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Sunday, June 02, 2013

State sets deadline for Seattle Special Education

The Seattle Times reported today that the OSPI is giving Seattle Public Schools eighteen months to correct non-compliance in Special Education or lose federal funding.

Items of special note from the Times story:
  • Doug Gill, the state’s special-education director is quoted as saying "At some point you have to do the right thing." You may be surprised to learn that point doesn't come at the beginning, but only after several years of consistently doing the wrong thing. He makes it sound like doing the right thing is a great burden to him - or at least a severe inconvenience. What's he getting paid to ignore problems for years until the feds get involved?
  • "School Board member Michael DeBell said the board should have made special education a higher priority sooner." Gee, if only someone had told them about the problems. You know, someone other than parents, IAs, teachers, and state and federal regulators. The only sources they regard as credible is the superintendent, the superintendent's cabinet, and the Alliance for Education.
  • The state is requiring Seattle to establish a plan to fix the problems, but I notice that the state isn't requiring Seattle to enact the plan or implement it effectively. They only have to write the plan; they aren't required to deliver outcomes.
  • Much of the trouble is rooted in the obscure lines of authority and responsibility. The special education department has no authority in a school, only the principal does. So the people with the responsibility for assuring the services are not the people with the authority to provide them. Yet another lesson in the need for responsibility and authority to be assigned together. That's pretty basic management, so this is another example of poor management.
Special Education, by the way, is not a Board priority this year, except as an element of equitable access. At the Board Retreat it was barely mentioned. The Strategic Plan makes little reference to it other than in the context of equitable access and academic assurances. None of the metrics for the Strategic Plan - and there are dozens and dozens of them - have anything to do with Special Education. Not one of the metrics on the proposed academic scorecard references Special Education. It simply is not on the radar.

All we know about the new delivery model for Special Education is that it has these labels:
Resource, Access, Behavior, Contained, and Distinct. The design is not finalized and it is subject to collective bargaining with the SEA. So we really don't know anything about it, but we're supposed to be confident because the institution that has consistently mucked it up and ignored it for years is now, just now, going to get serious about it. Yeah, right.

23 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Once again we see that there are only three ways to get the District's attention:

Money - threaten their revenue or offer them new revenue

Bad Press - shame them in the media

Litigation - sue them or threaten to sue them

Being right doesn't help you if you don't have one (preferably two) of these three levers. They can't even hear you if you don't have one of these.

Anonymous said...

If it is true that Special Education is still not in the Strategic Plan explicitly as reported here from the Board Retreat, the District has wasted a whole lot of sped families' time. In March the SPED PTSA hosted a special session devoted entirely to the Strategic Plan. Clover and another colleague attended and for over one hour heard the concerns of over 60 PTSA members. The first and foremost concern was that SPED isn't even in the current District ScoreCard. (Take note of that, Michael DeBell.) Participants asked that that be changed. Clover and her colleague agreed. Participants asked for explicit incorporation of SPED into the Strategic Plan with explicit indicators and benchmarks. Clover made a promise to deliver this information to the "drafting team" whatever that is. Participants emphasized that subsumed under rosy vision statements as in the current Strategic Plan, the results for SPED were almost exactly nil and the OSPI findings --so many years late as they- bear this out. I hope that somebody in the SPED PTSA contacts the District to clarify the status of SPED in the Strategic Plan and to make sure that the District does not once again waste the time of families on engagement opportunities that turn out to go nowhere.

seeker

Melissa Westbrook said...

This is interesting in light of the Board retreat that Charlie and I both attended yesterday. (And, to his credit, Dean McColgan, one of the candidates for DeBell's seat. He stayed the whole day. Smart move.)

I did meet Ms McWilliams who seems bright and caring (and kind of warm and fuzzy which I think is a nice thing in a Special Ed director - she, too, has a special needs child who is grown now).

Funny that DeBell would be the director quoted as he has consistently complained about Special Ed costs through the years. I don't know if he was frustration over the high costs versus outcomes or what but he seemed to bring it up a lot. (The costs, not the outcomes.)

I'll be writing a wrap-up of the portion of the retreat I was at (from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm - it went until 5 pm).

But I'm with Charlie; the district cannot keep saying to auditors "we know and we will do better" - it would take the loss of funds to make them wake up. Problem is, losing those funds would hurt kids.

