Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Back to School: Get Ready with Organized School Records

It's that time of year again - time for the rush to buy school supplies, go to open house, complete all of that pesky enrollment paperwork, and get the kids back to school!

As parents prepare, this is a great time to get all of those IEP documents, assessments, and other school records into order. Organizing your child's files is a great way to ensure that you start the school year out right. With organized files, you are able to find documents quickly, access information regarding your child's needs, and track changes in your child's program. Ultimately, you become a better and more effective advocate for your child.

 Here's our tips for how to do it:

Records to Gather:
  • All of your child's IEPs, including annual IEPs, triennial / three-year reviews, and any addendums or amendments
  • Any assessments conducted by the school district, including protocols and notes from those assessments
  • Any assessment plans or written correspondence related to the district's assessments
  • Any assessments, evaluations or other reports that you have obtained privately / independently
  • Progress reports, report cards, and results from periodic classroom assessments
  • Statewide or districtwide assessment / testing results
  • Correspondence to and from your child's school, teachers, providers, etc
  • Discipline records or reports regarding your child's behaviors
  • Other relevant documentation regarding your child's unique needs and special education program
  • Copy of your "parent rights" that you recieve from the school district
* You have a right to review your child's records from the school district. Make a request in writing in order to review the records or obtain copies.

Supplies Needed:
  • Three-ring binders - you will need at least one large binder (more if your child is older / has a lot of records) for older records and one medium to large one to organize this year's documents as you receive them
  • Dividers with labels. Color-coded ones work well.
  • Inserts with pockets for loose documents
  • Hole-punch
  • Pen or marker
  • Colored paper
Organizing Your Records from Previous School Years:

1. If your child is older, and has many years worth of documents, start by dividing up the documents by elementary school years, middle school years, high school years.
2. Separate the documents in piles by the following categories:
a. IEPs
b. Assessments / Evaluations, Independent Reports
c. Progress Reports, Report Cards, Statewide Testing Results
d. Discipline records, behavior notes, behavior logs, etc
e. Correspondence, communications and emails
f. Other documents
* If your child has applicable medical needs, or other areas, you can add additional categories as needed
3. Within each category, put the documents into chronological order
4. Make labels for each section of your binder using the file dividers. The labels should correspond to the above categories. i.e. Make labels for "IEPs" "Evals" "Progress" "Behavior" "Correspondence" "Other"
5. Put documents into sections in chronological order, using a single colored sheet of paper between each separate document.
* Dividing records by category has the benefit of enabling you to easily find information in your child's files and track changes in IEPs, etc from year to year. Other methods could include dividing by school year; or simply putting all documents in chronological order with an index.

Tips for Setting Up a System for Current School Year:

1. Start with labels for your second binder that match the categories discussed above. Throughout the school year, you can add documents to these categories as you receive them, which will make it easy to transfer them into your archiving binder when the year is over.
2. Add an additional divider labeled "Notes." In that section, add blank paper or some format to use as a log or journal throughout the year. Make notes of any phone conversations, meetings or other discussions with teachers and staff regarding your child's educational program.
3. Insert a folder that can be used for forms and other communications that you need to sign and return.
4. Use either the front pocket of the binder or an insert to hold a contact list with teachers, providers, IEP case carriers, district administrators, your advocate, and others who are important to the development and implementation of your child's IEP.
5. Add additional dividers according to your needs.
6. If you can print out a school calendar, put a copy of it at the very beginning of this binder.

Remember that the goal here is to make this system easy for you to utilize and access, so organize in a way that works best for you!

Resource of the Week: COPAA's Manual on Restraint and Seclusion

The Right to be Safe In School: Advocacy and Litigation Strategies to Combat the Use of Restraint and Seclusion

This manual is a "must have" for attorneys and advocates who represent students that have been subjected to restraints and seclusion. The manual, published by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, has two parts - Part 1 focuses on practical advocacy strategies to advocate against the use of restraints and seclusion and Part 2 focuses on litigation strategies and case law related to this issue.

The manual is available for purchase  (and free to COPAA members) on the COPAA website in the online store:

As a PDF:  https://copaa.site-ym.com/store/ViewProduct.aspx?id=1259526&hhSearchTerms=%2522restraint%2522

Kindle Format:  https://copaa.site-ym.com/store/ViewProduct.aspx?id=1318305

iPhone / iBook Format:  https://copaa.site-ym.com/store/ViewProduct.aspx?id=1318263



Monday, July 27, 2015

Celebrating #ADA25 and the #SpecialOlympicsWorldGames

July 26, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of the American's with Disabilities Act.




