Tag Archives: LRE

The Approaching End of a Heartbreaking Era

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


When the Education of All Handicapped Children’s Act (EAHCA) was enacted as PL94-142 in 1975, it was in the face of enormous opposition from school district administrators and their attorneys who were actively refusing to enroll children with disabilities in our nation’s public schools. Many have remained employed in public education, stewing in their own bile over their legal “loss” while begrudgingly enrolling students with special needs.

The EAHCA was reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, which has, itself, been reauthorized twice since then, the last reauthorization being in 2004. Clearly, Congress has no intention of returning to a time when discriminating against those with disabilities was perfectly acceptable.

I don’t know how many of you have experienced an employment situation in which people have been required to do something that they opposed, but it’s been my experience that some people in this position are more likely to sabotage any attempts to do things differently to “prove” it was a bad idea than to willingly go with the program. Some people are just sore losers.

In short, you’re not likely to get buy-in from people who had to be Court-ordered or required by regulation to do the ethical and responsible thing. It says something, anyway, about a person’s character when he/she forgoes ethical solutions for whatever reasons and, therefore, requires enforceable regulations that dictate what his/her behavior should be. Some peoples’ characters create a situation in which the behaviors normally associated with common sense and ethics become subject to regulation.

This is not specific to special education or the legal practices that surround it. This is human nature. Somewhere out there in the world is the person who justified warning labels on suppositories that advise they are not meant for oral consumption. Some people’s functional skills in various aspects of life, for whatever reasons, are seriously limited.

People tend not to make improvements when forced to, particularly when they perceive the improvements as a threat to their familiar, comfortable, self-serving routines. This, too, is human nature.

The problem in special education is that, following the passage of the EAHCA, too many people with chips on their shoulders were left over the decades in positions of authority in public education, passing their “insight” onto the people they were responsible for training and stacking the deck against the success of special education. In other words, ever since the passage of the EAHCA in 1975, there have been career public education administrators undermining the effectiveness of special education in order to win an argument rather than educate children, the latter of which being what we actually pay them six-figure salaries at public expense to do.

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Evaluating the Efficacy of the LRE

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

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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Podcast: Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment

On January 1, 2009, we originally published “Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment”. Throughout this school year, KPS4Parents is recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast “Placement & the Least Restrictive Environment.”

KPS4Parents Interviewed by LRP

I was recently approached by John Haughey, writer and editor for LRP Publications, for our input regarding a due process decision arising from a case in Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar with LRP, it is the publication powerhouse that supplies information regarding special education law, policy, and practices to public education agencies and the attorneys who represent them.

LRP maintains, through its website http://www.specialedconnection.com/, the most comprehensive database of special education due process decisions from around the country, as well as state and federal appeal cases. With a subscription rate for full access at around $2500 per year, only the well-financed generally have access to this otherwise difficult to access public information.

Even so, many attorneys who represent students with special needs and their families will choke down this subscription fee for access to case decisions that provide appropriate authorities for their own work. Other products of LRP Publications are reviews of special education decisions and articles that discuss the subtle or not so subtle nuances of special education law.

Which brings me to the Chicago case about which Mr. Haughey, who is a very nice man, asked to interview me. KPS4Parents very much appreciates the opportunity to lend perspective from the child and parent side of the issue to LRP’s work. For many who work with families of children with disabilities, and who are leery of LRP because of its strong affiliation with the public education agencies and their attorneys, we hope you appreciate that LRP was actively reaching out to hear the child and family side of the issue.

While the way our comments were reported doesn’t provide the full context in which what was quoted was said, we stand behind what Mr. Haughey wrote of our input. Unfortunately, because this article is copyrighted by LRP Publications and you have to be a subscriber to their site to see it, we can’t give you access to the whole thing. However, LRP was kind enough to agree to let us audio record my interview with Mr. Haughey and we were given consent to quote Mr. Haughey’s quotation of me from his article.

