Tag Archives: education

What is FAPE? (Free and Appropriate Public Education)

2 Jun

Text from the Massachusetts DOE/FCSP publication “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education”

FREE AND APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION (FAPE)

A child who is eligible for special education services is entitled by federal law to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE ensures that all students with disabilities receive an appropriate public education at no expense to the family. FAPE differs for each student because each student has unique needs. FAPE specifies that needed services must be provided without cost to the family.

FAPE guarantees that for students who are found eligible for special education, school districts must be prepared to provide services according to an IEP beginning no later than their third birthday. If a student continues to be eligible, services may continue until the student graduates from high school with a standard diploma or turns 22, whichever comes first.

FAPE also means that students receiving special education services have access to and make meaningful progress in the general curriculum (i.e. the same curriculum as students without disabilities) and the right to be full participants in the life of the school. Your child is not only entitled to access the academic portion of school but also to participate in extracurricular and other activities sponsored by the school. Full participation means that students with disabilities are entitled to the aids and services needed to assist them in participating in all areas of school life. FAPE is closely tied to a principle known as the “Least Restrictive Environment” which is described in detail in the next section of this Guide.

The ABC’s of Special Education: Useful SPED Acronyms and Terms (Part I)

31 May

IEP, LRE, BIP, etc…. What do all these acronyms and terms mean?  Here are the definitions for some of the more common terms and acronyms, used by educators during team meetings, but you were to afraid to ask what they mean…  

504 Plan:   A plan developed for a student with a disability that specifies what accommodations and/or services they will get in school.

Accommodation:   Changing the way material is presented, or the environment/setting, or the conditions as needed.

APE:   Adaptive Physical Education or P.E. for students that have a disability that keeps them from participating in P.E..

Assessment:   An assessment is an evaluation or test.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP):   A formalized plan that goal is to change specific negative behaviors a student may have.

Developmental Disability/Developmentally Delayed (DD):   A substantial disability that began before age 18 and is expected to continue.

Direct Services:  Services given to the child either one-to-one (1:1) or in a small group setting.

DOE:   Department of Education

EBD/ED: Emotional/Behavioral Disorder or Emotional Disturbance.   Used when a student has significant problems following the rules and/or in managing their emotions.

FAPE:  Free Appropriate Public Education

FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment

IEP (Individualized Education Program):   A written education plan for a child  developed by a team of  professionals (teachers, therapists, etc.) and the child’s parents.

Inclusion:   To provide sped services to the student in the regular classroom.

LD (Learning Disability):  A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, which may results in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):  The environment that provides disabled students the most amount of access possible to non-disabled students.

Occupational Therapy (OT):   A therapeutic service that specializes in upper arm function, including fine motor skills like handwriting. It also deal with activities of daily living and sensory integration issues.

Physical Therapy (PT):  A therapeutic service where the therapist specializes in gross motor skills such as walking, running, jumping, balance issues, etc.

Resource Room:  A room separate from the regular classroom where students  receive academic assistance.

SLP:  Speech and Language Pathologist

Outside Placements: Pros and Cons

30 May

I think private school placements are right for some children, however they are not necessary for others.  In our situation, the school district had a language-based classroom that fit most of our son’s needs.  It was not a perfect match for him (his area of disability is mostly with the written language), but it fit his needs well enough that we did not feel that he needed to be bused a long distance to a private school.

When making this decision for your child, I would consider the following:

  1. Your child’s disability (severity, chances for success, etc.)
  2. Local public and private schools and their reputation for success 
  3. What programs your district offers (can they meet the needs of your child)
  4. Transportation (length of commute, will you have to provide it)
  5. Your child’s preferences/social network (do they want to go, do they have many developed friendships)
  6. Your ability to be a part of a private school community (setting up playdates, attending after-school events, etc.)