The ADA was certainly landmark civil rights legislation.  It put us on a path towards a more inclusive nation.  It took us a giant step closer to fulfilling the promise of equal opportunity.

Equal Access.  Equal Opportunity.  These are the cornerstones of what the ADA is about, what is means to the many Americans living with disabilities.  And isn't equality the most fundamental of our values as Americans?  Isn't equal opportunity the promise that we are all given; the promise that we all collectively must work to ensure is fulfilled?

Each day in my work I see examples of how far we still have to go to become a truly inclusive society where access and opportunity truly are equal.  The reality is that children are still segregated away from their non-disabled peers because of their disabilities.  The reality is that our schools and our courts have accepted standards that lower the expectations for students with disabilities to such a minimal and basic standard that many will not be granted the same "opportunity" as their non-disabled peers - the opportunity for high quality education with rigorous standards and expectations that prepares them to be competitive in further education and careers.  The reality is that children with disabilities are still denied access.

I also know that we have a long ways to go towards inclusiveness in contexts beyond our school systems.  The employment gap between those without disabilities and those with disabilities is still unacceptably large, and we are not doing enough to address that.  While we have laws to ensure access in public accommodations, many with disabilities still struggle to access places and events and all of those things that give us a quality of life on the same level as those without disabilities.

But with all of that being the reality, we have much to celebrate on this day as we reflect back on the passage of the ADA.  We have come far, and this landmark legislation was an important and necessary moment in that journey.

I only truly understood how important basic access could be once I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and I myself began to live with a chronic, disabling condition.  Things that I took for granted before were now more difficult - sometimes even seeming impossible.  Every time that I go to Disneyland and receive the accommodations that are necessary to ensure that I can actually enjoy the visit; every time I have to use a wheelchair to make it through an airport during travel without collapsing from fatigue and pain, every time I park in a disabled parking space at Target so that I can actually manage to make it all the way to my car after fatigue-inducing shopping trips for essentials, every time I can walk up a ramp when I can't handle the stairs... these are the times I am grateful that we have the ADA and that we live in a country that demands equal access.  Implementation of the ADA is not perfect, and those of us who rely on accessibility being available certainly run into situations where someone is negative about it or where something doesn't really comply with the rule.  Our society is not perfect, we are not yet truly inclusive as we should be, but we are closer to it because of the ADA, and for that - for myself and for those I represent - I am personally grateful.

On that Sunday, July 26th, as our nation marked the anniversary of this important moment in the history of the disability rights movement, Mandy and I, along with a friend and another co-worker, spent the day at the Special Olympics World Games here in Los Angeles.  


What an amazing experience it was to spend the day cheering on the Special Olympic Athletes!  When I reflect on what the ADA means in our society today and on what we are still striving for as disability rights activists - inclusion, acceptance, the right to participate in society - the Special Olympics is such a positive example of those things.  The Special Olympics promotes a vision of a world that embraces unity, dignity, achievement, acceptance, and inclusion.  The experience of being a fan in attendance is truly amazing.  In my everyday "world" immersed in the work of special education advocacy, I too often experience conversations and situations that are focused on the needs and the deficits and the inabilities of the students.  The games showcase the abilities and achievements of the athletes.  I too often see evidence of lowering expectations for students with disabilities.  The games teach us not to accept limits.  "Brave has no limits" was a slogan seen everywhere we went that day, and it was perfect.



As we watched the Volleyball games, we learned about the initiative for "Unified Teams" that is currently promoted throughout the world by the Special Olympics.  While the "traditional" teams competing were comprised only of persons with disabilities, the "Unified Teams" were comprised of a combination of those with disabilities and those without.  I heard (but missed seeing for myself) that the softball teams had several celebrities participating even.  Unified Teams promotes inclusion - it builds a program where athletes and participants are not separate or segregated but are all participating together, and that is a beautiful thing.  Because ultimately, it is our life experiences that give us the ability to learn acceptance - and truly becoming inclusive as a society doesn't just mean that we allow access - it must mean that we all learn to accept one another.



And I think that what I love the most about the work that the Special Olympics organization does is that they focus on truly promoting inclusion.  By bringing forth and promoting awareness about intellectual disabilities and by building events and activities that are accepting of all people equally, the Special Olympics is working to make us the society we are meant to be - pushing us to fulfill that elusive promise of equality.




