The Schools Part In Mental Health

When a child is found eligible for special education services, a team will hold a meeting to create an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan). If your child is already eligible, the team is required to meet annually to review the IEP and make any necessary changes/updates. You can request to meet in between annual periods whenever you believe there is a need to review and consider changes to the current IEP. 

The IEP document is compromised of 5 Major Sections or Domains:

  • Curriculum and Learning
  • Independent Functioning
  • Social Emotional
  • Communication
  • Healthcare/Medical

The IEP DOES NOT simply contemplate academics as a stand alone area of need, but is intelligent enough of a document to contemplate all areas that impact academics and that effect the students participation in school. The students behaviors, emotional expression, peer relationships and relationships with school staff are all important considerations in educational
planning. Therefore, one can not logically separate a students mental health from their learning experience and school performance.


Regardless of eligibility (there are 13 categories of eligibility under IDEA), each time an IEP team meets and in-between meeting, all responsible IEP team members should be considering
the impact if any of the students mental health, social skills, self esteem, ability to self advocate, problem solving skills, behavior, emotionality and all other factors that impact the educational
environment.


School districts DO NOT diagnose mental health disorders or any other disability/disorder. School district purpose in evaluating students is twofold- to determine eligibility under Section 504 and IDEA and for educational planning purposes. School IEP Teams will use a medical diagnosis as a part of what they look at to determine IEP eligibility and determinations of need.

The diagnosis should be listed in the Healthcare/Medical Section of the IEP and if medication needs to be administered during the school day that should be noted in the IEP or 504 Plan.

Both counseling services and psychological services can be assigned through an IEP, as well as a 504 Plan. The determination of the need for such is based upon the students Present
Levels of Performance/Functioning and Annual Goals as described in the IEP. Whether the sessions are one to on or group is a team decision, as is the frequency and length of the sessions. 


Remember that your Parent Input is critical and you are an equal member of the IEP Team, therefore you participate in these kinds of considerations and decisions. When a student exhibits observable behaviors that impact his or her learning environment and that of others in the class, the school team should conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment.


The purpose of this assessment is to study the behavior that is effecting the students access tonmeaningful educational benefit and make data driven determinations as to the function, or reason the student is engaging in the behavior. Once a function is determined, the team creates a Behavior Intervention Plan designed to meet the individual social-emotional needs of the student. It’s important to note that behavior is the leading cause of school teams recommending more

restrictive placements for students, such as self contained classrooms and separate day schools. Therefore ensuring that social-emotional remediations are appropriate and reasonably calculated to work is imperative to the students long term success, well being and access to
typical peers. For students with a mental health diagnosis, it’s imperative that an individual sits on the remediation team that has expertise and special knowledge to contribute. Teachers
levels of understanding of depression and anxiety disorder, for example, can vary greatly. 


A therapist, BCBA, counselor or child psychologist can bring insight to the team that can lead to a Behavior Plan/IEP/504 Plan that reflects the knowledge and collective understanding of the students disability and the uniqueness of its impact on them in school.

A Parent’s Critical Role in Their Child’s IEP 

Boy with Special Needs

 

Being a parent- period- is a huge job, but being a parent-advocate  for a child with special needs, can feel like a monumental task. The goal of My Educational Solutions is to make the job of parent advocacy a bit simpler, a bit easier and a whole lot more accessible to your average parent. It is my hope that what I have learned over the course of many years in this arena, will benefit both you and your child. TO my core, I hope the information and strategies I share with you in this article will save you lots of time, arguments and heartache. 

Parent Participation and involvement is a major safe keeping parents are guaranteed through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA provides a strong foundation and mandate for parent involvement. IDEA states:

“Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home.”

Your participation in educational decisions for YOUR child is critically important- this importance is backed by research that cites the benefit AND a federal law that acknowledges the benefit and both ensures and protects your participation. However, there might be times when you are not treated as you should be- which is an EQUAL MEMBER of your child’s IEP Team. You might experience a time where you feel that your input wasn’t fully captured or recorded as you said it. There might be times where you feel left out all together, or uncounted.

The required IEP team members are a special education teacher, a general education teacher, a representative of the public agency (could be principal, district representative, staffing specialist), an individual who can determine the instructional implications of evaluation results, and the student when appropriate. If your child is under 18, you have the ultimate authority whether or not they attend the meeting, though schools will strongly encourage the students participation from 14 years of age and older. 

The team can also include other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding your child. You, as well as the school system, can invite anyone that has knowledge or special expertise about your child, such as an outside therapist, advocate, friend or grandparent. The district might invite an Assistive Technology Specialist, a Behavior Specialist, someone they have contracted for a specific purpose related to your child or someone from the compliance office. Also let’s insert section 7 after the intro. And see how that looks., YOU are an equal member of your child’s IEP team. No members input is “more important” than another. 

IDEA states specific entitlements to parents to ensure parents are given a fair opportunity to participate in decisions that impact how their child will receive special education services. Without these protections it would be impossible for parents to effectively advocate.

Understanding the major principles of IDEA will help guide your understanding of IEP’s, one cannot exist separate from the other. IDEA is what regulates what must be in the IEP and what schools must do, from the time they have notice or a suspicion that a student has a disability through graduation. 

What is Effective Parent Advocacy?

 

Effective Parent Advocates DO NOT assert rights that they do not have and they are able to focus on the BIG issues that need to be addressed and advocate effectively within the framework of what their child’s entitlements are, which truly are plentiful. 

Each states regulations and rules must be in accordance with Federal Law IDEA and individual districts policies and procedures are only approved by the state Department of Education if the language used reflects what IDEA mandates and in no uncertain terms. Therefore, if you move from one state or district to another with an IEP, your child is entitled to comparable services. 

