Exploring the Philosophy of Special Education

For reasons that are still unclear, more and more children are being diagnosed with disabilities, from Down syndrome to speech impediments. According to the Center for Disease Control, an astonishing one in 50 American children is diagnosed with some form of autism, a ratio that has demonstrably gone up over the past decade. Accordingly, we’re seeing increased awareness of the need for screening, treatment, and understanding, when it comes to children with special needs.

Part of this trend is manifested in a new wave of attitudes in special education that on the whole stress a non-clinical, organic, and inclusive approach to students. Here is a brief cross-section of a few of the prevailing schools of thought:

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

 

Person-centered planning

In the past, special education often fell into the same pitfalls of a more clinical-based approach to psychology. Students, like patients, were seen as problems to be first classified, then fixed, by a specialist tooled in a highly specialized jargon of symptoms and syndromes.  As a result of such “service-centered” orientation, many special ed students found themselves more identified with their problems than their strengths, making them feel more ostracized from society at large.

In contrast, current person-centered approaches turn the above equation on its head by using students’ goals and desires to guide growth, rather than external metrics of normality. In a nutshell, PCP is a “people first” philosophy that values’ students abilities to make choices, nurture abilities, and feel comfortable in all social spaces.

The methodology of PCP is straightforward yet dynamically responsive to individual needs on a case-by-case basis. Educators adopting this model help special ed students build a sense of themselves using their own vocabularies rather than alienating labels and jargon, and this process is itself a source of empowerment and identity-building. From conversation and observation, teachers glean extant talents and dreams in each student and then build plans of action to bolster these nascent positive attributes in a real-life way. For older students, this may include charting a vocational path.

“Mainstreaming”

As addressed within the discourse on person-centered planning, one of the biggest stumbling blocks among special needs students is a strong feeling of being an outcast; a sense of being unable to contribute meaningfully to mainstream society. Although not without its critics, mainstreaming, or a more integrated and inclusive approach to placement for special needs students, attempts to break down a number of stigmas.

Mainstreaming isn’t a one-cure-fits-all panacea, but for students who fit the right profile, the results are powerful. Since effectiveness of this approach is contingent on positive reinforcement from a sea of potentially hostile peers, mainstreaming works best with already high-functioning students with less obvious symptoms, such as ADHD. Obviously, kids with a history of violence, self-inflicted or otherwise, are usually unwise candidates. But when the fit between a student’s social competency is met with an open enough mix of other kids, everyone benefits.

When special ed students are “ghettoized” into their own exclusive group, said students can develop an unhealthy fantasy of what “normal” people on the other side of the fence are like. At worst, they can develop intense anxiety toward non-special needs agemates, and consequently may act out dramatically in the presence of potential bullies—sadly, often just the kind of stimulus needed to trigger a bully’s victim-antennae. By spending at least some time among “regular” classmates, special needs kids can build the social muscle needed to avoid accreting a fixedly risk-averse behavior type. On the flipside, non-special students in an inclusion class will mature through facing difference and understanding tolerance through the rhythms of daily life.

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

 

Social stories

Of the many learning and behavior issues that exist, few have commanded public awareness in recent years as autism. Accordingly, new ways of intercepting the well-known social awkwardness of autism have arise, prominent among these the “social stories” model. In this framework, the obsessive elements of autistic behavior are viewed as a sort of internalized “script” of stimuli and responses. Through a path of co-operative shaping and chaining, teachers and students craft a new narrative to gradually re-route a path of reaction that the autistic child has grown to see as inevitable.

After getting to know the student and his or her behavior, a teacher will help script a new personal “story” regarding any number of social situations, using a codex of task-specific sentence types. Say a student has a problem with touching their nose obsessively. A social stories approach would help the student verbalize the silent monologue that usually accompanies said negative behavior, then voice a new set of outcomes in its stead. Not only does this help socialize autistic kids, it also empowers them though achieving self-directed personal goals.

None of these approaches is a magic bullet for any disorder, and as with any kind of treatment, diligence must be taken to observe successes and failures on a daily basis. Just as we’re seeing various forms of more inclusive, integrated approaches to special ed placement, the current rise in incidents of bullying can create a perfect storm for harassment and trauma. Still, special education has become more enlightened toward the roots of disabilities, and while we may not ever be able to cure these afflictions, we have the power to help special needs individuals carve more fulfilling lives than ever.

Steps to Consider before Contacting a Special Education Attorney

Steps to Consider Before Contacting a Special Education Attorney

Having a child with special needs can be trying, but as a parent, you likely believe that your child’s school is doing what they can to help. Unfortunately, there are times when a school just doesn’t pull its weight when it comes toeducating special needs children.

When it becomes apparent that your child isn’t receiving the experience that they need, it may be time to consult with a special education attorney; the only question is: when is enough enough? Going through the process of interviewing and–eventually–hiring the candidate right for your situation can seem like a daunting task, but it’s vital to the effectiveness of your choices to keep in mind just what a special education attorney can do. They can be equal parts friend, mentor, advisor, and bodyguardI. n the end, they stand with you and your family.

Before you hire a special education attorney, use these tips to try and help your child get the education they deserve.

