Articles in the Special Education category

District inequities and school safety post-Newtown in the April issue of ASBJ

Uneven funding among affluent and poor school districts is well-documented, but you may not realize that it often occurs among schools in the same district, as well. Senior Editor Del Stover looks at how school leaders are uncovering these funding inequities and how they are fighting the often-difficult political battle to remedy the situation in his April American School Board Journal article, online now.

Also in April, national school safety expert Ronald Stephens weighs in on sensible and commonsense ways that school boards can and should react in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last December.

Our school board success story series, Agents of Change, continues with a Massachusetts school board and superintendent who made a controversial decision to bring its special education program in-house.

Make sure to post your opinion to this month’s Adviser poll, also online at ASBJ’s website.

 

Kathleen Vail|April 2nd, 2013|Categories: American School Board Journal, Board governance, Budgeting, Diversity, Leadership, School Security, Special Education|Tags: |

NSBA and NYSSBA challenge unilateral placements in special education case

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging a federal appeals court to ensure that school districts are not required to reimburse parents who unilaterally choose educational placements for their children with disabilities if those placements are not appropriate under federal special education law.

NSBA joins the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) in an amicus brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to uphold a lower court decision in C.L. v. Scarsdale Union Free School District. The case was brought by parents who unilaterally placed their child, who has learning disabilities, in a private school then asked the school district for tuition reimbursement. School officials had determined that the child’s disability did not qualify him for special education services under the nation’s main special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law requires students with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children in a regular classroom to the extent it is appropriate to their educational needs.

“IDEA is intended to promote collaboration between schools and families, and a school district should not be required to pay for an inappropriate private placement that was made without its input,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “A core tenet of IDEA is that students with disabilities should not be cut off from environments that include their non-disabled peers.”

The amicus brief written by NYSSBA responds to a U.S. Department of Justice position that the school district should pay for the restrictive placement unless it proves that there were other less restrictive private placements available to the parents but that those options were rejected without reason.

“School districts recognize the importance of working with families to determine appropriate placements for students with disabilities,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy  G. Kremer. “However, a school district shouldn’t be required to pay for a restrictive  private school unilaterally chosen by a parent.  School officials and parents should be partners not adversaries in this process.”

NSBA’s Legal Clips also has written about the case.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|March 25th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, School Boards, School Law, Special Education|Tags: , , |

Education Talk Radio previews NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference

Kanisha Williams-Jones, Director of Leadership & Governance Services at the National School Boards Association (NSBA), was a guest today on Education Talk Radio providing a preview of NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference. Thousands of school board members, administrators, and other educators will be coming to San Diego to take part in the April 13-15 event.

Listen to the broadcast:

Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on Blog Talk Radio

The conference will feature more than 200 sessions on timely education topics, including federal legislation and funding, managing schools with tight budgets, the legal implications of recent court cases, new research and best practices in school governance, and the Common Core State Standards. A series of sessions will focus on school safety and security.

Expanded education technology programming will include site visits to the University of San Diego and Qualcomm’s Mobile Learning Center to explore its research laboratory on mobile learning; Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to examine the technology in science education and STEM; Encinitas Union School District to view its One-to-One Digital Learning Program; and the San Diego Zoo to learn about the cutting-edge learning tools used to teach at-risk students. U.S. Navy SEALs will show leadership and team building skills during another workshop.

The meeting also includes one of the largest K-12 educational expositions, with some 300 companies showcasing their innovative products and services for school districts.

General Session speakers include Academy Award winning speaker Geena Davis, who will be speaking about her work off-screen as founder of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Davis works with film and television creators to reduce gender stereotyping and increase the number of female characters in media targeted for children 11 and under. She will explain how media plays a key role in children’s development, and how her organization is making a difference.

Television star Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world’s most engaging and passionate science advocates, will headline Sunday’s General Session. From PBS to NASA to Presidential Commissions, organizations have depended on Tyson’s down-to-earth approach to astrophysics. He has been a frequent guest on “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, R”eal Time with Bill Maher”, and “Jeopardy!”. Tyson hopes to reach “all the people who never knew how much they’d love learning about space and science.”

Monday’s General Session features acclaimed researcher and author Diane Ravitch, who has become one of the most passionate voices for public schools. Her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, makes the case that public education today is in peril and offers a clear prescription for improving public schools.

Learn more about the common core standards, new research on differentiated learning styles, and teaching “unteachable” children at the Focus On lecture series. Learn about new technologies for your classrooms as part of the Technology + Learning programs.

It’s not too late to register, visit the Annual Conference website for  more information.

With federal cuts to education looming, school board leaders head to Capitol Hill

More than 700 school board and state school boards association leaders are meeting with members of Congress on Tuesday. They will advocate that Congress protect education programs from across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration.