There are other bodies of law that protect students with disabilities in public programs and in some private programs- all students with disabilities are protected by anti discrimination law Section 504 and civil right law the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

The Parent Input Section 

 

The IEP Team will ask the parent to provide their input at some point in every IEP Team Meeting. There is  an actual designated section for this in every IEP. The Parent Input Section is critically important, it is your chance to document your voice in the IEP Document. But parent must understand that there participation extends beyond the Parent Input section, and that they are equal IEP team members. Parents can and should participate in all parts of the IEP document, not just the parent input section. 

AS you go through each of the 5 IEP Domains and reflect on your child’s strengths, weakness, and the impact of their disability- it’s essential that where you have input – that you contribute that input within the Present Levels of Performance section of each Domain. Please give input that relates directly to the domain in question and it’s most helpful to share observations about your child that you have seen across settings- not only in your relationship with your child.

YOU! Yes, You are A Parent Advocate!

YOU are a parent advocate. Successful parent advocates are armed with information and know how to navigate IEP meetings with strength and class. When a parent advocate enters an IEP meeting they are tasked with the great responsibility of advocating for their child- their baby (and yes that’s your baby whether she is 2 or 20)- and they have the emotions involved that no other team member brings to the IEP table. 

You are at a disadvantage in some regards- you are not in the school observing your son like the rest of the participants have been, you are not in the classroom teaching your child everyday. You also didn’t get to have conversations with the team prior to the meeting. You are in a meeting where professionals are presenting to you about your child- the one that you know the most about and feel the most for. And they are sometimes presenting in a matter of fact way, 

“according to the data…”, “and in this area your child is in the second percentile” “he is not able to…” “she cannot focus on an academic ask for more than 5m” etc …. it can feel very cut and dry but this is the way that many teams have been trained to dissipate information in IEP meetings.

Parent advocates have the chance to come into meetings and bring a balance to it all and bring some human-ness back into the IEP meeting and simultaneously call for data collection and data driven goals and all other assurances. 

I want you to know that when you go into the meeting, yes you are a PARENT but I want you to also think of yourself as a professional advocate – A Parent Advocate- and behave in a professional manner as if you were representing a client that hired you to go to the meeting. If you were hired to represent a parent at a meeting where you were paid to attend,

You would probably do a few things 

    • You would come to the meeting prepared- knowing your goals and what your state administrative code has to say in relation to the goals you have set AND 
    • You would behave in a firm, friendly and professional manner 
    • You would also know what to do when the team disagrees with you and you disagree with the teams decision- you wouldn’t argue more or spend hours writing emails that get no response- you would take action as a professional 

Myself and other highly effective advocates that get results at meetings in cases where parents were not able to get results prior to hiring us, distinguish ourselves in a few key ways AND as a Parent Advocate, I want you to do that too.

To be an effective parent advocate, it’s not how loud you scream, how many emails you send on behalf of your child, or how many compelling arguments you are able to make about why the schools should embrace your proposed action or idea.

Effective advocacy instead is,

    • Knowing your rights- what you are entitled to and what you are not entitled to, 
    • Setting clear goals for your meetings and having a strategy in getting there
    • And a plan of what you will do if the team members say “NO”

In summation, the difference between a parent attending an IEP meeting and a Parent Advocate is a level of knowledge, professionalism, and the demeanor that comes with being taken seriously in a meeting.

The Value of Inclusive Education for All Students

Special Needs Inclusion
Special Needs Inclusion

 

The Value of Inclusive Education for All Students

Inclusive Education and successful inclusive schools are not just good for some students, it’s practice that’s good for all students. Time and time again we have seen that the same principles that make inclusive education work for students with disabilities, provide other students in the very same classroom with benefit. Being exposed to diverse ways of thinking and diverse learning styles prepares students for life after school. At the very core of school life is the focus on preparing students for life after school. There is no separate class of life after school, therefore, separate classrooms should only be used when absolutely necessary and for an interim period with specific purposes and goals. When a student is in a more restrictive environment the active goal of the school based team should be to provide the student with interventions and skills that allow him or her to return as promptly as possible to their peers and to greater exposure and access to the curriculum.

Universal design in education gives students with disabilities access in a natural and inclusive manner, but also is evidence based in reaching and teaching all students- let’s face it, we all learn differently and hold areas of weakness. Children learn compassion, empathy and go from simply accepting disability to embracing the inclusion of all members of their school. Inclusive Education puts in perspective that there is not a set standard of what intelligence is, that intelligence comes in many different forms and if we can appreciate what someone has to bring to the table and integrate that strength into the classroom, we are all better for it. This way of thinking helps promote healthy self esteem and self concept for all students. The idea is that one must not meet a certain standard or first be like others to be included. This puts things in perspective for other minority groups and makes it easier for students at large to embrace a world of differences from religious, to ethnic to politically diverse views.

Students with disabilities that learn in regular education classrooms often have IEP’s in place that call for collaborative efforts between the general education teacher and the special education teacher, this has been shown to have a benefit for ALL classroom learners, as the SPED teacher will often facilitate differentiated instruction in classroom centers and contributes learning materials and thinking strategies that benefit regular education struggling learners to the gifted learner. Modeling of social skills and coping strategies for emotional regulation that are proactively modeled in the inclusive classroom, are great for typical students to witness and be a part of. If we are honest, we all need mindfulness, positive self talk and better coping strategies for when life gets hard. One to one aides assigned to an IEP student, are often a great help to the class as a whole in facilitating organized small and whole group activities. The regular consultation that special education and regular education teachers partake in to make inclusive classrooms successful, improves learning outcomes for everyone. Numerous studies have shown the benefit of peer modeling/peer tutoring in the regular education classroom and that it’s serves as a beneficial practice for both the student mentor and the mentee. When we teach something to someone, we internalize and expand upon that skill ourselves.

The most intangible and meaningful aspect of inclusive education is the invaluable life lesson it teaches: that we are all counted for, included, and the message that schools have the chance to send all students and teachers- that there are no “others” in our school.

It’s critical to understand that inclusive education is NOT simply about students with and without disabilities sharing the same physical space. Inclusive education must be viewed by school communities as more than just a legal mandate*, but a venture of the heart.

