Richard Isaacs, Attorney and CSNLG Founder

With the start of the 2017-2018 school year well on its way, I have noticed more due process filings by school districts against families.

A due process hearing means either party, in this case, the districts, are asking the court system to intervene and make a ruling.

While this might sound alarming at first, it is often legally necessary for school districts to take such drastic actions. The law is clear that when parents request public funding of independent educational evaluations (IEE’s) the school district must fund the assessments or file for due process to show their own assessments are appropriate. The legal standard for assessment compliance is low and the courts are routinely finding district assessments comply with the law.

As such, school districts are filing more often.

Interestingly, and unfortunately, districts sometimes file for due process even when they know their assessments are not defensible. There is a clear strategy for them here: It helps them enter into a settlement agreement to fund the requested IEEs and thereby insulate themselves from liability. They add waiver language to the proposed agreement.

School districts are also filing more often to defend the appropriateness of their IEP offer. While the law merely states the school district may file to enforce its IEP, court decisions have recently come out holding districts liable if they do not file for due process. The ruling expects them to seek judicial intervention in overriding a parent’s lack of consent to necessary educational services. In other words, if parents do not fully consent to the proposed IEP, and the District believes the services are necessary, they are required to file for due process.

This is an unfortunate development in the law because it now elevates an IEP dispute to the litigation level. Parents are practically forced to hire an attorney to defend against the school district’s lawsuit.

Sadly, a recent court case has also called into question whether families can be represented at the administrative court level by educational advocates. For families who could not afford an attorney and advocate is a much less expensive option.

This appears to no longer be the case.

It is strange that the state of California is taking such an aggressive stance against parents who have children with special needs. With the increased filings against families, the shrinking of options parents have to defend themselves, California is moving backward.

If your school district ever files for due process against you it is important to seek legal advice on how to move forward. Regardless if you hire an attorney or not, you should at least contact an attorney who specializes in special education law and obtain a clear understanding of your rights. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) has a list of low cost and free attorneys you can use to find a law firm that you feel comfortable working with.

As always, we are happy to help too.

 

An independent educational evaluation (IEE) may be requested by parents when they do not agree with a district’s results or it is not seen as comprehensive enough.

As a parent, you have the right to request an IEE at the district’s expense if you do not agree with their evaluation. Once you have made the request the district has two choices: to approve and fund the evaluation or to deny it and file a due process complaint against you.

Here are a few IEE facts that we want you to be aware of:  

  1. If your district approves your request for an IEE, they cannot limit your choices. Most of the time districts will send you a list of what they consider “approved” assessors and a maximum amount they will pay for the evaluations.
  2. This list is merely a suggestion by the district and we do not recommend using assessors on this list. CSNLG has a great list of assessors who provide helpful and comprehensive evaluations. 
  3. A district cannot give you an expense cap in order to prevent you from obtaining an evaluation from a qualified assessor. Although there is no law preventing districts from trying to place these limits on you, it is possible to challenge them to provide you with the best evaluation possible. 
  4. Recently we have come across a new limit being given to parents, a restriction regarding the mileage between the assessor and the district. There is also no law to limit the location of a provider and you may consider challenging this limit if it occurs.
  5. An IEP must consider these evaluations and the comments and recommendations of the evaluator. The independent assessor typically has a more comprehensive evaluation than the district assessor. More times than not these evaluations bring to light other areas of need that had been missed with more vague evaluations. 

Fighting a district’s limitations may be stressful and draining. It is always best to consider the trade off’s between accepting a district’s limits and the effort it will take to overcome it.

 

 

 

You notice your child is not performing in school as well as his/her peers and you begin to think something is going on. It is at this point that you, or an educator, might suggest an assessment be given.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an empirical, research-based practice that helps individuals recognize their negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ways of thinking. It can be especially helpful to those with anxiety, depression and OCD.

I talk with Dr. Perry Passarro, a licensed educational psychologist about CBT. We discuss what it is, how it works for students with special needs and what a typical therapy session looks like.

 

 

The IEP meeting is a crucial opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to understand what the school district is providing for your child. Being prepared and ready to go means you will be at your peak performance.

We put together some tips below to help you with your meetings. Give them a try; we are confident they will help you feel strong, organized and empowered.

1. Bring Somebody With You

Always bring someone with you. This may be your spouse, advocate, lawyer (although that will change the tone of the meeting) neighbor or friend. Having someone with you means you feel more confident and are not alone as you face a room full of district employees all speaking about your child.

Talk about a high-pressure situation!

Have him, or her, take notes on what is said, offer an occasional clarification question and simply be there to make you feel better. By having an additional set of ears, your understanding of the meeting will be significantly improved. My wife Lori, and I were never alone during IEP meetings, and every single time (yes every single time) we had two different understandings about what was said. 😉 By talking it through, we were able to come to a common understanding.

Imagine if we had been alone!

2. Be Polite

Lots of “hellos,” handshakes, “thank you’s” “and please’s” sets a positive, helpful tone during the meeting. I know I sound like my mother here, but it does help. People are more open when they are comfortable, and you want district employees to be as open as they can.  Also, we found that by being polite, it helped us if we became upset at something that was said or a service that was not delivered. The meeting participants then gave more legitimacy to our irritations as it was out of the ordinary.