Private schools for special education students are very appealing to many parents.  After years of the public schools trying to force my “square peg” into their “round hole,” I considered a private school placement for my son.  After researching our options and weighing the pros and cons, I came to the decision that I wanted to try to get what my son needed in our public school.  Here is what I considered when making this decision:

  • Many private schools have great reputations and hold a lot of promise and offer hope for our children.  It is very easy to forget that these schools depend on our money, or our school district’s money, to operate.  They hire advertising and publicity firms to help them attract parents.  They spend a lot of money on brochures and websites designed to show them in the most positive light.  Public schools can not do this.  They must operate in the reality of state testing scores, per pupil spending amounts, and town tax dollars.
  • This is not to say that there are not wonderful things happening at private schools across our country.  There are!  Without some of the educational and instructional innovations of private schools, our public schools may look as they did 20 years ago.  Public schools have been forced to change, due in large part to SPED parents wanting alternatives for their children.  Many public school districts are offering programs that were once only available at private schools.
  • I wanted my son to be a member of our community in the same way our older child is.  If he were to be bused to a private school, he would not have that experience.  He would of started and ended each school day with a commute on a van.  I felt our child was too young to experience the delight of morning traffic.  He needs a peaceful morning routine to get his day off to the right start.
  • I thought about what would happen if the public school decided he didn’t need the private program anymore.  Would my son be able to successfully rejoin his peers at the public school after being at a private school?

Before asking, and fighting, for a private school placement for your child, be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully.  Again, get the information you will need to make the correct decision for your child.

What You Can Do if Your Child is Denied SPED Services

30 May

Your child is struggling in school.  You, or your child’s school, has requested that your child be tested to find out if they qualify for special education services.  You meet with the team and are informed that your child does not qualify for services.  It has been determined that your child is making “adequate progress.”  However, your child continues to struggle and is not receiving enough support at school.  What can you do to get the help that  your child needs to make progress?

First, you should know that you can challenge the school’s decision to not provide services; however, consider that the federal law says that even if the child has a qualifying disability they can be denied services if they are making progress in the general education curriculum.  Making progress is a term that can be interpreted differently, but to most schools it means not failing.   As parents, it is beyond frustrating to see our children working very hard to earn a “C”.  We want them to feel successful, be rewarded,  for all the hard work they do.  Eventually, many students give up because they feel that no matter how hard they work, they fail to get the grades they want.  It is very hard to convince a school district to put a “C” student on an IEP, but there are ways you can advocate for your child if they have been denied SPED services.

How to Advocate for your Child After They’ve Been Denied SPED Services:  

 

  1. Gather documents that prove your child is not making the same progress as his peers.  [Ask to see his file and look for reading level scores, benchmark testing results, end of year tests, etc.]
  2. Ask if the school will consider a 504 plan for your child if they denied them an IEP.  [A 504 plan is for accommodations in the general education classroom.  For example, extended test time, less homework, tutoring with the teacher, etc.]
  3. Start being very vigilant about your child’s progress.  [Question the teacher often about grades, assignments, and the progress they are making.  Write notes when homework is to difficult.  Ask for re-testing when they fail a test.  Speak with the principal if the teacher is not accommodating your requests.  Basically, be a pain in the neck so that the school staff begin to understand the level of difficulty your child is having.]
  4. After gathering more documentation, ask for mediation to resolve the dispute with the school. [Documentation being independent testing, a review of your child’s records, notes to and from the teacher and principal, etc.  You will need this information to prove your case with a mediator.)
  5. Tell the school right away (in writing and verbally)  that you disagree with their findings and/or the testing. [By doing this, your opinion goes on the record; and, if you get an independent evaluation, they may have to pay for some or all of it.]
  6. Request that the school do specific evaluations, such as a reading evaluation or functional behavioral assessment. [This will be helpful if your child’s school only performed an achievement test, such as the Woodcock-John or WIAT.]
  7. Tell the school you will be getting an outside evaluation done and they will be testing for specific learning disabilities. [The school must consider the results of an outside evaluation as equally as they consider their own testing results.  Also, depending on your income, they will be required to pay for all or some of the testing to be done.]

