleasure of hearing Chancellor Goldstein speak at the Macaulay building for an event honoring the current dean, Ann Kirschner. I recently exchanged brief words with him at a Crain's panel event on education. Whether he knows it or not, his tenure as chancellor has influenced me greatly. I don't know that I have ever had the opportunity to personally express that to him in the past. Thank you Chancellor Goldstein for all your hard work. I have personally benefited a great deal from the program that you helped shape. You will be missed as chancellor and I wish you good luck with your next endeavor.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Lately it seems like the school choice debate is everywhere. People seem to be either very opinionated in favor of school choice ("school choice! school choice! school choice!") or dead set against it ("it's a recipe for disaster!"). [For example... Diane Ravitch, an education historian, in her book The Death And Life Of The Great American School System, devotes a whole chapter to the problems with "choice" in education. Great read, by the way.]
Over the last several weeks I have come across numerous articles relating to school choice. Some articles have had to do with voucher programs, many have had to do with charter schools. A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal declared an "Indiana voucher victory." The article discussed how the Indiana state court, over the objections of the teachers' unions, upheld the validity of the state's "Choice Scholarship Program" to make vouchers available to certain eligible individuals (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324789504578384494175407924.html) (see also http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323605404578384542365022664.html). From my limited research, it seems that various states have experimented with some form of vouchers with mixed results. Charter schools have also had mixed results and mixed sentiments. Some have hailed charter schools as "exciting and demonstrably successful schools," and encouraged the federal government to play a more active role in their expansion (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324557804578376301012270328.html). Some have warned that "states will only replicate mediocrity if they expand charters too quickly" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/opinion/more-lessons-about-charter-schools.html). David Kirp, in his new book Improbable Scholars, asserts that "despite the hosannas for charters, the bulk of the research shows that, overall, they don't do a better job than traditional public schools." In his opinion, "[e]xemplary charter schools, like the national network of KIPP [Knowledge Is Power Program] academies and the Green Dot schools in Los Angeles and New York City, have indeed worked wonders . . . . But those top-drawer academies only serve a tiny minority of students . . . . Nationwide 3% of students attend charters, many of them ordinary or worse."
How rigorous is the process for charter licensing in a particular state?
What kind of oversight is in place to monitor progress?
By what standards are we judging charter school success?
To what extent is the city/state involved in providing support?
Is the charter school being run by a proven "management organization"?
Are non-performing charter schools being closed?
Are academic gains being sustained over the long-term?
In what ways is the quality of teaching being elevated in charter schools?
Are charter schools modifying their approaches based on geographic factors?
At the end of the day charter schools and voucher programs are still relatively new. Public schools have had ages to make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, implement changes, and make more mistakes. While I don't believe it makes sense to continue programs that are consistently failing, we do owe it to ourselves to continue exploring which non-traditional programs are working, understand why they are working, and figure out ways that those positive results can be replicated more broadly.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Sunday, March 17, 2013
If you can't make it to London to see the show you might want to check out the book:
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Interestingly, this case began with an IHO determination in favor of the parents. This case concerns a child with autism, Tourette's, and ADHD whose parents were initially awarded tuition reimbursement for the Luria Academy of Brooklyn (a private placement), funding for the services of therapists and a paraprofessional, and reimbursement for transportation costs. The IHO determined, in part, that:
- the parent had not been given the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the decision making process,
- the decisions of the IEP had been predetermined,
- the IEP team did not adequately consider the negative impact of the large size of the recommended classroom, and
- other substantive inadequacies existed such as the failure to conduct/recommend a functional behavior assessment, a twelve-month school year, and parent training and counseling.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
- A fantastic presentation by Amy Langerman, Esq. about behavior management
- A session with Brian Reichow, PhD., BCBA-D, about the implications of the new DSM-5, especially for individuals with autism
- An interactive litigation strategies session headed by Jon Zimring, Esq.
- A special education finance session with Sonja Kerr, Esq.
- A session presented by Andy Feinstein, Esq. and Caroline Heller, Esq. about the meaning of "free appropriate public education"
- A brainstorming session for 2013 policy considerations
The conference also covered developments in recent case law and current trends in special education.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
In this case, the Department of Education (DOE) provided notice to the parents regarding one school placement and then defended a different school placement at the impartial hearing. The IHO ultimately ruled in favor of the parents after determining that the DOE had not met its burden of proving that the child would have progressed as a result of the program and placement that the DOE had recommended. (It appears that the DOE's placement would have employed a TEACCH methodology, whose effectiveness for this child was not supported by the record.)
Oral arguments for this case were lengthy, at least compared to other cases that were heard that morning. The case of R.E. v. New York City Department of Education, a recent decision from the Second Circuit, played a prominent role in the discussions. The parties argued about issues of transparency in the special education process, a parent's reliance interest with respect to a recommended placement, the extent to which the individual acting as district representative at a child's IEP meeting must be familiar with "alternate resources" (other than public school programs) that can meet a child's needs, the issue of educational methodology and the role of a 1:1 paraprofessional, and the burden of proof in IDEA cases.
