Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Open Thread - Special Education

There is always a thread, in every discussion, about Special Ed so I thought we might just have one just for Special Education.

(Public disclosure; I came into Special Ed late in my older son's life. We only asked for a few accommodations in high school and they were granted. However, I did get an inkling of what might have happened if he had needed more. Additionally, despite letting my son's teachers know about his disability - which he did not choose to disclose to classmates - the very teachers who could have protected him did not. There was something very unkind written about him in his senior yearbook which hurt and puzzled him deeply. This did not have to happen and the manner in which our complaint was handled gave me a taste of what Special Ed parents may go through long-term.)

I only know some basics about Special Education; there are different levels, different ways of supporting those students, programs with special equipment at a few schools, a growing need for autism programs and that many of these students use and need yellow bus service. I recall that Michelle Corker-Curry used to be in charge of this program but I don't know if that is still the case. I know there is a district-wide Special Ed PTA.

Special Ed parents, tell us your concerns. Are programs in the wrong places? What do you need to know in terms of changing the assignment plan? What do you think Dr. Goodloe-Johnson should be doing at this point? Are principals supportive? What would make the biggest difference for you and your child's education?


cpvmac said...

I'm concerned that the District is abandoning our kids in pursuit of expediency and "predictability." Take a look at the proposed new special education student assignment plan and you'll see what I'm talking about. I have written the following to the Supt. and School Board

June 3, 2008

Dr. Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson
Seattle Public Schools
POX Box 34165, MS 32-150
Seattle WA 98124-1165

Re: District Services for Children with High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome (ASD)

Dear. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson,

We are writing today to express our concern with proposed changes to Special Education at the Seattle School District (District). In the quest for cost efficacy and “predictability” in school assignments, the District risks compromising the specialized services needed for our children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.) This change could potentially derail a helpful and successful program.

The Autism Inclusion Program at Lafayette provides an appropriate environment for our daughter Miranda in a general education setting on a daily basis. If the District implements the proposed changes in school assignment, she will be become just another “IEP” kid grouped amongst the diverse population of students receiving special education services at our local school, working daily with “integrated service delivery teams” likely without specialized ASD training. What does a child with ASD have in common with a child with a hearing disability, or a child with a learning disorder? Nothing. So why treat them the same?

Section 504 requires that educators working with students with disabilities must be trained in the area of the student’s disability. Therefore, the Special Educator working with my child shall be specifically trained in Autism Spectrum Disorders. If a special or general educator assigned to work with a student with autism lacks training, he or she needs to request training. The District will have an enormous workload training educators and paraprofessionals about the complexities of ASD.

Where will the District find the trained professionals to help ASD kids at every school? R.L Simpson (2003)[1] notes:

There is overwhelming evidence of a shortage of teachers and other professionals who have the knowledge and skills to serve the needs of children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Indeed, I believe that preparing qualified teachers and other professionals to educate and otherwise support students with autism spectrum disorders is the most significant challenge facing the autism field.

Inadequate or, worse yet, nonexistent training will take us back to the “bad ole days” when ASD children were simply viewed as slow, rowdy, inattentive, disruptive, cry-babies, you-name-it. Last year my daughter’s general education teacher did not understand what made my child different, and this hurt Miranda (diagnosed PDD-NOS.) Thank goodness the Autism Specialist was present and able to intercede.

Iovanonne et al. (2003)[2] states that due to IDEA and related legislation, litigation regarding the education of students with ASD is more common than any other type of special ed litigation. With the number of children diagnosed with ASD growing, the District is expected to provide an appropriate learning environment for these students. As other school districts are improving their Autism Inclusion programs and offering differentiated education for these children, the District is heading in the opposite direction with this proposed change. Furthermore, you risk losing qualified special educators who want to work with children on the Spectrum. We question this regressive step and fear it will imperil our daughter’s chances of success in District schools.

We feel Miranda is getting a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) through the Autism Inclusion Program model. If this changes, we would expect that Miranda would continue to get the social skills training, emotional support, physical therapy, speech and communications therapy and help in other non-traditional areas at our local school, in order to meet the standard of FAPE. Furthermore, we would expect she would receive these services to the same degree and consistency she is receiving now.

We understand that IDEA and other legislation require the District to assess how best to deliver quality instruction to children with special needs. We do not understand why an obsolete technology (VAX) with its shortcomings should undermine a quality autism education program. Children with special needs should not just be assigned a general education seat. At its heart, the District’s Special Education Services mission should be to create a learning environment that helps our children grow and blossom. Autism Inclusion does that. This program provides the daily classroom, playground assistance, and emotional support to help Miranda navigate the perplexing world of social interaction and communication.

