Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Article: "Questions Surround Attorneys' Actions in Special Ed Case" - From Voice of OC

The article linked below is part three in a series that discusses several special education cases in Orange County California.  In particular, the articles expose the reality of what many families have to deal with - school district saying "no" and spending money (and resources) to fight against families rather than providing the services to a student that a family has requested.

"Events [in this case] are symbolic of the intensity of the acrimony in the Garden Grove Unified and similar cases in Orange County, where school districts have been particularly resistant to providing special education services sought by families. Such battles have produced huge legal bills for both sides, frequently far exceeding the cost of services in the disputes."

Questions Surround Attorneys' Actions in Special Ed Case - Voice of OC | Orange County's Nonprofit Investigative News Agency: County Government: special education, garden grove unified school district, amicus curiae, ninth circuit court of appeal, gregory c. sisk: Third in a three-part series.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Opportunity to Promote Awareness

First of all, this is not a post about politics.  It is a post about an important social issue.  It is a post about the importance of eliminating a cultural acceptance of using degrading language to refer to people with disabilities.

Being an avid watcher of politics and all things election related, I have recently been very caught up in reading social media posts via facebook, twitter, etc about the upcoming Presidential election. There are lots of things that go on within these posts that I find on the offensive side, or at the very least distasteful, regardless of which "side" it is coming from. Recently, however, I found myself utterly outraged by the offensive, and much-talked-about, tweets by Ann Coulter (on twitter: @anncoulter).

Let's look at what Ms. Coulter's two tweets actually were.

The first tweet, on October 22nd in the moments after the Debate, was this:

 "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard."

The second tweet, on October 23rd, was this: 

"Obama: "Stage 3 Romneysia" - because cancer references are HILARIOUS. If he's "the smartest guy in the room" it must be one retarded room."

Yes, there were two in a time period spanning less than a day after the third and final Presidential debate.  One of the tweets, the first one, has been receiving all of the attention, possibly because (in my opinion at least) it was directly pointed name-calling of President Obama, instead of a reference to a vague group of undefined people in a room.  But I find the second one to be equally important, if for no other reason than that it shows a complete disregard on her part for how degrading and offensive the word actually is.  One tweet or comment, and although it is still foul, someone could say "oops, I really didn't mean to use that word."  Two tweets in that short span of time shows a pattern of behavior.

 I have previously on more than one occasion posted on this blog on the topic of ending the use of the "R-word," and I still continue to feel very strongly about it. (Read previous posts here and here).

I've read many things online about these Ann Coulter's use of the R-word in those tweets.  I've read the post about how the Special Olympics has reached out to her on previous occasions and attempted to educate her about the negativity of the word, providing her with information about sensitivity training.  I've read posts on other blogs and online news sources.  I've debated the issue with others through social media.

What I found the most on-point and the most moving was the Open Letter to Ann Coulter written by  John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics Athlete.  In his letter, the writer talks about various connotations that go along with the use of the R-word.  Then, he gets straight to the point and says the following:

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
Well said, Mr. Stephens!  That is exactly the point of all of this, shall we say "hoopla," about the offending tweets.  When people use language like what Ms. Coulter continues to use, they are making an assumption that people hearing that language will consider it an insult to the person they are calling that name.  That assumption, and the unfortunate truth of it, is the heart of the larger problem here.  When you use the word "retard" as an insult, you are perpetuating the idea that to be "retarded" or "disabled" is to be "less than."  It is something to be despised, made fun of, degraded, in Mr. Stephens' words - belittled.  And when someone like Ann Coulter uses the word "retarded" as an insult, she is perpetuating that to a large audience under her influence.