Friday, July 24, 2015

Training for Special Education Advocates on Advocacy Skills!

Join Mandy Favaloro and Carrie Watts this coming Tuesday as they present a live webinar training for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)

The training will focus on enhancing the skills of special education advocates related to issue-spotting and case analysis.  This 75 minute webinar is offered as part of COPAA's "Parent Rights and Advocacy Strategies for IEP Meetings" Webinar Series.  The Series includes a variety of presentations related to the rights of parents of students with disabilities under the procedural safeguards of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and specific strategies for special education advocates and attorneys working to protect those rights.

Mandy and Carrie have presented a variety of trainings and presentations on topics related to special education law and advocacy in other webinars and live events.  They like to focus their trainings on how advocates can help to protect parents' right to meaningful participation in the IEP process, which is the cornerstone of the IDEA.  Parent participation is often thwarted by the failure of the school district to meet its procedural obligations and by decision-making on the part of districts that excludes parents from the process and ignores their inputs and concerns.  Special education advocates have an important role in helping parents make sure that their concerns and requests are clearly stated, and honing such skills as issue-spotting can help an advocate become more effective in their work.  A2Z's team believes in zealous advocacy on behalf of its clients, and we work within the community to help parents and advocates learn to become zealous advocates for all students with disabilities.  

Here is more information about the webinar:
S.5 Issue-Spotting for Advocates: An Overview of How to Analyze a Client's Case for Effective Advocacy
Tuesday, 7/28/15, 2:00-3:15 ET
Description: Because issue-spotting is closely tied with understanding laws and regulations, it may be assumed that it is a skill left only to attorneys. However, advocates must understand how to issue-spot in order to be effective in their advocacy. Advocates are charged with helping parents make informed decisions and with articulating their clients’ concerns and desires. By learning how to review data and documents - not just for facts and information about a student’s needs, but also for spotting potential issues that may exist - advocates will be better able to assist their clients with formulating sound positions for what they are seeking and to effectively communicate on behalf of their clients.
Register on COPAA's website here:

For information about other trainings provided by the attorneys and advocates at A2Z, go to this link:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Mother's Story, by Jane DuBovy

Parents:
  • Is your child being called “lazy” by their teachers?
  • Does your child have friends at school?
  • How many birthday parties is your child being invited to?
  • Do your child’s teachers say your child is “stupid?”
  • Do you spend hours each night fighting with your child doing homework?
  • Does your child come home from school and just “melt down?”
  • Have you tried to talk to the school about your child’s behaviors?
  • Are you scared for your child’s future?
  • Do you feel isolated because your child doesn’t “fit in” with other children their age?
  • Does the school make you feel like you’re a “bad” parent?
  • Does the community make you feel like you’re a “bad” parent?


I’ve been through all of this with my son.  Starting when he was about 2.5 years old his behavior changed. He was sensitive to noise and lights.  He lost his intelligible speech. He couldn’t be close to other kids without withdrawing or screeching in a high pitch voice.  He couldn't go into stores because of all the stimuli, such as lights and sounds of people.   I was scared for him and didn’t know what had happened to my delightful beautiful funny boy.  The doctor wasn’t helpful.  I didn’t know where to turn to find out what was wrong.

Finally, a friend who happened to be a child psychologist, told me to have my son assessed by a speech specialist.  I didn’t even realize that there were speech therapists for children. I didn’t know where to look to find one who was competent.  This was 17 years ago and the internet wasn’t an option. After asking around I found one.  After her assessment of him what I learned was scary.  She suspected Autism.  Again, 17 years ago that possibility was very scary. I had known about Autism but it was from the dark ages.  Children lost to their own world, refrigerator mothers and other ridiculous theories.  Institutionalization  was the only end result.  My fear pushed me to find help.

I was introduced to UCLA and the NPI program for children with Autism.  Dr. B.J. Freeman confirmed the diagnosis and recommended this intensive 8 hour per day program.  The assessments and therapies provided included Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), Recreational Therapy (RT), Language and Speech (LAS), Behavior intervention, Academic preparation and Social Skills (SS).  In addition, he was going to be part of research regarding the development of  “joint attention” in children with Autism.  I had no clue what all of this was.  I began my education in learning how these therapies could help my child.  The first day I left my child at this program which was conducted behind locked doors at the Neuropsychiatric Institute I broke down and cried.  What was going to be in store for my child? Am I doing the right thing?