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Talk to Your Child

Before you do anything, it’s important to talk to your child whenever possible about conditions at school. In some cases you may be able to work with your children to simply change their situation or understand more about what’s going on.

Of course this may not work with all children in special needs classes, but if you can have an open dialogue with your child about their education you should attempt to do so. Some problems – ones your child definitely cannot resolve even with your help – don’t require this step.

Speak with Your Child’s Teacher

Problems at school for your child often begin in the classroom. While many special education teachers do everything they can to help students, they do make mistakes and there may be times when they are not aware of your child’s particular learning difficulties.

Taking time to talk with your child’s teacher may help clarify a problem, and see that it gets special attention in the classroom. You’ll need to set a meeting with your teacher and request progress reports in the future to make sure changes have been implemented, especially if you feel your child wasn’t getting proper attention before.

Work with School Administrators

Serious problems with your child’s education may not need the help of a teacher and there may not be anything that they can do. Examples include overcrowded classrooms, or simply poor instructors who aren’t working properly with your child or other children in class.

When this happens you’ll want to go right to your child’s school’s administrator. Explain your problems and let them know that if they aren’t resolved in a timely fashion that you will have to move your child and discuss your issues with the school board.

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Contact the School Board

Contacting the school board should generally be your last resort to correct a situation in your child’s school. These types of meetings should be reserved for major issues that even school administrators may not be able to work out – like teachers not showing up for classes orpoor treatment of students.

It may take some time to get a meeting with your child’s school board, so make sure you let them know you want one as soon as you are aware of a serious problem.

Inherently, school teachers and administrators desire to teach. They want to help children to see their full potential. In some cases, however, this isn’t the case. A special education attorney can help your special needs child get the education that they deserve using the world continuing education alliance. While most school administrators and teachers want to do a good job there are some bad eggs and just plain bad systems that need to be dealt with.

School Actions (or Inactions) That Can Cause Lawsuits

Most children spend the majority of their day in a public school setting, so there is an important responsibility  placed on schools for their role in the children’s lives. With a responsibility that nature, there is also a large possibility of disputes arising over a variety of situations, school actions which if handled poorly can lead to lawsuits and big Pharma class actions filed against the school district.

Bullying and Harassment

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In the case of bullying and harassment, is is inaction, or failure to prevent or stop the bullying, for which school districts are most often sued. Each state has different laws regarding what school districts are required to do or not do, there are several things every school should do that will increase the safety and wellbeing of its students, as well as prevent potential lawsuits.

These steps include:

Assessing Bullying in the School

Find out when, where and how often bullying is occurring. This can be done through official surveys, asking general questions and performing subtle observations when students interact. Conduct this survey at least once a year, and ensure that respondents’ information will be kept private at all times.

Engaging the Community

Campaign in the community to increase awareness of what bullying is and how to end it. Parents should be treated as partners in the process of helping students feel safe at school.

Establish a Safe School Environment

Nurture a culture of tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of the school, from teachers’ meetings to the PTA to students’ group projects. Draw up a list of rules for treatment of others in the school that must be followed by everyone at all times. Monitor areas where bullying often occurs, and enlist school staff in keeping an eye on student interactions.

Discrimination

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Lawsuits are also filed against schools for discrimination, especially in regards to students in special education programs. Discrimination can occur in many areas- admissions, grading, class placement and personal instruction, among others. Because it covers such a wide span of potential issues,  it highlights the importance of school districts treating each student equally, and providing extra help to those who require it.

Retaliation

School districts can also be sued for retaliation, as in the case of Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools. Ms. Settlegoode was a physical education teacher who was struck by the inequalities in services for her students with disabilities. After advocating for these students, the school retaliated by firing her and blackballing her from gaining employment at any other area school. After the difficult trial, she was awarded one million dollars.

Interference with Right

Interference with a student’s constitutional rights are also grounds for a lawsuit against a school district. Whether a student’s rights have been violated is determined by what is called the “Tinker test,” after the landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In this case, the court ruled that the first amendment applied to public schools, and that the school could not restrict students’ free speech unless it was proven to be disruptive to education. The Tinker test is now applied in all instances in which a school district is accused of limiting free speech.

To learn more about school districts and legal proceedings, take a look at the cases mentioned. For school districts to avoid being involved in lawsuits, they must take exacting steps to ensure each student and staff member feels safe, receives the best education possible (if a student), is not targeted in any way by the school, and is not deprived of any constitutional rights.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

Due Process Procedure and Overview In California

Your child’s education is rightly very important to you, so if ever any issues arise between you and the school, it’s important you know that there are special procedures in place for resolving disputes: mediation and due process hearings.

 

An initial response to a dispute is often mediation, where you and a school representative will meet with a neutral third party to discuss the issue. The mediator has no authority to impose a decision, and is there only to facilitate discussion in order to help you and the school reach an acceptable compromise. If you are not satisfied by the results of mediation, you may proceed to a due process hearing. If you are not interested in mediation at all, you may go directly to the due process hearing.

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Every person in California is guaranteed due process by the state and federal Constitutions. Due process protects individuals’ rights, and in this case, specifically the rights of students in special education programs.