Many people out there are saying that we as a community should not be giving Ann Coulter what she wants, we should not be responding to her tweet with so much attention.  I think that oversimplifies it.  After a couple of days of fuming about the use of this word by someone who says she is a Christian, someone who is clearly not uneducated, and someone who has the power to influence how other people think, I've come to a realization.  What Ann Coulter gave us was an opportunity.  Yes, we are giving her attention by talking about her tweet, but that oversimplifies the issue because what we are also doing is giving the issue itself attention.  Each time someone tweets Ms. Coulter that they are offended by the word, and each time someone reposts the various articles like the letter by John Franklin Stephens, it is an opportunity for another person to become aware of the problem and to be educated as to why this word should not be used.  I don't believe that Ann Coulter acted out of ignorance of the issue.  Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe something like taking advantage of the invitations from Mr. Stephens and others affiliated with the Special Olympics to spend time with persons with disabilities or to receive some kind of sensitivity training would change her view on this.  What I do know is that many, many people out there still DO use the R-word out of ignorance, and it's those people that the type of response seen since Ms. Coulter's tweets might actually reach.

So I say, let's not let our actions be controlled by whether or not the perpetrator in this instance wants the attention we are all giving her.  Let's instead let our actions in response be guided by the realization that this situation has given us all as advocates an opportunity to promote awareness.  What I think that means is that people not just call her out, but that we take the opportunity to educate folks in our society with information and resources about this important issue.

Here are some resources to help do that:

Post from the Special Olympics website, An Open Letter to Ann Coulter, by John Franklin Stephens

2008 Opinion Piece in the Denver Post, Using the word "retard" to describe me hurts, by John Franklin Stephens

The "Stop the R-Word" website

Spread the Word to End the Word Resources page by the Special Olympics

Not Acceptable R-Word PSA on youtube

Watch Your Language, Stop Using the R Word, article in the Washington Times

Spread the Word to End the Word, article on Maria Shriver's webpage

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

So What Are Educationally Related Mental Health Services?

Since the state of California decided to repeal AB3632, which previously governed the provision of mental health services to students with IEPs in California, there has been a lengthy time period of changes and adjustments as school districts have had to figure out how to provide the services that were previously under the purview of the Department of Mental Health.  Now that the dust has somewhat settled, many parents are hearing a relatively new term for the services that previously were referred to as "AB3632 services"  - - "Educationally Related Mental Health Services" or the acronym "ERMHS."

At the most basic, ERMHS should encompass the same types of services that were previously available under AB3632 within a student's IEP, with the exception of "medication management" services.  This means that ERMHS may include residential placement or intensive outpatient therapeutic services like family therapy / counseling, individual therapy / counseling, and/or group therapy / counseling.  At this time, school districts are responsible for providing these services themselves, the same way that school districts are responsible for other related services such as speech and language therapy or occupational therapy.

Because school districts have always had the responsibility of providing "counseling" services as a related service (or what is called "Designated Instruction and Services" or "DIS" services), there is some confusion about the possible overlap between ERMHS and "DIS Counseling."  Here is a definition of each:

Counseling as a Related Services (DIS Counseling) is defined as counseling services provided to a student’s behavioral and emotional needs that affect their ability to benefit from their special education program and are manifested primarily at school.

Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS) is defined as services provided to a student whose behavioral and emotional needs are documented to be more intense in frequency, duration or intensity, affect their ability to benefit from their special education program, and are manifested as school, at home and in the community.

From these two definitions, it appears that there is a distinction between these two services.  Counseling as a related service is related to situations when a student presents with behavioral or emotional needs specifically within the context of the school setting.  ERMHS on the other hand is related to the provision of more intense services to address more significant behavioral and emotional needs that occur across settings, including outside of the school.  This would appear to mean that a school district must consider not only the behavioral and emotional needs that manifest in the classroom, but also those that manifest in the home and community.  If those behaviors and emotional needs manifesting in other settings impact the student's ability to access an educational benefit, then ERMHS may be warranted.

