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Directors Corner September 2018

September 27th, 2018

As I sat down to write this month school has been open for a bout two weeks we have been to the Back to School meeting with most of the state’s Special Ed Directors, and the number of calls are up as families run into the issues that come with the start of the new year.

One of the more common problems that seems to show up every year centers on school resources and especially starting the year without the related service providers our kids need. One mom called to ask what can be done because for the third year in a row her son’s school had no speech and language pathologist and the school was unsure when she would be replaced. Another had gotten a call two weeks before school to say the Occupational Therapist had taken a new joband t would take at least a few weeks to replace her. Three days later she was called again, the speech teacher had also left.

This is a tough problem. Our kids need and are entitled to the services these folks provide, but we have little leverage to insist the schools provide them when they lose personnel who are difficult to replace. Worse, if we push too hard we risk alienating administrators who may actually be working very hard to solve the problem.

So, what is to be done? One solution would be to set up regional collections of professionals who could be on retainer and available to fill needs in a short time. Connecticut has six Regional Educational Service Centers (RESCs) who may be able to administer this. All that is needed is the will and the understanding of the need to fund a solution.

There is something you can do to help this and other chronic problems we face. Next month the Bureau of Special Educations and the RESCs working with CPAC are having a series of Regional Special Education Forums in each of the six regions. You can find more information about these forums at : http://www.cpacinc.org/2018/09/open-forum-for-parents-of-students-with-disabilities/or call us for more information.

These forums are designed to give parents the opportunity to discuss and highlight the issues they and their children face in schools. Each region will have tow meetings one in the morning and one in the evening, and as long as you are willing to drive a little you are not limited to attend only the forum in your region.

Things get better when parents speak out about what is going on and offer suggestions on how to make things better. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and share your knowledge and experience so those at the state, and those who work to provide services in your area will be sure to do their work knowing what families need.

Open Forum for Parents of Students with Disabilities

September 26th, 2018

Open Forum for Parents of Students with Disabilities

The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE)
and the RESC Alliance invite parents of students with
disabilities to participate in regional forums to obtain
feedback and input on special education systems,
processes, and services. The CSDE is committed to
ensuring that students with disabilities receive access to
the services and supports that they are entitled to under
the law. These regional forums will provide parents with
the opportunity to share their experiences with the Special
Education Bureau Chief in a structured environment to
discuss the most pressing needs of the special education
community in Connecticut.

The parent forums will consist of group conversations
facilitated by special educators from Connecticut’s Regional
Education Service Centers (RESCs). The forums were
planned with the intent of being responsive to the needs of
the participants, however facilitators may ask for feedback
on specific special education issues in order to inform the
State Advisory Committee on Special Education (SAC) and
the CSDE’s Bureau of Special Education. The forums will
also serve as an opportunity for parents to shape future
training activities. While the forums will not necessarily
address circumstances specific to individual students and
families, Parent Consultants from The CT Parent Advocacy
Center (CPAC), and other experts will be on-hand to offer
guidance and suggestions.

There will be a morning (9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m.)
and an evening (6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.) session for each forum.

Oct. 3 — LEARN
LOCATION
LEARN
44 Hatchetts Hill Rd.
Old Lyme, CT 06371

Oct. 4 — ACES
LOCATION
ACES Staff Development
205 Skiff St.
Hamden, CT 06517

Oct. 15 — EASTCONN
LOCATION
EASTCONN
376 Hartford Turnpike
Hampton, CT 06247

Oct. 16—EDADVANCE
EdAdvance
355 Goshen Road
Litchfield, CT 06759

Nov. 7 — CREC
LOCATION
Hosted by CREC at the Chrysalis Center
255 Homestead Avenue
Hartford, CT 06112

Nov. 8 — C.E.S.
LOCATION
C.E.S.
25 Oakview Drive
Trumbull, CT 06611

REGISTER HERE: https://crectransportation.wufoo.com/forms/z1k8fhpn1bn931g

Bureau of Special Education Back-to-School Meeting

September 14th, 2018

Bureau of Special Education Back-to-School Meeting

Connecticut State Department of Education | September 12, 2018

What is the CT Secondary Transition Youth Advisory Board (YAB)?
As an initiative within the CT Secondary Transition Community of Practice (COP), a Secondary Transition
Youth Advisory Board was created to provide a place for students and youth with disabilities ages 14 to 26 to
have their voices heard by the people who plan for and support students.