School board leaders from all parts of the country are currently in Washington D.C. to take part in the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 40th annual Federal Relations Network Conference, being held Jan. 27-29, 2013.

With the sequestration looming, more than 700 school boards have passed resolutions advocating Congress to stop the across-the-board cuts that would dismantle key education programs in their school districts. These federal cuts to K-12 public education would total more than $3 billion this fiscal year. Furthermore, these cuts would continue over a 10-year period and have a devastating effect on our schools, eroding the base of funding for programs that directly impact student learning year after year.

“The federal cuts to public education would impede on the ability of school districts and states to sustain resources for programs that close achievement gaps, raise graduation rates, and retain highly effective teachers,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “K-12 education programs have already been previously reduced on the federal level and the ability to absorb additional budget cuts and provide an enhanced curriculum for all students is extremely limited for many school districts.”

In this school year, 26 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts than they provided a year ago. And in many states, this reduction comes on top of severe cuts made in previous years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Across-the-board cuts to education programs should not be legislated, especially for economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities,” said NSBA’s President C. Ed Massey, a member of the Boone County (Ky.) Board of Education. “Local school boards need to continue raising student achievement should not be consumed or overshadowed by record budget cuts. Key investments will help sustain and continue the progress school districts are making in school improvement, teacher and principal effectiveness, increased graduation rates, and college and career readiness.”

To learn what school board members can do to prevent sequestration go to NSBA’s Stop Sequestration resource at www.nsba.org/stopsequestration.

Alexis Rice|January 28th, 2013|Categories: Budgeting, Educational Finance, Federal Advocacy, FRN Conference 2013, Special Education, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , |

Court rules private school student is not eligible for Section 504 services

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that a disabled student unilaterally placed in a private school is not entitled to special education services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act if he remains in the private school.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by its Maryland and Virginia state associations, filed an amicus brief in the case, D.L. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, asking the court not to expand the law, commonly known as Section 504, to require public schools to fund the education of students in private schools beyond the parameters of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the nation’s main special education law. The January 16 ruling will impact public schools in the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“The court recognized that Section 504 does not obligate school districts to pay for special education and related services for students enrolled unilaterally in private schools by their parents,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “This decision supports Congress’ intent that federal funds for special education and related services be reserved primarily for students enrolled in public schools.”

The case centered on a student with ADHD whose parents requested an evaluation for special education services from the Baltimore City school district. The school officials determined the student would be eligible for Section 504 services based on his disabilities but only if he attended a public school.

The three-judge panel also upheld the school district’s requirement that private school students must enroll in a public school to obtain Section 504 services. The decision stated that the district’s rule “does not violate the Free Exercise Clause merely because it causes economic disadvantage on individuals who choose to practice their religion in a specific manner,” according to NSBA’s Legal Clips.

For more details on the case, read the article in Legal Clips.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|January 23rd, 2013|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, School Law, Special Education|Tags: , , |

NYSSBA applauds veto of special education placement bill

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed legislation that would have required school officials to consider a special education students’ home life and cultural backgrounds when making educational placements. The bill would have given parents more power to demand a publicly funded private education for their children with disabilities.

The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), other education groups, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had opposed the bill, which likely would have resulted in more placements in religious schools.

NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer released a statement praising the veto:

“The bill would have made a child’s cultural and family background a factor in special education placements, thereby promoting religious segregation in special education placements at taxpayer expense.  This result is contrary to the pluralistic values upon which our public education system was established,” he said. “Although we respect the personal choices that parents make to raise their children in accordance with their faith and culture, it would have been wrong to obligate taxpayers to pay for these private choices.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to veto the bill. NSBA noted that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the main federal special education law, includes provisions for addressing issues related to cultural and religious differences during the placement determination stage and it allows parents to petition school districts for private placements. Adding another legal layer to these proceedings would delay a placement and could increase legal costs for both parents and school districts, according to NSBA.

“This expansion of the educational placement process could create a situation where such decisions become subjective in nature rather than being based on educational outcomes, actual data reflecting a student’s present levels of performance, and the spirit and intent of the IDEA and Section 504,” wrote Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. “Further, such expansions could have the unintended consequences of promoting school vouchers, preferences toward certain private and parochial schools, and the promotion of segregated schools on the basis of economic status or family income – all irrelevant to appropriate special education placement determinations.”

According to The New York Times, Cuomo said in a memo that the bill “would have created ‘an overly broad and ambiguous mandate’ to send more students to private schools, burdening taxpayers with ‘incalculable significant additional costs.’”

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|August 3rd, 2012|Categories: Diversity, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Religion, School Vouchers, Special Education|Tags: , , |

NSBA: Fordham survey misses the mark on school funding

The National School Boards Association Executive Director Anne L. Bryant was asked to comment on a new survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation that shows how members of the public would cut funding for public schools. The survey found that many would prefer to downsize the ranks of administrative staff rather than teachers, freeze teacher salaries, or lay off teachers based on factors other than seniority. Bryant’s response is below.