When I attended a school holiday music performance for my daughter, Arielle, I witnessed an “inclusive” but divided stage and truthfully it made me uncomfortable. The self contained class that pushes into music and other special area classes was stationed on one side of the stage with their aide and the rest of the students, including my daughter, were together. I didn’t understand exactly why this practice was in place, other than it was likely always the way that things had be done- an age old practice that carried over. The subliminal message to other students in my daughter’s class was, “they are here, but they really aren’t a part of our class”. I know that adults that carry out these antiquated practices are not doing so to intentionally brainwash children to believe that they are separate and superior to their disabled peers, but yet and still this is the outcome. What I would rather have seen would have been that the six children that pushed into Arielle’s music class were placed next to role model students and that the aide stood back and provided support when needed or modeled for the children that were familiar with her face to the side of the music teacher who was directing from below the podium.

While successful inclusive education takes more upfront effort, planning and creativity from all supporting adults, it is certainly worth the effort for all students.

*The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensure students with disabilities are education in their least restrictive environment. Go to the US Department of Educations website to read about your child’s entitlement to a Free Appropriate Education.

Florida School’s Reopening and School Choice

Florida School’s Reopening and School Choice

Florida Schools Reopening and School Choice

 

Parents, clients, potential clients and professional colleagues have been contacting us with lots of questions and also asking for advice in making decisions about what to do with their children’s education come fall. Surveys have been sent out throughout districts statewide asking parents to select from a set of options. It is extremely important that parents and teachers fill out and submit these surveys so that school districts can properly plan for ALL students. Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran ordered that all Florida public schools must reopen their campuses in August and offer five days a week of brick and mortar education as an option. This DOES NOT mean that all students will have no other option through the public school system but to go to brick and mortar school five days a week. Most districts throughout the state of Florida have already issued Reopening Plans that include the following options, 

 

  1. Hybrid Model: Online and In School (2-3 days in school per week with alternating cohorts)
  2. In School Learning- full time available for special populations, such as students in self contained classes where it is presumed the most complex learners to reach online are. 
  3. e-learning full time- any parent can make this selection, including parents that have students with IEP’s in self contained classrooms or special schools all day 
  4. Florida Virtual School, which existed before school closures (totally separate from e-learning which will be provided by and through the school). 
  5. Some districts have their own online school Magnet Program, Dade County is one district that does,  Miami Dade Online- abbreviated to MDO. 

AND- if those are not enough options for parents, here are others to think about,

  1. Withdraw your child from the public school system AND register him/her as a home education student with your districts home education office. This option has always been available to parents and should be considered thoroughly for all that it entails. Parents could either homeschool until they feel comfortable with returning their child to the public school system OR they could decide to continue home education as long as they see fit and apply for the Florida Gardiner Scholarship to use for the following year. The only requirement to homeschool is to register your child with your district as a home education student and to submit an annual report completed by a certified teacher or other qualified professional. You have the option for your child to participate in statewide testing, or not. AND you can contact the home education office to access any district curriculum to use in your home, should you choose to. Some home education students also choose to register part time at their home public school and receive ESE services and/or related services. 
  1. There are parents who are choosing to leave the public school system and to select a private school option that they believe is handling Covid related issues/CDC School Guidelines and education better than their districts proposed plan. There are private schools that are keeping classrooms very low, offering hybrid models and also offering virtual education full time. If you have applied for the FL McKay Scholarship, great! If not, go ahead and consider applying ASAP. The deadline is today to have the funds available towards your first private school installment. YOU CAN STILL apply after today, you would just miss the first pay out cycle and would have to wait for the next. If the private school you are considering has space and is a participating private school, it’s a non issue. To ensure you are eligible for McKay, check their official website cited below. Also, you MAY NOT use the Florida Gardiner Scholarship in conjunction with the Florida McKay Scholarship. If you aren’t eligible for McKay, but have the financial ability to do so, you could fund a private school placement yourself. Please be aware that when you leave the public school system your child is no longer entitled to the full scope of protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), including the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education and to be educated in his or her Least Restrictive Environment. However, there are certain provisions under IDEA for parent elected private school placement students.
  1. If you have a child that is medically fragile, or that has a health condition that would make it life threatening OR of serious risk to contract Covid-19, you might be eligible for a Hospital Homebound placement. Hospital Homebound constitutes as a change of placement in your child’s IEP determined by a doctor’s order. This change of placement could involve IEP services delivered to the home and is worth considering. 

School choice, in general but even more so now, is an extremely personal decision for each parent to make and obviously each parent goes into that decision making process with their own set of considerations. Even before the virus, we had parents that chose home education for a whole host of reasons, including nutrition and religion. So to make a judgement is not appropriate, but we all obviously can have our opinion and can share our opinion without fear of being persecuted- I think we should be able to do that at least.

Fortunately, we are the parents of our own kids, so we make our own final call. There is a lot of complaining going on amongst teachers and parents alike about the reopening plans proposed. I, on the other hand, feel that we are lucky to have so many choices and that parents can exercise those choices. NOT every state or country has the options that we do. Consider that we are one of only three states that has a comparable program to the McKay Scholarship fund to begin with. Each choice comes with considerations individual to the student and family. Please realize that if you leave the Public School system and re-enter, the same IEP you left with will be in effect when you return. IEP’s DO NOT expire or terminate, contrary to what many schools misinform parents. The team would need to meet within thirty days of re-enrollment and follow the most recent IEP in the interim.

I believe children are paying a great price socially, emotionally, academically and communication wise – and for some students the impact of that is greater than others. We need to be respectful of each others choices and make ours based on careful consideration and our own gut instincts as parents. AS an advocate, parents are texting and calling me asking me what they should do. That is not my place. I can only share what I am doing (happy to if you contact me directly) and also help parents navigate ALL of the options available to them. I know that parents will make the right choice for their family and their unique set of circumstances so long as they have the information to do so.

