Special Education is a Hostage Crisis – Claudia McCulloch, Ph.D. [Guest Blog Post]


Dedication:

I dedicate this article to a truly inspiring child advocate and professor, the late Irwin Hyman, Ed.D., who fostered my education throughout my time at Temple University.

He was a man of brilliance, boundless energy, and intense devotion to the well-being of children. He had a vision of change and helped his students to become part of it.


The bureaucracy has won. The kids have lost. The game is over. Turn off the lights. Lock the doors.

It has been a brutal and grueling road to this conclusion, but I am certain of it. The kids are always going to lose. Always. Over the course of twenty-three years and more than 1,200 assessments, most ending up in an individualized education plan, mediation or hearing, I’ve watched, first-hand, the unapologetically incompetent special education system “at work.” Not only is it incompetent, but thieving and vicious.

I’ve worked with kids from many school districts, states, and yes, even countries, and the story never, ever changes. Never. Of course, I’m painting every district with the same brush. Does your district have another story?

While I recognize that many people are working diligently and ethically to help these children, they do so at their own peril. A school psychologist dared to agree with my assessment and she was fired. Good for her. She went into private practice. She couldn’t take it anymore, either. Such was my path.

Multiple times administrators told me what I could and could not say. Administrators! They had no credentials or training to influence my work, but for the sake of the bureaucracy, they tried to control me and the rest of us. Intimidation, threats of “write ups” and transfers, lunch duty — whatever it took to wield the bat of authority.

Bureaucracies really are living, breathing beings. And they act like it. All living things seek to stay alive and perpetuate themselves.

Once I realized how the “game was played,” I walked parents to their cars after IEP meetings and gave each of them packets of the information I could not give them in front of the team. Bless them. None of them ever ratted me out. Finally, I could not reconcile the immorality and lack of ethics, so I quit. I started a private practice where I could gather as much data as I needed to make appropriate recommendations based on that data. My attitude was — and is — “Get out of my way. This kid needs help.”

I thought that would be enough, but it isn’t. The deck is stacked against the families.

First, school districts use taxpayer dollars to fight you.

That’s right. The money you pay in taxes is used against you, while you are struggling to sell property or get a second or third job to afford an attorney. It’s a war of attrition. They can and will outspend you. They can and will wear you down to protect the “mother ship” of the bureaucracy.

Consider the Solana School District in San Diego that spent $1,000,000 in a 7-year battle against parents of a 4-year-old with autism.[1] All these parents wanted was for their child to be included in a general education setting. The district was trying to avoid paying $6,100 in tuition for a private school. Go ahead. Read it again. That’s where your tax dollars are going.

Understand that some punk who just robbed a 7-11 and waived a .45 in the face of a terrified clerk gets an attorney to protect his rights and yes, yet again, you foot the bill. All in the name of justice.

Who helps parents who assert their child’s rights to a Free and Appropriate Education? If the family had limited resources, the best I could do was refer them to a competent advocate when there was no attorney who worked on contingency.

When the family was from another state or region, I referred them to the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). I gave them resources such as Pete Wright’s website.

After all of the work we did, if I couldn’t find resources they could afford, what would be the value of that work? I used a metaphor to bring home the truth. You’re having chest pains. You have a history of cardiac problems. You go to the ER where the doctor tells you that you’re having a heart attack and walks away. “Good luck,” she says. And you stand there, perplexed. “Aren’t you supposed to help me?” Silence…

It’s the same question I ask myself time after time. Aren’t they supposed to be helping? Oh sure, on the surface, it looks that way because there is just so much paper generated on behalf of your child and everyone looks so busy. Yet, when you challenge them because your child is not making progress, their attitude changes dramatically. It’s the “How dare you question our authority” stance. And then, when you throw in an “outsider” like me, it’s on.

Second, the assessments are, in my experience, useless.

It’s not that the school psychologists don’t want to or don’t know how to do more, it’s that they’re allowed to do only what they are told and, unfortunately, don’t have the proper tools. They are frustrated beyond belief, overworked beyond all reason, and operate from a position that is intolerable. They know what is going on with the students, but can’t help. They’re put in a position where they must “identify with the aggressor” (a.k.a., administration).

Stockholm syndrome might be more familiar to you than the phrase “identify with the aggressor.” If you comply with those who can hurt you, you’re less likely to get hurt. Remember Patty Hearst? This woman’s behavior brought the concept of “identification with the aggressor” to our attention. To the public, it made sense and helped us understand the reasons that abused women didn’t report or testify against their abusers. It explained the alignment with the hostage-taker.

I’ve reviewed several thousand assessments conducted by school district personnel from all over the United States. Here’s what I’ve seen:

Using outdated tests and outdated scoring software. This likely means your child is being compared to kids who were in school long before your child was born. Your kids are not being compared to those with whom they’ll be competing for a chair in college or a job.

Global scores are reported. Those with learning disabilities frequently have highly inconsistent performances both on tests and in the classroom setting. Frustrating for everyone. One day they can do it, the next, they can’t. Why?

If global scores are reported, you have no idea if that score is correct because you don’t have access to the scores that make up that overall score. For example, the overall score is average and that makes you a happy Momma. But, what you don’t know is that one score is really, really high and the important scores are really, really low and it comes out average. What you don’t know can hurt your child because you then go on to operate under inaccurate beliefs about your child’s reading ability.

 Lies by omission. Lies by commission are outright lies and lies by omission are distortions of the truth because not all of the information was offered.

A limited kind and amount of information is shared. I can usually tell when students are doing poorly because age and grade equivalences are not provided (if they are available from the test maker). Age and grade equivalences do not provide the most reliable picture of a student’s performance; standard scores are more reliable. However, age and grade equivalences are more meaningful to parents. What do parents know about a score of eighty-five or even a percentile rank of fifteen? But, if they see that their ninth grader is reading at a fourth grade level, the situation heats up.

There is little-to-no interpretation. When districts conduct assessments and write reports, there is little meaningful interpretation. That means that the results are rarely “connected” to the classroom performance in a way that makes sense to parents. Their reports are a sterile listing of standard scores and percentile ranks and a general, qualitative description (average, above average, below average) of the student’s performance. Parents rarely understand the issues their children are experiencing in the classroom.

In my practice, I write my reports for parents. They’re a subtest-by-subtest analysis with a great many observations that add to the understanding of “what” their child looked like when they were working. I want them to see their child through my eyes when working through tasks. They are frequently several hundred pages long, especially since I include all previous assessments, report cards, standardized testing, IEPs, addendum — all of it.

Discrepancies are not explained. How is it the case that student’s achievement scores are higher than their intelligence/learning potential scores? How can you spend what you don’t have? Whereas higher achievement scores can be the result of effective intervention, their classroom performance does not reflect their reading, math, or written language achievement.

