Friday, January 27, 2012

Parental Rights in Special Education

Parental rights in special education in the United States are called procedural safeguards. The federal law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) lays the foundation for parental rights. Each state adopts their own procedural safeguards based on the guidelines laid out in IDEA. I am asked quite often about three parental rights. One of your parental rights is the right to ask for an independent educational evaluation if you disagree with an evaluation that the school district conducts. Another parental right afforded to you is your right to review your child's educational records. Another parental right is the right to file a due process claim and have an independent hearing if you disagree with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) or the IEP process.
When your child is initially referred to special education and you give permission to the school district to evaluate your child, several formal and informal assessments are conducted to determine if your child meets the criteria for receiving special education services. Re-evaluations to determine if your child remains eligible for special education services are also conducted every three years or more often if the parent requests it or the school district feels it is necessary. If you disagree with an assessment completed by the school district, you have the right to request that an independent evaluation be completed at no expense to you. You must have a valid reason for your disagreement with the evaluation and you need to follow the district's process spelled out in your procedural safeguards handout to receive the independent evaluation.
You also have the right to inspect and review your child's educational records. There are often many records kept on your child other than the formal reports you receive such as the IEP progress reports and the report card. You may put in a formal request to view all of your child records. This could include observations of your child, classroom data regarding behavior and academic progress, informal assessments, discipline records, parent contact records and staff records. If you wish to review your child's records, you usually need to submit your request in writing per the procedural safeguards protocol.
Another procedural safeguard is that you (or the school district) have the right to file a due process claim and receive a hearing by an unbiased hearing officer if you disagree with something in the IEP or during the IEP process. If you have a disagreement with the school district about the IEP or the IEP process, it is best to attempt to work it out with the district. If you do not believe that your disagreement was adequately addressed and you still believe that part of the IEP is inappropriate or inadequate, that the IEP is not being followed, that the IEP process was not conducted according to the law and/or that you or your child were denied something that is your right follow the district's procedure for filing a due process claim.
An IEP is a legal agreement between you and the school district for the provision of special education services to your child. The intent of the procedural safeguards is to protect all parties involved in the IEP process-your child, you as guardians and the school district. You should receive a copy of the school district procedural safeguards based on your state's laws at least once a year. You may also request a copy from your child's case manager or the district's special education department at any time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

IEP Summary Letter Can Help You Win a Special Education Dispute With Your School District!

As a parent and special educational advocate for over 20 years I get frustrated by the treatment of parents by school personnel. This frustration becomes acute at individual educational plan (IEP) meetings when I experience the intimidation and retaliation that many parents also experience. I was recently advocating in a southern Illinois town for a young man with Autism when my frustration began to bubble over. After I calmed myself down after the meeting, I began writing a letter to the special education personnel in the school district where I attended the IEP meeting, for the parents. I documented things that were said, the nasty attitudes of the special education personnel, and the federal special education laws that I found were not complied with. I was pleasantly surprised when the next meeting seemed to be less contentious and more productive.
I realized that IEP summary letters could be used by all parents to document things that happen at meetings. You could document comments made by a special education person, you could document denials for needed services, or violations of IDEA 2004. Documentation is critical to win any dispute between yourself and special education personnel. This type of letter can be used at a due process hearing or a complaint to win a dispute with your school district.
Below are 9 things to include in your summary letter:
1. Name and address of your school districts special education director.
2. Date of the letter.
3. Begin your letter with "This letter is to clarify and discuss what happened at the IEP meeting of ___________(Date).
4. Use quotes as much as possible; "Mr. R. stated that ESY can only be given to a child that has regressed after a break or summer vacation." This is not consistent with IDEA 2004, and the summary letter allows you to document what was said and the noncompliance with federal special education law.
5. Any important discussions that were not included in the IEP notes; such as your child's behavior or specific related or special education services that you believe your child needs. Readdress your position on services that your child needs that the school refuses to provide.
6. Discuss what services and placement that you agreed upon, and also any services or placement that you did not agree upon.
7. Ask for PWN (prior written notice) on any service or placement that the school wants to give your child that you disagree with, or any service or placement that you believe your child needs and the school refuses to give them.
8. As much as possible quote IDEA 2004 or State Special Education Law to document any violations that the school personnel committed during the IEP meeting.
9. Type your name and address and below this place your child's name, birth date, grade and school of attendance. Include this statement: Please keep a copy of this letter in my child's educational record per FERPA (FERPA is the federal educational records law).
At the beginning of the meeting set a blank piece of paper next to you. Use this paper to put anything that is said or done, that you would like to put in your letter. Add an IEP summary letter to your other advocacy skills, and you may begin to see positive changes in your child's IEP meetings. I have said for many years that schools get away with the horrible treatment of parents because of lack of accountability; this letter could force accountability on your school district, and change all that for you! Good Luck.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Manifestation Determination Meeting: Your Rights When a Child With an IEP Breaks The Code of Conduct

