Confronting “Alternative Facts” in Special Education

Recent events at the national level have exposed the mainstream public to the over-the-top misrepresentations that some public servants make. I’ve been witnessing the unbelievable spin jobs carried out by such individuals within the public education system for over 25 years, so none of this is new to me.

In truth, I’m glad the rest of the American public finally now understands what I’ve been dealing with this whole time. It used to be that when I’d explain what I do for a living and the behaviors I’d encounter on the part of some public education agency personnel and their contractors, people would think I was melodramatically making it all up. Honestly, as creative as I may be, I couldn’t make up stuff like that if I wanted to; no sane person’s imagination is that rich. Now, I can point to the White House saying, “It’s like that,” and people finally get it.

What the current administration has done for us is provide us with a new vocabulary used by its staffs who are utterly divorced from the truth, and that language helps us navigate their communicative intent. It’s language that they, themselves, have most usefully described as “alternative facts.” For the purpose of this post and future posts in which references to “alternative facts” are made, I am operationally defining “alternative facts” as untruths that are preferred by their speakers to the truth.

The pervasiveness of “alternative facts” in special education is so widespread and diverse that no single post could possibly capture our analyses thus far of their use. Because these governmental abuses of authority are woven so deeply into the fabric of public education, including special education, it is worthy of significant discourse.

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What’s All the Hubbub About California’s Special Ed Consent Decree?

There appears to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision regarding the State of California and its poor enforcement of special education law. Today’s post seeks to provide clarity as to what the 9th Circuit determined and what it means for families of students with special needs in California.

While it is the function of the media to serve as an intermediary between sources of news and the public to sum things up in an unbiased manner, because our world is so full of fake news and biased reporting, these days, we believe the first place to start is to put the actual decision and related consent decree before you first so you can see the actual outcomes rather than just our interpretations of them, so here they are:

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OMG, How Do We Protect Our Students, Now?

As we quickly approach the end of 2016, and the next Presidential inauguration in January 2017, those of us who have been protecting the educational and civil rights of students with disabilities already thought this effort was daunting, but now many of us are looking ahead at 2017 through 2021 in absolute horror. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse.

In part, we are floored by the reality that someone actively manifesting the symptoms of a personality disorder has been elected into the office of President of the United States. Based on our country’s voting behaviors, half the American public is made up of people who lack adult-level reasoning and perspective-taking abilities; that is, con artists and their regular victims.

On one hand, this could be viewed as a victory for those of us who seek to support and facilitate the integration and inclusion of those challenged by serious mental illness into mainstream society. However, even if we want to dress up this situation as a victory for the mentally ill, it’s going to take the rest of us to keep the current administration from running the ship of democracy onto a rocky reef, thereby ripping open its hull and dissipating our hard-earned freedoms into a sea of melodrama and destruction. We have all suddenly been forced to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, if for no other reason than damage control.

Personality disorders and developmental delays in social-emotional functioning have taken center stage in this last election and will continue to do so once the newly elected and appointed are sworn in. Impairments in judgment, deductive reasoning, and emotional stability – in other words, the symptoms of significant handicapping conditions – are posing a direct threat to the programs and services that help people with disabilities function in their communities with as much independence as possible. I keep hearing Morpheus from The Matrix in my head saying, “Fate, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony.”

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When Are Teachers Supposed to Get Their Students’ IEP Copies?

Once in awhile, I’ll run across something familiar, the language of which just hadn’t resonated with me until that moment. I was doing some legal research recently and experienced one of those times.

EC 56347 provides the legal requirement that the public schools in California must give Individualized Education Program (IEP) copies to a special education student’s educators before the student arrives in their instructional settings. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve served whose teachers still hadn’t seen their IEPs after school had been in session for 30, 45, or 60 days.

Sometimes it was that they didn’t know the kids were on IEPs because no one told them or gave them IEP copies. Other times, they knew some of their kids were in special education, but no one was ever given IEP copies, so they didn’t know they were supposed to expect them. Other times, they got the IEPs, but didn’t have time to deal with them, threw them in a drawer, and forgot about them. By the time the first report cards of the school year came out, these kids were train wrecks.

Moreover, this section of the regulations requires that staffs always have access to IEPs, know and understand their content, and know which parts of the IEP they are responsible for implementing, as well as how to implement those parts. Specifically, it reads:

A local educational agency, prior to the placement of the individual with exceptional needs, shall ensure that the regular teacher or teachers, the special education teacher or teachers, and other persons who provide special education, related services, or both to the individual with exceptional needs have access to the pupil’s individualized education program, shall be knowledgeable of the content of the individualized education program, and shall be informed of his or her specific responsibilities related to implementing a pupil’s individualized education program and the specific accommodations, modifications and supports that shall be provided for the pupil in accordance with the individualized education program, pursuant to Section 300.323(d) of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations. A copy of each individualized education program shall be maintained at each schoolsite where the pupil is enrolled. Service providers from other agencies who provide instruction or a related service to the individual off the schoolsite shall be provided a copy of the individualized education program. All individualized education programs shall be maintained in accordance with state and federal pupil record confidentiality laws.
(Amended by Stats. 2007, Ch. 56, Sec. 51. Effective January 1, 2008.)