This program was a life saver for him and me.  They provided me with parent training, information and support. They helped toilet train my child, introduce him to sharing with other children, finding his speech, learning how to play, de-sensitizing him to textures, learning to coordinate his fine and gross motor skills and start to find his way back to “typical.”

After 10 weeks of this program (which was very expensive but luckily good insurance covered the cost) I learned that the next step was to contact my school district, Los Angeles Unified, to assess my child for services.  I was shocked! I didn't even realize that school districts provide anything to children who were not attending school or at least old enough to attend school.  When I learned that starting at age 3 the district was liable to provide educational support to my child I was ready to hop on that train.

I took a letter to my local elementary school, Marquez ES, asking for assessments in all areas of suspected disability.  I wouldn't have known what those areas were until my parent education at the UCLA NPI program.  I also didn't realize how long it would take for this assessment process.  I was lucky, the assessment plan came right away and the assessments and an IEP meeting  were conducted within the statutory time frame of 60 days.  (By the way I had no idea what an "IEP" was)

I thought that with the wonderful assessments and reports from the UCLA specialists the District would not have to conduct all the assessments.  Again, I learned that I was very ignorant of this process.  The District did review the assessments but it did not accept the recommendations by these autism specialists.  I was shocked to hear the District offer an educational plan that would not address my child's unique needs. (unique is another key word that I learned.  The "I" in IEP stands for individual and that was what each child is entitled to)

What was I supposed to do? The District's offer of "FAPE" (free and appropriate public education) looked nothing like the program recommended by the UCLA team. FAPE is mandated by the federal law called for short IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.)  I wouldn't accept anything less than what the experts stated was necessary for my child. I had witnessed the effects of untreated autism through my master's program in psychology (in the 1970's) and I was not going to deny my child whatever it would take to help him.  So I fought.

I know, being a lawyer you would think that this is what I do all the time so what's the big deal? It is a big deal when it's your child your fighting for.  There is no impartiality, no weighing the options, most importantly NO COMPROMISE.  I filed a legal action called a due process complaint.  I didn't know how to do this or what it should contain.  I had to learn all of this and quickly as I felt that each day without appropriate services was a day lost permanently.

Within 30 days or so of filing the due process complaint I attended a mediation with the District.  Again, I was very lucky to have such great support.  I had an advocate from PAI ( Protection and Advocacy now called Disability Rights) who was extremely experienced with the process attend the mediation with me.  I also had the support from my local regional center.  (that's an important resource for parents of children with developmental disabilities funded under the Lanterman Act in California).  I had really knowledgeable people from the District who reviewed all the documentation and listened to my advocates.  My case was settled and my child received all the recommended services.  His preschool program that he ultimately had included enrollment in a typical preschool  5 hours per day, 1:1 trained behavior aide and behavior supervision, private LAS, OT, Social Skills and RT.  He received this program for 3 years and the District paid for it entirely.

Each year I reviewed his program with his private providers and the District at his annual IEP meeting.  The program was tweaked depending on his ever changing needs.  During 4th grade he started experiencing more separation from his peers as the demands for participation in team sports (especially important at that time for boys) were very challenging for him.  We found tennis and that became his life saver. (By the way there is a charity now called Aceing Autism that I fully support.  it is run by an amazing man, Richard Spurling, who combined his love for tennis with his knowledgeIof autism, check it out).

Along the way I had to file a few more lawsuits to insure my child's rights. One more against the District, which actually went to hearing and we won. (This was for RT services)  I think the toughest thing is to sit and listen daily to witnesses talk about your child and then having to testify yourself.  I did not come through this without shedding a few tears.  Another lawsuit was against the regional center for RDI services (relationship development intervention, go to www.rdiconnect.com to learn more of that service). Again, had to go through a trial, but with the wonderful experts we won.  Finally, had to sue the Boy Scouts under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), we settled and I'm forbidden to discuss the settlement but let's just say I'm glad I did it.

Middle school was where the next major challenge occurred. Wow, while middle school is tough for the "typicals" it was impossible for my child.  He knew he couldn't navigate the sophisticated demands of this social domain.  Did I mention that we live on the Westside of Los Angeles County? That is a very aware group of kids and they were not tolerant of anyone who was different.  They weren't bad kids just trying to survive these years themselves and there was no room for the "unique."  Another brief fight with the District and my son was moved to a non-public school (NPS).  He attended a program at this school that specialized in serving the needs of high functioning autistic kids.  This was the right move for him.