It is noteworthy that when asked why the Court should defer to the SRO rather than the IHO, the attorney for the school district did not have an answer.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, $600 million will be cut from federal special education funding, requiring states and districts to figure out a way to fund approximately 7,200 teachers, aides, and other staff, putting services and supports to students with disabilities significantly at risk. Though most schools would not be immediately impacted since funding for this academic year has largely been dispersed already, cuts could begin soon.
COPAA members are urged to send your elected officials in Congress a message asking for a balanced approach to spending reductions and to avoid any reductions to federal funding for IDEA.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
In reaching its decision to reverse the SRO and rule in favor of the parents, the SDNY considered the amount of deference, if any, that a federal court should grant to administrative decisions. This has been and likely will continue to be a hotly-litigated issue in IDEA cases. The Court asserted that "the deference owed to an SRO's decision depends on the quality of that opinion" (citing to R.E., 694 F.3d at 189) or its “persuasiveness” (citing to M.H. II, 685 F.3d at 244).
The SRO's Decision on this issue cannot be described as “well-reasoned” or “based on substantially greater familiarity with the evidence and the witnesses than the reviewing court,” M.H. II, 685 F.3d at 244, and therefore merits no deference. The Court thus turns to the IHO's decision. See R.E., 694 F.3d at 189.And later added:
The SRO's Decision on this issue merely states the issue, states the conclusion, summarizes the CSE meetings and the IEP, states the conclusion again, summarizes the evidence presented at the hearing, and then states the conclusion a third and final time. Id. at 12–15. At no point does the SRO actually analyze the evidence or explain the reasons for its determination.
For a related decision with a similar outcome see B.R. ex rel. K.O. v. New York City Dept. of Educ., 2012 WL 6691046 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2012).
Thursday, February 14, 2013
With respect to early childhood education a number of policy considerations come to mind. For example:
- What does the research show regarding the effectiveness of early childhood education programs
- What problems have existing early childhood education programs encountered (see Head Start) and how if at all will those problems be addressed with the new programs being proposed
- Where will the money for these programs come from and how will those funds be utilized efficiently
- What roles will federal, state, and local government play in the implementation of these programs (it has been suggested that the federal government's role will be only to fund, leaving it to the states to expand existing programs/create new programs)
- What kind of *quality control* will there be to insure that the individuals instructing our preschool children possess the appropriate credentials and experience to do so
- What systems will be in place for assessing the results of these programs in the future
It seems that early child education programs have been pilot tested in some states already. However more information is needed regarding their long-term effectiveness.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Just weeks before the
Governor Cuomo’s Department of Finance has issued an “emergency” rule finding that will not recognize the credentials of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) for insurance billing purposes, so unless your behavior analyst also has a New York license as a physician, psychologist or other licensed professional, they will no be allowed to bill insurance companies. This interpretation reflects neither the letter nor intent of the law Governor Cuomo signed with much media attention and fanfare at the end of 2011.
Thousands of students in
Please click on the Take Action alert to send an email to the Governor and ask him to stop delaying therapy for some of
And please call the Governor's office and politely ask the staffer to tell the Governor to do the right thing and provide
Governor Andrew Cuomo
Please share this email with friends and family and please post to Facebook and other social networks. And if you support the work of the Autism Action Network, please make a donation at www.autismactionnetwork.org.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Attention parents and guardians of students who receive yellow bus service: Beginning Wednesday, January 16, there will be a strike by bus drivers who provide school bus services to the majority of NYC's public and non-public school students and school bus service for most or all school-age students is not operating.
This should not impact Early Intervention or pre-K bus services, but there may be some disruption to those services as well. Note: Field trips using yellow bus service are canceled. After-school programs may remain open, but no busing will be provided.
Get information about whether there is disruption on your child's route on this page which will be updated beginning at 7:00 am and throughout the day as needed.
Public Transportation OptionsMetroCards for students: If your child currently uses school bus service to get to school, your child will receive a MetroCard at school.
- Using the subway: You can use the MetroCard beginning Wednesday, January 16.
- Traveling on an MTA bus: You can use the MetroCard beginning Thursday, January 17.
- If your MetroCard does not work, please bring it back to your school so it can be replaced.
- If you have a child in third, fourth, fifth, or sixth grade, and are concerned about your child using the subway or bus alone and you do not have your own MetroCard, request a MetroCard from your child’s school. We will reimburse your fare until you receive the MetroCard. Note: these MetroCards should be available for pick up on Tuesday, January 22.
Private Transportation Options
- Note: Please coordinate transportation with neighbors and classmates whenever possible.
- If you drive your child to school during the strike, you will be reimbursed at a rate of $0.55 per mile. Here are the reimbursement forms.
- If you take your child to school in a taxi or car service, you will be reimbursed for the trip after you submit a reimbursement form along with receipts. Please note that students should be accompanied by an adult when using a taxi or car service. Here are the reimbursement forms.
- Request a New York City wheelchair-accessible taxi for trips originating in Manhattan and ending anywhere in the five boroughs, Westchester and Nassau counties.
- Get a list of Taxi and Limousine Commission licensed bases by borough and by zip code.
Student Attendance and Learning at HomeOur goal is to have minimal disruption to student learning. Students affected by the strike will be excused for up to two hours of delayed travel time. If a student is unable to make it to school due to the strike, educational materials for every grade and core subject are posted here so that students can continue learning at home.
Get answers to frequently asked questions, which will be updated as more information becomes available.