What is the purpose of the YAB?
The YAB serves as a resource to any school district, agency, organization, or provider who serve young people
with disabilities. YAB works to improve services and ensure that services and supports provided are truly
meeting the needs of the youth with disabilities as they transition from district services to adult life.
Participation in YAB activities builds the personal advocacy and leadership skills of participants, provides a
forum for students to network with each other and professionals in the field, and is a great activity for resumes
and portfolios.

Who are the members of the YAB?
YAB members include Connecticut students and youth with disabilities ages 14 to 26 years old who have an
interest in learning leadership skills and taking on leadership roles in the state. Currently we have 25 active
participants and over 150 students and youth on our e-mail list.

When and where does the YAB meet?
The YAB meets four times a year in conjunction with the COP meetings to plan activities for the year.
Additionally, several meetings are held throughout the year via phone or web-based conference calls to discuss
current trends in secondary transition. Physical attendance is not mandatory as members can participate in a
variety of ways including review of documents and offering opinions via e-mail or social media.

How is the YAB different from the Special Education Youth Advisory Council (SEYAC)?
– The YAB work focuses on secondary transition and beyond, the SEYAC work focuses on special
education experiences for students in middle and high school.
– YAB students and youth can sign up individually, SEYAC is school/district based.
– SEYAC holds two of the trainings on-site at the school/in district, and one conference off-site. School/district (students) commit to all three sessions.

How can I get involved?
Anyone can refer a student or youth to the YAB. Please contact Beth Reel, CT Parent Advocacy Center, at
breel@cpacinc.org or 860-739-3089 for more information.

Director’s Corner August 2018

August 30th, 2018

I wanted to talk in this issue about the new school year, and as always the issues that come to mind revolve around communication, and the information that families sometimes have and sometimes share about their students. I can’t remember if it has ever come up in this space, but, in addition to a few other things, I am a member of the Cromwell Board of Education. In my mailbox for the last week or so have been a series of notices of what is going on in the school to get things ready to start. One of the messages talked about new teacher orientation and the fact that they were taking all the new teachers on a bus tour of the town so they would have a better idea of the place their students are coming from.

That sounded like a great idea and it made me think of the things we as parents can do to start out the new year with our students’ new teachers. A quick friendly note to welcome the teacher to the team and get him or her some helpful information. Something along the lines of:

Dear New teacher,

We are looking forward to a great new year with you and Sally. I know by now you have read her IEP, but that can’t give you a picture of the whole kid so I though you should know that she loves music, and especially (some band I’ve never heard of), she was particularly interested when the class worked on ecology last year, and is friends with John and Jill.

I also want you to know that when her asthma acts up she tends to lose focus and can sometimes act up. I will try and let you know when that is happening so you’ll understand and can be ready.

I also hope you will feel free to let me know about things that go on in school so we can work together….

Opening and maintaining lines of communication with your school is great, but it reminds me of our constant concern about what we should be trying to communicate, data. And as parents we need to be vigilant to be sure that the data that we and the educators have is accurate, and supports our student’s program. An important part of our job as a mom or dad is to make sure we understand the information that is used to design our student’s program. We also need to make sure that not only is our student learning, but that we on her team are learning from seeing what is or isn’t working. To work with the educators we can focus on questions about progress information and new questions. “I know you are working very hard on Sally’s reading program, but she is not making any progress. Should we be looking at what other experts say about using this approach with a student like her?” Is a lot more likely to get positive results than “You’re doing it wrong!” More importantly it follows what IDEA requires Teams to do.