The school environment is not conducive to valid results. So, when the bell rings and everyone’s going out to play, how can a kid, who is being tested, concentrate? If a student is worried about missing history because she’s already behind or her latest crush sits next to her in that class, how can testing compete with those feelings and thoughts? It can’t, plain and simple. Unlike the school setting, my environment is controllable. Because I test kids on the weekends, I can meet when they want to meet. There are no phones ringing, no herds of kids moving through the halls, no loud voices, no interruptions.

There’s little-to-no opportunity to establish rapport. I was a school psychologist. I knew that I had about ten minutes to establish some type of non-threatening relationship with a child before I asked them to work. This time limit was not particularly conducive to successful results.

In private practice, I could spend as much time as I wanted chatting and getting to know kids, making them hot chocolate or playing games when they were anxious.

 They were in charge of the environment. If they needed to stand, they stood. If they needed to reach out to someone for support, they did. For complex assessments and kids who have been seriously wounded by their educational experiences, sometimes it took twenty-five sessions. Sessions lasted no more than ninety minutes because kids just couldn’t maintain effective attention and motivation for longer, as the research shows. Some of my kids could manage only twenty minutes due to attentional or emotional/behavioral challenges.

Districts really do base their conclusions on one test. Despite protests to the contrary, it is my professional opinion that districts base their conclusions on one test or one test plus a subtest of another measure. This is not “best practice.”

School districts consistently fail to identify all areas of suspected disability. They don’t have the tests to measure what they suspect. Psychologists don’t have the tools they need to explore suspicions developed during their assessments. Many school psychologists have training that is focused only on the types of assessments that are conducted in schools and are not educated in the wide array of disabilities that they’ll encounter. When I sit in an IEP meeting and ask the psychologists about metacognitive and metamemory strategies that the student used, I get blank stares.

Short/brief forms of tests are administered. Only portions of tests are administered to achieve the desired scores. The shorter the test, the less reliable it is. Test reliability means that the test will yield the same results over and over. Consider the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-5th Edition. It is necessary to administer only seven of the sixteen subtests in order to achieve the Full Scale IQ. The Full Scale IQ seems to be the only information that school districts find meaningful. In my opinion, a tremendous amount of critical information is lost if the remaining nine subtests are omitted. Test publishing houses need to stop being complicit in the inadequacies of school districts by making it easier to conduct a cursory evaluation.

School districts’ assessments are inadequate. School districts conduct what I call “eligibility” assessments, and we private clinicians conduct “diagnostic” assessments. In an “eligibility” assessment, only enough data is gathered to determine if your child is eligible for a program. Usually, “foundational” skills are measured and there is little-to-no “functional focus.”

It’s one thing to have solid sight word vocabulary, but that skill, in no way, is guaranteed to manifest into reading comprehension.

 Many of my tests are “functional” in nature. Not only do I measure sight word, word attack and word knowledge, but I measure how quickly a student can read, retain, understand, and answer comprehension questions. Why have basic skills if you can’t make them functional?

 If you’re the most talented pianist known to mankind and never play, then, what is the value of your gift? Functional skills. Skills kids can use to succeed in the classroom. That’s where the action is.

 It’s my experience that school districts across the country are nearly at a loss when it comes to evaluating autism and emotional distress. They have cursory training and experience in evaluating these aspects of the human experience.

For your reference, my assessment plan for elementary students with learning disabilities is offered at the end of this article.

Third, the Individualized Education Plan meeting does not generate a blueprint for learning.

Why is that? Well, the school psychologist has limited information, the team is required to write goals at grade level, and the whole plan is, in no way, individualized. It can’t be because education isn’t individualized.

The process is destined for failure. Everyone might be working hard with the best of intentions, but they are shoveling sand against the tide. Have you heard that definition of insanity that says you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result? That’s where we are. We just look busy, that’s it. We got here because we just won’t open our eyes and see that we’re failing and we’ll keep on failing because…

It’s an US versus THEM mentality. School districts put up huge walls. Unless they are forced to, they don’t call on other professionals in the community for help. Why? Because they’ll have to pay for the services.

When I was able to convince Nancy Bell of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes to put a clinic in our community, the next time the local newspaper came out, there was the superintendent proudly announcing, “If Dr. McCulloch thinks our school district is paying for these services, she’s wrong.” Well, sixteen years later, they’ve written plenty of checks to parents to reimburse them for Lindamood-Bell services, but they can still contend they’ve never paid Lindamood-Bell. Seriously? Yeah, let’s just play with these kids’ lives for the sake of the bureaucracy.

 Districts do their best to minimize the extensive results I provide. “No, no, we can’t look at that!” They oftentimes completely ignore my results. What is a parent to think?

 One interesting dynamic is how they frequently reference “the team” as if it is a groupthink. Well, it is. But, the “team” seems to be defined as the people who work for the school and since there are usually more on their side of the table than on the parents’ side of the table, I’ve asked parents to bring grandparents, aunts and uncles, pastors, anybody who can fill the seats. Of course, you have to give the district twenty-four-hour notice as to who is coming. It sure does shake things up!

They don’t ask us. I can practically guarantee that if a school district called on any of my colleagues and asked for our help, we would be right there, doing everything we can to make the situation come out right for the kid. The problem here is that our focus is the kid and not perpetuating the bureaucracy. We are ethically bound to consider the best interests of our clients at all times. We have no allegiances to bureaucracy.

We’re not taking into account a kid’s developmental history. A long and difficult labor and delivery can lead to ADHD, autism and language processing disorders. If the kid was colicky and didn’t achieve independent sleep within the expected time frame, they might end up being diagnosed with ADHD. If they were slow to achieve language milestones or had multiple ear infections, they’re vulnerable to language disorders.

Once a kid qualifies for language services, they need to be tracked. I’m talking about language development, not speech problems such as articulation disorders. Just because a kid has achieved their goals does not mean that language disorders are gone. They will absolutely reappear. Trust me. I’ve seen it over and over. Surprise! Qualify for language processing deficits in third grade, and dismissed in fourth grade? By sixth grade, you’re drowning. Your language development progresses slowly, but the pace of the curriculum is running away from you.

We don’t understand that the more subtle aspects of learning can make or break a kid. Processing speed matters. Ever see the “I Love Lucy” episode where she and Ethel get a job at the candy factory? Their job was to wrap each piece as it moved along a conveyor belt. They’re toddling along, having fun, doing their job. Along comes their supervisor, sees, that they “got it down” and speeds up the conveyor. Lucy and Ethel couldn’t keep up and started stuffing candy into their hats, bras and pockets.

If a kid has a sluggish cognitive tempo, there’s not a lot to be done about it. Kids with slow processing speed simply cannot keep up. They can’t keep up with the pace of classroom instruction, the homework assignments and tests. It’s tremendous stress on them.

 A Ford just can’t keep up with a Ferrari. These kids will always have a large “fix and finish file.”

