Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vision Therapy as a Related Service

Is your child entitled to vision therapy as a related service at school?  It depends. 
Vision therapy helps a child with low vision to develop residual vision, use low-vision aids effectively, and enhance auditory skills.  However, there is no mention of vision therapy in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, or in the 2006 Part B regulations, or in the U.S. Department of Education’s analysis of the Part B regulations.  Because vision therapy is usually provided under the supervision of a licensed optometrist, some school districts consider it a medical service that they are not required to provide.  Many school districts simply argue that it is not a recognized related service under the IDEA and refuse to consider it.  However, occasionally a school district will agree to provide vision therapy if it can be shown that the therapy is necessary for the student to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Because the IDEA defines "related services" to include "such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education," an argument can be made that vision therapy qualifies as a related service if a student's visual impairment has an adverse effect on his education, even with correction.  There does not appear to be consistency among Arizona school districts and charter schools in their analyses and findings.  But vision therapy ought to be provided if it is necessary for your child to receive FAPE, that is, to benefit from his or her special education.  Vision therapy should be available as a related service when necessary for a student to benefit academically.

Autism on the rise

CDC: U.S. kids with autism up 78% in past decade.  The estimated number of U.S. autistic kids has skyrocketed by 78% since 2000, according to a report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  One in 88 American children has autism, according to the new figures. Among boys, it's one in 54.  Why? One expert says: "Better diagnosis, broader diagnosis, better awareness, and roughly 50% of 'We don't know.'"  One advocate says: "we have an epidemic of autism in the United States." 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

Applications for Empowerment Scholarships for the 2012-2013 school year are being accepted between March 26 and May 4, 2012. 
What is an Empowerment Scholarship Account?  An Empowerment Scholarship Account ("ESA") is a program that is established to provide an education for qualified students and must include reading, grammar, math and science.
Who is eligible for an ESA?  What students qualify?  In order to qualify, a student must:
· Be an Arizona resident, AND
· Be "identified as having a disability," AND
· Have been enrolled as a full time student in an Arizona public school or charter school for the first  one hundred (100) days of the prior school year (this is called “the 100 day rule”), OR
· Have received a Displaced or Disabled Scholarship from a Student Tuition Organization ("STO") the prior year, OR
· Have received an ESA the prior year.
How is a student "identified as having a disability"?  A student with an 504 Plan (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act [(29 U.S. Code Section 794] or a student with an IEP meets the criteria for a student identified as having a disability. 
Where do the monies come from?  ADE") bases the funding for students with disabilities on a formula that is determined by the students' needs outlined in their IEP / MET / 504 plans.  Different plans are developed based on a child’s needs and thus how the state should fund them. The ESA program uses the same formula based model to determine your child’s scholarship amount.
If qualified, how much does a student receive?  It is roughly 90% of the amount the school district or charter school would receive, less 3% for administrative costs. The amount is determined by calculating 90% of the student’s funding level based.  The formula is based on category of disability, grade level and school location.
What can ESA funds be spent on?  Funds must be used for education, including reading, grammar, math, social studies and science. Eligible expenses are:
· Tuition and fees at a nongovernmental (private) school for preschool, kindergarten and grades one - twelve;
· Textbooks required by the private school;
· Educational therapies or services from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider;
· Tutoring services from a state, regionally or nationally accredited provider;
· Curriculum;
· Tuition or fees from a private online learning program;
· Fee for nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement tests,
· Advanced Placement exams, or any exam related to postsecondary admissions;
· Contributions to a qualified College Savings Plan (529 Plan)
· Tuition or fees at an eligible postsecondary institution; and
· Bank fees charged for the management of the ESA.