In any case all of us at CPAC hope each of your students has a successful year. And if you need knowledge on how to help that happen we’re here for you.

State Performance Plan (SPP) on Special Education

July 16th, 2018

In the last few days you may have received a letter with a survey request for the Connecticut State Department of Education. It is important that you respond and fill out the survey to help ensure that all students in the state receive a free appropriate education.

Every year, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires each state to submit a State Performance Plan (SPP) on special education. The SPP includes reports from the state on 20 areas with questions running from whether evaluations for students being considered for special education are done on time, to whether students who had received special education are employed after High School, to whether some ethnic groups are put in special ed more often than others.

One of the reports, called Indicator 8, asks how parents feel about their experience with the special education process, and if they feel that they are included as full partners in designing Individual Education Plans (IEP) for their children. The state finds this information by sending out the survey you have just received. Every year roughly one third of families who have students in special education receive a survey.

All answers to the survey are kept confidential, your name and your child’s are not shared with anyone. The results are shared with the districts and with the United States’ Department of Education

The state has been collecting the surveys since 2003, and the results can be found at: https://portal.ct.gov/SDE/Special-Education/State-Performance-Plan-SPP-and-Annual-Performance-Report-APR/Related-Resources

Your responses to the survey are very important. In most years less than a quarter of families reply, and the more who do, the better we will all understand how the schools are doing. If you have any questions or concerns we are here to help, so please feel free to call us at (860)739-3089 or email at cpac@cpacinc.org.

A joint Statement by the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center and the Connecticut Council of Administrators of Special Education in support of Governor Malloy’s veto of PA 18-89.

June 25th, 2018

A joint Statement by the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center and the Connecticut Council of
Administrators of Special Education in support of Governor Malloy’s veto of PA 18-89.
Today the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC), and Connecticut Council of
Administrators of Special Education (CONNCASE) are expressing our shared opposition to PA
18-89 and our wish that the members of the Connecticut General Assembly will vote to sustain
the Governor’s veto.

Our two organizations are speaking out together to highlight the very great danger this Act
presents to the rights and welfare of the state’s children with disabilities. We both agree that the
safety of students and teachers in classrooms is of paramount importance, but it is clear that the
language in 18-89 will result in the violation of the rights of children with disabilities, poor
educational results, greater conflict between families and their schools and costly legal action. ”
We both agree that the safety of students and teachers in classrooms and well-conceived means to address
or enhance it is of paramount importance.

For children with disabilities and those who may have them the IDEA provides a process for
children who act in ways that would interfere with their education. It includes a review of he
information available on the child by a team including teachers, administrators the parents and
professionals who can appropriately identify the causes of the behavior. It includes mechanisms
to place the child in a different class if needed, and requires a plan to help address the child’s
behavior. This Act gives an unfettered ability to remove a child from education regardless of his
challenges or needs. It interferes with those rights and takes decisions from the appropriate team
and places them in the hands of an individual teacher or an ill-defined group that may not have
the information or expertise to make decisions in the interest of the child or the others in the
class.

It is clear that a school’s attempt to act on this law will result in immediate legal action by
parents. It will take resources out of the classroom to cover the costs of those actions, all while
taking educational opportunity from some of our most vulnerable children.
CONNCASE and CPAC stand together in our support of effective laws to protect he safety of
people in our classrooms, but we insist that those laws do not try to achieve that safety on the
backs of children in need. We look forward to the chance to work with everyone who works for
the education of our children to craft a new law that will make our classrooms safer places.