Manifestation determination meetings are required to be held for any child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) any time a child commits a significant rule violation(s), which has led to 10 days of suspension-either consecutively or over the course of the current school year. The meeting must be held within 10 days to determine if the rule violation(s) are a result of the child's disability or not. If the child has not had a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) that was used to create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), one must be completed prior to the meeting.
The IEP team, which includes the parent(s), must review the child's school records that may include the child's IEP, attendance records, discipline records, grades and progress reports, teacher observations or other relevant material. If there is a current BIP, it must be reviewed and amended as needed to provide the child a higher level of support needed to be successful at school. If the child does not have a current BIP, an FBA must be completed to analyze the child's behavior to determine what types of supports are needed for the child to be successful in school.
The IEP team must determine if the rule violation(s) that occurred were as a result of the child's disability or for other reasons. If it is determined that the misconduct occurred as a result of the school district not following the IEP that must be ratified immediately. If the rule violation is determined NOT to be a result of the child's disability, he/she may receive disciplinary action in the same manner a child without a disability would. However, any child with a disability who is removed from school for more than 10 days has a right to the provision of special education services to continue progress on their IEP goals and objectives and have access to the general education curriculum.
If the team determines through careful review of the records that the misconduct was a result of the child's disability the team must decide whether the child can remain in the current setting with additional supports and/or with a change of services or a change of program or if the child needs to be referred to an alternative placement. If the team determines and the parent agrees that the child needs an alternative placement the school district must continue to provide special education services until the alternative placement is secured and the child begins receiving services at that placement.
A child with an IEP may not be moved to an alternative placement without holding a manifestation determination review except under the following circumstances of extreme violations of the code of conduct. Those circumstances include the following violations committed on school property or doing a school sponsored activity: possession of a weapon, illegal drug possession or use, the solicitation to sell or the sale of illegal drugs or the infliction of serious bodily harm.
Keep in mind that your child with an IEP may not be removed from school for more than 10 days without receiving special education services to provide them access to the general education curriculum and asssist them in reaching their goals and objectives. As the parent(s) you are part of the team who determines whether your child's behavior is a manifestation of their disability. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Children With Autism and Anxiety: Glove Meet Hand

Children with autism and anxiety go together hand in in hand, or hand in glove like my title suggests. If your child is dealing with autism then one of their symptoms is anxiety, plain and simple. They have problems communicating with and understanding the world around them, and this creates anxiety. Children with autism will often act out (sometimes aggressively) over what seem like fun events. This stems from the anxiety they feel from the event invading their life.
Changes in routine can be a HUGE source of anxiety in children with autism. What seems like a fun outing to a birthday party could end up in a major meltdown if not done properly. Lets say for instance you know that your child with autism will be attending a birthday party over the weekend. Early in the week you may want to start showing them pictures of parties, cakes, kids playing games. If you have pictures of the people that will be attending, show them those too. This will help them prepare for what they are going to be doing, thus relieving some of their anxiety, and setting them up for success.
If you need to make what will be perceived to be a negative change to your child with autism's daily routine, here is a way you can go about it. Start of just introducing them to the idea of change. Tell them "tonight instead of homework you can play video games instead, but just for tonight". This will show them that change does not always have to be bad, sometimes it can be good. Next try a change that is really of no consequence. Maybe have them do their homework at six instead of seven, before dinner instead of after dinner. A change that is just that, a change. Lastly move into the "negative" change. Change one of their designated free or play times into a chore time. This gradually eases them into the idea of change, reducing anxiety along the way.
For overall long term anxiety unfortunately medication is sometimes required. The doctor will most likely prescribe children with autism a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI). These are drugs like Proozac or Zoloft.
Every child with autism is as different as every other child so there is no one size fits all answer. YOU know your child best. If you do go the medication route be sure to monitor your child closely for side effects. There are many natural methods you can try prior to actually using medication.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why Do Kids Misbehave? You Might Be Surprised!

Why do kids misbehave? Even though we often feel like behavior tends to appear out of nowhere that is not the case. All behavior, good or bad, occurs for a reason. There are four primary reasons that just about every behavior you can think of will fall int- to gain something, to escape or avoid something, for sensory reasons and for medical or physiological reasons. A certain behavior such as screaming could fall into anyone of these categories. Understanding the child's reason for exhibiting the behavior leads us to the most effective interventions.
When some children act out, they are trying to gain something. They may be trying to gain attention from a parent, a peer, a teacher or a sibling. They may be trying to gain a sense of power and control over a person or a situation. They may be trying to gain access to a toy, a game, a desired item, a person or a location. They may be trying to gain acceptance or affiliation from a person or group of people.
Some children act out to escape or avoid something or someone. They may be trying to avoid following directions to do something they are asked to do by a parent or a teacher. They may be trying to escape from being the center of attention. They may be trying to escape an unhealthy or unproductive environment. They may be trying to avoid getting caught and consequenced. They may be trying to avoid doing work or accepting responsibility for their behavior. They may be trying to avoid leaving a desirable item or location.
Some children also act out for sensory reasons. Some environments are too chaotic or too quiet. Some children need calm and stable environments; others thrive on high energy and interactive environments. Many children with special needs have either heightened or lessened sensory needs. Some children get overloaded easily. Some children need increased sensory input and others need lessened sensory input.
Other children act out for medical or physiological reasons that we often cannot see or determine ourselves. Children may act out because they have an infection, a fever, a stomachache or a headache. They may also act out because they have an undiagnosed medical condition such as Diabetes, PICA, ADHD or Bipolar Disorder. Children who are acting out for medical and/or physiological reason are often the hardest to deal with because it takes a doctor to diagnose them and treat them medically through medication, therapy, diet and/or other clinical interventions.
Some children act out for one of the four primary reasons listed above. Others act out for different reasons in different situations or with different people. Remember that understanding your child's reason for acting out is the most critical step in determining how to handle the inappropriate behavior. Without understanding the "why's" of behavior we are shooting in the dark with interventions. The way one would address a child who is screaming to gain attention and a child who is screaming because of sensory overload are completely different.