Special Education and Degrees of Accommodation

I have to believe that Special Education is one of the most important responsibilities a school district can have. And probably the toughest because every single child - and their degree of disability - are not the same.

I do challenge some people on Twitter who moan about how terrible the US is doing vis a vis other countries in international testing (that's going to be an upcoming post). If those other countries include India or China, countries like that do NOT educate and test all their children. For the most part, the US does because we believe every child matters. 

We have seen how the Seattle legislative delegation has tried to push for more Special Education dollars and, to some degree, have gotten more. But my understanding is that, at this point, Washington State is paying out at a 15% level of Special Education students in any given district while Seattle Public Schools' level is around 18%. (I would like to see how the new Washington State spending level has affected the SPS budget; I have never yet seen a senior staffer talk about it.)

But a story came across my desk that led me to do some research and ponder the issue of accommodation. While this initial story came from SPS, my research led me to some other somewhat similar stories so I'm going to present this as mostly fiction to start this discussion.

To note, the Wrightslaw blog is the definitive place to go to research special education law.

Here's my case study:

You have a Special Education high school student, who, up until high school, was home-schooled. The student wanted to be around peers and the family enrolled the student at a local high school. The student's disability is visual (but I can't be specific because it's about LED lighting and I haven't found enough research on LED lighting in classrooms).

Most of my research around visual impairment generally talks about use of adaptive technology or audio instructions if the student has difficulty reading a Smart Board. That's not the issue here.

The issue is that the IEP asks/says that the student cannot have lighting coming from computer screens and/or a Smart Board.
Another wrinkle is that this issue around lighting does not extend to the florescent lighting in the room.

From what I have read (and seen lately shopping for glasses), there are "blue light" glasses that help with computer viewing issues. I have also read about students who wear a hat or visor to ward off bothersome lighting.

It's unclear if the student ever tried those two things but the IEP implies that things like that have been tried. 

The IEP asks that neither the teacher nor other students use the Smart Board or students use their personal computers in the classroom. Not even a low-tech overhead projector can be used.

It's quite an interesting idea - that technology does NOT help but rather hurts that student's learning. 

I have seen screen blockers that students can use around their computers during tests. I wonder if that might be of help. 

I can say that in my own schooling, we did not have Smart Boards nor computers and we were able to learn.

However, we are in a time where Smart Board use allows a wider variety of teaching methods including video snippets and interactive lessons. Basically, it's the modern-day chalkboard. I would guess a teacher could use a white board but again, there are fewer things you can do with that than with a Smart Board.

For the sake of argument, I could see where there might be other students with IEPs in that class whose IEPs ask that homework be written on a Smart Board instead of just given verbally. In this case, I guess that would mean a student with an IEP like that could either access the homework assignment via a handout and/or going to a teacher page. 

Summing up, the students in that class will have a fairly different learning experience than that teacher's students in other classes. Does that matter? 

Has anyone ever encountered a situation like this with your child's class? I ponder how very restricted both the teacher and the other students in the class are from using any technology.

I looked up FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) which applies to all students but is most often brought up with Special Education students and IEPs. I found this information from one source - We are Teachers

Here's what We Are Teachers says:

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines what FAPE means for kids with disabilities. In IDEA, the law sets out to make sure that all children with disabilities have FAPE with special education services and supports that meet their unique needs. We want all kids to graduate ready for employment, education, and independent living, and IDEA states that kids with disabilities should receive the same preparation as those without disabilities.

The two areas I want to call out within FAPE are Accommodations and Modifications and where an IEP says "should be managed so that the child can make progress in their least restrictive environment."

Since the IEP defines what FAPE looks like, FAPE looks different for each child. Each district must meet the educational needs of students with disabilities to the same extent they meet the needs of kids without disabilities.

There are explanations in several legal cases including this one:

In Hartmann v. Loudon County (1997), the U.S. Court of Appeals found that inclusion is a secondary consideration to providing FAPE from which a child receives an educational benefit. The focus on inclusion, argued the decision, was recognition that education of the child is more important than the value or social benefit of having children with disabilities interact with nondisabled peers.

 Put another way, the LRE must consider educating children with disabilities with their nondisabled peers as much as possible, but the most important consideration is where the child will learn best.

These issues are both challenging and important. 