John M. Flanders, Esq.
Executive Director
Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center

Carl Gross
President
Connecticut Council of Administrators of Special Education

Press Release from Executive Director John M. Flanders

June 14th, 2018

Last week Governor Malloy’s vetoed PA 18-89, An Act Concerning Classroom Safety and Disruptive
Behavior. We are asking the members of the General Assembly to allow the veto to stand and to work with all
stakeholders to create a new bill that will support the admirable goal of classroom safety, but without sacrificing
the rights of children with disabilities. We believe that this bill, although clearly well intended, will deprive
students with disabilities of their right to an appropriate education; and it will exclude too many children with
disabilities from classrooms for actions related to their disabilities, actions that their education programs should
be helping them to address.

It may seem strange that an organization like CPAC that provides support for children with disabilities would
oppose a bill promoting classroom safety. It has been plainly established that students with disability are
subject to bullying and injury in school at a rate far higher than typical students. We do so reluctantly. We do
so because his bill, unfortunately, tries to achieve classroom safety, but at the expense of the protections
provided to students with disabilities under state law and the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA). Simply put, the cost PA 18-89 will exact from students with disabilities is too high to justify the possible
benefit in classroom safety.

IDEA provides controls over when a student with a disability can be removed from a classroom. It defines a
process for determining: where they should be educated, and what supports and teaching they may
require. Supports designed to enable them to learn how not to act in ways that disrupt their classes or even
potential harm their classmates or teachers.

The authors of Public Act 18-89 clearly do not seem to have understood this process, nor to have considered
how this law would conflict with the rights and responsibilities under the IDEA. It is not surprising that they
would not. Far far too often schools fail to follow the process, and students are deprived of the education they
are entitled to under law. Every year our office receives dozens of calls for parents whose children have acted
out and even caused injury because they have not yet been taught how to respond appropriately. Far too
many of these situations result in discipline and anger and not the planning and programming for the education
and support the children so clearly need. In these situations, we work hard to empower parents to persuade
their children’s schools to do the evaluations and the planning necessary to craft Individual Education Plans
that appropriately address behavior problems.

The process should even work for students who are not in special education. IDEA requires schools to take
affirmative steps to identify those children who have conditions that interfere with their educations. Clearly an
action that causes to potential for injury and requires the removal of the child from education should raise the
question of whether this child has a problem that requires support. In that case IDEA has a process for
evaluating the child and bringing together educators and the family to determine if he has such a problem, and
if so what would need to be done to address it. Teachers, administrators and others with knowledge of the
student’s education are all encouraged and required to refer a child for evaluation and planning when warning
flags like this occur.

The bottom line is that mechanisms to address the problem of students engaging in dangerous and disruptive
behavior already exist. Unfortunately, they are so often ignored by schools it is not surprising the authors of
this bill would think new methods were needed. Were the special education process used as we believe
Congress intended, bills like 18-89 would not be needed.

A further problem with PA 18-89 lies in the real danger that this law will disproportionally impact children with
disabilities, as well as students of color. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that students with disabilities and
those of color are subject to school discipline well beyond what should be expected. For those with disabilities
discipline is often applied despite the fact that the student’s condition caused the behavior and the school had
failed to provide an appropriate program to teach him appropriate understanding and control. It is even often
applied when the student has a plan to modify the behavior in question that was not being followed by the
educators. Just this week we heard from a mother whose eight-year-old child with autism was removed from
school and arrested for throwing a hula hoop at a teacher.

Although this is ostensively not a law covering discipline and punishment it does allow students to be removed
from a class by a teacher virtually without limitation, and requires a process that need not consider the
educational impact on the student to enable him or her to return, a process that clearly meets the legal
definition of suspension. History has shown us that this process is going to fall too often on students with
disabilities. Whether the removals are called suspension or any other name, a student with a disability, one
who badly needs educational support is going to be taken from the educational environment.

CPAC regrets finding itself in a position of arguing against a law that intends to promote classroom safety. Nor
do we like opposing a bill that calls for support for students and teachers. We are convinced that it is possible
to craft another law that promotes this aim without unduly impacting children with disabilities or depriving them
of their legal rights. We would have been very happy to have been invited to participate in the crafting of such
a law. We encourage the Legislature, educators and parents to approach this problem again, and use our
experience to help craft a law that will improve classroom safety and protect students with disabilities.