Looking at the new Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s survey, “How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education,” it’s abundantly clear that Americans are interested, engaged and supportive of their local schools. There is also an overriding sense that many of these hard choices must be made at the local level with a community’s input–thus showing clear evidence for the need for local school boards.

The authors have created a scenario of choosing between critical programs and staff for public schools—choices such as laying off teachers, instructional leaders, arts and music classes and extracurricular activities. However, this survey is about four years late–many public schools are already operating on a bare-bones administration and have been forced to make tough choices to lay off teachers and cut academic programs. And with the federal government looking to implement sequestration this January, K-12 programs may see further across-the-board cuts.

While reducing the number of administrators seems like the obvious answer, as 69 percent of respondents chose, many of these officials play key roles in developing curriculum, managing services, and performing other duties that are directly tied to student achievement. Like any business, school districts need officials to manage budgets and operations to ensure that students are safe and teachers and principals can focus on their jobs.

The public sent a clear message that they prefer forgoing raises or slight salary cuts for teachers and other staff in lieu of layoffs. We’ve seen many examples of school boards, administrators and union representatives working together to navigate these budget choices. For instance, school board members and officials in the Boone County Public Schools in Florence, Ky., worked with their teachers union on a plan to forgo raises in lieu of layoffs, so that student/teacher ratios could be maintained. The labor-management relationship “is truly a relationship built on trust, accountability and respect,” as school board member and current President of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) C. Ed Massey recently told me, and the board has brought in coaches to help all teachers improve their skills. That’s an investment that has paid off in continuous improvement in student learning and college and career readiness, as evidenced by average ACT scores that have climbed from 19.5 in 2008 to 20.9 in 2012.

Fordham should not be at all surprised at the tepid response for full-time cyber schools, as too many at-risk students are performing poorly, or simply not logging in. The Center for Public Education found in its recent report, “Searching for the Reality of Virtual Schools,”  that emerging research shows dismal results for some schools and there is little accountability for public funds.

One aspect of the survey is particularly flawed. The questions related to support for special education services show that, among other findings, 71 percent say programs should be evaluated on their effectiveness and “replaced” if deemed not effective.

The survey questions ignore the landmark 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)  law that mandates a “free appropriate public education” in “the least restrictive environment” for every student identified with a disability. This was a major victory for students with disabilities who previously had been denied an education or received inferior services. Since the law’s passage the numbers of students with disabilities have increased tremendously, largely because of better diagnoses of conditions such as autism and in part because better medical treatments have allowed some severely disabled students to live and attend mainstream schools. More recent reauthorizations of the law have instilled new accountability requirements onto school systems to ensure that students with disabilities are meeting high expectations.

Yet the federal government has never come close to funding the 40 percent of excess costs for educating these students as lawmakers had promised in 1975. Each year NSBA and thousands of school board members and educators lobby the U.S. Congress to request full funding; however, funding currently stands at $11.5 billion, or about 17 percent, and is in danger of being reduced by $900 million through sequestration. This program has been a priority of both parties, as it frees up state and local funding to be spent on programs that each community deems to be its priorities.

A strong public education system attracts and retains businesses that are essential to local economies. Public schools must have the resources to give our students the knowledge and skills needed for long-term global competitiveness. Our nation’s future economic success depends on how smartly and adequately all levels of government invest in public education today.

Erin Walsh|August 2nd, 2012|Categories: Educational Finance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, Special Education, Teachers|Tags: , , , , , |

More flexibility needed in bill regulating use of restraints on students, NSBA tells Senate

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is asking for more flexibility for local school officials in a bill designed to prevent the improper use of restraints and seclusion to manage students with disabilities.

In testimony submitted in anticipation of a hearing on July 12, NSBA is asking the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to reconsider portions of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 2020). The bill, which is supported by many special education and disability rights advocates, would ban certain types of restraints and require school districts to report incidents to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Local school boards want to be assured that federal legislation addressing the use of restraints and seclusion provides maximum flexibility and authority to states and local school boards in its implementation,” reads NSBA’s testimony.

NSBA asks that any requirements for teacher and staff training and certification “be structured in a manner that is reasonable, affordable and effective,” and that Congress ensures that data collecting and reporting requirements are minimized, given the limited capacity of school districts and the U.S. Department of Education to collect and analyze such data.

