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Director’s Corner October 2017

October 20th, 2017

This past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in our sister organization, AFCAMP’s Youth Summit. Dozens of young people from Hartford and surrounding communities participated in workshops and discussions on a number of topics. I was there to facilitate two groups discussing bullying and bias against students with disabilities.

As always when I am with groups like this I am pretty sure I learned more than the students did. Our conversations focused on bullying, and I thought I should share what I learned.
The first thing I learned was that every student in both of the sessions I participated in had stories of being bullied. We often site statistics that say that twenty to thirty percent of students experience bullying, but if these students are to be believed seems that it much be far higher. I think it is sometimes a matter of perception. Many of the students said that the incidents didn’t really bother them; “I don’t have time for that stuff.” But it was clear form the fact that they wanted to talk about things that what might seem to be relatively minor incidents had an impact.
I asked them what adults could do to help the situation and got my second lesson. There was pretty universal dismissal of intervention by the school. “They have cameras everywhere, but they never do anything. I don’t think they ever watch them.” Clearly this is a red flag showing us where we can do better.

All this might sound pretty grim; but honestly I don’t think it is, and that was my third lesson. These were all kids who had not known each other before the summit, they had a six year range in ages, they had a lot that was not in common. But the sympathy and understanding they had for each other, the real concern and desire to help each other was truly remarkable. I mentioned reading that studies had shown that the most effective way to stop bullying was when another student stepped in and stood up for the victim. That set of another series of stories about how each of them had seen something and stood up for another student, sometimes even for a student they did not know. Several talked about making an effort to be friends with bullied students, and they all talked about their particular unhappiness when the student being bullied had a disability.

It did my heart good to see that there are a lot of students out there who do care about each other and who are willing to do things to ensure their classmates don’t face things like bullying and discrimination because of their disabilities. But, it does mean work for us as parents and educators. We need to ensure that our kids’ schools provide their students with an educational environment where they can succeed. We need to work together as partners to ensure our students understand how we are working together to protect them. We need to ensure that students with disabilities are spending as much time as possible with their peers so the human relations have a chance to develop. And we need to ensure that our schools are training and reminding all students that they are a community and they have the ability to protect and nurture each other.

Acceptance, understanding and care for each of our students by each of our students will clearly go a long way to help make our schools safe and appropriate learning environments for all our kids. We know you all want that and we want to help, so please call us to see what we can do together.

Special Education Concerns Rise As School Districts Grapple With State Cuts

October 14th, 2017

The state’s budget crisis is hitting Connecticut schools hard, and special education programs might also be feeling the pain, even though these services are protected by federal law.

Paraprofessionals across the state say that schools are not fully staffing these positions, which are often used in the classroom to aid students with disabilities. And that could violate students’ rights to a free and appropriate public education, which is codified in federal law.

John Flanders, president of the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, said paraprofessionals have been calling his office, worried that students aren’t getting the services they need.

“I’ve been one-on-one with this kid for two years and now they’ve got me splitting my time between two kids,” Flanders said, paraphrasing the many calls he’s received. They also told him they worried that they wouldn’t be able to adequately support each child.

Now that might not sound like such a big deal, but for some kids with significant needs, Flanders said it could be.

“If this is a student who needs somebody translating or supporting or helping them navigate through a piece of material, and that educator — that adult — isn’t there for half of the class, then there’s a real possibility of missing what was being presented in the class,” he said.

Valerie Bruneau, former principal at Torrington Middle School, agreed with Flanders.

“If a district has an IEP for a child and it requires this resource and it’s not provided to them,” she said, “it would be detrimental, because there’s a team of people that said that this is what this particular child needs, and so absolutely it would be detrimental.”

That IEP she mentioned is an Individualized Education Program. Each child in special education gets one, and it’s made by a team of parents, teachers, and other educators. It’s a legally binding document that districts must follow to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Bruneau said she was let go from her job in Torrington soon after she raised concerns about her school needing more paras, although it’s unclear whether the two are related. She’d been on the job fewer than 90 days.