Please contact us if you need more information about school choice in general, as well as school choice options in light of the pandemic. We are offering reduced fee, single session consultations all summer in an effort to help ALL parents. 

Please email [email protected] with any questions and feel free to comment below. 

 

 

Virtual Schooling AND IEP’s

Special Needs Online Education Coronavirus

We here at My Educational Solutions are hoping that you are healthy and maintaining some sense of peace during this very destabilizing time.

We are parents and we know the challenges of online education. WE know this is new for school districts and teachers. But we do feel that the greatest individuals effected by this period are our special education children and their parents. ALL kids have been effected in some way during this time- there have been lapses and losses, also gains- but we know that our families with special needs children are facing some of the most complex challenges. I just want to first acknowledge that before saying anything else.

What we provide and our still providing throughout the state of FL, is IEP advocacy and I can’t think of a time where it’s more needed. Parents hire advocates to help them navigate what is new terrain for them- eligibility, IEP’s, conflict resolution with schools- and now, online implementation of IEP services and accommodations.

We need to have fair expectations of schools during this period, yes.

We need to be reasonable, yes.

I get that and I am very sensitive to being fair, all the way around and during all times.

But fair doesn’t mean accepting anything, or allowing it to be continually  permissible during this extended period for students with disabilities to just totally get left behind.

I have the advantage of being one of the only advocates in the state of Florida that takes cases anywhere in the state of Florida, as well as in a few states outside of Florida. So, I get to see how many different districts are handling this time period and what can be done. I have seen districts that have proceeded with Response to Intervention using web learning. I have seen districts that are still convening all previously scheduled meetings, and districts that are refusing to meet all together. Some of my clients are in schools where all they are receiving in the form of virtual learning is a list of assignments to complete and turn in, no instruction. Others are listening to pre recorded videos teachers upload. Others are receiving direct instruction from ESE teachers and with other learners using programs such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. I’m not sure the rhyme or reasons that some schools and districts responses to this extended period of school closures are so vastly different.

What I do know is that in FL statewide, school is not OUT, school is open, the physical school is closed but the responsibility of attending school and completing assignments is ON. These assignments are being entered as fourth semester grades and the idea is that students are being educated. When the public school makes an offering or makes programming available to students, it must be accessible to all students and there are ways to do that- syncing assistive technology with devices, providing prerecorded videos teaching IEP goals, going over concepts, etc. I don’t see any reason why students can’t receive the majority of IEP services and related services virtually. While in some cases, students might not want to participate or run away from the computer, offering is the first step and continuing to offer is the next step.

Many parents of students with IEP’s in the state of FL had preexisting IEP issues that didn’t just begin once school closures occurred. I expect that IEP’s that might not have been appropriate in the first place, weren’t serving students well even when they were in the school building. Now, services that didn’t work beforehand are still not working or not happening at all. Also, even with the most appropriate IEP’s, the IEP didn’t contemplate a change of placement from school to home- from exposure to peers to none.

Many accommodations can be provided online. Many services can as well. Good faith efforts can be made to help lessen this blow for children. Certainly districts can still meet virtually to amend IEP’s, conduct annuals and consider changes to IEP’s for when schools are back physically open. Most districts are doing so, but some are still refusing to meet at all.

We are happy to continue making requests on behalf of parents and advising parents during this time. Please take time to read this section of a statement published by the US Department of Education on March 21st, 2020,

“At the outset, OCR and OSERS must address a serious misunderstanding that has recently circulated within the educational community. As school districts nationwide take necessary steps to protect the health and safety of their students, many are moving to virtual or online education (distance instruction). Some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. We remind schools they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.”

The consensus among the US Department of Education, the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), COPAA (Counsel of Parents Advocates and Attorneys) is that as much as possible, school district should be doing whatever is possible to be done virtually to meet the unique needs of all students and continue to provide a quality education. This is reassuring to our advocacy efforts and consistent with the position that I have been taking with school teams on cases I am managing on behalf of parents.

Should you need additional help navigating online schooling and if you have questions specific to your child, please do not hesitate to reach out to us and take advantage of our reduced fee intake and consultation on IEP’s and Virtual Schooling. You can always email me directly,

[email protected]com.

Please stay tuned as we will be offering upcoming webinars on a variety of topics. We are also working on a Q&A Document for Advocacy and Virtual Education. Share with us your experiences both good and bad with virtual schooling and we will respond with help. We would love to hear positive stories too!

Thank you.

We provide IEP Advocacy and Educational Consultation Services in the following counties:

Alachua County, Hardee County, Okeechobee County
Baker County, Hendry County, Orange County
Bay County, Hernando County, Osceola County
Bradford County, Highlands County, Palm Beach County
Brevard County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County
Broward County, Holmes County, Pinellas County
Calhoun County, Indian River County, Polk County
Charlotte County, Jackson County, Putnam County
Citrus County, Jefferson County, Santa Rosa County
Clay County, Lafayette County, Sarasota County
Collier County, Lake County, Seminole County
Columbia County, Lee County, St. Johns County
DeSoto County, Leon County, St. Lucie County
Dixie County, Levy County, Sumter County
Duval County, Liberty County, Suwannee County
Escambia County, Madison County, Taylor County
Flagler County, Manatee County, Union County
Franklin County, Marion County, Volusia County
Gadsden County, Martin County, Wakulla County
Gilchrist County, Miami-Dade County, Walton County
Glades County, Monroe County, Washington County
Gulf County, Nassau County,
Hamilton County, Okaloosa County

The Coronavirus… Schools Are Shut Down- Now What? 

The Cohen Kids

A Parents Guide

By, Allison Cohen- Guest Blogger & My Educational Solutions Parent

If you are anything like me, the thought of school being closed, at least through mid-April, is overwhelming.  There seem to be almost more hours in the day when we feel like we need to fill them. How do we keep our kids from getting too far off track?  Whether especially emotional, special-need or neurotypical, children (and parents) of all ages will have some big feelings through this pandemic shut-down.