We respectfully ask that you retain Autism Inclusion for the benefit of my child, and the many more children with ASD in the District.


Paul and Cecilia McCormick

11260 37th Ave SW

Seattle, WA 98146

206-444-0822 hm

206-595-2366 cell

cc: School Board


[1] Simpson, R. L. (2003). Policy-related research issues and perspectives. Focus on autism & other developmental disabilities

[2] Iovannone, R., Dunlap, G., Huber, H., & Kincaid, D. (2003). Effective educational practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on autism & other developmental disabilities

ksjloz said...

With all respect for the writer of the letter to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, I have to take issue with your focus on saving programs that work for one segment of the population. I respectful ask that we consider the changes to special education in Seattle in a different way.
All children with special needs deserve an Individualize Education Plan (IEP) that is truly written for their needs and trained professionals to meet those needs in the least restrictive environment. They all deserve an opportunity to be included in the general ed classroom in their neighborhood schools to the extent that it is appropriate and comfortable for them no matter their disability. Therefore, it does not make sense to continue with "inclusion” programs that exclude all but one disability. It "does" make sense, however, to use the nature of these successful programs as models. All of our children need and deserve specialists who understand and are able to support their specific needs within their school and in general ed classrooms. And we should be calling on the district to meet these needs rather than focusing on protecting programs that only serve one segment of the special education population. My fear is that these programs perpetuate the myth that only children with specific diagnoses need highly-trained specialists or worse yet, only children who meet a minimum “disability bar” – that is, they are not *too* disabled – can successfully be included in general ed classrooms. This thinking does not get us closer to the heart of IDEA. While we advocate for the needs of our specific children, let’s also not forget to stand together to get special education in Seattle right for all of our children.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, so I'm confused. Is the goal to have the majority of Special Ed students mainstreamed into regular ed classrooms? Are there some programs where this isn't appropriate and are they located throughout the district?

I see the disagreement in the two posts but I'm not sure of the starting point or the end goal.

reader said...

I will repost what I said on "Dr G-J Steps in..." Thread.

Maybe you have to be the parents of children in special ed to know that some children are forever waiting for an advocate. We learned recently that several new special ed programs have been opened in NCLB failing schools. So we read of Dr. MG-J's selective advocacy with sadness. Could be that she just does not know about it so then we have to ask, why are not the people who are forced into making these cynical decisions making it known to her.

ksjloz said...

To answer Melissa's questions: "Is the goal to have the majority of Special Ed students mainstreamed into regular ed classrooms? Are there some programs where this isn't appropriate and are they located throughout the district?"
From Wikipedia: "Least restrictive environment" means that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent possible. They should have access to the general education curriculum, extracurricular activities, or any other program that non-disabled peers would be able to access. The student should be provided with supplementary aids and services necessary to achieve educational goals if placed in a setting with non-disabled peers. Should the nature or severity of his or her disability prevent the student from achieving these goals in a regular education setting, then the student would be placed in a more restrictive environment, such as a special classroom or a hospital program. Generally, the less opportunity a student has to interact and learn with non-disabled peers, the more that the setting is considered to be restricted."

So, the goal is for the district to meet the requirements of the least restrictive environment (as outlined in IDEA) for each student: For some this means full inclusion regardless of disability; for other students full-inclusion in a general ed class room is not the right thing and would hamper their education.

Today, many families in Seattle fear, with changes that are coming, that either their child in a working inclusion program will suddenly get less services or their child in an appropriate self-contained envirnoment will be thrown into general education without appropriate support.

I am saying, and I think the review of Special Ed in Seattle says, that we have to hold the district accountable to the law, which means moving away from "program models" and toward meeting the needs of individual students in least restrictive environments. This is not easy to do and is not cheap, but, done right, it is what our kids deserve.

cpvmac said...

A reading of the "review" of Special Education Student Assignment Plan find its objectives are:

* "right-sized" attendance areas

* Maximize equity of access in the assignment process (lever-pull)

* Minimize investment of time and other resources for computer programming (assignments and transportation)

* Be cost effective and sustainable

Where is the individual? Where is the "appropriate" education? The District may pose this as a move towards the "least restrictive environment" but this appears to be primarily a cost-cutting issue. Pardon my cynicism but somehow I don't believe that teachers will get the training to help special-needs kids, autistic or not.

I bring this up because this issue has a profound effect on the lives of many vulnerable children and their families...

ksjloz said...

I'm totally with you on the cynicism and have major concerns about the district focusing on $$ rather than kids. My point is just that moving away from program models (espcially exclusive ones) and toward integrated services is the right thing for all kids if done right.

parent1 said...