Learn about the massive impact of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s not just about paying attention. The “downstream” effects of ADHD are memory and speed of processing along with other executive functioning skills. Evaluate these areas to determine if they are hiding underneath the ADHD.

Learn about the widespread consequences of being on the autistic spectrum. It’s not just about social development. It’s about tolerating the environment from a sensory standpoint. It’s about struggling to develop higher order thinking skills. How many school psychologists know the role of mirror neurons in the daily functioning of students on the spectrum?

We’re not being realistic about what we can actually accomplish. Is it realistic to think that when a ninth grader is reading at a fourth grade level that a classroom support system can actually remediate that student? No, it isn’t. We just can’t give kids with disabilities the attention, the time, or the expertise they need to overcome their challenges.

It’s the budget or the kid. And, the winner is, the budget! It’s that basic.

We don’t consider the long-term consequences of a child who does not learn. You’re foolish if you think that you are insulated from the damage wreaked by a kid who never learned how to read.

Let me paint a picture for you. I testified in a fair hearing of a kid who was massively dyslexic and the district failed him. It was clear cut. But, mother had moved him all over in an attempt to get him educated and she lied about her address. Game over. Kid loses.

 Later, I encountered one of the attorneys involved in the case. At the beginning of an IEP meeting, an attorney was boasting about his newborn daughter. The pictures were, of course, adorable. After the IEP meeting was over, he loudly, and in a nasty, provocative tone said, “Hey, no hard feelings about XXXX.” I lost it.

 I told him, “You think you did well? You dumped another poor, black kid out onto the street with no hope of ever getting a job. In sixteen years, what’s to keep him from putting a gun to your new baby girl’s head and taking her car?” He came over the table after me and had to be restrained. The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

We’re not paying enough attention to the gifted kids. We make a dangerous assumption that “they’ll always do okay.” They don’t. Working with the prison population taught me that many a bright kid goes astray when they’re not challenged. Just because they’re smart, doesn’t mean they’ll be successful. They need to be taught how to channel their gifts into success. We need to invest in the creative and innovative kids in our schools.

School districts won’t admit that they don’t know what to do to help a kid. This one is self-explanatory, isn’t it?

What do we do now that we have this huge bureaucracy with its entrenched personnel and “unhealthy” organizational moral code? I have some ideas:

We have to start at both ends. We need to put vocational/trade training programs into place immediately for those high schoolers who are struggling academically and who see themselves with a future in a trade. We’ll always need plumbers, electricians, mechanics and builders.

At the kindergarten/preschool end, having parents complete a basic developmental history that hits the “high points” of a child’s beginning will help determine if they are vulnerable for disabilities. By second grade, every child should have been assessed to get baseline data.

Each school should be characterized by the following:

1. Every classroom has a maximum of twenty students with a full-time, fully credentialed teacher, and full-time aide with at least some teacher training. It’s likely we won’t need special education or even non-public schools if we reshape how we deliver services.

2. Teachers with specialized training should have unlimited opportunity to conduct remediation for those students who need it. After all, if they don’t have the basic skills to access the curriculum, are students going to benefit from being in the classroom?

3. Community and school-based resources should be available, freely, to teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and nurses. They should not have to get permission to speak with experts.

4. Each school psychologist should have no more than two elementary schools or one middle school or one high school. May I tell you that my first year in a local school district, I had seven schools, including a middle school and a high school? The younger the kids, the more attention they need. It’s about prevention versus intervention. Intervention is very expensive and not just in dollars. Give the psychologist a fighting chance to make a difference.

5. Each school psychologist should have easy access to the kinds of test instruments they want to use. They should have access to the test publishers’ catalogs to learn about the kinds of tests that are available. I bought a test and was using it at a public school when I was the psychologist. I was called in and “written up” for using the test because, as the special education director told me, “If we find a problem, we have to do something about it.” Well, golly gee, isn’t that the POINT?

6. School psychologists should have an actual office away from the busy-ness of the rest of the school to conduct testing. It should be a comfortable atmosphere that is not cold, hard, and scary. Kids should want to go there.

I like the idea of assessment centers that are open on the weekends. Students could have a choice as to when and where they are evaluated in order to achieve valid results.

7. Experts should be brought into the schools to offer in-service about various disabilities and conditions in order to help teachers and others find the best ways to support children with special needs.

8. Twice a month, the team involved in evaluating, teaching and tracking a child’s progress needs to be given unencumbered time to sit together and focus on this one child.

9. Schools should not close at three and over the weekends, extended holidays and summers. We are losing out on a valuable resource in our communities. They should be open after school for trade education, literacy and enrichment (learning another language or English), help with homework, parent education and social opportunities. See the article “What to do about Baltimore” (4-30-15) at drclaudia.net.

10. Schools need to draw on the resources around them for those institutions (if available) that offer training from the following: teacher, speech and language, occupational therapists and those seeking to work with the pediatric population in terms of mental, social and behavioral health. Also, schools should draw on the senior population to provide a wealth of helpful partners in the classroom.

Earlier, I spoke about the “thieving and vicious” nature of school districts when it comes to special education kids and their families. I believe that I have covered the “thieving” part extensively. Let me add a bit about the “vicious” part. These are my personal experiences. I observed them myself. I was involved in them.

> After I opened my practice, I had my first IEP meeting at a local school. The district failed to conduct a language evaluation even though they had a signed assessment plan. After the meeting, the school psychologist asked to speak to me. We went to his office and he told me that if I “didn’t play ball with the district” that he’d see to it that I was “run out of town.”

> A new special education director was hired at a school district. She called me at home to tell me that she was hired to “put me out of business.” I was so excited. I responded that I hoped her district would do such a great job that, I would have no families coming to me from them.

> Families were told that I did not have a license to practice.

> Families were also told that the district would not work with them if I conducted an evaluation.

> In an act of frustration and an attempt at intimidation, I suspect, a school district attorney threw her glasses and a book at me in a meeting.

> A psychologist hired by the district to conduct an assessment told me, in front of the IEP team, which included the parents, that I was “too stupid to understand his results.” Funny enough, neither did the school district’s attorney. The case was settled.

> Teachers were told not to complete rating scales and feedback forms that I asked them to complete. This was a violation of the parents’ right to fully participate in their child’s assessment because I was their proxy for this element of the evaluation.

> Observations were “suddenly cancelled” for no reason once I arrived at the school.

> During a fair hearing, the school district’s attorney swore at me while I was testifying. He also threw my report at me and exclaimed, “I know why you write such big reports. You’re trying to protect yourself from a lawsuit.” I quickly responded, “Well, if I wanted to do a half-baked job (not exactly the phrase I used), I’d be a school psychologist for your district!” And, the wars go on…

> Districts refused to allow me to observe.