The Chicago case was one in which a special education student was awarded compensatory education in the form of placement in a private school for children with learning disabilities at public expense after his school district was found to have denied a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE, to him. In this case, it seems, the school district had placed so much of an emphasis on placing this student in the least restrictive environment, or LRE, that it had failed to consider whether he could actually receive educational benefit in a general education setting.

I was one of several people from around the country interviewed for Mr. Haughey’s article. Also interviewed were a public school principal in Wisconsin and a special education attorney in New Hampshire. While I had the benefit of reading the decision issued by the Illinois Hearing Officer, I did not have access to the transcript of the hearing or the evidence, so I have to take the decision at face value. That said, I know from personal experience that hearing officers are extremely challenged to get all the fact exactly right, so I was still left with some unanswered questions after reading the decision.

It was an interesting read, nonetheless, and what I want to focus on here is the case as represented by the hearing decision. I offer our sincere respect to the family involved in this case, particularly considering that the case reflected in the decision is probably not exactly reflective of the case the family attempted to have tried. I also offer our most emphatic support of the student in this case because it was this young man’s life about which this case resolved. He is the one who will have to live with the consequences of what this case did and did not yield on his behalf. So, to the extent that I’m about to talk about this case as though the decision is 100% reflective of the facts, and I’m about to use it as a generic example for the benefit of others, please do know that we very much understand that this was really about one boy and his right to learn to read, write, and do math and very much appreciate that this family stuck its neck out in an effort to effect change.

The decision in the case at issue here reflected a number of shortcomings that the LRP article, which was brief, did not go into. One of the issues was that the assessment data fell far short of the mark and this young man’s IEP teams were without the data necessary to make informed decisions regarding what was or was not a legitimate offer of a FAPE based on his unique learning needs. So, there was this first undermining of the process that ultimately made it impossible for the rest of the process to be properly executed.

The decision doesn’t specifically speak to whether the parents’ participation was meaningful in the IEP process, but I would argue that an IEP meeting denies meaningful parental participation if the information necessary – that is, data that explains what the student’s needs are – is not made available to the parents so that they can make informed decisions. Likewise, most parents are clueless regarding what data is necessary and how that data should be used. They are left to trust the judgment of school officials who may or may not understand their obligations under the law to special education students.

What was implied by this decision was that the school officials believed it was more important to place a child with an above-average IQ in the general education setting regardless of what his actual learning needs were than to examine the full continuum of placement. The decision suggests, and LRP’s article comes right out and asserts, that there was an emphasis placed on the LRE requirements more so than on what constituted a legitimate offer of a FAPE. I have to question this interpretation to a certain degree. That’s not exactly what I got out of reading this decision.

Yes, it’s true that, according to the decision, the District asserted that it only offered placement in the general education setting because it perceived that setting to be the LRE and that the student didn’t require a more restrictive placement. That may have actually been true.? Where the District may have fallen down was not necessarily?where the services were being provided but whether the proper services were being provided at all. The decision doesn’t address this consideration.

If you go back and look at our blog posts of the past and read the articles regarding the IEP process, you quickly come to understand – if you didn’t already know this – that services and placement are the last things discussed by the IEP team. What drives the selection of services and placement is the goals. The goals describe your intended outcomes of intervention and services and placement are the vehicles by which the goals are meant to be achieved. To the extent that the child can receive services such that his goals can be achieved in the general education setting, placement in the general education setting with non-disabled peers should occur.

In the Chicago case, it was not clear from the decision that there was any examination of what services could have been provided in the general education setting that could have seen the child benefit from his education. The decision reflects that only accommodations and modifications were made in the general education setting, not that services were pushed in or provided as supplemental supports.

Now, that said, this had apparently been going on for a while. As a result, the student had failed to receive educational benefit for years. By the time his case got to hearing, he was due compensatory education to make up for the years of lost educational opportunity and, at that point, the only real way to provide him with that kind of remedial support was to put him in a very restrictive setting, that being a private school for children with learning disabilities.