Given that ERMHS are intended to be intensive therapeutic services that address a myriad of significant emotional and behavioral problems manifesting across settings, one would assume that in many cases ERMHS may need to be provided outside of the school day in order to achieve the level of intensity of therapy that would be required and to effectively provide services like family therapy.  In many school districts in California, ERMHS are being made available outside the school day - in the student's home or through contracts with non-public (private) mental health clinicians.  Inevitably, however, in other school districts the same issues that already arise with regards to the provision of any related services - issues driven by administrative policies, contractual issues and convenience of the school district rather than by the needs of students.  Thus, there has recently been a push in many schools to assert that ERMHS can only be provided during the school day, and that since it is being provided at school it is ultimately the same as or duplicative of DIS counseling services.  While in some situations DIS counseling and ERMHS may be meeting the same needs and both may not be necessary, every child should be viewed as an individual in consideration of this issue, and there may be situations where an individual child requires both DIS counseling at school to address emotional and behavioral issues that specifically arise in the classroom and ERMHS outside the school day to provide parent training and family therapy, intensive clinical individual therapy where techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can be applied, and appropriate group counseling services.

As school districts continue to adjust to their new responsibilities with the change from AB3632 to ERMHS here in California, it is essential that parents be aware of their rights and continue to advocate for their child's individual needs.  Many school districts have unfortunately given erroneous information to parents - such as broad statements that all students in residential placements will have to return to local schools because school districts are no longer required to fund residential treatment facilities as a student's educational placement.  At the heart of the issue, the substance of what should be provided and when it should be provided has not changed (with the exception of the provision of medication management as noted above).  IEP teams are still charged with determining whether a child requires mental health services as part of their program in order to receive a FAPE.  When placement decisions are being made, residential placement is still a setting on the "continuum of educational placements," and IEP teams still must consider whether a student requires such a setting in order to access an educational benefit. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Resource of the Week: Special Education Rights and Responsibilities Manual

Disability Rights California (the Protection and Advocacy, Inc - or PAI - of California) produces many great publications that are user friendly, readily available, and free. What is wonderful about their publications is that they are very "parent-friendly" and easy to understand.

DRC's Special Education Rights and Responsibilities Manual (commonly referred to as the "SERR Manual") is a comprehensive resource for parents and advocates on everything related to special education in California. Topics are covered in question and answer format, with a combination of both information and practical tips.

The SERR Manual is available for download at the following link:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fast Fact Friday: Baseline Data

Developing an IEP requires an understanding of a child's current strengths and weaknesses, and a description of "present levels of performance" is part of the required content for an IEP document. However, defining what that means in a practical sense can be difficult.

"Baseline data" is a way of referring to the where the child is performing on a specific skill at that time. It is a "starting place" based (hopefully) on concrete, understandable information derived from measurements of the child's performance in that area. Understanding, and including, the baseline can give the IEP team the ability to write clear, measureable goals that will allow the child to make real progress.

Baseline data can be taken from a variety of places. For example, if a child's prior IEP included a goal in a specific area, the data collected from the measurement of that goal can give you a baseline for that same skill going forward. Baseline data could also come from standardized tests, classroom based assessments, or statewide / schoolwide testing results.

Here are some examples:

If the IEP team wants to write a goal for reading fluency, you would need to know what the child's current achievement is in this area in order to write a goal that will allow for progress going forward. Reading fluency could be measured in accurate words per minute (wpm) or by the score from a standardized fluency test. That becomes the baseline by which progress towards the goal can be set.

If the child needs a goal in the area of behavior, specifically to address on task behavior or work completion, data can be taken in the classroom setting to establish baseline data.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not Acceptable R-word PSA Wins YouTube Award

This PSA for "Spread the Word to End the Word," which features Glee stars Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter, brought awareness to why the "R-word" is simply unacceptable.  The ad won the YouTube DoGooder Nonprofit Video Award in the "Fearless Video" category for its fearless take on this important issue.

You can read more about the video, the campaign to end the R-Word and this award at the following links:

How to make record requests

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Resource of the Week: a FREE conference for Parents!

This weekend, the Special Needs Network here in Los Angeles will be hosting its 6th Annual Tools for Transformation Conference - a FREE confe for parents of students with special needs! The conference features many presentations and workshops throughout the day as well as a resource fair with providers and vendors in a multitude of disciplines from around the LA area.

You can register for this free event at the following link:

A2Z will be participating in the resource fair all day on Saturday. We hope to see you there!