> Shortly before I closed my practice, a guidance counselor explained to me that she shredded the rating scales that the teacher had already completed. Her explanation was that the scales were not appropriate for the teacher to complete. In actuality, the rating scales were the teachers’ versions and were designed for teachers. They destroyed my professional property.

> One of mother’s I represented, who was a mild-mannered and very patient woman, was threatened with a restraining order if she kept trying to schedule meetings with her child’s teacher.

> Another mother who I represented, who was extremely active as a volunteer in her child’s classroom, was apparently advocating “too much” and was not invited to the volunteer luncheon at the end of the school year. There were a variety of similar rebukes to her and some right in front of me.

> When I took off work for two months to study for an exam, several of my colleagues called me to see if I “was doing better.” I learned some of the startling rumors that were being spread by school district personnel regarding my absence. It was no surprise since, from time-to-time, throughout my 23 years in private practice, rumors were spread about my husband and also my son. I learned about these rumors from my families and colleagues.

It was clear to me that school districts’ terrorism extended to anyone who might threaten their existence.

My father would say to us kids, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” He was right. Looking at the fact that we are experiencing astronomical levels of teacher burnout, we have to do a lot of things differently. At this point, we’re losing 40%-50% of teachers in their first years of teaching. Kids are dropping out in record numbers and these are the statistics you don’t hear about because data isn’t being collected.

NOBODY is asking those who work in the field about solutions. It’s all about the “upper crust,” the “elite,” the “insiders” and let’s face it, they must not know much because look at the shape we are in.

We have a multitude of organizations that are “supposed” to be helping kids, but they, too, are bureaucracies who do not provide direct support. They seem to be in the fundraising and research business. Again, self-perpetuating and self-serving.

I say it’s time we have a Parent’s March. Heaven knows, we’ve got enough evidence to support our concerns. We will continue to have more drug use, more riots, more mass casualty shootings, more murder, more unwanted pregnancies, more prisoners and prisons, more wasted potential, more stress, more health issues and less life satisfaction if we do nothing. If we are not bold and committed, it will be “business as usual” and the bureaucracy is saved once again.

America has great music; however, with our current educational system, not everybody gets a chance to dance.

Let’s get this revolution started.

Assessment Plan for Elementary Students Suspected of Learning Disabilities

Intelligence

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-5th Edition (WISC-5)

Leiter International Performance Scale-3rd Edition

Achievement

Woodcock-Johnson III Diagnostic Reading Battery

Gray Oral Reading Tests-5th Edition

Gray Silent Reading Tests

Tests of Reading Comprehension Test-4th Edition

Key Math-III Diagnostic Inventory

Test of Written Language-4th Edition

Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement-4th Edition

Reading subtests:

Reading Recall

Mathematics subtests:

Calculation

Number Matrices

Written Language subtests:

Spelling

Writing Samples

Editing

Spelling of Sounds

Academic Knowledge:

Science

Social Studies

Humanities

Processing

Test of Memory and Learning-2nd Edition

Rey Complex Figure and Recognition Trial

Conners Rating Scales-3rd Edition/Long Form completed by

teachers, parents and student, if appropriate

Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement-4th Edition/Form A

Fluency subtests:

Sentence Reading Fluency

Word Reading Fluency

Math Facts Fluency

Sentence Writing Fluency

Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning-2nd Edition completed by parents, teachers and student, if appropriate

Social-Emotional Functioning[2]

Behavior Assessment System for Children-3nd Edition completed by parents, teachers and students, if appropriate

Clinical Interview

Additional Data

“Blind” classroom observations in structured and unstructured settings

Developmental History

Review of Records

Intake Interview

Feedback with student; feedback with parents

If I suspect language processing disorders, I will also administer a Test of Listening Comprehension-2nd Edition and if autism is suspected, I administer the Test of Problem-Solving-3rd Edition, the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-2nd Edition (Parent Interview Edition), Social Responsiveness Scale-2nd as well as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2nd Edition.

I also have individual tests that measure auditory and visual processing and a wide variety of timed tests, which help me to determine a student’s ability to produce work in a reasonable time frame.

Understand that I have $35,000 worth of test materials and scoring software from which I can choose and I have the luxury of administering as many tests as I feel are necessary to pursue any clinical hypotheses. Luxury, indeed.


Reprinted from

WHITTIER JOURNAL OF CHILD AND FAMILY ADVOCACY [Vol. 16:1]

Dr. Claudia McCulloch


About Dr. Claudia:

My initial inspiration to become a psychologist who evaluated children, teens and young adults with exceptionalities came when I started teaching in a small Montessori school that accepted kids who were rejected by public schools because they had Down Syndrome, ADHD and dyslexia.  It was 1975 and I had no idea what my ultimate professional goal was, but I knew it would unfold and I would know it when I saw it.

 I went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling.  Well, that was part of the goal, but that degree got me one step closer when I began working with emotionally disturbed children in a housing project in Philadelphia.  In that setting, the goal was clarified.  I met a woman, Sybil Masters, who conducted evaluations on my students and she came back to me with such amazing information.  She was a school psychologist.

 I was accepted into the School Psychology doctoral program at Temple University where I first earned a Master’s Degree and then, the Ph.D.  I worked in schools as a school psychologist.  When the politics, incompetence, downright fraud, intimidation of parents, teachers and school psychologists, was too much to bear, I knew I couldn’t go on in that position, especially when I was told to lie about test results because “we have too many kids in special education”.

 I went into private practice where my only goal was to determine exactly what was going on with kids, craft a plan to remediate the problems and then, to take the fight to the school districts (and others) to outline where they failed to evaluate all areas of suspected disability and to provide FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). 

 For 25 years, I fought all of the fights and now, I host a 3-hour weekday talk radio show answering your questions about your children’s education, development and behavior as well as questions about your own lives and the people who impact you including your friends, neighbors, co-workers and boss.

 Find me at DrClaudia.net.  The show is live streamed on Facebook every weekday from 11 to 2 Central time.  Check out the Parenting Pointers which are 60-second features and the several thousand blog posts!

 † Claudia Rodgers McCulloch, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Educational Psychologist. Current host of “The Dr. Claudia Show-All Things Family” radio show. She can be reached at drclaudiamcculloch@gmail.com.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DrClaudiaMcCulloch/


[1] Ashly McGlone, Special Ed Case Costs Approach $1M, THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE (August 12, 2014), http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/sdut-solana-beachspecial-ed-case-legal-fees-2014aug12-htmlstory.html

[2] cursorily assessed if there are no concerns.

Why Schools Shouldn’t Reject Your Child’s Diagnosis

Recently, I have heard (far too many) stories from parents that the schools are taking away services from their child and/or denying providing services because the school does not believe the child’s diagnosis.  This is wrong and illegal on so many levels, but I will adress the three (3) most important reasons why schools should never deny or reject a child’s diagnosis.