There very well may have been a time when placement in general education with appropriate supports and services would have rendered educational benefit and prevented all of this from ever happening. But, we’ll never know. The decision doesn’t speak to what would have been a FAPE for him in the past. It only speaks to the harm done by the District’s inappropriate offers of only accommodations and modifications in the general education setting for this student and the fact that compensatory education is now due to the student as a result of that harm.

This brings me to the next consideration: the use of the term “LRE.” As we’ve stated in blog articles before, the LRE?- the least restrictive environment – is the setting in which the student can receive educational benefit with the most exposure to typical peers and the typical school experience as possible. It’s relative to the student’s unique needs. This was the aspect on which I was quoted by Mr. Haughey in his article for LRP Publications.

Mr. Haughey wrote that I said, “LRE is relative — relative to the needs of the child,” which is true. Mr. Haughey went on to write: “Zachry advises parents to ask these questions in determining if the general ed placement is appropriate for their child: ‘Is it going to achieve the outcome you are looking for Are we leveling the playing field, or are we putting him on a completely different playing field?'” ?This advice actually was intended for the entire IEP team, not just parents.

Mr. Haughey also wrote that I said that parental pressure often can allow institutional bias for mainstreaming to go unchallenged, but did not include the context in which my statement to that effect was actually couched. This is something I want to clarify before my words are used to fuel the anti-parent bias that already pervades the public school community, and which some attorneys who represent public education agencies actually exploit for their own financial gain.

It is true, and I’ve written in our blog on this before, that most parents really do not understand the special education process. That’s one of the reasons we publish our blog in the first place. It’s also true that far too many professionals in special education really do not understand the special education process, either, which is another huge reason we publish our blog.

People on both the school and the parent sides tend to put placement before everything else, treating special education as a place rather than a service, even though placement is only one aspect of a special education student’s program and the last thing the IEP team should consider. So, again, we have this case out of Chicago and the attention that LRP is giving it that both focus on the placement more than anything else and I can’t help but wonder about the message this is sending to the folks in the public education community. Does this reinforce the false notion that placement is the only really important thing to talk about and that present levels of performance and goals are just procedural fluff?

It is also true that there are a great many parents out there who, in the process that parents follow in coming to terms with being told that their children have handicapping conditions, are in a stage of denial and, in their ignorance, think of special education as a place rather than a service to help their children learn. These parents view special education as a label – a “Scarlet Letter” – that will brand their children as though it is somehow advertised who and who is not on an IEP.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t insensitive clods in the public education system who have no sense of student confidentiality, but for the most part, public school employees do not go around blabbing students’ personal business to the other kids. Generally speaking, kids with learning disabilities and other “hidden” handicaps blend in with everyone else and no one knows they’re on IEPs unless they tell their peers themselves.

So, the parental fear of the child being labeled is often a rather irrational one. But, it’s also a natural stage of the process that every parent goes through. Sometimes it’s a fleeting moment before the parent moves to the next stage towards acceptance and proactive involvement, but sometimes parents get hung up at this stage for a while – or even indefinitely.

Like the stages of grief, how long a particular person spends at each stage of the process depends on that person’s individual growth and development as a human being. It’s unfair and inaccurate for school personnel to presume that all parents are in denial. Most parents of children with special needs experience at some point a great deal of relief of finally understanding what is going on with their child so they can start constructively coming up with a game plan. They get past the denial at some point.

But, while parents are in that denial phase, they are often resistant to the application of the term “special education” to their children, particularly if they are in denial at the time that their children are found eligible for special education services. They envision the proverbial “retard room” from their childhood educational experiences and can take any identification of eligibility for special education as a condemnation of their children’s potential. This is truly unfortunate. Within this context, it is true that parental pressure often can allow institutional bias for mainstreaming to go unchallenged, as Mr. Haughey reported.