The district’s superintendent didn’t respond to several requests for comment. It’s unclear if Torrington has fully staffed its paras this year. Last year, the district laid off 40 of them, and paras fought to get 21 rehired.

State officials said they’re working with districts to make sure IEPs are being followed.

Click here to listen.

August 2017 E-Newsletter Correction

October 1st, 2017

Correction: Our August e-news included an article from Disability Scoop entitled “Feds Find Fewer States Meeting Special Ed Obligations.” The article included a list of states that had received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education stating they had met their obligations to students with disabilities. The list incorrectly did not include Connecticut. The Office of Special Education Programs has issued a corrected list that can be seen at: https://www2.ed.gov/fund/data/report/idea/ideafactsheet-determinations-2017.pdf. We regret the error.

Director’s Corner

September 21st, 2017

Since school has started we have gotten a surprising number of questions from parents who are getting contracts from their school calling for them to be financially responsible for damage to any assistive technology provided for their children to use out of school. This is what we think:

First, it is clear that the IDEA requires that your child receive a Free Appropriate Public Education. That means assistive technology must be provided for your child at no cost to you BUT, you CAN be expected to exercise a reasonable amount of care for property that is in your control.

The contract we have seen most often seems to be adapted from one issued by CABE to cover the Ipads and Chromebooks that are being issued to all students in some schools. They include language about neglect, misuse, theft and abuse of the equipment. Many parents of children with disabilities are rightly concerned that a student with a disability can be expected to do things that might be considered abuse of the device because of her disability. So the contract seems to put them on the hook for the cost of repairing or replacing the device because their child does things as the result of his or her disability.

Our suggestion has two parts. First reach out to your team leader or special education contact and explain your concerns. It is often the case that a form like this is issued from a business office where the people may not understand its implications for kids with disabilities. We suggest that you provide some language to amend the contract acknowledging that everyone knows that many children with disabilities are going to expose equipment to more stressors than their typical peers.

An example of language that might work is:

My son or daughter is a child with a disability and may, as a result of that disability, subject the device to actions that might be considered abuse if they were performed by a child who does not have the same disability. I am asking THE Board to confirm it understands this and that it must accommodate the limitations imposed by his disability and that it will not seek to obtain reimbursement for the cost of damage caused as a result of his disability.”

The second issue we see is language limiting the use of the device to your home. Again, particularly for communications devices this is probably not a reasonable requirement. If an AT device is being provided for home use by your child’s IEP, any limitations on where it can be used should also be spelled out. A contract written for a device that might be used at home for homework could reasonably be expected to be used only at home, but one that a child uses to communicate is going to be needed in many places from the grocery store to the doctor’s office and hundreds of others.

Again, the IEP is going to be the answer. So, if your child’s IEP calls for the use of AT to learn and support communication in typical situations clearly it is intended to be used everywhere he or she can be expected to be able to use expressive language. So contact your special education director or team leader to make sure the actual use of the device is documented.

There are always going to be twists and unusual situations so if you have further questions we hope you will call us at (860)739-3089, or email at cpac@cpacinc.org. You chan also check out the website for more information.

Director’s Corner

August 28th, 2017

As I am sitting at my desk in Niantic I am noticing that the number of folks walking by our office on the way to the beach is starting to slow down. It’s a sure sign that we should be starting to look forward the beginning to a new school year. As with any new beginning we can look forward to new opportunities, and to prepare for new challenges.

Calls to CPAC tend to slow down some during the summer, but many of those that do come in are from families concerned about the upcoming year. They tend to come in two varieties: “We had such a good year last year, and now we are moving to a new teacher. How can we make sure the good work continues?” Or “Last year was pretty rough, what can we do to make next year is better?”