Some days will be better than others.  The best we can do is to provide a calm example for our kids to assure them they are safe and secure.  I am hopeful that some extra planning ahead will help to give both parents and their kids a common direction and sense of purpose, which are hard to create even when life is “normal” so I realize this is no easy task.  In this article, I will share some ideas I will use in my own house, and I hope they are helpful to you too.

My most important strategy that will guide me through this unstructured time is to PROVIDE STRUCTURE.  We will not be picking up where the teachers left off, but we can create some expectations for our kids to prevent them from sitting in front of the tv all day in their pajamas, at least on weekdays.  Having a visual schedule to follow will help ease the transition back into school when the time comes, and it will also help us, as parents, to not get overwhelmed at the thought of weeks or months at home.

I have discovered a wealth of resources on the internet to help guide us in creating schedules and managing emotions for our kids.  I have often heard of khanacademy.org, but have never checked it out until now.  It is very academic, and provides free access to courses from grade school through high school, and beyond.  I may incorporate a few lessons, but this will not be my focus. (If your child is hungry for academic stimulation, it might be just right.)  My main reason for mentioning this website, is that they have created a sample schedule for all grade levels of school, from pre-school through senior year of high school, specifically designed for parents during this extended time at home.  I plan to use this as a template and fill it in with activities that are not overly demanding, but challenging or interesting enough to be engaging.

Another resource currently providing free access to material is scholastic.com.  I would call these more “human interest” stories and I think these will be fun to read.  Again, subject matter is provided for a variety of grade levels.

There are several websites and institutions that offer “virtual field trips” and I am excited to add those to our schedule once or twice a week.  This is something that could appeal to multiple ages, which is great for me, since I have a daughter age 16, and a son, age 11. Having common ground for them to connect will only make the hours at home more pleasant.  Look for theeducatorsspinonit.com for 30 options for these virtual trips.  They include everything from museums, to national landmarks, and everything in between, all over the world.

We have been making use of many podcasts recently, and this will be another area I will expand.  They are an excellent free resource, and you can find them on almost every subject. Our favorites include Big Life Kids, Brains On!, WOW in the World, Dream Big and many more.  At night, we like to listen to Peace Out, Smiling Mind, or Honeybee Kids. These guide you through deep breathing and other mindful calming exercises. Do the exercises together and they will benefit you both!

One visit to weareteachers.com will keep you busy all day!  They have suggestions for podcasts, TED talks, free printables, brain breaks, virtual field trips and so much more!

Other sites you may want to check out that include free material, free 30 day trials, and/or paid memberships include the following:

See ixl.com which is also available as an app, K-12 content

Go to funbrain.com and arcademics.com for arcade style educational games, K-6

The site storylineonline.net features well known actors narrating books and if you have a kid who loves space, see storytimefromspace.com where real astronauts read stories about space actually from space!!

Look at reading.ecb.org which will bring you to a site called “Into the Book” for reading comprehension activities in both English and Spanish

Younger kids may like adaptedmind.com which is a cute math and reading activity site with a monster theme, K-8

We always have our old stand-by google.com and pinterest.com, where you can search for any topic of interest and find great new ideas.  You can also do more general searches like “educational netflix shows for kids” or “virtual field trip” and instantly have a list of options at your fingertips.  Pinterest will be a go-to source for other creative artsy type activities as well.

Aside from needing to keep busy, our kids will surely have some very real worries about the Corona Virus.  Children’s reactions will vary, so there is certainly no “one size fits all” advice in this situation. I have found nctsn.org (National Child Traumatic Stress Network) to be very informative.  One especially helpful feature is a chart of coping strategies by age group.  It also includes links to other helpful sites, specifically geared toward coping during this crisis.  Additionally, a google.com search of “kid friendly explanation of corona virus” will bring up many options that may help your individual child understand at their level.

Some of our kids will have reactions in the form of BEHAVIOR, of course.  Providing structure will help, but you may need more behavior management type activities also.  Over the years, we have worked with various behavior therapists and here are some of our more successful strategies.

Incentives – token boards, first/then visuals, checklists, rewards, etc.  For example, first we will watch this video, then you can have some free time.  Or, have 5 spaces on a token board (which doesn’t have to be fancy, can be on paper) and take a free time break after all of those 5 tokens are earned for completing activities.

At our house, I usually put a visual schedule on our big whiteboard, with a space to check off each activity.  Depending on what motivates your child, they can earn an items for each check or mark on the board. My son feels a sense of accomplishment when he marks the board for each completed item and sees his progress.  He earns a specified amount of ipad time for each check (homework assignment or activity) completed, but the reward could also be watching an episode of a favorite show, or even a few minutes added to bedtime for each group of checks if you have bedtime struggles.  It’s all about motivation!

Timers – if you have a visual timer, that may help add an ending point to an activity or free time break, so it is clear how much time they have left.  Give warnings at 5, 3 and 1 minute intervals to help smooth the transition to another activity. There are many visual timers available as apps on iTunes.  Or, if your child is like mine, they have certain favorite topics they like to discuss repeatedly. This will need to be managed carefully while they are off from school for so long.  The timer can be used to set a limit for this and help organize their minds for other activities.

Movement – it is well documented that movement can be a tremendous help in managing behavior.  My son’s very favorite website is GoNoodle.com. I encourage you to check it out if your child is in elementary school or even preschool.  It includes a lot of learning activities well-disguised as fun and mindfulness activities to calm our senses.  It also includes a collection of silly characters who “level up” or change features for each group of activities completed.

If your child is a worrier, this may also lead to some undesirable behaviors.  If possible, I suggest you designate certain segments of the day to discuss worries.  You can have your child (or you) write down worries as they come up, and put them into a box.  At “worry time” you can get the notes out and discuss them. I found this thing on amazon.com called a worry eater.  It is basically a plush doll with a zipper mouth to “eat” all of your worries.  They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Ours is a pirate. Often, just the act of writing down the worry is helpful in itself and we don’t need to discuss it again.