Sometimes, however, it is the student’s bias that’s the problem, which Mr. Haughey and I discussed during the interview, as well. Sometimes the student doesn’t want to be placed in a more restrictive setting out of embarrassment, but is also embarrassed in the general education setting by not being able to keep up with peers. In a situation like this, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. That’s a really hard problem to overcome and usually comes down to the parents telling the student, “Look, this is the way this is going to go down and you’re just going to have to deal with it,” regardless of what the placement determination turns out to be.

In other instances though, and from what I could gather from reading the Decision in the Chicago case such was the situation there, the parents don’t really care so much about where services are provided so long as their kids get the help they need. The Chicago case seemed to me to be about a family asking for help for their son and not getting it, and the denials for help by the District being based on an inappropriate application of the LRE requirements.

Truthfully, what I suspect but would need evidence to know for sure, is that the District probably didn’t want to pay for the intensive remedial services this student needed and used the LRE as an excuse to deny them. Otherwise, no one at the District had a clue about what LRE really means and requires. Special education noncompliance tends to arise out of ignorance, petty politicking, or a combination of both. As with any due process case, we’ll never really know all of the truth about this situation, but we appreciate the opportunity to examine it and hope that my analysis provokes thought on the part of others to make the special education system better.

How Special Education Services are Supposed to be Selected

Several of our prior postings have emphasized that services are selected based on what will see a child’s annual IEP goals accomplished. Placement is determined based on how the services necessary to achieve the goals can be delivered in the least restrictive environment possible, so a discussion of services has to include some discussion of placement, though we’ll be talking specifically about placement in our next posting.

 

Today’s posting concentrates specifically on the process that an IEP team goes through (when things are done properly) to identify the services necessary to achieve a child’s annual IEP goals and how they can be described in the child’s IEP.

 

As we discussed in our posting, “Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process,before parents can legitimately advocate for more service hours of any particular kind, they have to examine the goals and ask themselves, “Is the amount of services being offered consistent with what needs to be done to achieve the existing body of goals?” If the amount of service hours matches what is necessary to achieve the goals the child already has, the next questions are “Are more goals needed? Have we failed to address a need?”

 

This is often where the real problem lies when parents are insisting on more service hours in any particular area of need. For example, I’ve heard more than once, “My child can’t write! He needs more OT!” but there are not sufficient writing goals in the child’s IEP. So, we have to back up and address the goal deficiencies so we can then increase the OT hours to see the new additional goals met.

 

Parents really need to understand this because there are instances in which less-than-ethical education professionals will play games. Here’s what it looks like:

 

Parent: My child needs more speech-language services!”

Ed Pro: “But the speech-language services we’ve offered to your child are appropriate to meet his goals.? What would more speech-language services accomplish?”

 

This is a loaded question! If you know the rules, you interpret this question to mean, “Do you think your child needs more speech-language goals “If you’re a lay person, however, you’re likely to miss the subtleties, become incensed, and cry out, “My child is non-verbal! He needs more speech-language services!” If game-playing is going on, the conversation will stalemate as a vicious circle of “He needs more!” and “What would that accomplish ” without any explanation forthcoming from the educational professionals about how goals drive services, so more services require more goals. 

 

Once the goals have been hammered out, then it’s time to determine services. This includes not just how much time will be devoted to services necessary to meet the goals, but also the location and method of delivery. A comprehensive speech-language service model may include a small amount of time in individual speech-language services, some group speech-language services, and speech-language programming embedded in the classroom setting, for example. 34 CFR   300.320(a)(7) requires that the frequency, duration, and location of each type of service offered be described in the IEP.

In this example, this means that the frequency, duration, and location of the individual speech-language services would have to be described separately from the frequency, duration, and location of the group service and the frequency, duration, and location of the embedded speech-language services. Even though they all address speech-language needs, each type of intervention is distinctly different from each other and, therefore, must be regarded as an individual service offering.