Remember that the best way to advocate for your child is to be armed with a lot of information.  Know all that you can about them as a learner, understand your child’s and your own rights, and know about the SPED process.  Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education Notice of Procedural Safeguards (in plain English: A Guide to Your Rights and Your Child’s Rights)  Guide to Procedural Safeguards

Separate Classrooms for Children with Special Educational Needs (Special Education Programs)

29 May

 

NOTE:  This post is intended to answer the questions of parents of children that are not cognitively impaired by a neurological problem or brain injury.  If you or your child’s school feel that they may benefit from a separate classroom or program, you may be wondering what types of programs are available to them.  Most districts have some special education programs that they run themselves.  They may also be part of an educational collaborative, where several public districts share the costs of running the sped programs.  The last resource is a privately run program that the district pays to send a student to.  The biggest caution that I have for  parents, is to ask if the district mixes students that are cognitively impaired with students that are not cognitively impaired in separate classrooms (especially if your child is not cognitively impaired).  This is not considered best educational practice mostly because these two groups have very different needs in the educational setting.  Also know that their is a difference between a cognitively impaired child and a cognitively delayed child and the districts should usually not be designing one program to serve both types of children.

Before Agreeing to a Separate Program (or Classroom):

  • Observe the program at least once (while students are present)
  • Ask the teacher questions about how the class is run, the expectations for the students, and the specialists that work with her
  • Ask if cognitively impaired students are included in the program (if your child is not cognitively impaired)
  • Ask if there will be mainstreaming during the day
  • Ask about what comes next (is the program available at the middle and high school level)
  • Make your goals for your child clear to the team (if you want them fully mainstreamed as soon as possible, let that be known)
  • Research what outside programs are available and how those programs run
  • Find out what is considered the best interventions for your child’s disability
  • Ask the district representative about other available programs (you always want to know everything that is available so you can make a good decision)

Here are three of the most common types of separate programs that both public and private institutions run for children with special educational needs:

Programs for Emotionally and/or behaviorally Impaired Students [Emotional,/Behavioral Disabled (EBD) Classrooms]

These are substantially separate classrooms for elementary, middle and high school students with social, emotional, and/or behavioral problems that prevent participation in the general education setting. The programs are designed so students develop the skills and strategies needed to take part in a full academic school day, accessing general education curriculum in the least restrictive setting. Mainstreaming and inclusion opportunities are usually provided to the maximum extent possible depending on individual student progress.  Social workers, psychologists, adjustment counselors, and behavioral consultants may work with students.  In addition to academics, students will receive stress/anger management instruction, social skill building instruction, and behavior improvement plans.  The staff will work on replacing negative behaviors with more socially acceptable behaviors.  The goal is to move these students back into the general education setting as soon as possible with a new set of skills and strategies to help them be more successful.  The environment is purposefully less stressful, more supportive, and highly structured.  Some EBDs are for students that are cognitively impaired and  the academic part of this program may be much different from the general education curriculum.

Parents should ask their school district if they include cognitively impaired and non-cognitively impaired students in the same program.  It is not considered best practices in SPED to do this and it may be a negative step for your child if they are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case in your district, you can ask that your child be mainstreamed for academics and still receive the therapeutic aspects of the program.  You can also ask for an outside placement in a private school that is for emotionally/behaviorally impaired students that are not cognitively impaired.

Programs for Students with Language-based Disabilities [Language-Based (LB) Classrooms]

There are difference among these programs as well.  Some LB programs are specifically designed for children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), such as Autism or Aspergers and are for severe disabilities marked by communication, social and cognitive delays. Other LB programs are for children with PDD that do not have cognitive delays.  The programs foster independence in communication and enable the learners socially, functionally and academically as they pursue the goal of inclusion.  Other LB classrooms focus on specific areas of language, such as reading and/or writing, and are more geared toward dyslexic students that are not cognitively impaired.  These programs will have intensive instruction in reading and writing, as well as oral communication.  Social workers, reading specialists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and occupational therapists may work with students in these programs.

Parents should ask about the types of students serviced in the program that has been recommended for their child.  Again, it is not best practice to mix cognitively impaired students with students that have learning disabilities but are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case, be sure to schedule an observation of the classroom before agreeing to it for your child.  Ask for an outside placement if you do not think the academics are challenging enough for your child.

Learning Centers

Usually for middle and high school students, learning centers offer academic support for students that are partially or fully mainstreamed.  Tutoring, editing, review, study skills, and behavioral or emotional support are offered.  Some students spend a significant part of thier day in a learning center, while others spend only one period there.  Sometimes other specialists work in the learning center, such as the guidance counselor or a social worker.  Some learning centers provide life skills or vocational training to students.  Before placing your child in a learning center, find out about the program and what types of students it serves.

Does my child really need an IEP?

28 May

Does my child really need an IEP?