Sincerely,
John M. Flanders, Esq.
Executive Director

Director’s Corner February 2018

February 27th, 2018

Not long ago I came upon a meme from one of the Facebook groups I follow. It read “How many of you cry after every IEP meeting?” At the time it included over 120 comments and by my count only three disagreed. It included things like:

I left many IEP meetings in tears. In one meeting in particular, we had to sit through various psychologists, teachers, and administrators tell us how our first grader was one of the most violent, ill-behaved children they had ever seen. The reading specialist told us “why bother” when we expressed the desire for our son to learn to read. We walked out of the meeting in tears. So, I feel for you!

It takes me days to recuperate afterward.

I use sarcasm as a shield then cry in my car.

I had one this week and everything went as well as one could ask for. Still totally exhausting.

From what we see at CPAC, it is not an exaggeration to say many parents hate and fear PPT meetings. Most often that is because there is a real power imbalance in them. When they are bad you come in to face a phalanx of six to fifteen people who all know each other work together and often seem to be united against you.

So, what do you do? The simple answer is get help. Sometimes that means getting a lawyer or advocate to come and work for you in the room. I did that for 16 years and I believe helped a lot for most of the families I represented. But lawyers are not cheap and honestly much of the time you have the resources in yourself to effectively represent your child’s needs. But even then, you need help. You need training and information. Online groups can help a lot, but nothing does the job better than talking to someone who has been trained and thorough training from people who really know their stuff.

At the risk of blowing our own horn, one of the best places to start is CPAC, or if you live in another state, your state’s Parent Training and Information Center or PTI. IDEA requires each state have at least one PTI to train an empower you to effectively work for your child in the special education process. You can find a link for your center here.

I’ve been going to PPT meetings for some time, starting with those for my son starting in 1996, as a lawyer since 2000 and those I’ve discussed as PTI Director for the last 2 years. What I have seen are most conflicts between parents and schools involve two things. First and most importantly, lack of data. I have never seen a case where parents and schools disagree where either side had enough actual documented information to support their position. IDEA is filled with requirements that there be data to support an action, and mechanisms where you as a parent can ensure that there is enough evaluation information and that it is of high quality. CPAC’s parent consultants can show you how to navigate this.

Second, parents and schools often speak different languages. Words in special education often mean what the law says they mean and not necessarily what they mean in normal day to day life. So many times, parents ask for something in a way that makes it easy to say no when they could get the service using the right “magic words”. By the same token I’ve seen dozens of situations where a school is telling the parents what they need to do to show the need to be a given service and all mom and dad are hearing is “no”.

There is a reason people say knowledge is power. And heaven knows as parents we need all the powers we can get, so please take advantage of your opportunities to get it. So, take every opportunity to increase your knowledge of the law, or disabilities and your child. Pay attention to which of the things said in your son or daughter’s PPT meeting that are based on knowledge, and which are based on opinion with no data to back it up. This is especially important for what you say. Don’t rely on generalities. It is less important to say that kids with a given disability need something than to say this evaluation shows my daughter, as an individual, needs something different. And listen, even when you are disagreeing. Knowing why that administrator is supporting a course of action is vital in explaining why your alternative is appropriate, and keep in mind that you may be wrong and they right. Only real information can show that for sure.

Use us. In addition to training and individual support CPAC has a lot of on line information and links to other resources. In the next few weeks our website will take on a new look and we will be adding new information every week. We are not going to solve every problem, but I promise we will help.

Director’s Corner January 2018

January 25th, 2018

Our topic this month. evaluations, comes at a good time, because over the past several weeks we have gotten a number of calls about a situation where evaluations are sometimes not appropriately used. So I thought I would write about this, and how we as parents can use our right to ask for evaluations for our students.