 

Parents should be leery of an offer in a situation like this where the IEP states something like:  “90 minutes per week speech-language services, individual/group/embedded programming.” This language fails to delineate the frequency, duration, and location of each aspect of the speech-language intervention, meaning that the delivery of the services is left entirely up to the discretion of school site staff.

 

The problem with this lack of specificity is that it is the nature of a government bureaucracy, which the public education system is, to default to whatever requires the least amount of effort on the part of the government workers. What is provided to a child becomes driven by how existing resources within the education agency have been allocated rather than the unique needs of the student. This is why federal law mandates that frequency, duration, and location be specified in the IEP in the first place; Congress had to have been aware of this aspect of bureaucracy when it crafted the Individuals with Disabilties Education Act (“IDEA”).

 

Yet another consideration is where the services will be rendered. Another point made in our posting, “Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process, was that placement comes at the end of the line for a very logical reason. You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish before you can determine where you can accomplish it. That means you need to know what services need to be delivered.  Once you know what the services are, you can figure out what placement is the least restrictive environment in which the services can be rendered relative to the unique needs of the individual child.

 

In our example above, we described some individual speech-language, some group speech-language, and some embedded speech-language programming in the classroom setting. But, what classroom setting is appropriate and how much of the services are to be pushed into the classroom rather than provided in individual and group services? What is the relative value of being surrounded by typical peers and their age-appropriate language skills versus a special day class with speech-language programming built into the curriculum by default? Can embedded speech-language services be successfully pushed into a regular education setting with 1:1 aide supports or can the services be more successfully delivered in a special education class?Do the embedded speech-language services need to happen all day long or just part of the day?

 

You can see that making determinations regarding services require a lot of thought. An awful lot of variables have to be taken into consideration, not the least of which are the goals that the services are meant to accomplish. The tolerance levels of the child for various stress levels and sensory input have to be considered along with the LRE requirements. Special education students cannot be pulled out of the regular education setting unless there is absolutely no way to feasibly push the services they need into the regular education setting. 

 

Even in special education settings there is a continuum of placement that has to be made available with the least restrictive setting chosen relative to each child. This means that a blend of various settings may be necessary to offer the services in the LRE. For example, a child could receive some services pushed into the regular education setting for part of the day, other services in one special education setting for another part of the day, and yet another special education setting for the rest of the day.

 

Until the services are identified, placement decisions cannot be made, though it is perfectly fine to discuss services and placement at the same time so long as the team maintains proper perspective. Because they are so intertwined, it’s actually pretty hard to discuss services without also discussing placement.

 

The caution that has to be taken when discussing services and placement together is making sure the IEP team doesn’t limit services based on how resources have already been allocated within the education agency. When the team starts talking about the need for counseling services three times a week for a student and the school psychologist says, “But I’m only on this campus once per week,” you’ve got a problem to overcome. 

 

What goes into the IEP and what must be provided must be based on the needs of the child. If the way staff and resources have been allocated do not support what the student needs in order to meet his goals, the staffing and resource allocations have to change; the services offered to the child should never be short-changed on the basis of resource allocation issues.

 

This is not to discount the enormity of the responsibility of education agencies to deliver on these requirements. Education agencies that actually pull it off are accomplishing miracles on a daily basis and their teams of professionals are mostly unsung heroes that deserve at least as many accolades as the entertainment industry heaps upon itself through its various awards ceremonies.

 

Coordinating the services required by all of an education agencys special education students to be delivered in what represents the LRE for each individual child can seem to be the logistical equivalent to Santa delivering presents to every child on the planet in one night. This is why States’ education agencies are still on the hook for the provision of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) to their constituent students and local education agencies should be hitting up their State education agencies for as much help as possible.

 

Our next posting will focus more specifically on placement. Please comment on today’s posting and let us know your thoughts.