This is a question that many of us have wondered about. We worry that by allowing the school to give our children special education that they will be labeled and tracked for the rest of their school days.  We wonder if they will be denied by colleges if they see SPED on their records.  What will the other children think and say? As parents, we worry about the lasting effects of special education on our children.  Stereotyping, assumptions, bullying, and poor self-esteem are some of the negative things we hear about special education.  So you ask, “Is all of this worth allowing the school to put my child on an IEP?”  If you consider the benefits that your child may receive from being on an IEP, you may decide the answer to your question is yes.

What are the positives  if my child were put on an IEP?

While it is true that sometimes people make assumptions (or stereotype) children in special education, most educational professionals are aware that children with disabilities have strengths as well as their weaknesses.  When an IEP is written for your child, there will be a specific place where the team will write your child’s strengths.  These strengths will be reported by you, the teachers, and the specialists who tested your child.  The IEP should be designed to work off of your child’s areas of strength.  Without the IEP to guide them, many general education teachers may never get to the point where they even discover your child’s strengths because they are so focused on catching them up in their areas of weakness.   The weakness becomes the focal point for instruction, not your child’s strength.

Yes, it is also true that children in special education are victims of bullying.  However, in recent studies it has been found that 1 in 4 of all children are victims of bullying at some point in their childhood.  Bullying has become a hot topic in education now.  Schools are working on coming up with prevention plans for all children.  In Massachusetts, a bullying prevention law was recently passed in congress.  Because of the increase of inclusion programs for special education students, children are more accepting  of a child’s differences than they were in the past.  Children and adults with disabilities are no longer hidden away, they are involved in the school and general community.  While every parent should stay vigilant about bullying, I would not deny my child services because I thought they may get bullied.  There are ways to prevent and stop that problem if it were to occur.

While poor self-esteem is a definite concern for any child that struggles in school, giving a child help usually does not cause a child to have low self esteem.  In fact failing school or struggling with grade-level work is more likely to cause the low self-esteem of a child with learning disabilities.  Children are happy when they feel successful, when they are accomplishing their goals, and when they are not struggling.  Receiving more time from teachers, instruction that is at their level and tailored to build off their strengths will only help to raise the child’s self-esteem.  Another important consideration is that special education services are a matter of confidentiality.  It is not noted in a child’s permanent record or on their report cards that they are receiving special education services.  This information is kept in a separate file and not shared with staff that does not work directly with your child.

If my child’s IEP is carefully planned, written, and carried out, what could be the benefits?

  • Lower teachers to student ratios (more time face to face with the teacher)
  • More time given for review of curriculum (this is extra help for the child)
  • Special testing accommodations (no time limits, use of reference sheets, use of a scribe)
  • Accommodations in the classroom (less homework, use of a spell checker, books on CD)
  • Specialized instruction (Wilson Reading, Orton-Gillingham, Touch Math)
  • Special therapies (physical or occupational therapy, social skills groups)
  • Use of non-standard accommodations (sensory stimulation, fidget-toys, seat cushions, behavior modification plans)
  • No cost summer program
  • Accountability (progress reports, frequent assessment of goals, yearly team meetings)
  • Confidentiality

While special education is not right for every child, it is exactly what others need to be successful. Consider the positives as closely as you consider the negatives when you are deciding whether to give your consent.  Again, I suggest you do your research about your child’s disability, take the time to visit the school and see their special education program, and know what options are available to your child before you make any decisions.

NOTE:  If you feel your child needs special education services and was denied by the school district, there are things you can do to try to get your child the help they need.  I discuss this issue further in What You Can Do if Your Child Has Been Denied SPED Services .

What is Special Education? (Types of Placements for Your Child)

27 May

Learn about how special education services are delivered in the public school system now, as compared to just twenty years ago. 

Special education is individualized, specialized academic instruction for students that have a qualifying disability.  Basically, it is giving a student what they need to achieve to their greatest potential.  So why do so many people have a negative reaction when they hear the words special education?

 It may conjure up images from their own childhood; perhaps they recall children in hidden classrooms, never mixing with the rest of the student body.  They may remember these students being bullied and alienated at school or in the neighborhood.  It is true that in the not so distant past, special education was not what most of us would want for our children.  However, much has changed!