That the district seemed to go out of its way to allow a Special Ed student and her mother to be publicly named in district documents (a settlement) recently, points to the dangers of any Sped family who might go to court. While it is entirely possible for people to find out names, the district sure didn't need to make it any easier.

Charlie is also right in who the district seems to listen to. I'm sorry but I know every Director has heard from Sped parents and the Sped PTA. These concerns are not made up or exaggerated.

mirmac1 said...

Melissa, I was bemused that, of any board members quoted (and I thought the Board President was the go-to Board media mouthpiece, unless that was only while DeBell was Bd President...), Michael DeBell would undergo an overnight conversion with respect to special education. He, along with his handmaidens Duggan Harmon and Ron English, essentially carry out a one note campaign against special ed: "quite spending levy money for THOSE students", even though our students bring both levy, and nearly 200% ed funding to each school. In DeBell's view, those "other" students (ELL, special ed) have "their" money and the rest goes to everyone else. To bad every court in the land says he's full of BS.

And, no, there is no legal way for anyone to find out names (unless they want to go to court and even then it will likely fail). I'm amused that, where Shaw was starting off last week with a piece on the special ed settlement with one family, once she figured out she'd step in doo-doo following up English's illegal disclosure of the family's personally-identifiable information, she spun it into reporting on the actual news-worthy OSPI action. I can't wait for OSPI to slap English's hand for breaking FERPA laws.

BTW, one of the OSPI findings has to do with Ballard's creative use of special education funding to pay for general education. Oops.

Anonymous said...

All we know about the new delivery model for Special Education is that it has these labels: Resource, Access, Behavior, Contained, and Distinct.

The new plan for special education service delivery really has been widely vetted, and is the result of broad stakeholder invovlement. It is unique in that regard. An unprecedented number of families have represented students, and have authentically engaged the community. Both SEAAC and special education PTSA have seen the presentation. Why do people who don't bother to go to any of these meetings, then complain that they don't know about them? The only question now is how will those service areas be funded, and that's a matter for the CBA.

Implementation is something else. Until principals and ed directors truly accept students with disabilities as their job, and as general education students first and formost, special education will always be an expensive step child. If general educators can continually be allowed to kick the can, special education costs will be high, and results will be low. If ELL students are always dumped into special education - for language disabilities (who knew Spanish was a disability?), their outcomes will suffer too, and special ed costs will be driven up. If schools continue to have 0 tolerance behavior policies with no regard for individual behavior intervention plans, students will wind up in the most expensive special education programs available, including residential placement. If the district bends to those who support high levels of tracking, for students well within the average range, special education students will forever be stuck in "general ed" classes that are really highly concentrated with students with disabilities and behavior problems. If Ballard High School, and other schools, continue to drain off special education funds to use for other purposes, special ed will appear to have large costs. That's because it's being used for everything under the sun - that nobody really wants to do.

"Special education" can not fix those things. Those things must be fixed by everyone.

-sped parent

mirmac1 said...

Dam straight sped parent.

"that's a matter for the CBA". While Tolley sees fit to dismiss the year-long, collaborative effort to envision special education(after MGJ's deconstruction of same) by saying "it's up to collective bargaining", I believe Mr Banda understands it is up to the will of district and building administration to see that the values of ABCD (Access, Behavior, Contained and Distinct) are carried out with fidelity. CBA negotiations are about ratios, not vision.

Granted, I'm not one for alliteration over substance, but the ABCD model returns us to a predictable regional model that, in my view, is vastly more helpful than the half-baked ICS.

MGJ's trashing of SpEd has been outed by OSPI's critical review. Marni Campbell was a key player in that fallacy. Enfield paid lip service while she tried to shoehorn her way into the supt position.

I believe we are on our way out of this mess.

onthefly said...

This is OSPI's dog and pony show being staged purely for political reasons.

OSPI doesn't know its brain from its butt. Their job is to make it look like they're actually doing something to justify all those taxpayer dollars. They don't care who they have to harass to make it look good.

Seattle's the biggest district and it has a hometown newspaper that hates public education so it's an easy target. OSPI's job is to persecute for political reasons and the Times believes its their job to fling enough poison to eventually tear it all down. Neither organization cares at all about children or special education.

That being said, special education in SSD has been such a low priority for so long that it really has become a quagmire. At best, there has been no leadership in special ed. and at worst under some directors we've had HORRIBLE leadership for decades.