1. Only licensed physicians (medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and/or nurse practitioners depending on your state law) may provide a diagnosis and most IEP team members from the school district are NOT licensed physicians (school psychologists are not licensed physicians).

As an example, in New Jersey (and most states have similar laws to my knowledge) a person must have a license to “practice medicine or surgery”.  N.J.S.A. 45:9-6.  Diagnosis is practicing medicine.  N.J.S.A. 45:9-5.1.

If one of the school staff suggests or takes the position that your child doesn’t have a diagnosis that has been confirmed by a physician, ask such person if he/she holds a physician’s license in your state.

2. Many diagnoses are “hidden” disorders or neurological problems, but should not be denied simply because you can’t “see” them.

If a child has Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy or is an amputee, the disability is likely obvious.  (I prefer not to automatically assume it is.)  However, many disorders like Autism, ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Dyslexia, Cystic Fibrosis, Sensory or Auditory Processing Disorder, Krohn’s Disease, Depression, and others are what I call “hidden” disorders because they are often not obvious just observing a child.  This is another reason that only licensed physicians who understand what tests need to be performed in order to make the proper diagnosis should do so.  I’ve heard teachers and school administrators (people who should know better) say, “But [he/she] looks normal!”  What an awful comment about a child with a disability.

Frankly, I can’t understand why school personnel even question this.  For example, I have diabetes – a neurological disease.  Looking at me, you would not know this.  I do long charity bicycle rides of 70+ miles.  Most people would say, “He seems fine.”  While that may be the outward appearance, does it mean that I don’t have diabetes or that the disease does not affect me? It is wrong to deny that.

The huge problem with this is that when services are denied because the school does not observe the disorder, the child’s disorder may have devastating effects.  Children with Autism may have meltdowns; children with ADHD may be distracted in classes; children with Auditory Processing Disorder may become disoriented or frightened; children with Krohn’s Disease may become exhausted; etc.  Once this occurs, access to education is impeded.  This is exactly what IDEA, 504, ADA, and other laws are designed to prevent.

3. Schools may respond that they don’t witness how the disability impacts the education, but they also don’t see the aftermath when the child arrives home.

While it is true that under IDEA and 504, there are two parts to the question: (a) does the child have a diagnosis that fits them within an eligibility category? and (b) does the child need special education and related services or accommodations because of the disability?  20 U.S.C. 1401(3)(A); 29 U.S.C. 794.

However, children have amazing capacity to overcome their disabilities.  In colloqual terms, they can “hold it together” during school hours, but then come home and “let it all out”.  Children know home is their “safe space” and if anxiety, frustration, fear, depression, anger, or similar emotions build up during the school day because the disability is not being recognized by the school, the parents must bear the brunt of those released emotions in the home.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance letter that states “IDEA and the regulations clearly establish that the determination about whether a child is a child with a disability is not limited to information about the child’s academic performance.”  USDOE Guidance, Letter to Clarke (2007).  That means behavior should also be considered – whether in school or in the home, because remember a parent is a critical member of the IEP team.  20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B)(i).

Conclusion

Schools should not reject a child’s diagnosis made by a licensed physician because (1) it is unlikely that an IEP team member is a physician; (2) just because they can’t “see” the disability doesn’t mean it’s not there; and (3) they need to consider all effects of the disability, including behaviors at home triggered by the failure to address the issues at school.

If a school rescinds services to your child under an IEP or takes away the IEP because they don’t believe your child has a disability, contact a special education lawyer ASAP.

 

Evaluations vs. IEP Meetings – A Very Important Distinction

A client recently told me they received a notice for an “evaluation meeting”.  Huh?  I asked, do you mean an IEP meeting?  The client wasn’t sure because the notice said just that – evaluation meeting.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN EVALUATION MEETING!

Since I figured school districts are trying to confuse parents by using the terms “evaluation” and “IEP meeting” interchangeably, let me clarify the difference between the two for everybody.

What the law says

IDEA is very specific about what an “evaluation” is and what an “IEP meeting” is.  And they are in separate sections of the statute.  Here is what that law says:

Evaluation, 20 U.S.C. §1414(a), (b), and (c)

Initial evaluation: “A State educational agency, other State agency, or local educational agency shall conduct a full and individual initial evaluation . . . before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability under this subchapter.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(1).

In other words, before a student can receive special education and related services for the first time, the school must conduct an initial evaluation of the child.  This is part of their “Child Find” responsibility if someone suspects that the child has a disability that impacts their education.

The next few subsections discuss the procedures used and the purpose of an initial evaluation (“to determine [eligibility]  within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation”) and parental consent.

Reevaluation: “A local educational agency shall ensure that a reevaluation of each child with a disability is conducted . . . if the local educational agency determines that the educational or related services needs, including improved academic achievement and functional performance, of the child warrant a reevaluation; or if the child’s parents or teacher requests a reevaluation.” 20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2).

Thus, re-evaluation of a child must occur if the school believes a change in services is necessary or if a parent or teacher requests it.  Here is a very important part:

Reevaluation MUST occur at least every three (3) years, but not more than once a year, unless the parents and school agree that reevaluation is not necessary.

20 U.S.C. §1414(a)(2)(B).

What does an evaluation involve? “In conducting the evaluation, the local educational agency shall use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information, including information provided by the parent (to determine if there is a disability and what will be necessary in an IEP); shall not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining (disability or the education program); and use technically sound instruments that may assess the relative contribution of cognitive and behavioral factors, in addition to physical or developmental factors.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(b)(2).

What the heck does all that mean?

It means that the school must use valid testing methods and get input from the parents and others who know the child in performing the evaluation.  The school can’t simply rely on what the teachers say.

This is where the trouble starts, because schools think that they can conduct an “evaluation” or “reevaluation” by simply having a meeting.  They can’t.

Let’s continue.

IEP Meeting, 20 U.S.C. §1414(d)

IEP Meeting:  The IEP Team (parents, at least 1 gen ed teacher who knows the child, at least 1 special ed teacher who knows the child, a representative of the school district who knows the resources available, a person who can interpret evaluation results, and possibly others) must assemble to develop an IEP for the child.  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1)(B) and (C).  This is an IEP meeting.

The Team must meet to ensure that an IEP is in effect for each child with a disability in the school district by the beginning of the school year in the Fall.  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(2)(A).    The IEP meeting must occur “periodically, but not less frequently than annually, to determine whether the annual goals for the child are being achieved.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(4)(A).

So, hopefully you’re still with me.  And you can see that the law is crystal clear that an evaluation is something different than an IEP meeting.

So why are schools getting this mixed up (maybe on purpose)?

One sentence in IDEA may be the culprit:

“To the extent possible, the local educational agency shall encourage the consolidation of reevaluation meetings for the child and other IEP Team meetings for the child.”  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(3)(E).