3. Be and Look Prepared

Take a look at our post on what to bring to your IEP meeting and have it ready to go. Make sure the paperwork you bring is organized, a binder or similar with tabs is best, and that you have extra copies to distribute as needed. Looking and being prepared creates a strong first impression on people in meetings.  We strongly believe in this approach when talking to any providers (school or otherwise) about our son. It elevates the conversation to a higher level with more details and ultimately leads to a better outcome. Teachers labeled us as being “very involved” in our son’s education; they meant that as a positive comment.

4. Assume Best Intentions

Teachers and other professionals involved in working with students are there to help students learn and be successful. By assuming everybody in the room is working to help your child, you will feel more relaxed and present a non-threatening demeanor. They, in turn, will assume best intentions in you and everybody will be off to a great start.

5. Take Notes and Show That You Are Taking Notes

I use my laptop to take notes during meetings. Lori likes to write it down. Either way is good. Taking notes also lets you write down questions you have and ask them later on during the discussion. I promise you, no matter how smart you are, having notes will be a huge help later on when you are recalling or looking back at a previous meeting.

6. Ask Questions for Clarification

During the IEP you are going to hear information and ideas that may be new or confusing. Sometimes it is hard to explain an accommodation, service or classroom interaction. By asking questions, you not only help yourself understand the information, but you also give feedback to the district employee that you are listening and processing what they are saying.

One of my favorite things to do is ask questions that tap the background and expertise of one of the meeting members. For example, “What do you think Braden’s (our son) initial reaction will be to this accommodation?” I do so in a way that lets the person know I value their opinion. It tends to give them pause from a standard statement they are giving and pushes them to reflect on what they are saying. You can see the body language change right away as they pause, look upward, then give their opinion. They feel valued, and you know if they have a larger understanding of the ideas they are suggesting.

7. Avoid Talking Too Much

An IEP meeting is structured and designed for each district specialist and educator to speak and seek feedback. It is also designed for you to ask questions and seek understanding. It is NOT designed for parents to talk, grieve, and unload the stresses of having a child with special needs. Look, I get it. Having a special needs child is difficult, and we are reminded of this every day. However, an IEP is not a good place to unload those stresses.Save that for friends, support groups, etc.

Lori and I have a signal for each other if we start talking too much. Usually (maybe always) I am the one who needs the signal to stop cracking jokes (my way of dealing with stress) and to just listen. This is yet another reason to bring someone with you.

8. Dress Well

We dress up for religious services, weddings, work, job interviews and more. An IEP meeting is at least as important as those events, so dressing up is equally as important. We all make assumptions about people on how they dress. It may be right or wrong, but we do it. Looking your best can only serve to help. Gentleman, you don’t need a tuxedo though. 😉

9. Don’t Worry If Tears Fall

Early IEP’s, where you have just learned your child has extra learning needs, are emotional events. Often tears may fall as you listen to how your child is not like all the other kids. If you start to cry, don’t worry about it. Members of the IEP team will see a parent who cares deeply about their child. They may even be more empathetic about your situation.

Grab a tissue, recover and move on. 😉

10. Sincerely Thank Everybody at the End of the Meeting

The end of an IEP meeting is a great chance to let people know how much you appreciate the work they are doing. I like to individually thank each person by pointing out an example of their efforts. “Braden loves sensory time, and we are using many of the techniques you suggested at home now.” Now, if you are feeling angry, upset or frustrated at the conclusion, it is just as important to thank everybody for their time. This tells people it is not personal (even if it feels like it is) and that while you must continue to advocate for your child, you will be reasonable.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.

 

 

The other day I read an interesting article “What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?” and it really spoke to me.  

As a classroom teacher and father to a 17-year-old boy with special needs and profound autism, the topic of discipline and behavior comes up all the time. Both at home and at school. While I can usually figure out the reasons behind a behavior for typically developing students I teach, I struggle much more with understanding atypical behaviors from students and my son.

As teachers we are quick to punish, often through disapproval and other means, a child’s behaviors. Frankly, for the majority of children it works. We can continue to move on with the work of the day and provide a framework for what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a classroom. For the typical students who generally get along with a classroom’s expectations, this works very well.

For a student who struggles with routines, does not process rules well or is “seeking” some other type of input such as sensory or attention, it does not work very well. They are the outliers in the group. Often additional, more severe punishment is given in an attempt to correct or solve the behavior. However, for these types of students, some who may have special needs, it is not always effective. As the author of the article points out “After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?”

The article quotes Dr. Ross Greene and back in the summer of 2009, I interviewed Dr. Ross Greene for a podcast I used to do on autism (I no longer keep it active) He said something that really stood out to me: “all children want to do well.” This is significant as there is often a common belief that not all children want to do well. However, if we take what Dr. Greene says to heart and see it as a truth in our interactions with students, then suddenly our frame of reference changes. We can no longer see a child’s behavior as a choice on their part. Rather, we must look for the reason behind the behavior and then work to resolve that behavior.