Among the best things you can do in either case is to make sure everyone involved has as much information as they can get about your child and her challenges and her strengths. An IEP can be a pretty dry document, and it generally doesn’t convey the little things last year’s teacher did that worked well, or poorly. You have the chance to reach out to the new professionals, not to tell them “You must do this or that”, but “Mr. A tried this simple little thing, and it make a surprising difference.”

Let the professionals know that you are available and interested, that you are looking forward to a very good year, you want to hear how your son is doing, that you and are eager to answer questions that come up about your daughter. It really does take a team to provide an appropriate education and you have a chance to try and set the tone and make everyone involved be eager to be a part of that team.

As usual, we at CPAC want to be part of that team if you need us. Our parent consultants will be working hard to answer the questions that come up and to help you be the best advocate for your child that you can be.

We will be providing group training in towns across the state. Last year we did more than one hundred parent and professional trainings and are always happy to do more. If you would like to have CPAC come and do a training in your school it’s easy, just call us and we’ll tell you how.

We also have changes coming. Early this fall we will be rolling out or completely revamped website with a new look and even more materials and information to help you through this process. We hope you like the new look, and more importantly we want to be sure it works for you. If there are materials you’d like to see, let us know. We want to hear.

Here at CPAC, we are gearing for another successful school year working with you to ensure your children receive the education that is their right. But before that take time to get the best from the rest of the summer. On behalf of myself and the staff at CPAC we offer our best wishes for a great new school year.

John M. Flanders
Executive Director

Congressional Internship Program for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities

August 14th, 2017

Established by Rep. Gregg Harper in 2010, the Congressional Internship Program for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities is a unique program designed to give students with varying intellectual disabilities an opportunity to gain congressional work experience.

Working in conjunction with George Mason University’s LIFE Program – a postsecondary education program for young adults with intellectual disabilities – Harper launched the internship program with three Mason LIFE students and six House offices. To date, 150 congressional offices from the House and Senate have participated.

Additionally, the participating interns receive stipends for their work on Capitol Hill through a grant provided by The HSC Foundation. The grant, part of HSCF’s Youth Transitions Initiative, is an important way to acknowledge the interns’ important contributions and helps to achieve the common goal of guiding these students towards permanent, professional employment.

Today, Harper continues to expand the program to accommodate additional students so that they are given the same exciting educational and enrichment opportunities typically afforded to congressional interns working here in the nation’s capital.

Each participating office will host a Mason LIFE student and his or her work coach for one two-hour session each week. During the two-hour sessions, which are held Monday, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings and afternoons, the interns will work with their congressional office and their work coach to complete various office tasks as assigned.

In addition to fulfilling their weekly office responsibilities, the interns will have an opportunity to enjoy various enrichment activities coordinated by the program administrators. Some of the prior enrichment activities have included Capitol tours and trips to one of the many Smithsonian museums nearby.

The upcoming Fall internship program runs from Monday, September 11, 2017, through Friday, December 8, 2017.
Click here to sign up for the 2017 Fall Program!

If your office is interested in participating in the program, or for more information, please contact the Committee at (202) 225-8281. Each participating office is asked to host a student for one two-hour session each week on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays.

Feds Find Fewer States Meeting Special Ed Obligations

July 22nd, 2017

Less than half of states are meeting their obligations to appropriately serve students with disabilities under the nation’s special education law, federal education officials say.

In an annual review, the U.S. Department of Education found that only 22 states deserved the “meets requirements” designation for the 2015-2016 school year. All other states were placed into the “needs assistance” category.

The findings issued this summer come from a mandatory assessment of state compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The ratings are based on how well states meet their obligations to serve students with disabilities ages 3 to 21.

Federal officials look at student performance and functional outcomes for kids with disabilities as well as how well states follow through with procedural duties like completing special education evaluations.

If a state fails to achieve the “meets requirements” level for two or more consecutive years, IDEA stipulates that the Education Department take enforcement action, which can include redirecting or withholding funds, developing a corrective action plan or mandating other changes.

