Wednesday, September 2, 2015

When are LEAs Required to Provide a Copy of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards to Parents?

My daughter and I had a lot of fun on a Northern European cruise this past summer.  Here is a picture of the canal in Nyhavn, Copenhagan.   To ensure that parents have knowledge about their rights under the federal and state special education laws, LEAs are required to provide a copy of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards to parents: 1) At least one time in a school year; and 2) Upon a referral or parent request for initial evaluation; 3) Upon the first formal complaint or due process complaint filed in a school year; 4) Upon a disciplinary removal from school that constitutes a change in placement; and 5) Upon parent request.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

IEP Minute Tips

In some cases, the staffing minutes taken during an IEP meeting could be the clincher to demonstrating the implementation of a legally defensible IEP. It is where the team can explain exactly how they came to a decision and the factors considered. Necessary statements that don't seem to fit anywhere else in the IEP can be become part of the meeting documentation successfully through the minutes. Furthermore, when a parent files a complaint with the South Carolina Office of Special Education Services, typically, the first items of documentation requested from the Director of Special Education are the current IEP and meeting minutes.  Meeting minutes can also be very useful to special education directors and curriculum coordinators when they are invited to attend IEP meetings for students they have not had involvement with in the past and they need to review meeting history. 

The minute-taker holds a lot of responsibility for accurately expressing the flow and content of the meeting in writing.  It can be very difficult for the IEP team lead to conduct the meeting and take minutes at the same time.  Therefore, I have recommended to teams to designate a minute-taker other than the person leading the meeting.  Here a few tips that might be helpful to the minute-taker:

1.      Get a head start! Before the meeting begins, complete the top section of the minutes with identifying information and the purpose of the meeting. Make sure the purpose written on the minutes matches the purpose noted on the meeting invitation letter. If minutes are taken by hand, have several copies of blank pages so the meeting won't have to be stopped to get more pages in the event the meeting goes long.

2.   If parents ask to record the meeting and bring their own recording device, explain they are able to record the meeting but the school must also record.

3.   At the beginning of the meeting, account for additional members invited by the parents that are not on the invitation letter or invited members that could not attend.  For example, if a parent brings someone to the meeting, who was not in the invitation letter, note the name of that person and indicate they were invited by the parent as someone knowledgeable about the child’s special needs. If an invited team member is unable to attend, note the name of that person and note a substitute member (if applicable).  Note: team member excusal paperwork must be completed when applicable!

4.    Note that a Procedural Safeguards Notice was offered.

5.   Do your best to include parent comments and concerns as this verifies we provided the parents an opportunity to participate as an equal member in team decisions.

6.   You don’t need to write every word each team member says.  It may be helpful to summarize the outcome of discussions of topics.  For example, if the team discusses whether or not a student needs oral administration as an accommodation for several minutes, you may want to write the final outcome of the team decision and the supporting comments for why it is or isn’t appropriate.  Content in the IEP (IEP goals, minutes of service, etc.) doesn’t need to be repeated in the minutes.

7.   As the minute taker, you can always interrupt the meeting to ask for clarification of what someone said if you get behind. Accuracy is vital.

8.   If a mistake or correction is made in the minutes during the meeting, the minute taker should draw a line through what was written and initial the mistake or correction and date.

9.   At the conclusion of the meeting, the minute taker should read the minutes aloud to the team.  This will give the team an opportunity to review what was discussed and the services that will be put in place for the student.  It will also allow an opportunity to check for accuracy as incorrect notations can be corrected.

10. All IEP team members should sign in their designated areas.  If team members sign as “other” please remember to have them write their position/title on the designated line.

11.  Always provide a copy of the minutes to parents before they leave the meeting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Happens When an IEP Team Cannot Reach Consensus?