One thing I have learned for sure through our journey is that change creates elevated behaviors and push back.  It may get worse before it gets better. The more structure you can provide, the less insecure your child may feel.  It will take time to adjust and settle into a new routine as this is a major upheaval for us all. When you implement a schedule of activities, start with all preferred activities to get them into the habit of following the schedule.  Gradually, you can add more expectations, learning games, and academics if you wish.

I have no doubt that some days I will be at my wit’s end from being home bound for so long.  I realize that the advice I have shared is all “easier said than done” and it is for me too. Our schedule might be tossed now and then in favor of stress eating and binge watching.  Hopefully these days will be occasional, and we can have at least a few hours of focus each day. We are all in this together and I hope some of my ideas will help you and your family.  Thank you, Krista, for the opportunity to share some thoughts with our parent community. I am sure everyone reading this shares my appreciation for you and all that you do for our children.

Compelled By Research- The Push for IEP Teams

Special Needs Advocate

Team members at IEP Meetings that make decisions about where students with disabilities need to receive their services are in many cases ill prepared and ill informed to do so. District trainings should include exposing IEP team members to actual research, including that released by the Department of Education, that looks at the life outcomes for students with disabilities that were educated in self contained versus inclusive settings (I will provide links below to a few articles, research). Trainings should also be provided to educate teachers, administrators and support staff about the best practices of inclusive education, what has been proven to work and what doesn’t.

We don’t have to guess, in the educational world FAPE, inclusive education and universal design are highly researched and studied areas. We ask teachers and administrators to use research based reading programs but we don’t expect them to approach life defining decisions for students with disabilities with a review of research. Without a thorough study of the topic, recommendations are at best subjective. I believe that we need to rely on research, combined with individual students needs and of course unusual circumstances when making educational setting and placement decisions. I am very concerned when I attend meetings where teachers are convinced that a student requires specialized instruction in a separate classroom or separate day school, but they cannot give any reason why their recommendation is based on anything other than the perceived limitations of the student and/or the idea that the disabled student will prevent other students in the general education setting from learning.

I have come to believe that educators largely consider resource room or  a separate day school when they personally don’t feel confident in meeting the needs of the child in question. AS a result, decisions are being made based on lack of training, comfortability, experience of educators and school teams biases concerning where students with certain behaviors or learning deficits should be educated. This is not a way that we should be making setting and placement decisions.

All parents at one point or another have experienced a level of worry or concern when they know that their child is being left out, excluded, etc. Even something as simple as a few clicky girls not wanting to play with my daughter on the playground makes me feel uneasy. Imagine how a parent of a child with a disability feels when year after year they are told, “it isn’t time yet for your child to be included” OR that their child simply isn’t ready to be in a regular classroom yet. Instead of other children leaving children out, now the adults are the ones facilitating the exclusion…Not with bad intentions, of course. BUT really because the professionals don’t know how to successfully include children with levels of academic, behavioral, communicative or physical needs that are outside of what they have been trained to support or the experiences they have had thus far. When a teacher or other support personnel knows how to and is confident they will be successful with a student, I believe that they will promote the inclusion of students with disabilities to the maximum extent possible, as the law requires (IDEA 2004) . I don’t think teachers wake up in the morning with a vendetta against students on the basis of their disability. When a team member believes that they aren’t able to reach and teach a child under the current circumstances, the solution seems to be to move them with the notion that once they are moved they will get what they need. I am urging teams to take proactive steps and seek consult before deciding that’s what needs to be done. In the majority of the cases I review where behavior is an issue, for example, the student either doesn’t have a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan), the BIP is outdated or the BIP isn’t scientific in nature. The BIP, in the case of students with behavioral challenges, is one example of something that should be implemented with fidelity checks far prior to a more restrictive environment being considered.

I am here to help parents and schools determine if moving a child to another setting is necessary for them to access a meaningful education or if there are supports and aides that we should exhaust in the regular classroom before having that conversation. In 9 out of 10 instances we can make inclusion work successfully with effective team collaboration and exercising best practices. Please reach out to me should you need any help and if you are interested in learning more about Inclusion in Florida and beyond, please search Florida Alliance for Inclusive Education on facebook and request to join the page. Thank you!

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at [email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation. Please feel free to leave a blog comment at the bottom of the page.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739

 

Resources:

 

https://iod.unh.edu/sites/default/files/media/InclusiveEd/researchsupport-final.pdf

 

https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/inclusion/index.html

 

Research(on(Inclusive(EducationApril 10,(2009)- type into google and download the pdf

 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/07419325060270060501

 

http://www.mcie.org/usermedia/application/11/inclusion-works-(2010).pdf

The IEP Is In Effect- Now What?

pointing-out-the-obvious

The IEP Is In Effect- Now What?

You have worked so hard to prepare for your child’s IEP Meeting, it came and went, and now there’s a comprehensive plan in effect that you are hopeful will make a difference. I know that you left the meeting feeling a sense of relief, but for many parents that sense of relief is short lived and is followed by the critical questions of…

  • How will I know that everything in the IEP is being implemented as it states?
  • How will I know if the plan we put together is working or not? Do I have to wait another year to find out?
  • Is there any other way, other than relying on what my child tells me or doesn’t tell me, to know what impact the IEP we wrote has on his/her academic performance and school life?

Some of these questions are of particular concern to parents of students with communication deficits. It’s a helpless feeling. Parents have seen time and time again report cards that don’t reflect the true academic performance of their child, either inflated grades or F’s that are due to behaviors versus knowledge. The good news is that there are better ways to evaluate if the plan in place is working or if it needs to be revised.

Although you won’t be able to know one hundred percent of what your child’s school day entails, there are ways to monitor your son’s or daughter’s progress once the IEP is in place and to set up a system with the school of ongoing data sharing. There are also ways to get a good idea if the services are happening with the frequency, setting and time allotment that the IEP team agreed to at the meeting.