He thrived in that environment.  At the time he attended there was a wonderful teacher, a gifted program and a very enlightened and caring principal.  He made friends, discovered a music buddy (my son plays drums)  and even learned about girls.  Although this was the right environment for him there were still the annual IEP meetings and his unique needs continued to change.  At one point he needed a 1:1 behavior aide due to his work avoidance, but that was addressed.  He went to prom (actually he DJ'd at the prom), decided on music as his career choice and, yes GRADUATED!!!
Since that time he has continued to work on music production.  He's attended MI (Musician's Institute) in Hollywood, found a love in the production end of the music business, writes his own music (EDM, not my type of stuff but now I sound like my mother when I brought home a Bob Dylan album) and pursuing his dreams.  He is a work in process.  He continues to have regional center support so "Mom" isn't the "go to" resource for everything. He has a driver's license, a car and a job that he got on his own.

This saga isn't over but did I even think this was possible 17 years ago?  I had entered a dark tunnel, scared, ignorant but determined.  I'm really glad I didn't know all that I would have to do over the next 17 years because it would have seemed overwhelming.  I've been very fortunate to have wonderful supportive people along the way.  I developed such a passion for this area of law that I completely changed my focus from bankruptcy to special education.  I love what I do and not many lawyers can say that after practicing for 34 years (yikes, I can't believe that either).  What I love most about what I do is being there for the parents.  Giving them hope and encouragement.  Yes the times have changed.  The number of children diagnosed as to being on the Autism Spectrum has jumped from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 64.  I have no explanation for that increase but it doesn't matter to a parent if you have that child that is the "1".  The fight is tougher but still winnable. And it is worth it.  Every day when I have the chance encounter with my child (who is now a 6'2" grown man) I see a miracle and know that it is possible for every parent to see a future for their child that a diagnosis of Autism seemed to curtail.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Parent Training and Advocacy Training

Parent education and training is a critical component of parent empowerment and of enabling parents to affect change for their children.  Empowering parents leads to the possibility of systemic - and even societal - change for children with disabilities.  At A2Z, we strive to incorporate parent education into our work for each family by making parents more aware of their legal rights and the rights of students, enabling them to learn how to speak up effectively and become life-long advocates, and empowering parents to stand up for their rights in a meaningful way so that their voices are heard.

Parents of students with disabilities need to learn as much as possible about special education laws and procedures and about their legal rights that affect meaningful parent participation and ensure that students receive a free appropriate public education.

The experienced Advocates and Attorneys at A2Z often put their expertise to use in training events and presentations for other advocates and attorneys, parents, and other professionals in the special education field.  We have experience presenting on a wide range of topics and to meet a wide range of audience needs.  In addition to local presentations and talks, Jane, Mandy and Carrie have each presented at the national COPAA conference numerous times on many different topics related to special education.  Jane has also co-presented an intensive pre-conference workshop with a clinical psychologist, specifically on the subject of special education evaluations and IEEs.  Carrie and Mandy have co-presented an intensive two day pre-conference workshop on special education advocacy skills, with another attorney and advocate.  Additionally, Mandy has been one of the primary teachers for COPAA's Special Education Advocacy Training (SEAT) program for the past few years.

Special Education Training for Parents is Available!!!

With this experience, we are able to present to parent groups or other groups in southern California on topics related to special education advocacy, parent rights, and the special education process.  Examples of topics on which we could present to your group include:

*  An Overview of Parent Rights under Special Education Laws
*  An Overview of the IEP Process and Evaluations
*  Independent Educational Evaluations
*  Special Education for Students with Autism
*  Special Education for Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
*  Special Education for Students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD

More advanced topics could also be covered for more advanced audiences.  We are also willing to create specific presentations to meet your group's needs.  Contact A2Z and ask for Carrie for more information!