There is an informational meeting at the Arizona Department of Education for parents of applicant students.  This meeting will focus on the application process, eligibility and fund use. The meeting will be held at:
Arizona Department of Education
1535 West Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85007
(Room 409)
 Time: 12pm-2pm on March 28, 2012 

You can receive ESA e-mail updates and reminders by sending e-mail to requesting to be added to the e-mail list.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Worst Kind of Bully

When we think of bullying, our thoughts conjure up images of student versus student.  As if that weren’t bad enough, there now appear to be increasing instances of teachers bullying students.  Just as some teachers show favoritism toward a particular student, the infamous “teacher’s pet, there are those few teachers who single out a particular student to bully.  What does bullying look like?  It can be labeling a child (“lazy,” “loser,” “whiner”), ignoring a child, dismissing a child’s ideas, always putting child at end of the line, always calling child last for an activity, slapping a child, speaking negatively about the child to other students, speaking negatively about the child to others in front of the child, treating the child differently than others.  These are just some examples.  Bullying by teachers can be any form or harassment or intimidation. 
Just a few months ago,  a New Jersey school board took action against a special ed teacher who bullied a student.  The teacher was videotaped verbally bullying a 15 year old student with special needs.  The student was recorded repeatedly asking the teacher to stop calling him "special," which provoked responses from the teacher, such as, "What does the title on the front of that school say? 'Special education,'" and "You want me to call you normal, and you don't even know what it is."  The teacher was placed on paid administrative leave until the charges were certified.  The charges were certified December 5, 2011 and the teacher faces a period of up to 120 days of unpaid administrative leave or until an administrative law judge renders a judgment.
What can you do if you suspect your child’s teacher is bullying?  Ask to visit the classroom.  Speak to the teacher.  Email the Principal or, if your child is in special education, email the special education director / student support services coordinator.  Start with the teacher, if you can.  Perhaps the teacher is unaware of his or her inappropriate and wrongful behavior, and its effect on your child.  Tips:
·         In discussions with school personnel, be as factual and specific as possible, keeping your emotions in check. 
·         Make a list of points you want to raise, and arrange in order. 
·         State the number of instances the offending behavior has occurred, with dates and times, if possible. 
·         Explain the effect on your child, again being as specific and factual as possible, explaining your child says he or she is embarrassed, cries, says he or she doesn’t like the class or the teacher, does not want to go to school, is now biting nails, etc. 
Bullying by teachers can be more harmful than bullying by peers.  Students subjected to bullying by teachers may suffer severe consequences such as insecurity (here is a person of importance and power who thinks I am worthless) or anger.  It can affect the student educationally, physically, socially and emotionally.  There can be long lasting damaging effects.  So if your child complains about a teacher’s treatment of him or her, look into the situation, beginning with asking your child for specifics, for facts. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Extended School Year ("ESY")

What is Extended School Year ("ESY") services?  ESY is additional special education and related services for pupils with disabilities that supplement the normal school year and are provided as part of a FAPE.  Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), extended school year (“ESY”) services must be provided if the student’s IEP Team determines that the services are “necessary to ensure a Free and Appropriate (“FAPE”) to the student. 
In Arizona, each school district and charter school must make ESY services available to all students with disabilities for whom such services are necessary.  Your child is eligible for ESY if the IEP Team determines ESY is necessary for your child?  ESY is necessary for your child if the benefits your child gained during the regular school year would be significantly jeopardized without educational services provided over the summer school break.  ESY is necessary if your child would experience “severe or substantial regression” if he or she is not provided with educational services over the summer months and the regression would result in substantial skill loss of a degree and duration that would "seriously impede" your child’s progress toward educational goals.  Eligibility is based on data:  retrospective data, such as past regression, and the rate of recoupment, or predictive data when empirical data is not available.  Predictive data may be proven by expert opinion, based on a professional individual assessment.
ESY is NOT, however, to be provided as a day care or respite care service, a program to maximize the academic potential of pupils with disabilities, or a summer recreation program for pupils with disabilities.
For a student with a disability currently enrolled in special education, eligibility for ESY services shall be determined no later than 45 calendar days prior to the last day of the school yearFor Arizona, count back 45 days from the last day of this school year, and that is when you should be receiving your notice whether your child is eligible for ESY.  Make sure there is data to support that decision, and make sure you are part of that decision.  Schools are having their spring breaks now.  Make sure to ask the IEP Team for the data taken before the spring recess and after to determine if your child has regressed and what it will take for your child to recoup.  That data will help assess whether educational services are necessary for your child over the summer.  But if you don’t want ESY, that is your right.  Student participation in an ESY program is not compulsory.   