 

What is a Due Process Hearing?

 

It is an official, legal procedure meant to resolve differences between parents and their child’s school as concerns special education services and a free and appropriate public education. They are most often held over disagreements about a child’s evaluation, eligibility or placement, services such as aides and specialists, changes to a child’s IEP, or a child’s suspension. Both the parent and the school district have the right to file for a hearing. The party who files is responsible for proving whether the child’s rights are being respected.

 

How to Request a Due Process Hearing

 

Send a written request, called a Due Process Complaint, to the state and the school district. This must be filed within two years after you are aware of the issue. It must include:

  • Child’s name, address and school
  • Parental contact information
  • Description of the reason for requesting a hearing as relates to the child’s education
  • Proposed solution to the problem

It can also include the sections of federal and state codes that you believe have been violated.

 

You may increase your chance of success by hiring a lawyer or special education advocate, though legal costs can add up very quickly. The school district is not required to pay your legal fees.

 

However, filing a Due Process Complaint can incur fees and added stress, so it is wise to only go this route if absolutely necessary. You should always try every available opportunity for mediation and collaboration with the school district before resorting to filing for a due process hearing.

 

During the Due Process Procedure

 

After filing a Due Process Complaint, the student has the right to stay in his or her current placement and use the current IEP.

 

Since this can be a very stressful time, do all you can to stay organized and informed of the events. Be able to clearly define the school’s position and reasoning, as well as your concerns and proposed resolutions so as to hopefully avoid becoming overly emotional in the hearing. Most importantly, rather than getting caught up in the red tape, remember why you’re doing it- to help your child get the best education possible.

 

Timeline of the Procedure

 

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After the parent files a request for a due process hearing

Within 10 days: the school must offer a resolution meeting or agree to proceed with the hearing.

Within 15 days: the school district must notify if it is challenging the complaint’s sufficiency, offer a resolution meeting, or agree to go forward with the hearing.

Within 75 days: the Office of Administrative Hearings decision must issue a decision.

 

If mediation is requested, this will occur approximately 35 days after the filing date. The due process hearing will usually be held about 55 days after the request is filed, and a prehearing conference will be scheduled one week earlier.

 

The Office of Administrative Hearings must issue a final decision within 45 days of the Due Process Hearing.

 

More Information
More guidance on preparing for and completing the Due Process Hearing is available from California’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

 

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

Less Restrictive Environment, Mainstreaming and Inclusion; What Are The Major Differences and Benefits

LRE, mainstreaming and inclusion are essential terms to know when working with a student in special education programs. These elements of students’ IEPs will determine how they spend their time at school, how they receive services and how they function within the school’s community, among many other things.

What is LRE?

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LRE stands for Least Restrictive Environment, and it refers to the situation that will allow a special education student to receive the education most suited to his or her needs, while spending the most amount of time possible learning alongside their peers without disabilities. LRE dictates that separate classes should only be held for special education students if nature or severity of their disabilities preclude satisfactory education from occurring in a regular classroom.

LRE recognizes that for a child with disabilities to be educated appropriately in a regular educational environment, additional services and aids may be necessary, and indeed, can play a pivotal role in the child’s development. The addition of these resources is nearly always preferable to educating the child in a separate setting.

LRE guidelines also state that education for the child with special needs is to be “achieved satisfactorily.” This language is not vague with the intention of permitting these students to receive subpar education; on the contrary, it allows each child’s IEP team to determine what constitutes satisfactory results for the student.

These standards benefit special education students by allowing them to learn with their peers in a cohesive environment, rather than learning in a separate space that distances them from their fellow students.

What is mainstreaming?

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Mainstreaming is the term used to describe integrating students with disabilities into regular learning environments. Mainstreamed students have high potential for success, but it is vital that they receive support personalized for their needs by their IEP team. It is bringing special education services to the child rather than removing the child from the regular classroom.

Benefits of mainstreaming often include higher academic success, increased self-esteem and more astute social skills.

What is inclusion?

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Inclusion is the process of mainstreaming a student to comply with LRE. For students with disabilities, advantages to this process are the opportunity to form friendships with their peers from whom they would have been separated if educated in a separate classroom. It allows students with disabilities to interact with non-disabled students to the benefit of all; they will all learn how to work together, gaining invaluable skills for the future. Students taught in a classroom with inclusion will learn to be more accepting and respectful of people from different backgrounds.

Additionally, families of students with disabilities will be able to integrate more easily into the community of the school, creating those relationships between parents that lead to friendships between children and more opportunities for socializing.

Who decides where the child is placed?

The decision for where the child will be educated is up to his or her IEP team, of which the child should also be a part, when they have reached a suitable level of maturity.  The IEP team will consider the student’s academic and social history, goals and specific needs.

Placement can be changed whenever it is decided that the current situation is not beneficial to the student, or can be improved in any way.

Why are these terms important?

With LRE guidelines, mainstreaming and inclusion, special education students are poised to receive the most effective and appropriate education possible. Everyone involved in a student’s IEP team should be knowledgeable of the processes and advantages involved in LRE.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!