We must begin with some foundational understandings about the ways in which your child’s progress will be assessed…

Schools use three primary means to evaluate a student’s rate of progress

  1. School wide measures, class wide and state-wide measures which are assessments that every student in the school takes unless excused AND
  2. individual ongoing progress monitoring, which is data collected through differentiated instruction, interventions and to monitor IEP goals
  3. Formal psychological evaluations which are typically done every three years and administered by a school psychologist and potentially other members of the team such as a school social worker, counselor/teacher collecting data that is used in the report

Collective measures and components of a formal evaluation such as intelligence and academic norm referenced testing will allow you to compare your child’s performance with that of his or her peers. You will have an idea of where your child falls as compared with the norm for the class, school and state. Even if your child is scoring very low in collective measures, it doesn’t mean that he or she is not progressing and that the IEP is inappropriate. You have to analyze where your child started off and how he or she has progressed since the interventions/IEP was put into place. That is why in the case of most students with disabilities, looking at the individual progress monitoring is a more significant indicator of whether or not the IEP is making a difference.

Now that you are clear on the variety of ways progress is measured, here are some tips to stay informed along the way…

  1. Set up a system where the school shares individualized progress data with you on a monthly basis. Define what will be shared. You want to make sure that the information being sent to you is comparative month to month so that you are looking at apples to apples. A good example of this is analyzing the progress towards measurable goals looking at occurrences of success on five assignments over the course of a four week period. In this case you are tracking a specific skill (i.e. adding fractions) over time and the percent that is being calculated is only valid if the student was given the same number of opportunities each time assessed (ie. 8/10 correct answers, keeping the /10 consistent). In South Florida (Broward, Dade and Palm Beach County) a program called IREADY is utilized to track individual student progress in both reading and math. Counties throughout the country use different skill-based programs, both on and off the computer. You want to request that the school pull a monthly report that shows how your child is progressing in each skill area identified. In addition to the data being collected through interventions, request a monthly update on progress towards measurable goals. Keeping on top of these two sources of information will help you to avoid letting too much time go by and risking long periods of stagnant progress or worse regression. This will help you to be more involved along the way versus reactive.
  2. Get a handle on how your child is doing in school by asking questions and taking a “knowledge inventory” at home through homework checks and learning based activities. You might not have an educator’s degree, but you know your child best. If the school is saying that your son is able to represent equivalent fractions, informally assess if this is the case through a fun baking project together. I’m certainly not asking you to sit down and give your child a test on top of all of the testing that’s already being done at school. There are ways to assess naturally, such as the baking example, that avoid formalities.
  3. Another way to get a better idea of what is going on at the school level is to become a parent volunteer. Obviously, not all working parents are able to break away to do so and I realize that! This suggestion is a luxury for most families. But I would be remise to not include it. Being a parent volunteer will give you special insight into the schools inner workings, scheduling, the most experienced teachers and other resources. It’s kinda like an in road. On the other side, don’t set your expectations so high. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you believe volunteering will automatically lead to a “YES” to all you ask the school to provide. I say this because I have advocated many times for parents that are employed by the school district. It didn’t seem to work in their advantage anymore than any other parent
  4. Talk regularly with your child’s teachers and not only the main teacher, but all the professionals that you come in contact with that spend time with your child. You’ll find out a lot just by asking questions and listening. For example, one of my clients had a “check in” conversation with the general education teacher who told Mom that the speech language pathologist (SLP) only pulls her daughter out for sessions “once in a blue moon”. The IEP mandates three sessions per week. When services are rendered they are supposed to be documented in a log, in fact some districts throughout the nation are now using online systems where the service provider virtually checks in and out at the start and finish of each session. If you believe that services in the IEP are not being implemented correctly, ask the school directly how often sessions are taking place. If your child is communicative, ask him each day if he was pulled for services. Ask the teacher daily. Start to keep record in a log. Definitely do not hesitate to reach out to the school ESE Coordinator for guidance. Consider filing a district complaint if the school is unresponsive. I really recommend consulting with an advocate or educational consultant in the early stages of the school’s noncompliance. Based on individual circumstances, an expert can advise you each step of the way and help you determine which conflict resolution option is the best route of action.

 

We hope this article has helped.

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at [email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation. Please feel free to leave a blog comment at the bottom of the page.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739

Best Practices In Preparing for Your Child’s IEP Meeting

Best Practices In Preparing for Your Child’s IEP Meeting

Best Practices In Preparing for Your Child’s IEP Meeting

Your child has an IEP Meeting coming up and like most parents you want to be as prepared as possible to play a meaningful role in the development of the initial or updated IEP. It’s difficult to know the right questions to ask and what exact steps should guide your preparation. I’m here to help! Here are the top 5 ways that you can prepare for your son/daughter’s next IEP Meeting…

  1. READ the Prior Written Notice – The school is obligated to give you notice approximately two weeks or more before the meeting will take place. On the prior written notice letter you will be able to see WHO will be at the meeting and the PURPOSE of the meeting. This information is very helpful in framing the scope of your preparation.
  2. Write a letter to the IEP team members – requesting a copy of the Draft IEP, if they have prepared a draft IEP prior to the meeting (many times they have). This gives you the advantage of reviewing the recommendations of those who are working with your son/daughter with time to let it all sink in and to consult with an expert if you deem necessary. It’s helpful to compare the current IEP to the Draft IEP. If all of the goals are the same, be prepared to ask why. Print a copy of the Draft IEP provided and make notes on the side of each page. Review the notes that you’ve made the night before the meeting.
  3. Request that the school provide you with – all evaluations, data, ongoing progress monitoring, etc that will be reviewed at the meeting and that will be used as the basis of services, related services, etc that the team is recommending.
  4. The school/district will have their own agenda at the IEP meeting – make sure that yours is heard as well. Prepare your Parent Input section in advance of the meeting. The parent input section is where your voice can be heard and documented year to year. Share both what you are pleased with, the progress that you see your child making in school/home and fully document your concerns. Your input sets the tone for the meeting and reminds the team and yourself that you are an EQUAL member of the IEP team.
  5. Gather all – private evaluations, documents, summaries of service, etc and provide them to the IEP team in advance of the meeting. The team is obligated to consider outside providers reports and professional insights when making recommendations for your child. Especially when there are behavioral challenges interfering with your child’s education and if your child is working with an ABA therapist and/or other qualified behavioral therapist, their input is valuable. Teachers aren’t trained in the science and methodology of behavioral modification. Input from those that you work with outside of school can assist in creating a better Functional Assessment of Behavior and subsequent Behavior Intervention Plan.