We hear from a lot of families who are looking at a recommendation to end their child’s eligibility for special ed. When a school proposes to remove a student from special education the IDEA requires that there be an evaluation before the PPT determines that he or she is no longer a child who qualifies. That does not necessarily mean that new testing must be done, the team can rely on records that already exist, but, and this is the important part, those records must include enough information to document the students current levels of educational and functional performance, and to determine that he or she no longer requires special education. That’s a lot of “ands”.

The evaluations used to show a child is ready to exit special ed must also meet all of the requirements for any other evaluation, including those to determine if the students is eligible for special ed, and those that help the team develop an appropriate IEP. Most importantly, IDEA requires that a team must not rely on a single evaluation to determine if a student is eligible for special education When looking at whether to exit a student from special education the Team is also required to ensure it has data on every potential issue, including functional and developmental weaknesses, not just those typically related t the disability classification, or those limited to academic progress.

So, what does that mean in real life? The most common situation we hear of is a student who has achieved good grades in the past year. “See, she’s passing” they say, “She doesn’t need to have an IEP any more.” Is that enough to remove her from special ed? Probably not.

When we hear this in a PPT meeting here are a couple of things we can do. First, look at her goals. Have they all been met? Were they enough to ensure she is getting the same educational opportunity as her peers? Should they have been more challenging? Then look at her specific strengths and weaknesses. Do any of them mean she requires specially designed instruction? And then the grades; did they use modified grading? Would she have gotten the same grades if she had to meet all the same requirements as her peers?

For most of the students we see the answer to at least one, and usually all of these questions is really “We aren’t sure. We don’t have all the information.”

That’s where your right as a member of the PPT to ask for more evaluation is so important. If there isn’t enough data to answer those questions you need to remind the team it is our job to get it, and to review and understand it. Ask for evaluations that will give the team all the information it needs to make appropriate decisions.

And remember that your rights as a parent don’t stop there. If the team refuses to call for more evaluation it must provide you with written notice of the reasons for the refusal. “The team doesn’t think it’s needed” is generally not a good enough reason.

Also, when an evaluation is refused it triggers your right to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the school’s expense. If you ask for the IEE the school has only two choices: either give you the qualifications needed for the evaluator, and arrange for the testing or file for due process and prove to a hearing officer that the information the Team has is enough.

Of course every family’s situation is unique, so we can’t cover every possibility in a column like this. That’s why we are available for you to call five days a week. If you think your child’s team is making decisions without enough information, or want to know more about your right to ask for evaluations or information give us a call.

Director’s Corner December 2017

December 18th, 2017

On behalf of all of us at CPAC I want to take this opportunity to wish all our friends, parents, students educators, and professionals the most happy and peaceful Holiday Season, and offer our best wishes for a new year full of educational accomplishment.

Every year we get to meet and work with some of the most extraordinary people in our state: Parents who do remarkable things every day to ensure their children get the education they deserve, teachers and paraprofessionals who do their utmost to help our kids learn every day, and professionals who help us understand their challenges and find ways to help. While challenges can often be frustrating and confusing helping families succeed and students learn is more rewarding that I can hope to describe.

I’d also like to thank our many colleagues and friends who share our work, the folks at the Bureau of Special Education, at Birth to Three, and OSEP who support our work. Equally important the volunteers and supporters who selflessly do outreach and training and spreading the word about CPAC. Of course I can’t forget all those folks who donate to help us do our job. You would be amazed at how much good we are able to do with your dollars. We and the families we work with can’t thank you enough.

In the coming year we hope to do even more. Our new website will debut in January and every moth we will roll out new resources to help and educate.
So again from all of us at CPAC, Adriana, Angela, Beth, Emily, Jane, Jen, Kathy, Kiomary, Kirsten, Laura, Lynn, Mairin, Robin, Vanessa, and myself, Happy Holidays and our best wishes for a great New Year.