There are also many resources available for parents to access information and training opportunities, such as -

*  Dept. of Education's IDEA page - http://idea.ed.gov/
*  The Wrightslaw website has a wealth of information related to IDEA and special education, and is very parent-friendly.  There are also books available for purchase for more in depth information about topics.
*  Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) - Parents can join COPAA for access to resources and information.  COPAA also provides webinars on topics related to special education throughout the year and an annual in-person conference each year.
*  Your Special Education Rights is a website that provides free information / resources to parents (and others) via a "continuously updated video library covering essential information in order to secure appropriate special education services for their child." - yourspecialeducationrights.com
*  Wrightslaw's DVD / Multi-media version of its Special Education Law and Advocacy training program is available for purchase online.  http://www.wrightslaw.com/store/cd.law.advo.html


In addition, special education advocates as well as law students and attorneys wishing to pursue special education law are often looking for training specific to disability rights and special education laws and advocacy skills, and there are many resources available to meet those training needs -

*  COPAA - Advocates and attorneys can also join COPAA for access to resources, information, and valuable training opportunities.
*  The COPAA SEAT program is the best-of-the-best when it comes to training for Special Education Advocates!  SEAT provides students with intensive coursework and a hands-on practicum component to provide training so that advocates achieve competency in their field.
*  The Advocacy Institute provides a variety of webinars (both live and through access to archived webinars) to provide training to advocates and parents on topics related to special education.  http://www.advocacyinstitute.org/



Thursday, April 23, 2015

School Districts Forcing Parents Into Due Process

Due process procedures are an important part of the IDEA and allow parents and school districts the ability to seek an impartial hearing when a dispute arises regarding the provision of FAPE to a student.  However, in some situations, it seems that school districts utilize due process procedures in order to force parents into an adversarial process and subvert the cooperativeness that is supposed to be the cornerstone of the IEP process under the law.

Too often, we hear in an IEP meeting, "you'll have to go to due process for that" in the place of an actual, meaningful discussion by the IEP team itself about what the child needs.  School districts have policies - written or not - that they simply will not provide certain services or supports or placements at the IEP table, no matter what information is provided by the parents or the team in regards to the child's needs.  In some situations, everyone sitting at the table - including all of the school district team members - may agree that the particular service being requested (for example, a 1:1 aide in the classroom or provision of individualized reading instruction) is required in order for the child to benefit from his/her program, yet the "administrator" at the IEP team will announce that the "district" has not authorized this service, and that parents would have to go to due process.  The practice of refusing to even consider certain services when requested by parents at the IEP table pushes them to due process, strips the IEP team of the power to make decisions regarding a child's program, and blatantly ignores the requirement that parents be meaningful participants in decisions.  

On top of this longstanding problem, we now see more and more instances where school district's choose to file for due process against parents, forcing them into an adversarial process.  School districts aren't simply filing for due process in instances when a parent seeks an IEE (in which case the law actually requires the district to file for due process, unless the district is willing to fund the evaluation).  More and more, they are filing against parents when FAPE is in dispute.  And in some of these cases, there is not a situation where a parent has refused consent, and therefore the school district is seeking permission to implement a portion of the program that it deems necessary for the child to benefit.  Rather, in some cases, the situation is that the parents have stated that the give their full consent to implementation of the program, but that they have concerns about it and do not believe that it is appropriate.  The school districts that file in these cases are subverting the parents right to consent in part to the IEP and preventing the parent from choosing to file - if they want to seek a remedy - within the two year statute of limitations, and instead forcing the parents immediately into a highly adversarial situation in which they will have to incur the costs of proceeding with due process.

An even more alarming trend occurs when districts use due process procedures to prevent parents from accessing their other rights under the statute.  The situation discussed in the article linked below presents the problem related to this issue - districts not only choose to file for due process against parents and drag them into an adversarial process or force them to file themselves - but at times they do so just to prevent the parents from being able to pursue available procedures via a state compliance complaint. 

Parents have the right under the IDEA to file a state compliance complaint if they believe that a school district is not in compliance with the requirements of the IDEA or state special education laws.   However, if a due process case is initiated that involves the same issues as are raised in a state compliance complaint, the state has the right to "set aside" those issues that overlap. Because of this, when a parent files a state compliance complaint, a district can then file a request for due process on the same issues, and then proceed to have the state "set aside" the parents' complaint.  This problem gave rise to a recent letter from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).  

As OSEP points out in its recent letter, there may be many legitimate reasons why a parent chooses to pursue a state compliance complaint rather than a request for due process.  Cost and time are big factors.  Filing a state compliance complaint is relatively simply, efficient, inexpensive, and can be done quickly.  There are not typically the same "litigation" type of costs associated with a compliance complaint that would be incurred if proceeding with due process (i.e. attorneys fees, expert fees, costs to produce copies of evidence, time away from work, etc).  The law recognizes the need for a variety of available procedures for parents to pursue dispute resolution, and eliminating the choice of pursuing a state compliance complaint by filing for due process to thwart that procedure prevents parents from accessing their rights under the law.