This State regulation provides procedural accountability for situations such as when an IEP sits in a special education department filing cabinet without a special education student’s general education teachers knowing anything about it or the accommodations they are supposed to be providing in their classrooms to that child. The federal regulations are not as exactly precise.

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Feds to Provide Technical Assistance to Ventura County HSA on Civil Rights Compliance

Complaint alleged discrimination on behalf of consumer with disabilities seeking services to overcome homelessness.

In late October 2013, I was assisting one of our adult students with disabilities with his matters involving Ventura County’s Human Services Agency (HSA). His disabilities arising from traumatic brain injury (TBI) had contributed to a 10-year spell of homelessness; it was necessary for us to help him overcome homelessness in order for him to go back to school and get trained in a vocation that would earn him a living.

This was beyond the scope of the work we usually do, plus it was a pro bono case. I only took this case on because I already knew the consumer, have been friends with his family for over 20 years, and was horrified by what I was hearing from them about their efforts to help him. I had no idea I’d end up having to file for fair hearings against every agency we turned to for services on multiple occasions just to access the basic floor of rights promised him under the law.

As bad as special education is, the Universe of adult services is even more screwed up. This is why we have people with mental illness living in the bushes under the freeway. They either have no idea where to begin to get help or are jerked around by the government when they try to get help and lack the skills to advocate effectively for themselves to see their situations resolved. This is exactly why my friend’s family was so thankful that I offered to see what I could do to help.

So, in October 2013, after a series of ridiculous encounters with HSA’s General Relief program staff, I filed a complaint with the United States Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (OCR), alleging violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I’d had enough of the silliness and was so disgusted and offended by how our consumer was being treated by HSA that I did what I do: I wrote a letter to the authorities and narced.

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The Science of Rhymecology® as a Special Education Intervention

A colleague of mine from my graduate program in educational psychology, J. Walker, has developed a unique and powerful vehicle for reaching out to young people in the place of traditional psychological counseling, as well as developing students’ written expression skills. I had to write about it because I’ve been in love with the concept since the first time I heard J. describe it. It’s only now that I’ve known what I wanted to say about it.

What’s more, J. and I proofread each other’s papers for several classes in our graduate program. We got into each other’s heads regarding each other’s particular areas of professional focus and areas in which we each needed to research the peer-reviewed literature such that we were able to clearly recognize the overlaps between the work that KPS4Parents does and the outcomes that Rhymecology® is able to achieve. I understand the science of Rhymecology® because of that collegial collaboration.

Fully grounded in science, Rhymecology® demystifies the realities of the hip-hop/rap industry, promotes hip-hop/spoken word poetry as art rather than a fast track to riches, and helps kids express their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and ideas using a medium they appreciate, enjoy, and find engaging. Rather than forcing kids to adapt to treatment modalities or curriculum with which they cannot engage or relate, the treatment and curriculum is being brought to them via a vehicle they can more easily understand and use.

J. has conducted Rhymecology events with kids throughout Southern California, already. So far, the evidence indicates that children and youth are benefitting from Rhymecology®.

So, what is the underlying science of Rhymecology®? For those of us looking for replicable, evidence-based practices that achieve appropriate educational outcomes for children and youth challenged by learning problems, including social/emotional and behavioral challenges, this is a critical question.

To the degree that it is practicable to do so, special education must be delivered according to peer-reviewed research [34 CFR Sec. 300.320(a)(4)]. Rhymecology® achieves the end of a practicable, research-based intervention that can be incorporated into a student’s special education program in support of social-emotional, behavioral, and/or written expression goals, to the degree it is appropriate to the individual learning needs of a given special education student.

Rhymecology® is rooted in the sciences of human development, learning, and effective instruction. The researchers who significantly contributed to the underlying science behind Rhymecology® include Skinner, Pavlov, Bronfenbrenner, Vygotsky, and Piaget. Continue reading

KPS4Parents Produces Free 45-Minute Parent Training Video

We’ve been working hard over the summer to bring you new tools for this upcoming new school year. To kick things off, we’re giving parents a free 45-minute training video titled, “3 Critical Errors that Even the Smartest Parents of Children with Special Needs Can Make in the IEP Process.” Watch it now and you’ll also get links to additional resources, including a free IEP goal-writing template that you can use to prepare for your IEP meetings, as well as during the meetings when IEP goals are being formulated by the IEP team.

Best of luck in the new school year to all students and their families! We hope this tool is useful for many of you struggling to understand the IEP process and that the tools that we will continue to add to our parent education resources will help you as you continue to learn, as well.

Wrightslaw Loves our Video!