The statute doesn’t explain what a “reevaluation meeting” is, but I think it refers back to the section quoted in Reevaluation above, namely a meeting to determine if a reevaluation is needed.  It is not a meeting where an evaluation takes place, but rather to decide if one is necessary.

Nevertheless, ASK the school what they mean by an “evaluation meeting”.  Ask them if they mean a meeting to decide whether reevaluation is necessary or if they mean an IEP meeting or a combined meeting.  And, as always, DO IT IN WRITING!

If you want further information on this, get our book SchoolKidsLawyer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Special Education Law or contact us for a consultation.

 

 

Public Schools Have Made Your Child the Enemy and You, the Taxpayer, Are Funding Their Battle

You pay federal taxes.  You have schools in your town.  Those schools have special education programs.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a parent of a child with special needs.

Well, guess what?  If you have a dispute with your school about your child’s IEP or otherwise not meeting your child’s special education needs, YOU are paying for the school to fight against you and your child.

Guess what else? Even if you don’t have a child with special needs or don’t even have a child in the school district, YOU are still paying to have the school fight against the child with a disability and his/her family.

Yes, you heard that right.  YOU are paying to fight against children with disabilities in your community – maybe your own child.

Let me explain this in greater detail and why the system should change.

Federal Funding For Schools

The federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§1400 et seq. or “IDEA” protects students with disabilities and guarantees they receive an appopriate education from their local schools.  This is accomplished and enforced through a federal funding mechanism within IDEA.  If a state receives federal funding for its schools, it must provide special education and related services to children with disabilities in its public schools.  20 U.S.C. § 1412.

In other words, some of the federal taxes you pay goes to fund special education and related services for students with disabilities.  You probably don’t object to ensuring a wheelchair-bound child access to the school via ramps or a child with diabetes having access to the school nurse to administer insulin shots.  You also likely don’t object to a chid with a learning disability receiving extra help in the classroom so they can achieve with their non-disabled peers.

YOU don’t object . . . but the schools are.

Where Does the Funding Go?

Those federal funds for special education – your tax dollars – are supposed to be used to assess if children have disabilities and evaluate their needs, prepare Individualized Education Programs or “IEPs” with special education adn related services to meet those needs, and decide the best location to provide those services for the child.  20 U.S.C. §1414.  Just as non-disabled children can get their education at their local public school for free, the goal of IDEA is to provide the same for children with disabilities, called a Free Appropriate Public Education or “FAPE”.  20 U.S.C. §1401(9).

Still sounds pretty reasonable, right?

How Does A School Make Sure It Provides a FAPE?

Schools are supposed to ensure a child with a disability provides a FAPE via two main mechanisms: (1) assembling an IEP team; and (2) ensuring that the rights of the child are protected and the parents are active participants in enforcement of those rights.  Tax dollars pay for schools to assemble an IEP team, which consists of the child’s parents (and the child if appropriate) and several key school personnel, to discuss how best to provide FAPE for the child with a disability.  20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(1).  States and schools must also put procedures in place to secure the legal rights of the child with a disability and his/her parents.  20 U.S.C. §1415.

This is where the system usually breaks down.  Because the parents and the school staff don’t alawys agree on how the IEP is developed or what services are provided to the child with a disability.  Thereby, a dispute arises.

How IDEA Addresses Special Education Disputes – The Problem

IDEA provides mechanisms to address these special education disputes between parents and schools.  If a school wants to do something with which the parents don’t agree or if the school doesn’t want to do something the parents have suggested, the school can issue a Prior Written Notice or “PWN”.  20 U.S.C. §1415(b)(3) and (c)(1).  Parents can review their child’s education records kept by the school as a check on whether the school is providing a FAPE.  20 U.S.C. §1415(b)(1).

There are other “Procedural Safeguards” in IDEA, but none that causes as many problem as a party’s right to file a complaint challenging the “identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child” a/k/a a “Due Process Complaint.”  20 U.S.C. §1415(b)(6) and (f).

Why is this a problem?  Well, anytime lawyers get involved, there’s a problem, right? [He says half-jokingly, half-seriously.]  Each party to a Due Process case has “the right to be accompanied and advised by counsel.”  20 U.S.C. §1415(h)(1).

Still not a bad thing until you realize who is paying the school district’s lawyer’s bill.  The answer is . . . you probably guessed it . . . YOU ARE!

Paying For The School District’s Lawyer

That’s correct.  Whether attorney’s fees are paid directly by the school district’s Board of Education or through insurance (which is purchased using school budget money), the source of the money paid to the lawyers fight against your child with a disability is tax dollars.  YOUR tax dollars.

Schools are misdirecting funds intended to provide education to children with disabilities by spending it on legal bills or insurance to fight special education cases.

So what does that mean?  It means YOU, the taxpayer, are paying for the attorney sitting across the table from you and representing the school district.  The harder the school district lawyer fights, the more YOU are paying him/her.  The school district never has the incentive to resolve the dispute because they’re not truly paying the bill.

Now, I don’t know if you have ever been in a lawsuit before, but if you have, you know what a financial burden it is to pay a lawyer.  You have the incentive to get it over as quickly as possible because, in all likelihood, you are not Bank of America (or Citibank or Goldman Sachs or some other big bank).  But if you didn’t have to pay for your lawyer, you’d fight to the ends of the Earth, right?  That’s how the school district views it.

Not What IDEA Was Designed To Do

IDEA was not set up to favor the school districts.  In fact, IDEA was designed by Congress to “level the playing field” so that parents had a stronger role in the education of their child with a disability.  Specifically, Congress stated: “The purposes of [IDEA] are to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living; to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected; and to assist States, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities” among other goals.  20 U.S.C. §1400(d)(1).

IDEA was meant to improve collaboration and cooperation between schools and parents to help children with disabilities receive better education.  Certainly, Congress did not intend for states and schools to use federal funds to wage bitter lawsuit wars against parents and their children with disabilities.

But that is what it has become.  Ask any of my colleagues at COPAA.

So What Can You Do About It? – TAKE ACTION!

If you are like me and fed up with this system of injustice and abuse of taxpayer money, you can take action.  What school districts and their attorneys don’t want you to know is that because the source of funds paying the lawyer fees is public tax money, they MUST disclose such payments to the public who are paying those taxes.

In other words, if you live in a school district that is waging a special education war against a child with a disability, you have the RIGHT to know how much the school is paying its lawyers.

How do you find this out?  You make a Freedom of Information Act or “FOIA” request (or your state’s version of FOIA; for example, in New Jersey it is called the Open Public Records Act or OPRA).

Each state has a website for FOIA requests (I’ve listed a few below as examples) and usually a form to fill out.  On the form ask to see “All fees and costs paid to lawyers by XYZ Schooll District for special education disputes or legal disputes under IDEA for the last 5 years” or something similar.  Prepare for a fight, but you have the lawful right to that information as long as you live in XYZ School District.