OSEP states in part:

"While a public agency has the right to file a due process complaint, we believe that in some situations, a public agency’s filing of a due process complaint after a parent has filed a State complaint on the same issues may unreasonably deny a parent the right to use the State complaint process. We question why a public agency would seek a due process hearing when there is already an active State complaint on the same issue or issues and where other opportunities for dispute resolution are available, such as mediation or informal or alternative dispute resolution procedures. It appears that in some instances, public agencies may have filed due process complaints against parents in an effort to prevent the State complaint process from moving forward." 

In sum, OSEP's letter indicates why this practice on the part of school districts is inappropriate - 

(1) Districts doing this are unreasonably denying Parents the right to pursue state complaint procedures afforded to them under the law; 

(2) This unreasonably limits Parents' access to available dispute resolution options, including options that are less adversarial than due process; 

(3) Forcing Parents into due process unnecessarily increases the time and expense involved in resolving the dispute; and 

(4) The practice of filing for due process in these circumstances "harms the 'cooperative process' that should be the goal of all stakeholders."

Let us hope that this letter sends a message to school districts not only about the inappropriateness of filing for due process in this particular situation, but also in regards to the broader problems with filing for due process against parents.  Ultimately, when school districts have a practice of doing so - when they do it often, and in order to force parents into adversarial situations - they are not just utilizing the available procedures under the law, but are rather utilizing those procedures in order to purposefully thwart the cooperative process that we should all be committed to.  

To read more about the OSEP letter:

Disability Scoop Article:  http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2015/04/23/schools-warned-due-process/20238/

Copy of OSEP Letter: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/dcl04152015disputeresolution2q2015.pdf

Monday, April 20, 2015

Disparities in School Discipline Practices

The Contra Costa Times reported last month on an important story related to school discipline in the context of special education.  The article reports that the Antioch Unified School District was approached by advocates for students of color and advocates of students with disabilities over allegations related to disproportionalities in disciplinary practices.  A lawsuit was threatened regarding disparities in the way students with disabilities and students with color are disciplined.  The Antioch Unified School District has reportedly agreed to allow a third-party review of discipline practices and of its special education program, intended to study possible "implicit bias" that may exist and to determine appropriate recommendations in order for the District to alter its practices.

The full text of the article in the Contra Costa Times can be read here:  http://www.contracostatimes.com/my-town/ci_27794680/ausd-agrees-review-discliplinary-practices


Disproportionality in discipline practices and within the special education system is a huge problem, and it is not a problem unique to this one individual school district.  Various studies and reports have for years reported on this problem, indicating again and again that students who are African American or Hispanic are disciplined at disproportionate rates than their Caucasian peers, and disciplined for infractions that students who are white are not disciplined for.  (See for example:  the Office of Civil Rights' 2012 Report to the President; Research Resources on Racial Disparity in School Discipline from The Civil Rights Project at UCLA;  OCR's Expansive Survey of American Public Schools.  
The disparity problem isn't solely about racial inequities in the discipline systems either.  Research data also shows that students with disabilities are disciplined at disproportionate rates than their non-disabled peers, something that all of us working in this field can likely attest to from first hand experience.  In fact, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as students without disabilities to be suspended from school.  (Source:  Federal Data from National Survey, 2012, as reported in the Washington Post).  As if that fact were not bad enough, there also continues to be a problem of students with disabilities being subjected to restraints and seclusion, often as a means of disciplining the student or "controlling" behavior.  (Read more:  New York Times: A Terrifying Way to Discipline Students; Huffington Post:  Still A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children; COPAA:  Every Child Has the Right to Be Safe in School)When taken together, the existence of these issues lead to a very real, very dangerous, very harmful situation in schools for many of our students.  

Let's be clear: when students are subjected to disciplinary practices or restraints and seclusion due to the fact that they are disabled or African American, this is a discrimination issue.  It is a safety issue.  it is a fairness issue.  It is an issue that is contributing to young people being on a path to prison, rather than a path to productivity and independence.  And it is a civil rights issue.  It is time for society to recognize this and stand up for the civil rights of students!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Pembroke Pines mother is voice for children with disabilities

Pembroke Pines mother is voice for children with disabilities



Check out this video!  This is a mom who is truly an inspiration!  She is a voice not just for her own child but for all students with disabilities!  Her bravery is an example of what is needed if we are going to consistently increase society's awareness of the issues facing our students and reclaim the message about special education!