Special education as we know it today has only been around since the 1970’s, but it has gone through several major overhauls in the past 30 years.  Once, special education was one size fits all.  That meant all the children with physical or learning differences were kept together in one room, while the rest were taught the curriculum.  That is not the case now. In the 1990’s special education made a shift toward mainstreaming, or including children in the regular general classroom as much as possible.  This means that many children that would’ve been put into separate classrooms, away from their peers, are now being educated in the general classroom.  It turns out that this model of special education benefits not only the child with special needs, but also the typical students.  Children are seen as individuals, with different needs.

Some children do not benefit from mainstreaming or inclusion, they need more intensive, therapeutic instruction that needs to be delivered in a separate classroom.  However, these students are not hidden away in the bowels of school buildings anymore.  All efforts should be made to have separate classrooms mixed in with general classrooms.  Some students need to be educated in specialized schools because they need a wrap-around approach to their education.  There are many ways that districts deliver special education services to students.  Here are the 4 methods used in public school districts:

Full Inclusion:  In this model, the general education (gen. ed.) teacher and a sped teacher collaborate in the gen. ed. classroom.  This model can look different in different schools.  Sometimes a sped teacher is leading a small group within the classroom, other times the sped teacher is assisting the gen. ed. teacher.  The student will receive accommodations, changes in the classroom environment, that will help them access the gen. ed. curriculum (Eg. Have the student sit closer to the teacher).  Sometimes the curriculum will be modified for the student so they can complete the same or similar activity as the rest of the class (Eg. Give the student less problems to solve).

Partial-Inclusion (Pull-out):   Schools will have designated areas (usually called resource rooms) where service is given to sped students only.  The students will leave their gen. ed. classroom during the subject area that they need assistance in and go to the resource room to receive their instruction.  Sometimes the instruction is very similar to what the gen. ed. students are learning, other times it is not.  Students are taken to the resource room for various reasons.  Some common reasons for using this model instead of full-inclusion is that the student’s instructional level is well-below the grade level, the student requires a different type of program (especially true for students with reading disabilities) than the other students are using, or the student requires a small group setting with a slower pace and frequent review.  Many resource rooms have more than one staff member working with students, so the students get more teacher time.

Substantially Separate Classrooms: Classrooms for children that benefit from a small group setting for most of the day.   Usually there is more than one adult in the room so students get a lot of one-on-one instruction.  Students in these classrooms are usually mainstreamed for a small part of the day (gym, music, art, etc.).  The room is usually operating much differently than a gen. ed. classroom, using more therapeutic programs and highly specialized instruction methods.  Usually substantially separate classrooms include students that all have the same or similar disability.  The students in these classrooms usually have significant difficulty accessing the gen. ed. curriculum, but they may not necessarily be cognitively impaired.

Outside Placement:  Sometimes a district does not have the facilities, staff, or resources to service a student.  In that case, schools will place the student in an outside placement.  An outside placement will be in a different school, either publicly funded or private. A publicly funded outside placement will typically be an educational collaborative.  A collaborative is several school districts pooling  funds, staff, and resources to offer services to their most disable students.  Sometimes the services are provided in a public school building, but usually the collaborative will have its own space.  Sometimes, districts will pay to send students to a privately funded school because they do not have the ability to educate the student in their district or in a collaborative.  Districts use this option as a last resort because it can be very costly.  The school must pay for the tuition and the transportation fees.  In certain rare instances a district will split the cost of a private outside placement with the parents.

Because special educators work to meet the individual needs of their students, there is not one model of service delivery that will benefit all children.  It really depends on the needs of the child, the degree of disability, and preferences of the child’s family.  When you are considering what type of placement is best for your child try to put your own bias aside.  Forget what you felt like when you were a child.  Instead, investigate the placements available at your child’s school.  Talk to the teachers, observe the settings, and consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  If they work better in a small group with more teacher supervision, then a partial-inclusion program may be best for them.  If your child requires unique instruction methods most of the time, a separate setting may make sense.  Try to keep an open mind and arm yourself with information.

IEP Process Guide

26 May

This is a guide to the IEP process that is published by the Massachusetts Department of Education.  Some laws and procedures may be different in some states, however, states are bound to the federal laws of IDEA.  Your state probably has a guide similar to this one on their state department of education website.  IEP Process guide