What's pushed all this to the breaking point is that IDEA law has now made it irresistibly easy for parents to file complaints over ridiculous minutiae. SpEd administration's response has always been to push blame down to the lowest rank and file employee in the pecking order -- from the district legal staff to the directors, to the consulting teachers to the principals to the real professionals working in the trenches.

The generals have no idea what battlefield conditions we live in while we front-line grunts endure 60 hour work weeks and occasionally impossible parents (the SpEd PTSA represents primarily people with chips on their shoulders, not the vast majority of parents).

It's always easier for admin to give parents what they want, no matter how unfair or ridiculous. It's no skin off an administrator's nose. They don't have to follow through... the front-line grunts do.

It's always easier to blame the people at the bottom than actually fix the situation. As a front-line professional, you're always damned if you do and damned if you don't -- give a kid too much service or a service the district doesn't want to pay for and you're screwed.

Don't give the service the parents want, and parent complains to administration and administration's always predictable is to blame the front-line employee.

Now a lot of parents don't even bother talking to the teacher or administrator. They go right to OSPI and it's obvious why they do -- it works every time.

OSPI uses its regulatory authority to bully any given school district into doing whatever they say -- regardless of whether it's right or not.

Remember, OSPI is an agency run by an elected official. Top OSPI positions are political appointments. Doug Gill better make his boss look good or he's out of a job. So he appoints himself the guardian of all that's good. There are a lot more voting parents than special education teachers.

I don't know anybody who went into special ed. who wanted or expected an easy job. But most of us also didn't know we would be caught in the middle between so many truly angry parents and such cowardly, incompetent administrators who are supposed to help and support us in doing our jobs.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to read the report. Can someone post the link?

Looking

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a pathetic excuse for a public employee. Really? The entire PTSA is made up of malcontent parents, who have no reason for discontent? I've heard just the opposite. SPED PTSA is a group of pushovers. The truth is, it's a PTSA with diverse membership. Really? OSPI gives parents everything they want? Please give us 1 example. Please give us even 1 thing OSPI has ever done for parents. It's true that filing complaints is easy, and there are many frivolous complaints but parents usually lose OSPI complaints. When they win, it has never been much. Usually, "Here, have another IEP. (doesn't matter that the family has already had 20 IEPs that haven't been followed."). After that it's "Here, have some training. (Doesn't matter that people who don't want to be trained won't learn anything, or that training rarely amounts to anything positive.)" Even this finding is pretty weak. It's mostly about getting paperwork straight, not about outcomes. Eg. Get IEPs done on time. (There's no test for people actually DOING anything on the IEP) There's no finding about academic or job outcomes over the long run. There's no finding about basic discrimination.

Onthefly, by people in the trenches, who supposedly get so screwed, I assume you mean teachers. I assume you're one because you say "our jobs". You seem to lack even a basic understanding of responsibility. Special education teachers are responsible for writing IEPs, and for listing needs. As the author, you have the MOST power over what goes into that document. If you fail to list student needs, that's on you. You are only caught in the middle when you fail to authentically participate. When you fail to acknowledge student need, you set yourself up to fail. All you can do is honestly write IEPs (hardly ever done) and honestly state the limits of what you can do. The only thing required of you is honesty. Is that so hard? Principals and administrators are not typically "cowardly". If you have honestly documented everything, then parents should be happy, because the ball is in their court to find solutions.

My experience is that most people are very happy with their special ed teachers - unless they are no good. Then they are "angry parents". I, for one, LOVE my kid's special education teacher and would do anything I could for her.

-sped parent

Disgusted said...

"School Board member Michael DeBell said the board should have made special education a higher priority sooner" ... Says the guy that thinks the board should be completely hands off.

mirmac1 said...

The report will be posted as soon as SPS hands it over.

onthefly, I'll assume that you haven't read the report otherwise you wouldn't spout such nonsense. There have been some citizen complaints that have led to major corrective actions. For example, sufficient related-service providers must be hired to actually deliver the services students need. And the district must put in place financial controls to show that money intended for the excess cost of special education actually is used for that purpose. Finally, Ron English and crew must put in place mechanisms to ensure student specific violations or systemic issues must not recur.

The bulk of the findings indict central staff. Of course, in the instances when IEPs and evaluations are not prepared, or SDI nonexistent, well that's on the building staff - principal on down.

