Category Archives: Articles w/Podcasts

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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Preventing SpEd Jargon from Impeding Agreements

Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

Source: Bob Cotter via Flickr

All too often in special education, those of us who have been working at it professionally for more than a few years have increased our vocabularies to include terms of art, acronyms, and legally significant phrases that mean a whole lot to us, but not a whole lot to professionals new to the field and parents. I find that a lot of my job as a lay advocate is translating SpEd-Speak into plain language.

It was actually during a case I’ve been working with a family that moved to the U.S. from Thailand that brought this point home for me. I found that by simplifying my language for the benefit of the translator, who knew nothing of special education, I made it lot easier for everyone else in the room to follow the logic of what I was saying. The meeting was also attended by the school district’s lawyer, who was actually pretty awesome once she realized what was going on. It was one of the most amicable and constructive IEP meetings in which I’ve participated in a while.

What I found worked best was to use simple language to communicate with most of the IEP team members, then sum up my point to counsel for the district in language she would appreciate in light of the regulations and the applicable science, if needed. In the end, what we figured out was that our 9th grade client qualified for special education as having autistic-like behaviors pursuant to 5 CCR Sec. 3030(g) and that his speech-language impairments for which he had originally been found eligible were features of his autistic-like tendencies as well as bilingualism coming from an Eastern tonal language to English.

I already knew from experience that throwing a bunch of jargon at people during a meeting where you’re trying to make things happen is not particularly constructive if any of them are unfamiliar with the lingo. Having non-English speaking clients only made the point more vivid. But, then I ran across an article in an old issue of Entrepreneur magazine that drove the point home even more, and, combined with my prior knowledge, inspired this blog post and corresponding podcast.

Click to Tweet: Throwing jargon around in IEP meetings is not constructive if the other people are unfamiliar with the lingo. #kps4parents

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Mental Health Services for ASDs

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Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (Source: Flickr)

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (“ASDs”), including Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (“PDD-NOS”), are often challenged by anxiety, which is an emotional health need. Many school districts contract with county mental health agencies or other providers for forms of individual psychotherapy services that may not be appropriate for some students with ASDs. Further, they may have no other service to offer to address ASD-related anxiety issues.

To add to the confusion, many county mental health agencies have recently re-identified themselves as county behavioral health agencies, yet they do not provide Applied Behavioral Analysis (“ABA”) or any other type of peer-reviewed behavioral intervention. ABA is supported by research to be effective in not only contending with undesired behaviors among persons with ASDs but also in providing explicit instruction to teach the skills these individuals lack.

Explicit instruction in social skills such as greetings, farewells, maintaining a topic of conversation chosen by another person, initiating conversations, and other aspects of human interaction have to taught to many children with ASDs as explicit, scripted procedures. Those procedures can then be generalized into real life by reinforcing them when they occur in natural settings and pointing out to the individual, in vivo, when he/she has engaged in the steps of the procedure so that he/she learns to recognize social contexts in which each script is to be applied.  Eventually, it becomes a learned, rehearsed strategy to deal with specific types of situations.

The degree to which persons with ASDs can master various scripted procedures, or even need this level of support, varies from individual to individual. The same for the degree to which someone with an ASD can generalize knowledge from one context to another, such as from the instructional setting to real life.  It’s called a spectrum disorder for a reason. The range of severity between mild and severe is quite broad and anyone can fall anywhere along it.

Traditional “talk therapy” that promotes developing one’s insight and insight into other people’s perspectives to sort out one’s issues is not necessarily appropriate for some individuals with ASDs. Because there are so many differences among people with ASDs, it’s not fair to say that no one with an ASD can benefit from traditional talk therapy. But, it is safe to say that there are a significant number of students with ASDs who truly cannot benefit from traditional talk therapy but still have emotional health needs that require mental health services as part of their special education programs.

The matter comes down to, “What form of mental health services are appropriate for students in special education who have ASDs and require mental health services in order to benefit from their IEPs?” Well, as with anything in special education, you can’t take a cookie-cutter approach and say one specific type of program will fix everything for everybody. For one thing, no such statement will ever be true; learners with disabilities, even within a population impacted by the same condition, are too diverse for one-size-fits-all programming. Federal law requires individualized programming for this very reason.

That said, there are certain approaches that are generally known to be more effective with students who have ASDs than others. These may work with many students with ASDs, but whether or not they will be effective with an individual student really depends on that student.  The following are possible methods by which effective mental health services can be delivered to some persons challenged by anxiety associated with ASDs.

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Evaluating the Efficacy of the LRE

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I attended an IEP meeting recently that really brought home for me the complex nuances of determining what placement, or blend of placement options, represents the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) for an individual student with an IEP. Not only are there the academic factors, there are the social/emotional factors of a particular configuration of services and placement to consider as well.

But, it goes beyond that. A truly honest evaluation of LRE also looks at the culture of the school, if not the entire school district, where the placement is to occur. What constitutes the LRE for a child according to best practices is not necessarily what’s realistically achievable in a school district that does not consistently apply best practices throughout its general education settings.

Many times, for example, a full inclusion program doesn’t fail because the child was unable to respond to appropriate pushed-in support in the general education setting. Full inclusion often fails because of weaknesses in how a school district has set up its general education programs in the first place, into which students with IEPs – who have all kinds of legal rights and protections that the general education students don’t have – then?try to integrate. The failure can be just as much because the general education setting is inappropriate for the general education students, much less a student with special needs.