A few clarifying points.

1) The review never said that everyone should be "mainstreamed". It said everyone should have a "seat" in general education. How often a person sits in his "general education seat" is something the IEP team decides. THis is simply the law. Currently, we have students all over the districts denied the right to any access in general education because...well, some teacher and/or principal has decided: No, you have no right to sit in any general education class for any reason. We know we agreed to that on your IEP, but sorry, there's no seat.

2) Specialty programs. Autism programs have never really been exclusive to students with autism. The district is always trying to restrict assignment. In reality, there are students with Down Syndrome, TSS, and no-diagnosis, in autism inclusion and self-contained programs. The programs are good... so, let's get these consulting teachers to stop bullying people. You absolutely can demand to be placed in one of the programs regardless of your disability label. Placement based on disability label is illegal.

3) The real issue is the argument over "natural ratio's" vs "programmed ratios". I happen to think the natural proportions doctrine will be too expensive to implement effectively. People in self-contained programs will lose many benefits they have now: namely diversity of teaching staff and a critical mass of students. People in inclusion programs will suffer because there won't be enough support and/or experienced staff to do a good job. I think we could get at most of the review goals, without killing what's good in the programs.

ksjloz said...

Right on! And for the sake of full disclosure, my child is one of those without autism in an autism inclusion program because we pushed. So although autism inclusion programs are not techincally exclusive they are exclusive by nature of their title and they are exclusive to those who simply don't know to ask or are told "no". The system should not make it so difficult to get the right results for our kids.

AutismMom said...

Funny thing about the review, the district is doing everything to move in exactly the opposite direction. Why?

The district has opened up a whole bunch of new programs in the eleventh hour, without consulting anyone, which are little specialty shops in underenrolled, failing schools. These schools are massively over-represented by special education already. Not only is this a gross civil rights violation, but it creates more siloh's of programs which require students to transfer after a year or so.

Why are the new special education programs, with the most challenged students placed in the most troubled schools? Who does that help? Will autistic Madrona newbies get to have recess? The only reason for these placements is that these are the places nobody else wants to go.... and everybody else has "choice".

SPS: 12.7% special ed students.

Look at the percentages in the new special education homes, where students had 0 choice:
Madrona 19%, grossly unselected
Roxhill 28%
Summit 14%, grossly underenrolled
Cleveland 16.3%, grossly unselected

By comparison, look at schools where programs were NOT placed, who are NOT serving adequate numbers of special education students:

Garfield: 5.4%.
Roosevelt 8.8%.
Ballard 10.3%


In high schools, this failure is really significant, because having 5% points too few students at Garfield amounts to 80 students. 3% (or so) at Roosevelt is around 50 students. This represents many more students than would fill another 2 autism programs in these buildings who are not serving their neighborhood families with autism.

If successful elementary schools have 2 autism programs, then high schools, which are double or triple the size should have 4 to 6 autism (or similar) inclusion programs.

Jet City mom said...

My Daughter who is @ Garfield was in special ed in elementary & middle school, where her IEP was a joke.

Her daily resource time was spent doing homework or reading while the teacher worked with other kids who had behavior problems.

Because she was not getting the help she needed to succeed, & going through channels at the district was a waste of effort, I was forced to pay for outside tutoring & testing to attempt to help her. ( with only slightly better results as I couldn't afford what she needed)

At Garfield, she has a 504 as do quite a few of her friends, they receive a great deal of support from regular classroom teachers- for which I am very grateful, & for my daughter much more support and individualized attention than she ever had with her IEP.

I can't speak to the autism programs, but there are many, many kids who could benefit from teacher training in special need classroom management & these kids are smart and can not only graduate but take AP classes and do well- we need to recognize that not everyone has strengths in every area & that many kids are capable of much higher achievement with appropriate support.

Incidentally- while my daughter didn't come close to passing any of the areas of WASL in elementary and middle school - she did do very well in most areas when she took it in 10th grade after changing to Garfield ( although she didn't pass the math test)

After taking the Pathways in high school and retaking WASL in 11th grade for math, she did very well & has done equally well on her SATs
( although better on ACT)

Unknown said...

My child is grown, but the story repeats itself. We were able to put him in private school, but I have advocated for several students in special ed and what makes my blood boil is the fact that we have to fight for what I children deserve and is mandated by law. Wouldn't be great if we could divert the Mercer Mess Funds to EDUCATION. The lobbying groups for your particular issue should be contacted and a united front is your best approach, a class action law suit is also a possibility.
Why can't we put our money into our most precious assets, our children.