The testimony asks for specific changes to the bill, including:

  • Remove or rewrite the threshold for restraints, based on the definition of serious bodily injury adopted by IDEA in 2004, which is not feasible in emergencies and takes away other opportunities to train staff and prepare for its use;
  • Modify the requirement for a debriefing session within five days, as this is burdensome and costly to schools and would create conditions well beyond the control of the school. NSBA recommends that personnel should be allowed to submit information verbally, in writing and electronically since all parties may not be able to physically participate;
  • Ensure that the bill allows flexibility to address unanticipated threats to students’ safety;
  • Remove a stipulation that prohibits any reference to the use of physical restraints into a student’s education plan; and
  • Allow states that have successfully created policies dealing with restraints and seclusion to be exempt from new federal mandates.

The bill was introduced in December but its chance of passage seems unlikely, given its lack of progress in the House and the lack of time remaining in Congress in an election year.

Joetta Sack-Min|June 27th, 2012|Categories: Crisis Management, Discipline, Educational Legislation, Legislative advocacy, Policy Formation, School Climate, School Security, Special Education|Tags: , , , |

Response to Intervention program wins Kentucky’s PEAK Award

Kentucky’s Boone County school district received the Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award on April 30 for its Response to Intervention (RTI) program. Boone County is the home district of NSBA President C. Ed Massey.

The PEAK Award, which is given twice a year by the Kentucky School Boards Association, honors outstanding programs that enhance students’ learning and promote the positive impact of public education.

Boone County’s RTI program, which began in 2007, focuses on keeping students in regular classrooms while using individualized, research-based instructions and interventions to help them overcome reading and math deficits. Students’ progress is monitored weekly and teachers use that data to make instruction decisions. Since the program has expanded to all of Boone County’s schools, the district reports that its special education referrals are down 99 percent.

“Intervention is very important as soon as a student’s needs are determined,” said PEAK judge Gene Allen, a member of the East Bernstadt Independent school board. “This helps at-risk children keep up in their studies, preventing them from being identified for special education services. This will save school systems a great deal of expense with their future education.”

Every six weeks, the grade-level professional learning teams meet and look at student progress. “If students continue to make progress, they continue with the same interventions,” said Karen Cheser, Boone County’s assistant superintendent for learning support services. “If they aren’t, the team does some data-driven decision making and says, ‘This student needs a different intervention or more time in intervention’ … always thinking we want the least restrictive environment.”

She added, “There are students with disabilities who need extreme special education services and they will continue to get them. The key difference with this program is the constant monitoring. We’re keeping a really close eye on if the intervention is working. We have a really tight list of research-based interventions. There has to be scientific evidence to support the use of that particular intervention with that particular type student.”

Boone County leaders used existing resources to build the program, as there was no new funding available.

KSBA accepts PEAK Award nominations from Kentucky’s public school systems twice a year and recognizes one outstanding program in the fall and in the spring.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|May 1st, 2012|Categories: Curriculum, Educational Research, School Boards, Special Education|

Annual conference preview: Attorney discusses special ed liability

As NSBA prepares for its 73rd Annual Conference in Boston, April 21-23, School Board News Today is featuring previews of major and noteworthy sessions, workshops, and other events. We’ll query some familiar names and introduce you to behind-the-scenes experts who can show how to best perform your duties.

Special education law is one of the most complicated and confusing issues school boards must handle. On Saturday, April 21, Jim Walsh, an attorney with Walsh, Anderson, Gallegos, Green & Treviño, P.C., based in Texas, will present “Avoiding Liability in Special Education Disputes: Lessons for School Board Members,” which will analyze the most recent and relevant decisions pertaining to school boards and districts.

Walsh says school board members should attend his session because, “legal issues in the operation of your school’s special education program continue to multiply.  Litigation over special education issues has become common, raising costs and concerns for school board members. This session will outline the key features of special education law that school board members need to know about, with an emphasis on preventive steps to be taken.  The best way to keep costs and legal concerns under control is to operate a program that complies with the law.  This session will focus in what school board members can do to make sure that happens.”

Question: What has changed?  Are school board members being held liable in more cases?

Answer: Litigation over special education these days usually involves not only the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, our special education law, but also Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These other laws open the door to damages that are not available under IDEA.  School board members as individuals are generally not sued personally or held liable over special education disputes, but there is a noticeable increase in litigation seeking to impose liability on individual administrators or teachers.

Q: What are some basic rules school boards should follow to avoid litigation?

A: The rules to be followed with regard to special education are no different than the rules that apply to other areas of school operations. Schools need to hire good people, train them well, follow the law, and get early and preventive legal advice.

Q: What are some major new decisions that could impact school board members’ work?

A: There are many cases over the past few years alleging that the school district harmed a child through the use of physical restraint, or that the school turned a blind eye to the bullying of a student with a disability.  These issues have generated considerable media attention and raised awareness of these issues.

If you haven’t already registered for NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference, to be held April 21 to 23, go to the Conference website for more details.

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|March 7th, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012, Special Education|
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