New Jersey OPRA Records Request Website and Form

Florida Public Records Act Website and Forms

Texas Open Records Requests Website and Forms

Pennsylvania Open Records Request Website and Forms

For those not listed here, Google “[Your state] FOIA request” and look for an official state website URL.

Go get ’em!

The New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook

A group of smart minds in the New Jersey world of special education gathered and put together an excellent guide to assist schools, parents, and providers in helping children with dyslexia.  They recently issued “The New Jersey Dyslexia Handbook: A Guide to Early Literacy Development & Reading Struggles” (PDF) which is free to download from the NJ Department of Education website.

The table of contents shows that it covers everything from the definition of dyslexia to screening to various interventions and accommodations that can be made for the student.

If you have a student with dyslexia, you should download your free copy here:

http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/dyslexia/NJDyslexiaHandbook.pdf

 

 

What is your worst special education experience with a school district?

In the Comments describe your worst experience advocating for a child with a disability with your school district.  Did they fail to adequately find or evaluate a disability?  Did they design a poor IEP?  Did they fail to take your suggestions for the IEP?  Are you unhappy with the placement or classroom for your child?  Did the school district not provide the services they agreed to in the IEP? Is your child with a disability being bullied and the school district is not doing anything about it?  Something else?

Please stick to FACTS and not just namecalling.  Also, include your city, state, and name of the school district so that others can be aware.  If you don’t feel comfortable publishing that with your name, you can either post anonymously or only include your state.  We’d love to hear from you.

If you need a special ed lawyer to help you, visit the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates at www.copaa.org and start your search there.  If you are in NJ or PA, we at SchoolKidsLawyer.com can assist you.

 

What documents should be in your child’s special education binder?

If you are a parent of a special education student or advocating for one, do yourself a favor and . . .

PRINT OUT THIS ARTICLE (or at least the plan below).

Not only will this article save you time and lots of money, it will help you understand how best to help your child with a disability.

When clients contact me, most are armed with a box (or seven) of documents about their child’s special education.  It is wonderful that they are documenting their child’s path and what the school district is doing (or not doing) for their child.  It should be the mantra of every parent of a child with a disability: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!

But . . .

Usually, the documents clients provide me are overkill and disorganized.  Inside the box(es) is a pile of papers, often not in order. I doubt highly that a client wants me to bill them at $375.00/hour to go through those papers to organize them and figure out what I need.  Thus, before you meet with a lawyer or advocate, you should organize your child’s special education documents first.  You should do this even if you are advocating for your own child.

Here is a plan to explain which documents you need, which documents you don’t need, and how to organize them.

THE PLAN

1. Get a 2″ 3-ring binder with dividers.  Label the dividers as follows: MEDICAL, FAMILY BACKGROUND, EVALUATIONS, IEPs / 504 PLANS, and SCHOOL DOCS.

2. Under MEDICAL, include any papers from the original diagnosis of your child.  Also include any changes to that diagnosis (e.g. ADHD -> Autism Spectrum Disorder).  Also include a list of any major medical events, such as surgeries, hospital in-patient stays, broken bones, major or chronic illnesses, and allergies (don’t forget dental events, such as tonsillectomies, baby teeth extractions, etc.)  As best you can, document the dates and locations of these medical events, as well as treatments received.  Finally, if there are any related medical or psychological disorders in the immediate family, note those here as well (e.g. grandfather diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, uncle diagnosed with ADHD, etc.)  Finally, in the front of this section, place a list of all current physicians and medical providers seen by your child – primary care physician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, speech therapist, etc.  Make sure you have their name, the service they provide, and contact information (phone number, email address, website).

3. In the FAMILY BACKGROUND section, include notes of milestones in your child’s development (e.g. date first crawled, date first walked, date first spoke, first spoken words, etc.), especially any noted delays in such development.  Also provide a narrative of your family makeup and any major changes, such as number of living grandparents, parents, child’s siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.  It is critical to be honest about family events, such as divorces or separations, geographic relocations, domestic violence, financial or other stress, etc.  Place in this section other matters of importance in your family culture, such as religious beliefs, school history including any changes in school, ethnic celebrations, etc.  If you are in a divorced family, you should include anything that changes the name of the child and also any court order regarding physical custody, visitation, and especially legal custody or who has the right to make educational decisions for the child.

4. Do not include every evaluation of the child ever performed.  In EVALUATIONS, place only the most recent evaluations of the child.  These evaluations should be no more than 3 years old.  If the evaluations occurred more than 3 years ago, do not include them.  Thus, if this section is empty, one of the things you will be requesting is a new comprehensive educational evaluation of your child.

5. Like EVALUATIONS, within the IEPs/504 PLANS section do not include every IEP or 504 Plan since your child’s birth.  (That’s supposed to be humorous.)  My recommendation is to only include the current approved IEP or 504 Plan and all approved ones going back two school years.  You should only include a draft IEP or 504 Plan if it is related to the current approved IEP or 504 Plan (to show how the school changed or omitted certain information) or it is a current proposed IEP or 504 Plan with which you disagree.  Old drafts should be discarded because approved IEPs and 504 Plans overrule those drafts. Thus, this section should be at a maximum, 3-5 documents, especially since these are typically very long documents (you may consider only including pages from prior plans or drafts that conflict with the one currently at issue.)

6. The SCHOOL DOCS section is the trickiest of all.  My rule of thumb is when in doubt, include it.  First, if you haven’t done so already, send a FERPA request to the school for your child’s records.  (Click on the link to the left to read more about FERPA requests.)  At the beginning of this section, provide a list of all contact points at the school with names, phone numbers and email addresses of the superintendent, principal, assistant principal, all teachers that see your child, all service providers that see your child, all persons involved in lunch and/or playground monitoring, and any other person that your child may encounter in school.  Also include anyone on the IEP Team (Child Study Team) that is not included in the prior list, such as school psychologist.  [Why do this? First, it will assist your attorney or advocate into knowing who the players are.  Second, it will show the IEP Team that you are more than prepared when you show up at an IEP Team meeting with the list.  Can you imagine the fear on the faces of the IEP Team members when they see their names and contact information on a list in your notebook? Make sure you turn to that page in your binder when you first sit down.]  You should include here results from your child’s standardized tests, report cards, any disciplinary reports, absent/tardy reports, progress reports (triggered by the current IEP or otherwise), and any other key documents that discuss your child’s current levels of academic achievement and functioning in the school environment (sometimes emails from teachers or among teachers and administrators provide the true story).

Your binder may be huge, but volume is not the problem.  Disorganization is the problem which the binder resolves.  You, your attorney, or your advocate will appreciate this effort.  And, as stated previously, it will help zero in on the real issues your child with a disability is facing in the school environment.