Unknown said...

I was interviewed for this article. I have read the report. To anyone who has been following this issue, the report isn't really that surprising. Aside from the obvious message that the report paints of a system that has shirked its responsibilities to students with disabilities, the message moving forward is that there is no system in place to prevent many of these issues from happening again and again. That's scary.

I feel that Stacy McCrath-Smith has made some important improvements in special education. She has made some proactive changes to better address some of the compliance issues and has also scheduled a much needed training for principals. I am interested to see how the new model of Stacey as the professional development quarterback and family interface and Zakiyyah McWilliams as the compliance specialist plays out.

Personally, the most surprising quote of this article was the one from Director DeBell. At every meeting I have been at, whenever the topic of special education comes up, he always adds some comment about how special education spending needs reining in. And it was to Mr. DeBell in particular, that I addressed my comment about who is neglecting their duty to these students.

I think it is good that the board is finally seeing fit to include special education in their strategic plan. Since I haven't seen the plan, I can't comment more on that. But I would like to see a lot more of inclusion of special educaiton from the board, as well SPS administration and building administration. Whether Ms. McCrath-Smith and Ms. McWilliams can build on this year's improvements depends on it.

Charlie Mas said...

Does anyone have a link to the report?

mirmac1 said...

Not yet, but I will inquire with the public records officer.

mirmac1 said...

Here is the OSPI Special Education Program Review Report. I count 73 findings. This one is the most disturbing to me:

"During the onsite visit held on November 7, 2012 a dispute resolution systems analysis interview was conducted with two members of the Office of General Counsel. When asked about mechanisms to prevent recurrence of student specific violations and system issues, district (legal) staff members acknowledged the importance of district-wide oversight in this area but were unable to provide specific steps or procedures to confirm implementation of control mechanisms that could identify and prevent recurring violations or system issues at the district and building level." Big FAIL here!

Unknown said...

@mirmac1,

Yes, I would say that was the overarching theme of the entire report, "Lots of problems, no systems in place to prevent recidivism."

Anonymous said...

Well, what are parents supposed to do if a school or system is STILL violating these findings. What if students STILL continue to have 0 access to general education, or 0 access to the defunct inclusion programs (that really still exist, if you're in the know). What if parents need inclusion programs in secondary schools, but are assigned somewhere that doesn't have one? ??? How do we use this report?

-frustrated

Anonymous said...

Frustrated - good questions. Will the District be releasing any info about how it intends to respond to these findings? Funny thing, that Linda Shaw's article characterizes the corrective actions as mostly busywork. Didn't she read the report? Didn't these things jump out at her, in terms of how the district makes or breaks the public trust by having a legal department that is so ineffective and aimless they don't even have a system to prevent repeat violations? Isn't that a journalist's job, to notice and report on how our public servants serve the public good?

mind is blown

Anonymous said...

I agree with Linda Shaw. I haven't read the whole thing because it's nearly impossible to read it sideways. But, most of issues are about paperwork: getting it in, getting the right number of bell minutes to line up. To my mind, that fundamentally isn't the issue. AT. ALL. The real issue is no focus on outcomes. No focus on quality. And that simply isn't in there. Because, all the bell times can add up - and the issues will not have been addressed in any way.

frustrated

mirmac1 said...

frustrated,

Download the pdf and rotate it.

A regulatory agency's report will not be pro-active; it will, by design, be reactive.

The OSPI report indicts the district on minutia AND over-arching problems.

SEAAC and the Special Education PTSA will be "leveraging" (to use DeBell and Carr's favorite term) this report to get some actual results. As we all know in our democracy: the little people count for crap. Once the big boys are involved, Ooowie! stand back!

Seriously, as one of the biggest skeptics on this blog, I believe this will help families who have been stomped by the gate-keepers.

Unknown said...

This seems to be a good news to hear to all of the students in the state. From this, they will be able to grab now their wide opportunities to set their mind on the right education that they wish to have, despite of the difficulties they were suffering.

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Anonymous said...

What is the status of the district's correction actions? It is my understanding that OSPI rejected the district's proposals as of June 30th. "frustrated" - you think the issues are mostly about paperwork because that is what McCrath-Smith has been putting out. I believe the Special Ed PTSA or another organization has analyzed the OSPI findings in detail. They are very far from paperwork minutia. Maybe somebody can provide a link to that analysis.

Reader

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