It is often not easy and as a parent and teacher, sometimes I feel like giving up and going back to the “choice to misbehave” theory. At those moments I take a break, recharge and keep on learning. The more often we look for a deeper meaning, the more experience we gain and the better educators we become.

What Does This Mean For Students With Special Needs in California?

We must continue to advocate for our students who fall outside the typical set of behaviors we see at school. We must understand why they are acting and reacting the way they do. To avoid punishment as a default response and to seek accommodations and other services that help a child succeed at their best.  

The result of these efforts are students and families being part of the education system and enjoying it to their full advantage.

Additional Readings

Overview

An IEP, is an individualized education plan. It is regularly found in public school systems as well as some private schools.

The IEP  is a written document and serves an education plan for students with exceptional (special) needs and is reviewed at least once a year. It sets goals and expectations for your child’s learning and growth. Parents, caregivers and school district representatives (teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, special education teachers and more) participate in the drafting and signing of the document.

Done well (and they often are), an IEP is a fantastic document developed with the input of many professionals all looking to design a program that helps your child progress.

The IEP should explain how your child is doing currently (present level of performance) specific goals for your child to meet, services he/she will receive as well as any accommodations that will help him/her to succeed.

What You Should Know

  • A district has 30 days to call an IEP meeting after it has been determined that a student IDEA listed disability. IDEA is the Individual Disability in Education Act
  • An IEP must be reviewed every year
  • An IEP binds a school district to provide the services and accommodations outlined in the document

Additional Resources

Overview

A special education advocate is an individual who works on your behalf to help you secure services for your child. Some advocates work for free, while others charge a fee for services. They have varying degrees of experience and many have a child themselves with special needs.

An advocate is much less expensive than an attorney and is the next step up from handling the case yourself.  Fees for an advocate may be recoverable if a settlement hearing occurs.

Sample of services

  • Listen to your situation and help you clarify your child’s needs
  • Attend IEP meetings with you
  • Draft correspondence with the district
  • Suggest and explain services available through your district
  • Explain how the FAPE process works at your district
  • Attend mediation and hearings as your representative
  • Others?
  • Recommend support groups, other parents, and specialists

Questions you should ask

  • Have you been through the IEP process yourself as a parent?
  • What types of cases have you worked on?
  • What is your educational background?
  • Have you been through any advocate training programs?
  • Do you work for or under an attorney?
  • Describe your role when during an IEP meeting.
  • What do you enjoy and not enjoy about being an advocate?

Additional Resources

While classrooms across the nation are supposed to be safe places of learning for all children, the reality is that this expectation doesn’t always mirror reality.

But when the students on the receiving end of unfair or even inhumane treatment are special needs children, some of whom might be nonverbal and unable to tell their parents or caregivers about any incidents, the situation can be even more harrowing.

Consider these cases, for instance:

In light of instances like the aforementioned, some parents and experts are increasingly calling for cameras to be installed in special needs classrooms to protect the vulnerable.This blog will consider whether or not there should be cameras in special education classrooms.

Pros & Cons

Any talk of introducing cameras into the classroom environment is bound to be controversial with proponents for and against. What follows are some pros and cons of such a policy.

  • Pros: Cameras essentially give a voice to special needs children who might otherwise be able to tell their parents or caregivers of any difficulties they encounter at school. Having footage of mistreatment, moreover, will provide proof of any mistreatment. In special needs classes with cameras, students would have a safer work environment that is more conducive to learning.
  • Cons: When it comes to cameras in the classroom, one key problem that some might have is the issue of confidentiality. In other words, there may be concerns over who gets to see the video tape. As well, some parties believe that cameras should either be installed in all classrooms — special needs and non-special needs — or in no classrooms at all. Yet another complaint is the costs associated with equipping special needs classrooms with the technology.

 

Ethical Considerations

There are definitely some privacy issues that are bound to come up when discussing this topic, but it can be argued that the benefits of protecting children override any privacy concerns. Furthermore, teachers who have any issues with this sort of arrangement should remember that they are under contract with a school system that has the right to dictate working conditions within reason. Although there are people and groups who are for and against this issue, the best interests of children should be paramount since they may be unable to speak up for themselves.

What the Experts Say

In one report, a number of experts comment on a new law ordering schools to rollout cameras inside of special education classrooms. Meanwhile, Sue Nelson, who is the superintendent at Tuloso Midway, says in the report that the order is “a non-funded mandate,” which means that the schools will have to shoulder the cost of buying and implementing the technology. She adds that this aspect of the technology plan is a problem since the cost has to be footed by the schools.

Katie Kelly, a psychologist and attorney in Florida, says in a report that parents of special needs children who have been mistreated are coming together via the Internet to push for cameras in special education classrooms. She adds that stories of abuse happen to be “a daily occurrence.”

Indeed, the debate about whether or not there should be cameras in special education classrooms continues, and there are proponents on both sides of the fence. The needs of children, however, is the most important part of the equation, which means that a positive development would be for there to be a more widespread rollout of cameras in special needs classrooms across the U.S.