[This article and other helpful tips for your child’s IEP are in our FREE report 5 Easy Steps for a Successful IEP MeetingDownload your copy here.]

For more on this and related topics, consider purchasing the book SchoolKidsLawyer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Special Education Law: Workbook for Parents, Advocates and Lawyers available now from Amazon.com or direct from SchoolKidsLawyer.com.

Guest Blog Post: Managing Classroom Behavior For Success – Antonia Guccione, M.S., M.A.

Any teacher will tell you that managing classroom behavior is critical to surviving the first days and weeks of the school year. But how? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2009 provides guidelines of procedures that must be adhered to when disciplining students with Special Needs. Teachers have the legislation to guide them, but do they have a toolkit of strategies to help them manage classroom behavior in a supportive, non-confrontational way?

Get in the Game

Without specific training related to the modification of behaviors of children with special needs, it is no wonder that teacher turnover in the first five years in the classroom is so high. According to NPR. org, schools that do a better job of coping with behavioral issues have significantly better teacher retention rates. So, it is well worth the school’s time and effort to educate not only students, but also teachers in this significant area of professional development.

The good news is that there are a number of very simple techniques that, if applied correctly, can yield positive outcomes for both students and teachers. The bad news is that school districts must be committed to teaching them, but often are not. Many of these techniques have been adapted from work originally presented by Fritz Redl and David Wineman in their book titled Controls from Within: Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child. These techniques address how to interact with children and avoid confrontational, no-win situations. In the work done by Redl and Wineman, threats and punishments were never used, even with considerably challenging students.

In the Beginning

Long before a student and teacher are in a “no-win” situation that results in disciplinary action, there are things that can be done to create a “win-win” situation. Relationship building is key. People, in general, do things relationally with and for one another. A simple smile can break multiple barriers and set the stage for interventions aimed at establishing positive, caring, teacher-student relationships. One such intervention is called “hypodermic affection”. This is an infusion of affection aimed at breaking through a barrier laden with fear or distrust. When a teacher exudes affection and positive energy, it can go a long way to encouraging a positive reaction from the student.

“Hurdle Help” is another such technique. In this intervention, a student is helped over his barrier to learning and participating with a hint or a strategy. As such, students are helped over their “hurdle” and can participate in the learning and the lesson.

No Words Needed

Non–verbal interventions, such as proximity and touch control, let the student know that the teacher is close at hand if support is needed. On the other hand, planned ignoring can protect a student’s ego if he or she needs a little more time to process a request. To the untrained eye, it may look like a teacher is ignoring the student, but this is in fact a very specific move on the part of the teacher. Often, especially with young children, the purpose of misbehavior can be to gain attention…planned ignoring removes the audience.

Change is a Good Thing

Sometimes it is necessary to “restructure” an activity and redirect a student; change it up a bit! If a student is totally lost on one particular task, find a way to alter the task. For example, if the student is coming up blank for the assigned writing prompt, allow a different subject choice. If other students see this as “unfair”, shine the light on differences among all of the students in the class. If this rule is applied equally to everyone, the trust in the room will grow, as will the respect for one another.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Prompting and fading is another intervention that can allow for a non-threatening solution to an otherwise crisis situation, or “showdown”, between a teacher and a student. Prompts can be full physical, partial physical, modeling, gesturing, or positional. If using this intervention, it’s important to proceed from the least to the most invasive prompting and should include a plan for prompt fading to be implemented as soon as possible. Fading means that over time, and as a student masters a skill, prompting will not be needed at all.

Plan Ahead for Success

Equipped with techniques to avoid confrontations, lessons can proceed! Providing a structured learning environment means that a teacher thinks carefully not only about the lesson to be taught, but how it will be introduced, instructed, and practiced for mastery. Have an interesting “do-now” on the board that introduces the aim of the lesson right from the start will motivate cooperation and participation. An interesting little known fact can kick off a lively discussion in any classroom, regardless of the level of the students. Since students learn by doing, elements of activity should be built in to the learning process for optimal gain.

Big Ticket Item – Cooperative Planning

Classroom rules are a necessity for structure and order. It is best if the teacher and student create them together and agree upon them as a unit. Utmost attention should be given that no one is left out of the equation. Inclusion is not just the law; it is the right thing to do. If we can play, shop, and live together in neighborhoods outside of school, why should students be separated in school? A master teacher knows how to differentiate a lesson’s aim, activities, and assessment. Students learn to accept differences and practice social skills important for the world outside the classroom doors when inclusive education is infused within schools.

It’s a Cultural Thing

Practicing these simple techniques can improve the climate and culture of each teacher’s classroom, and by extension, the climate and culture of our schools.

This article originally appears in The Autism Notebook Magazine, Aug./Sep. 2016, South Florida Edition, p. 7.  Online edition can be viewed for free at:

http://virtualpublications.soloprinting.com/publication/?i=328613

THANK YOU FOR OUR GUEST BLOGGER:

Antonia Guccione, MA; MS is a consultant, educator, and writer. As an educator, she has forty years’ experience designing and chronicling model programs for students with a diverse set of Special Needs

SchoolKidsLawyer.com truly appreciates this.

 

Press Release: NEW BOOK ON SPECIAL EDUCATION LAW PUBLISHED

Amazin Blue Press LLC is pleased to announce publication of its new title:

SchoolKidsLawyer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Special Education Law: Workbook for Parents, Advocates and Lawyers

by Robert C. Thurston, Esq.

cover04

This 266 page book is a user-friendly guide to assist families of children with disabilities, complete with forms, helpful tips, and links.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, about 2.8 million school-aged children have a disability.  In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified 1 in 68 children in the U.S. as being on the Autism Spectrum.  Yet, most of these children are not getting equal access to education and most of their families don’t even know they have legal rights available.

This book not only makes special education more accessible to students with disabilities, but also explains in non-legal terms how to enforce their legal rights within the public school systems.  The guide is applicable to all 50 U.S. states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories.

About the Author: Rob Thurston is a well-respected attorney that focuses his law practice on special education law.  He has published numerous articles and lectures widely on the subject.  He has two sons, the older of which has Autism and is a major inspiration for writing this book.

# # #

For more information about the book, go to http://schoolkidslawyer.com/book or contact Robert C Thurston, Esq., via email at rthurston@schoolkidslawyer.com.

How Does a Diagnosis of Disability Affect My Child’s Eligibility For Special Education?

Many parents are aware of their child’s diagnosis (or the symptoms of the diagnosis), but perhaps have never formally received a diagnosis for their child from a physician. Why is a diagnosis important? A child must have a diagnosis that fits within 13 categories of disability in order for that child to be eligible for special education services.

I’ve created a handy chart that links a diagnosis to the category under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which is the first step in determining eligibility for special education.

You can download the chart here:

IDEA Disability Categories

Please also feel free to share this information with parents of kids with disabilities.