Personally, I think every child should receive an individualized education. You shouldn’t have to have something “wrong” with you to be taught in a manner most consistent with how you are most likely to experience educational success.

However, our public education system was developed 100 years ago during the Industrial Revolution and emulates the assembly line. Trying to achieve individualization in a setting configured for mass production is an exercise in futility. Full inclusion, therefore, can fail because the effort to individualize for a fully included special education student in the general education setting runs counter to the mass production mentality of general ed.

So, what can happen is that parents will successfully advocate, they think, for full inclusion – or at least increased mainstreaming opportunities – only for the whole thing to go horribly awry once implemented. Afterwards, smug school district personnel will sit in IEP meetings throwing I-told-you-so’s into the parents’ faces, as though it was an outrageous mistake to push for full inclusion and?the parents should have known better.

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California’s Regulations for Positive Behavioral Interventions

UPDATE:  Effective July 1, 2013, the Hughes Bill, which described the FAA procedures, was repealed and replaced with AB 86, which offers fewer legal protections to students with behavioral needs.  Click here for more information about this change in the law.  The material below now only applies to those students who were eligible for an FAA and possibly a PBIP prior to July 1, 2013. These students may currently have PBIPs in their IEPs, which remain in force until their IEPs are replaced at their next annual due date. Students with claims arising within the last two years from school agencies’ failures to comply with the Hughes Bill during the portion of the statutory period in which it was still in force may still bring claims regarding those failures, in which case, the material below is still applicable.


Click here to listen to the podcast version of this post.

As part of a series of articles regarding seclusion and restraint practices involving special education students across the nation, we’re starting out with a look at the regulations already on the books in California. We’re starting with these state-specific regulations because California is one of the few states to have regulations this specific and, as one of the most populous states in the nation, these laws impact a lot of kids. So, this information can potentially benefit a lot of students by helping their parents in their efforts to achieve appropriate behavioral interventions as well as help their educators understand their obligations, thereby preventing a lot of costly litigation that takes money away from actual instructional costs.

There is federal legislation pending to address this very issue. The lack of consistency among the states as to what constitutes a lawful restraint or seclusion varies so widely that what is regarded as child abuse in one state is considered perfectly acceptable in others.

Because California has such specific language in its regulations about one aspect of positive behavioral intervention, we wanted to examine these regulations more closely. Plus, I’ve been involved in a due process case in which an 8-year-old with autism was unwittingly provoked into an outburst by well-intended special ed staff with the whole thing culminating in a DARE officer who happened to be on campus handcuffing the boy in an effort to protect him from hurting himself. That whole incident involved both restraint and seclusion with disastrous results.

So, this issue is vivid in my mind right now after having met this sweet boy and his loving family, as well as in light of other work I’ve been doing recently that has also involved inappropriate behavioral interventions in public school settings in California as well as Texas. As advanced as humanity has become, we can still be a savage species when it comes to children, particularly those with disabilities.

The thing about California’s laws relative to the minimum requirements under the federal regulations is that California’s laws are specific to serious behavior problems, interpreted by most school districts to mean violent behaviors, where the federal regulations only specifically mandate behavioral assessment when a student is at risk of expulsion for behaviors that may be related to his/her disability. In both cases, that leaves a lot of latitude for things to get way out of control before a school district takes action, particularly in school districts that are reactionary to student needs once they’ve reached crisis proportions rather than proactive in preventing these kinds of problems from arising in the first place.

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Teachers Who Cheat & Why They Do It

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The whole country has been watching the shameful activities that have been going on in Atlanta, GA, for weeks now and my point in today’s posting isn’t to repeat what’s already been said ad nauseam about the Atlanta achievement score cheating scandal. My point today is to acknowledge the reality that people from all walks of life cheat and that public education is not exempt from this sordid side of human nature.

That’s not anything I haven’t said before, but I’m hoping that the enormity of what has been identified in Atlanta thanks to tenacious investigative journalism will help drive this point home for the people who have heard me over the years but didn’t really believe that things can get that bad, much less on such a huge scale. In a way, I feel kind of vindicated, though this is totally the kind of thing about which I wish I could be proven wrong. The world would be a much better place if I was just a hysterical nut-ball falsely accusing the sky of falling instead of the truth being what it really is.

And, the truth is that there are lots of teachers who cheat. Granted, I don’t think they make up the majority of teachers. Even in Atlanta Public Schools, which is a huge school district with thousands of employees, it was only about 250 educators who were implicated in the achievement score fraud, which dates back to at least 2001.

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“Velcro® Aide” vs. Learning Facilitator

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There is a realm of conflict surrounding the use of 1:1 aides in special education and many local education agencies (“LEAs”) have developed their own assessment protocols to determine when a child really needs an aide to try and rein in this issue.

Sometimes these assessments just turn into a means of justifying to the parents a decision against aide support that was actually made by the LEA for fiscal reasons, so there are still issues with these types of aide assessments that need to be worked out.

Because these are LEA-made evaluations that are not bound by regulation and they aren’t scientifically validated standardized tests, LEAs can make them up however they want and some are better at researching best practices than others. But, even if it’s the best aide assessment in the world, none of that makes any difference if the aide support a child is given isn’t used well.

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