The public agency, or local education agency (LEA), is ultimately responsible for ensuring the provision of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities enrolled in their district.  If an IEP team is unable to reach consensus at meeting, it is never appropriate to "vote" on the outcome.  Rather, the LEA must determine the appropriate services and provide the parents or legal guardians prior written notice (PWN) explaining the services that will be provided.  If parents or legal guardians are not in agreement, they may seek resolution by initiating an impartial due process hearing or by filing a state complaint.  In the School District of Oconee County, if an IEP team is unable to reach consensus, the administrator serving as the LEA will make the final determination that will be noted in the subsequent PWN.  OSERS Letter to Richards is below.  Another reference for this topic is Buser v. Corpus Christi Indep. Sch. Dist., 20 IDELR 981 (S.D. Tex. 1994).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I hope all of our special educators are enjoying a well-deserved summer break!  I wanted to post an update on where our district is with regard to moving toward the production environment of Enrich which is a product of "Excent".  During our Summer Institute Training, we told special educators the plan was go to the production environment on July 31st.  Since then, we learned that all user roles would need to be reassigned once we "go live" which will take some time.  Therefore, our new goal is July 15th.  This will give Betty a couple more weeks to make sure everyone has appropriate access to work in the program.  There are basically three things we still need to do:  complete the validation/conversion/import process, import the PDF legacy documents (i.e., Excent IEP, placement history, and entry COSF), then remove all edit functions for Excent online.  Betty is on the phone everyday with our Enrich facilitator working diligently to make ongoing progress.  I'll be glad when SDOC crosses the threshold so we can make our way around the learning curve as quickly as possible.  In the end, I am confident all the work will be worth it as the product seems much more advanced and user friendly.

Friday, June 6, 2014

I was surprised and honored to receive an email from the editor of the Special Ed Connection publication.  I learned he was writing an article about how blogging can be useful to Special Education Directors and that he discovered my blog and wanted to use me as a reference.  Pretty cool!  Here is the resulting article.  Now I just need to find time to post regular updates. :)

Consider a 'director's blog' to reach stakeholders, save time
A blog published by a special education director or other key pupil services staff can provide stakeholders a portal for accessing district-specific guidance on best practices and district-specific issues, sources say. It also can help you to connect personally with teachers and parents at your schools.
Those benefits are invaluable, sources say, especially for districts that have many schools spread across a large geographical area.
"It's really hard for me to be out in the schools as much as I want to [be]," said Marge Bright, director of Special Services at the School District of Oconee County in South Carolina. So she launched Bright's Blog to reach out to general and special ed staffs and parents at the 20 schools in her district. "The blog ... saves me time," she said.
A department or director's blog can be a valuable resource for general and special educators and parents alike, sources say. So if you're interested in launching a blog, consider the benefits and tips below.
Share information, resources in 'seconds'
A blog can provide an efficient way for your special education department to share information and resources with stakeholders. You can use your blog, for example, to share teaching tools, state-specific guidance on student's rights, and notices of upcoming district-based events, such as parent training or transition fairs.
Diane Twait Nelsen, Elaine Cook, and Kris Ahrens, transition coordinators at the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Iowa, said they wanted to launch a transition blog because they needed an easier way to communicate with teachers and parents. The Prairie Lakes AEA serves 44 districts spanning 8,000 square miles -- an area comparable in size to New Jersey.
But because they felt they lacked the expertise needed to launch it, they sought advice from their "tech guy," Cook said. So under the guidance of Prairie Lakes' director of innovation, Scott McLeod, the transition coordinators chose their publishing platform, purchased a template with the features they needed, and established a plan for developing, organizing, and posting content. Then, they launched Moving Students Forward.
Now, when questions arise in regard to topics such as student age of majority and guardianship issues in Iowa, they refer teachers and parents to their blog. That has minimized the time they spend fielding phone calls, writing emails, and driving to schools, said Nelsen, Prairie Lakes' transition chair. "Since there are only three of us," Cook added, "we've found it to be a lifeline."
"If you're not a real intuitive person with technology, it takes a little bit to figure [it] out," Ahrens said. But know that "once you have your template established and know how you want to organize things, you're able to post things in a matter of seconds."
Connect with parents, staff
When you can't meet with school staffs and parents as much as you'd like to, you can connect with them via your blog, sources say.
For example, if you include a comment box in your blog posts, you can initiate and moderate conversations with parents or staff and permit readers to ask questions about the topic at hand.
What's more, you can use your blog as a means to provide feedback and increase staff morale, Bright says.
"When I'm out in the schools, I post about my visits and things that were going on in the schools," she said. "It's a way to say 'Great job, you're doing a wonderful job. I liked what I saw in your classroom.'"
Answer FAQs just once
Consider posting answers to frequently asked questions, sources say. Doing so can minimize the time you spend fielding ongoing requests from teachers and parents for the same information.
When stakeholders request information, they want a personal contact, Nelsen says. But you can provide that with a short answer and then direct them to your blog.
That approach can be helpful, for example, to follow up after you conduct professional development or parent training, she said. So consider posting the training materials on your blog so they can be accessed again by participants.
"When I notice that there's a need for specific information for our teachers, that they're asking the same questions over and over, then I'll post something on my blog about that particular area," Bright said.
In fact, her state is preparing to change district procedures regarding the special education referral process, she said. So she'll be blogging to provide direction, timeline updates, and training to minimize the time that will be needed to answer teachers' questions on site.
"[Bright's Blog] is for parents, too," she said. So Bright writes posts that address questions parents frequently ask, including those related to bullying and harassment and discipline of students with disabilities.
Thus, keep parents in mind when you're blogging, she said. That way, when teachers or parents have questions, you can simply say, "Just go to my blog."
See also: Guard against staffers' social media missteps (June 25) RDA 'blog' reveals frustrations of parents, professionals (Sept. 7, 2012)
Paul James covers postsecondary transition and charter school issues for LRP Publications.
April 11, 2014
Copyright 2014© LRP Publications
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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I am happy to write that our district's on-site monitoring event is complete.  Of course, we have some areas we need to improve upon, but that is to be expected.  The monitoring team from the Office of Exceptional Children (OEC) were very cordial and complimentary.  I wanted to get an idea of how our district compared to other LEAs across South Carolina, so I asked the monitors which quartile our district would fall into with regard to compliance. The response was an emphatic "Top quartile!"   Our department values their feedback and we will work hard to provide training in an effort to improve how we do things.  In summary, we need to make the following corrections with regard to our policies, procedures and forms:  Update our Notice of Procedural Safeguards to include a revised revocation of consent provision, update our Baby Net Procedures, update our notification of parent's right to request additional information if the IEP determines that no additional data is needed, incorporate special education discipline procedures into our department procedures, and consider adopting uniform confidentiality policies and record review logging procedures at school sites.  In regard to IEP development, we need to provide ongoing staff training on the following topics:  drafting present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, drafting measurable annual goals, completing the LRE portion of the IEP (including removal justifications), drafting Prior Written Notice, and developing post-secondary goals and annual goals to assist with transition. 