Why Placement Isn’t Where You Start: Understanding the IEP Process

I can’t count the number of parents who have approached me to accomplish a specific placement for their child. Usually it’s because the child of someone else the parent knows has been placed in a particular setting and is doing really well, so the parent presumes his/her child would also do well in that setting. As another example, a child may only be receiving 20 minutes of individual speech-language services a week, which the parents contend is reprehensibly paltry for their language-impaired child.

 

 

These parents come to KPS4Parents looking to change their children’s placements or increase the number of related service hours in a specific setting because they think the placements they already have are inadequate. But, most of the time they’re totally missing the point.

 

It’s not that something isn’t wrong. If nothing was wrong, their children would be making a reasonable degree of progress and they wouldn’t be coming to us for help. But, because they are lay people and they don’t understand the process, they target what is the most observable thing to be targeted – the placement – without understanding all of the more abstract underpinnings of what makes any placement appropriate or not.

 

This can lead to a lot of pointless arguments and disputes.  Some of these parents will go out and hire lawyers to press the issue only to be dismayed if they don’t prevail.  The problem is not always with the placement or services, per se. It’s very often with the present levels of performance data and the goals. Parents rarely understand just how critically important these foundational pieces are to their children’s success in any placement.

 

You will note that our last few postings have followed a progression. We started out talking about – child find  and then moved on to the initial assessment process, understanding assessment data, and eligibility.

 

 

Special education follows a very linear process. Actually, it’s pretty formulaic. Parents aren’t expected to automatically know this. But, I’ve attended countless IEP meetings where school site staff didn’t seem to know it, either.

 

The process begins with assessment. Assessment determines whether a disability is present and, if so, fleshes out enough details about what is going on so that the IEP team can determine the child’s present levels of performance. Present levels of performance statements indicate what a child can and cannot do. 

 

Once the present levels are known, measurable annual goals are written to target deficits in skills and knowledge. The intent is to describe what the desired outcomes of one year’s worth of special education will be.

 

Once the desired outcomes have been described, services are selected that are necessary to see the goals achieved.Placement is driven by what will see the goals achieved, taking into consideration the services that are necessary to meet them, in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”). LRE means that, to the maximum extent possible, based on the unique needs of the child, the child is to be educated with his/her non-disabled peers and preferably at the same school he/she would attend if he/she did not have a disability. 

 

The LRE requirement is a huge consideration and is relative to the unique needs of each child.  What is least restrictive for one child may not be least restrictive for another. The most important consideration is “What is the LRE in which a specific child’s goals can be met?

Because special education calls for an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”), you can’t compare one child’s performance in a particular setting against the performance of another child.  The child’s performance has to be measured against the child’s capabilities and the unique challenges he/she faces. Just because two kids have autism, that doesn’t mean they will both benefit from the same program.

 

And, it isn’t just parents who can be guilty of putting the cart before the horse. I’ve gone into more IEP meetings than I can count where the education agency has already pre-determined the placement and then proceeds to propose pre-written goals that fit the placement rather than the child.

 

In fact, I had a meeting just like this earlier this school year (2008-09) and I want to share an out-take from the audio recording of the IEP meeting just to illustrate this point. To give you some context to the recording, the IEP team had just gone over the District’s assessment of the student and the conversation you hear in the recording is what immediately followed the presentation of the present levels of performance.

 

NOTE: There is no identifying information disclosed that could be used to compromise the child or family’s confidentiality and the family in question has given their consent for us to use this brief segment.? (Please forgive the hum of the air conditioner in the background.)

 

Those of you who know better, now having listened to this little snippet, are probably dying on the inside right now.  This child has a whole host of claims against his school district and we’re working with the District’s administration right now to achieve remedy to this child’s situation.

 

Those of you who are advocates for children already know, and parents should take heed, that there are times when it becomes apparent that sanity and logic have gone right out the window and the only thing you can do is sit back with the audio recorder running, ask probing questions, and just collect evidence. This was one of those situations, which is why I sound less than enthusiastic in the recording.