Networking Event for Special Education Professionals in Southern California: WOSEP's Spring Tea aboard the Queen Mary!


The Women's Organization of Special Education Professionals (WOSEP) presents their annual Spring Tea for 2015!  The Tea is an opportunity for professionals who work on behalf of students - including attorneys, advocates, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, educational therapists, tutors, private school professionals, and others - to get together for a fun filled networking event.  The 2015 Spring Tea is being hosted by A2Z Educational Advocates and will take place at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.  As part of this event, guests will be offered a discounted rate to view the Diana's Collection exhibit at the Queen Mary.  A traditional Windsor afternoon tea will be served aboard the historic ship.

WOSEP is an organization of women professionals working on behalf of students with disabilities in a variety of contexts related to serving their special education related needs.  WOSEP provides networking opportunities and a robust online directory of resources and professionals that is available to the public.  WOSEP was founded to bring professionals together for networking and collaboration, and to create a one-stop place online for parents and the public to find information about available service providers throughout southern California.

Friday, March 27, 2015

LAUSD Plans to Eliminate School Readiness Language Development Preschool programs throughout the District!

#LAUSD is planning drastic reductions in the availability of SRLDP classrooms next year.  I can't say enough about why this is a very bad idea.  The fact of the matter is that SRLDPs are often the only available preschool option for many families whose children are in need of school readiness programs.  Many of those students are "at risk" students or English language learners who are greatly benefited by access to preschool instruction before entering Kindergarten.

Beyond that issue - the elimination of these classes drastically changes for many special education students what options are available on the continuum of placements, because the SRLDPs were the only settings that provided access to typical peers.  All students have the right to be educated in an environment with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.  This is called the "Least Restrictive Environment" requirement.  The obligation to provide the full continuum of placement options in order to ensure access to the least restrictive environment is an obligation that applies in full force for preschool students.  In MANY cases, one of the major issues for preschool students is the lack of available "typical" preschool programs in the school district / public schools.  Many districts simply do not offer or provide any typical preschools, leaving parents in a situation in which they must battle the school districts for funding for private preschool programs just because that is the only way that they can assert their child's right to the least restrictive environment.  School districts spend their funds on due process cases over placement (i.e. paying their own attorneys and often parent attorneys) and on reimbursing parents for private schools.  I can't help but think that if the districts invested in good quality typical preschool programs across the board, that would be money well spent.  It would reduce the number of disputes about LRE for preschoolers, and universally available preschool would ensure that more students come into Kindergarten with the skills needed to succeed!

Not only do available typical settings such as LAUSD's SRLDP classrooms provide a less restrictive placement option for consideration as a student's placement in their IEP, they also provide the possibility of mainstreaming or inclusion for part of the school day for students who are in district special education preschool programs.  Many special education preschool classrooms exist on the same campus as district-run SRLDP classrooms, meaning that preschool students in the special education setting can be mainstreamed into an age appropriate classroom for part of the day as deemed appropriate by their IEP team, or can have the opportunity to interact with nondisabled peers during unstructured time such as lunch, playtime or activities.  Where there is not a typical preschool setting or an SRLDP on campus, mainstreaming is an empty promise.  I have seen too many IEPs refer to some nominal amount of time of inclusion in a general education setting simply because a classroom is located on a general education campus - but for preschool students in a special education setting on a campus with absolutely zero nondisabled preschool peers, this is meaningless.  No inclusion can actually occur.

This was brought home for me in an IEP this morning in which a student has been placed in a special education setting to receive a highly specialized program this year and has thrived - but his progress is also attributable to the fact that his special education program exists on the same campus as a district SRLDP - meaning that he has had the opportunity to be educated with his same age nondisabled peers for a portion of his day.  The elimination of SRLDPs will take that option off the table for many special education students - in short, it will take away their right to be educated in the least restrictive environment.

It is my understanding that teachers and parents throughout LAUSD have been united in trying to convince the district not to go through with this.  I applaud their efforts, and I wholeheartedly join them.  Let's hope that their voices are heard by LAUSD!

Please take a moment to sign this petition!

https://www.change.org/p/maureen-diekmann-save-early-childhood-education-in-lausd