This year’s determinations reflect a drop in the number of states found to meet requirements. Last year, 24 states received that designation.

States receiving letters indicating that they met their obligations under IDEA include Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The remaining states were labeled “needs assistance.”

No state received the more extreme designations of “needs intervention” or “needs substantial intervention.”

Read more from disabilityscoop.com.

Director’s Corner

June 28th, 2017

On Wednesday, June 14th, I was really pleased to have the chance to attend the recognition ceremony for the parents who participated in our New Haven training program. What a great group of parents. For the past year, we have worked with the New Haven Board of Education to provide a year long series of parent trainings in English and Spanish throughout schools in the city. Over forty parents participated, with many attending every session. CPAC provided sessions on topics such as understanding the IEP, how to deal with challenging behaviors in children, and building self-advocacy skills.

The parents were justifiably proud of their learning and all of us at CPAC are happy to have had the chance to help them learn about the process. We are also very happy that New Haven Public School District was so willing to play an important role in this. The NHPS provided rooms for us to meet, food to eat, transportation and reached out to families to inform them about the program. While we still have a way to go, this is a very positive step and we are very proud to have been a partner.

I am also very proud of the parent consultants who worked so hard to provide the trainings. In particular, Kiomary Sotillo, who did much of the training including all of the sessions in Spanish. It was very clear that all the parents were tremendously grateful for her work.

CPAC provides a lot to training. Well over one thousand people attended our sessions last year. We offer programs both to parents and to education professionals. Many of our training sessions are for ten or twelve parents at a program offer by their local SEPTO, but we also present to statewide conferences with hundreds of attendees, to 80 plus paraprofessional, and even to the State’s training program for IEP Chairs. We have programs on a wide range of topics. But we are always willing to design new programs to meet the needs of groups looking for our help.

The jewel of our work is a program we call Next Steps. This is an eight-week intensive program aimed at training parents who are interested in being leaders and helping others in the special education process. We offer Next Steps three time a year at locations around the state. We are planning our fall session now and announcements will be coming soon.

I want to invite all our parents and professionals to take advantage of these programs. If you would like us to come to your area, please call us at 860-739-3089 or drop us an email at cpac@cpacinc.org. We will be happy to work with you. Our sessions are open to all and always free for parents. Again, congratulations to the whole group of New Haven trainees.

John

2016-2017 Special Education Parent Survey Update

May 30th, 2017

The Connecticut 2016-2017 Special Education Parent Survey will be going out to families on or after May 31st! If your child attends any of these school districts be on the lookout for the survey and be sure to fill it out and submit! It will be mailed and emailed if the district has your email address. The district’s marked with * will be sampled so not every parent will receive one. Please feel free to call CPAC if you have questions. 860-739-3089 (for help in Spanish 203-776-3211).

School Districts:

Ashford Branford Bridgeport* Bristol* Brookfield Brooklyn Canaan Canton Chaplin Colchester Cornwall Coventry CTHSS* Derby DMHAS East Hartford* Easton Ellington Farmington Griswold Hamden* Hampton Hartland Kent Killingly Ledyard Manchester* Mansfield Monroe New Britain* New London* North Canaan North Haven North Stonington Oxford Plainville Redding Region 01 Region 06 Region 09 Region 11 Region 19 Salem Salisbury Scotland Sharon Shelton* South Windsor Sprague Stratford* Suffield Thompson Trumbull* Vernon Waterford Watertown Westbrook Weston Westport Willington Wilton Winchester Windsor Locks

* Parents Sampled

2017 Guidelines for Occupational Therapy in Connecticut Schools

May 15th, 2017

In a May 10, 2017, memorandum to Connecticut Special Education Directors, it was announced that the 2017 Guidelines for Occupational Therapy in Connecticut Schools is now available. Please review this memorandum which contains the Web link leading to this guidance document.

Memorandum 2017 Guidelines for Occupational Therapy in Connecticut Schools