Since I like to end things on a positive note, the OEC commended our District for:
  • Excellent use of the District's website to convey information about policies, procedures and recent news relating to special education;
  • Developing an internal monitoring system that identifies and corrects issues of noncompliance and promotes best practices for IEP development;
  • Excellent communication with school sites regarding the development and implementation of IEPs;
  • Surrogate parent policies that meet regulatory requirements;
  • Making District forms available in Spanish;
  • Good practices relating to confidentiality of student records and record access at the District level;
  • Diligent work in staffing our special services programs with appropriately certified and highly qualified personnel;
  • Meaningful parent participation in the IEP process;
  • Ensuring required parties participate in the IEP team meetings;
  • Adhering to IEP procedures and timelines;
  • Considering special factors;
  • Disciplining students with disabilities;
  • Updating post-secondary goals annually and using age appropriate transition assessments;
  • Appropriately documenting transition services and courses of study in the IEP;
  • Implementing IEPs as drafted by IEP teams;
  • Sending appropriate and timely progress reports;
  • Providing general education teachers notice of accommodations and behavior intervention plans; and,
  • ]Recording the provision of specialized instruction and related services throughout the District.
I am very proud of our special educators, general education teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators.  If you read this...THANKS!  You make Oconee County shine!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Suspension of Students without Disabilities

According to IDEA 2004, within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a child with a disability because of a violation of a code of student conduct, the local educational agency (LEA), the parent, and relevant members of the IEP Team (as determined by the parent and the LEA) shall review all relevant information in the student's file, including the child's IEP, any teacher observations, and any relevant information provided by the parents to determine: (i)  If the conduct in question was caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child's disability; or (ii)  if the conduct in question was the direct result of the LEA's failure to implement the IEP.  If the LEA, the parent, and relevant members of the IEP Team determine that the conduct in question was not a manifestation of the child's disability or due to the LEA's failure to implement the IEP, discipline procedures applicable to all students in the LEA may be applied. 

According to South Carolina statute 59-63-220, "Any district board may confer upon any administrator the authority to suspend a pupil from a teacher's class or from the school not in excess of ten days for any one offense and for not more than thirty days in any one school year but no such administrator may suspend a pupil from school during the last ten days of a year if the suspension will make the pupil ineligible to receive credit for the school year without the approval of the school board unless the presence of the pupil constitutes an actual threat to a class or a school or a hearing is granted within twenty four hours of the suspension."