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Take action against restraint & seclusion in schools!

What can you do to help prevent restraint and seclusion in our schools?  Support pending legislation that seeks to do just that.  United States Senator Tom Harkin (Chair, Health Education Labor and Pension Committee) introduced Senate Bill 2020 ("S. 2020"), KEEPING ALL STUDENTS SAFE ACT, in December 2011. The bill would ban physical restraint except in emergency situations when there is an immediate threat of serious bodily injury. This bill will protect children nationwide from restraint and seclusion in schools. The bill would have prevented a 7 year old boy from being restrained and secluded within the basement of an elementary school in the Deer Valley Unified School District. More aptly termed “scream rooms,” such seclusion rooms are exactly what Federal bill S. 2020 seeks to eliminate. The bill bans seclusion - confinement - of children in locked rooms and rooms from which they cannot exit. It bans life-threatening restraint that interferes with breathing or the ability to communicate, and mechanical and chemical restraints. It requires schools to notify parents within 24 hours of restraint. Please write to our U.S. Senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain, to co-sponsor the national Keeping All Students Safe Act.  

Restraint and seclusion are dangerous, emotionally / psychologically and physically, and sometimes fatal. A study at the national level by the Government Accountability Study found that hundreds of children, mostly with disabilities, had been subjected to restraint and seclusion in school, resulting in death, injury, and psychological trauma. Examples included a 7 year old who died because she could not breathe as she was being held face down for hours by school staff, 5 year olds tied to chairs with bungee cords and duct tape and suffering broken arms and bloody noses, and a 13 year old who hung himself in a locked seclusion room while a teacher sat outside. 

Arizona has no legislation pending for safety in the schools. Arizona Department of Education spokesperson Andrew LeFevre says only that Arizona chooses to let school districts decide what they'd like to do.  Arizona had a task force that made "recommendations" in 2009 addressing behavior management in special education.  The "Task Force on Best Practices in Special Education and Behavior Management" (created by Arizona Senate Bill 1197) was chaired by Michael Remus, the Director of Student Support Services for the Deer Valley Unified School District, the site of the scream room profiled in the news recently.  Mr. Remus announced the findings and recommendations of the Task Force.  See School districts were asked to consider the recommendations, but not required to adopt them. Moreover, even if a school district adopted behavior management policies, there is no enforcement agency. The seclusion room at Desert Sage Elementary School in Mr. Remus' district would appear counter to the recommendations of the Task Force chaired by Mr. Remus.  We desperately need legislation that protects our children in schools. Contact your state legislators as well and, please, sign this petition:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Question: How do I know if my child's school has a seclusion room?

There is a lot of buzz lately among parents concerned about seclusion rooms at their child's school.  Not every school has one, and the only one we are aware of is at Desert Sage Elementary School in the Deer Valley Unified School District.  What can you do to find out if your child's school has a seclusion room and how it is used?  Ask!  Ask your child's teacher, ask the school principal, ask the special education director of the school district.  Ask in person or, preferably, in e-mail.  Simply ask:  Does my child’s school have a seclusion / chill / cool down room or anything similar?  If so, then ask to see it.  Also, ask to see the school district’s policy on placing a child in seclusion.  But remember, not every school district in Arizona has adopted a policy on restraint and seclusion.  If the school district or charter school has a policy, it should be in writing, in the Student Handbook.  If not, ask to see it.  Discuss with the IEP or 504 Team your concerns, and under what circumstances the school places a child in seclusion.  Discuss restraint issues as well.  What less restrictive interventions are available?  What training is involved of school personnel involved in restraint and seclusion.  Remember, if you have a question, ask it, and if you have a concern, voice it.  And remember to write the legislature to enact restraint and seclusion policies.  Arizona remains one of a half dozen states with no laws on restraint and seclusion in our schools.