 

I much prefer to facilitate resolutions that lead to immediate benefit for students than collect evidence of school district personnel ricocheting off of each other like Keystone Cops.? School site staff, including this student’s teacher, didn’t even know what grade this student was in.

 

At any rate, my point is this: placement comes at the end of the line after everything else has been discussed. Everything else builds up to the placement decision. It’s the very last thing you decide.

 

Going into an IEP meeting with a specific placement pre-determined is sheer folly.  You’re operating on preconceived notions and you’re not letting the legally prescribed and entirely logical process occur. I’ve seen parents and school personnel alike go in so dead-set on what placement they think a child should have that they don’t listen to a word of the data about what the child’s needs actually are and what is reasonable to expect in terms of desired outcomes.

 

The other thing that trips up parents and leads to disputes over the wrong issues is a lack of understanding about various different service delivery models.  I’ve seen children with profound language impairments receive very little individual language services, not much more group services, but a whole lot of imbedded language programming in the classroom.

 

Here’s the thing with teaching skills to children, regardless of their cognitive level: children learn an awful lot by copying whoever they are around. If you put a bunch of kids with speech and language disorders in the same room all day long, they’re all going to start picking up each other’s speech impediments. Language-impaired children need to hear properly spoken language all day long and have their language intervention built into their regular day-to-day activities.  Real life is where the language is needed, not the artificial setting of the speech room.

 

Some parents seem convinced that if their child receives more individualized language services in the speech room, that’s automatically going to improve their child’s language. But, that’s often not the case.  In my experience, the benefit of individualized speech-language sessions is to pre-teach certain skills and rehearse them before attempting them in real-life, natural settings with other people. Group language instruction can be helpful to rehearse before trying to use skills in the classroom and on the playground, as well.

 

The issue here isn’t whether the language programming can be successfully imbedded into the day-to-day classroom routine, but rather whether it’s really being done and how the fidelity of that implementation model can be monitored and maintained. This takes us right back to the measureable annual goals.

In order for progress towards the goals to be measured, data has to be collected. We’ll talk more about goals and measurability in an upcoming posting, but I want to make the point here that so long as you have sufficient data collection taking place, you’re going to be able to track whether things are being done properly and whether or not they are working.

 

You also have to consider that programming embedded in the classroom is less restrictive than pulling the child out of the classroom for services.If the language services are embedded in the classroom, for example, the child can be simultaneously learning the curriculum and improving his/her language skills. If the child is pulled out, he/she loses instruction time in exchange for related service time.

 

The same scenario can be used for a variety of related services and types of specialized instruction.? Parents need to understand what is actually being offered and focus more on goal attainment, measurability, data collection, and the LRE than anything else.? Once the goals are written in an appropriate manner and in all areas of need, you will find that the amount of service hours needed to pull them off starts to add up.? And, this is where I think the light bulb finally comes on for parents.??

 

When parents come to me upset about inadequate service hours, I look at the goals. If, for example, the child only has one goal for mastering the /r/ and /l/ sounds, then fifteen minutes a week of speech-language services sounds about right. But if the same child also has huge deficits in grammar and syntax, as well as significant pragmatic (social) language deficits, when the parents are saying “My kid needs more speech-language services,” what they’re really saying is that their child needs help in more areas of speech-language than what his/her goals actually address. 

 

The next step is to add more speech-language goals in those areas where needs are not being addressed to the child’s IEP. Once those goals have been written, then we can ask the question “Is fifteen minutes of speech-language service per week enough time to see all of the speech-language goals met?|” and the answer is most likely going to be “no.” At that point, the number of speech-language hours can justifiably be increased.

I hope this helps make more sense of things for you. Please do comment to this and our other postings. We appreciate the number of visitors we’re getting to the blog and the emails we’re getting from people, but your comments will really help make this the collaborative tool we want it to become.