Anonymous said…
I personally don’t have a problem dialing back the tech for my child if it’s getting in the way of anothers’ learning. I suspect it’s not great for most children’s learning TBH. These kids have so much stimulus thrown at them all day long and struggle to hold focus. Wouldn’t hurt to work that muscle a little more.

Deep Learning

Amanda F said…
Deep Learning, I tend to agree. But not even having an overhead projector available does limit teachers. And fluorescent bulbs are on their way out and we're moving into an LED world (which I support). Is it possible to have an environment with no LEDs for a child? And even if classrooms are very low tech (which I'm all for) there are going to be situations like required standardized testing, which these days use devices. I don't envy the teacher who is required to implement all these conditions.
Anonymous said…
I am confused as to how an LED screen presents a genuine problem for others such that an entire class and teacher - actually I imagine many classes and teachers wherever the student is in a given hour, is expected to change how they do things. Sounds like junk science to me. Does the district ever just say no to absurd demands for accommodation that impinge on others?
I do agree that less tech might be better. I just thought this scenario intriguing because of the request that covers both the lighting and the teaching. Would SPS do this? No idea but given how many SPS Special Education parents complain about IEPs not being fulfilled, I would be surprised if they did.

Last Anonymous, please give yourself a name/moniker next time, please.
Anonymous said…

I had a coworker who got migraines from particular kinds of lighting. Her ADA accommodation was to wear a visor or find another way to shade the light over her desk (they taped up paper LOL). Re-wiring lights for an entire class does not sound “reasonable” to me, but let’s come to the table and entertain some solutions. It’s attitudes like yours that get employers (and presumably, schools) in trouble.

Are you talking to me, Legal?
Anonymous said…
There are probably some very unusual IEPs, but it doesn’t seem worth spending a lot of time on them, though they make good fodder for those who like to call special education spending wasteful. . Most IEPs are much simpler and require a lot less to accommodate. SPS is still terrible at doing the basics in our experience.

NE Parent
Anonymous said…
NE Parent,

Right on. And a very dumb original post that fails to highlight anything interesting. Seriously? “the rights of light sensitive vs smart boarders”. Just not an issue. Do any SPS classrooms even have smart boards? Not that I’ve seen. And who are “wearetheteachers”. Sounds like a bunch of people with minimal understanding of special education or IDEA making up irrelevant strawmen to justify poor service to the disabled. Are we really supposed to pity the poor teacher faced with the fake smart board problem? The case for including students with disabilities is simply overwhelming. The outcomes for students excluded year after year are dismal, and SPS’s legacy of failing to include students with disabilities in regular education even by national standards poor and has been the subject of corrective action by OSPI on numerous occasions. Of course academic outcomes are a primary consideration. Everyone already knows this. But academic outcomes mean different things to different students and being at standard may or may not be the measure of individual academic success. Exclusionary settings who often have little or no academics also do not achieve academic success by anyone’s measure. The case provided predates the Endrew standard of service delivery which threw out the de minimis standards noted in this post. Students are entitled to meaningful (for them) academics in the least restrictive setting. In Endrews case, it was in a private school.

Concerned Parent said…
So let me get this straight. A student or their family claims that they may not be exposed to LED screens, meaning that the entire class environment must change for the benefit of this student? No projection, no showing of videos, no demonstrations for the entire class unless the teachers are able to return to old technology of whiteboards or blackboards?

What about the impact of this on other students who are best served by modern technology? Does accommodation mean one creates access for a given student, or that every other student's needs as well as modern pedagogy give way to unilateral demands?

Does the district ever actually challenge a request/demand, or just roll-over? Are the parents of other students proactively informed of this change in their kid's classes, or must they learn it in passing, by accident, from casual conversation?

Is such an aversion to LED lighting an objective disorder or a psychological condition best treated rather than accommodated? If the latter, what is being done about it besides possibly creating a suboptimal environment for dozens or hundreds of other students, unilaterally, without informing in advance of the situation being foisted on others. Is this fair? Is it rational? Is it good for anyone? Has the family or their certifying provider(s) actually presented any objective evidence or literature on such a disorder? What is the threshold for proof of a condition's actual existence before imposing a significant duty and burden on untold others? Might this be a situation where the school can't reasonably accommodate such a bizarre and unprecedented set of claims and demands?

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Who Is A. J. Crabill (and why should you care)?

Why the Majority of the Board Needs to be Filled with New Faces