If the IEP Meeting has been sprung on you at the last minute and you feel under-prepared to advocate in the way that you want to, even if you have already agreed to attend, sometimes it’s best to reschedule. You can be honest with the school. Let them know that you need more time to review your child’s progress and prepare for the meeting. Schools are obligated to encourage parent participation and should understand your concerns and intentions. If you would like a second set of eyes to review your child’s documents, hear your concerns and address them in advance of the meeting, please don’t hesitate to seek consult. A highly qualified special needs advocate can help you navigate what I call the “special education maze”.

We hope this article has helped.

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at [email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation. Please feel free to leave a blog comment at the bottom of the page.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739

A Change of Approach versus A Change In Placement

A Change of Approach versus A Change In Placement

The number one reason that students with disabilities are moved to more restrictive environments is due to BEHAVIORS that are interfering with their learning or the learning of others in the classroom. Interestingly enough, what has been shown to be most impactful in changing the behavior of students with disabilities during instructional time doesn’t require a separate space to achieve. It’s some of the most simple things that can be done in any classroom. Finding a different instructional approach can negate the need to find a different instructional setting.

Instructional strategies are discrete teaching behaviors that can be used across instructional activities and formats and they do not require a specific setting to be successfully implemented. When a student with a disability is having a hard time progressing in a general education classroom, most IEP teams determine that the next course of action should be a more restrictive environment. I would beg to differ. I think that we need to exhaust the supports available in a general education setting before even considering a more restrictive environment. Some simple changes can make a difference in students who would otherwise be moved to another environment.

The following instructional strategies when done purposefully and with consistency, have been shown to increase academic participation and decrease disruptive classroom behaviors of students with disabilities…

1. Opportunities to Respond (OTR): Numerous studies have shown that low performing students are given less OTR than their higher performing peers. As a result, students with the most needs are given less opportunities for practice and feedback. With less curriculum-based teacher engagement, it is easier for SWD and lower performing students to remain off task and thus increase the problem behaviors. It’s only natural for a struggling student to think to themselves, “if I can’t participate meaningfully, what else can I do?” And thus the cycle of difficult behavior continues.

2. Praise: Lower performing students are less likely to receive praise as compared with their on level and above level peers. Teacher praise has a long history of being recognized as an effective teaching strategy. The more that students are praised, the more that they are engaged. The more OTR, the more chances to be praised.

3. Active Instruction: Active Instruction includes the presentation of academic material via lectures, discussion, demonstration, elaboration on student ideas (Stichter et.al.,2009). The more academic instruction provided, the higher student academic progress. Active instruction is most effectively achieved with students with behavioral/academic difficulties in a small group setting where there are more opportunities to respond than in a whole group setting, which is one of the major arguments for self contained settings. With that being said, we don’t need to move students to another space to achieve a small group setting. Small group settings can be achieved in regular education classrooms through support facilitation, paraprofessional support and increasing active instruction in teacher led centers.

(Good, 1970; Greenwood, Delquardri & Hall, 1984)

Here are some other considerations:

1. Ensure that a student who has behavioral difficulties has a recent Functional Assessment of Behavior and subsequent Behavior Intervention Plan. The parent can request a FBA as a part of a comprehensive evaluation. If there is a BIP in place and it’s not working, the team should reconvene to revise what they are doing. Just like the IEP, the BIP is a workable document. It’s not enough to create a BIP, say it’s not working and then move a child directly to a more restrictive environment.

2. Make sure that accommodations and modifications (as appropriate) are being made to allow access to the curriculum. If a student cannot read the text, it is likely they will misbehave. Increasing meaningful participation decreases unnecessary disruptions. In the example of not being able to read the text, providing the student with the text on tape could be a simple solution.

3. Consider Assistive Technology. Don’t just check a box that says it’s been considered and isn’t necessary. If a student is struggling, there is a good chance that an AT evaluation will reveal technology that could be helpful to increase meaningful participation. Don’t assume nothing will help, you aren’t an AT Specialist! Please be especially proactive in requesting an AT Evaluation with students who have limited communication/language and students who demonstrate difficulty writing or copying from the board. I am learning about new technology everyday and I have been to over 200 IEP Meetings.

4. Universal Design is setting up the classroom in a way that naturally accommodates and gives access to all students. “At its core, UDL encompasses three principles—that instructors should provide students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. In lay terms, this means that, to the extent possible, instructors should (a) provide content or materials in multiple formats, (b) give learners multiple ways to show what they know, and (c) use multiple methods of motivating learners. The concept of UDL originated in 1984, when the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) first focused on how computer technology could enhance learning for students with learning disabilities.” (Kelly, 2014, Association of Colleges and Universities)

In summation, as educators and supporters of inclusive education, we can choose to be creative and think outside of the box in order to keep students with disabilities in their least restrictive environment and to the maximum extent possible learning alongside their non-disabled peers. We need to move away from an all or nothing approach to inclusion and reject this idea that either the student sinks or swims. This is not fair. By being cognizant of the frequency with which we are implementing proven teaching strategies, we can make a difference. No, not every case is so simple as paying attention to how often we are facilitating the above, and yes there are some cases that require a more tailored and multifaceted approach. BUT truly we underestimate how a change in approach and awareness in our practices can be the difference in individuals students lives and ultimately shift the perception that they require another setting to meet their needs.

We hope this article has helped.

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at [email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739