Tag Archives: speech

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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California SLPs Sometimes Confuse Legal Requirements

Today’s posting will hopefully lay to rest a misunderstanding that seems to plague special education in California. I can only presume that, like many other “urban myths” that root themselves in special education lore, at some point in time, somebody somewhere in California conducted a training seminar on speech-language assessment and services within special education and miscommunicated something that has now led to speech-language specialists throughout the state making improper conclusions to the detriment of some children in need of speech-language services.

The problem is this: the distinction between who is found eligible for special education on the basis of a speech-language impairment (“SLI”) and who qualifies for speech-language services as a student already eligible for special education under any other category. Eligibility for special education as SLI is not required in order for a child otherwise eligible for special education to receive speech-language services in order to benefit from his/her IEP.

The critical piece of legislation, which gets erroneously cited in speech-language assessment reports all the time, is 5 CCR  3030(c). Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3030 describes all of the criteria for each of the eligibility categories under which a student may qualify for special education and related services. These categories include Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”), Other Health Impaired (“OHI”), Emotionally Disturbed (“ED”), and many others, including SLI. The critical thing to understand here is that the 3030s describe who can receive special education and on what basis, not what services they will get.

What ends up happening, though, is a child will be assessed for special education purposes and a speech-language assessment will be conducted. In the course of the overall assessment, even though the child is found eligible under some category other than SLI, because he did not score below the 7th percentile on two or more speech-language assessments, the speech-language specialist will determine that he doesn’t qualify for speech-language services according to 5 CCR   3030(c). It is a complete and utter misapplication of this Code, which deals strictly with eligibility under SLI and not what services an otherwise eligible child should receive.

A typical example of this would be a child who is eligible for special education pursuant to 5 CCR   3030(g) for autistic-like behaviors (in special education in California, a medical or psychological diagnosis cannot be made by the school psychologist, so this section of the code provides alternative language and defines the criteria by which a special education eligibility category can be identified for a child exhibiting the symptoms of autism), but who is relatively verbal. While his scores may hover just above the 7th percentile on the speech-language tests he was administered, they are still very low and his low language functioning compounds his other problems arising from the other needs arising from his handicapping condition.

In this example, anyone in their right mind can see that the child needs pragmatic (social) language intervention and help with idiomatic and figurative (non-literal) language. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t get jokes, and he doesn’t understand clichs and colorful sayings, such as “Clear as mud.” This makes it difficult for him to participate in group projects with peers and understand the writings of Mark Twain. He needs goals that address these areas of need and speech-language services in order to benefit from his IEP.

No subsection of 5 CCR  3030 drives the selection of services that any child gets, only whether or not a particular child is eligible and, if so, under what category. The IDEA mandates that children who are eligible for special education, regardless of what category they qualify under, receive whatever supports and services are necessary in order to afford them a FAPE.

Specifically, the federal regulations found at 34 CFR  300.320(a)(2) state that IEPs must include for each child measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs that results from the child’s disability.

An eligible child is a child who requires, as a result of one or more handicapping conditions, special education and related services in order to receive educational benefit. 34 CFR  300.39 “Related services” is described at 34 CFR  300.34. In none of this is there anything that suggests that the only way that an otherwise eligible child can receive speech-language services is if he is also found eligible as SLI.

In fact, 34 CFR  300.304(c)(6) states that, when evaluations are conducted for special education purposes, they must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Congress understood when it crafted the IDEA that you don’t individualize a child’s program by resorting to “cookie-cutter” strategies that are based on a kid’s eligibility category.

The IDEA is the skeleton of special education law. It establishes the basic framework and minimal standards. It is left to the states, if they want any federal special education dollars, to add the flesh to the bones by creating their own state-level legislation that explains how each state will implement the requirements of the IDEA. While states are free to add more obligations to their schools than what the IDEA requires, they are prohibited from reducing the protections offered to students and parents under the IDEA lest they sacrifice their funding.

What this means for speech-language services to special education students in California is that the IDEA basically says each eligible child must get whatever he/she needs in order to receive educational benefit, regardless of what type of services are required and regardless of the applicable eligibility categories. That’s the whole concept of individualizing a child’s education plan based on his/her unique educational needs.

There is nothing at the state-level that reduces this federal mandate, nor could there be unless California were to choose to go it alone to cover its special education costs and we all already know that California can’t pay its bills even with the federal funding it receives. It absolutely cannot afford to give up its federal special education funding.

We’re curious to know if there are any other state-level debacles involving misinterpretations of the law happening elsewhere. Readers are encouraged to post comments to this posting about such misinterpretations that may be occurring where they live.

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.

Emotions Part 2 – School Site Staff

Parents are not the only ones who have emotional reactions to things that happen in the special education process. Special education is a very complex undertaking that involves a lot of people, each with his/her own perspective.

Teachers and related service providers (speech-language specialists, occupational therapists, etc.), being in the trenches as it were, are the people most in a position to see the educational impact of a child’s special needs first-hand. What they don’t know can hurt a child.

Parents who jump to blaming teachers and providers without considering all of the factors that these professionals have to deal with, however, don’t help the situation. That isn’t to say that teachers and providers are without responsibility and shouldn’t be held accountable. But, things have to be done the right way.

There’s usually a whole lot more going on behind the scenes beyond the control of the teachers and related service providers that parents don’t know about or understand. Many parents may look at teaching and professional staff, as well as school site administrators, as having a lot of say in how things go down, but the truth is that their effectiveness is also influenced by internal agency politics that start at the top of the agency’s administrative hierarchy and trickle down into the classroom through bureaucratic channels.

What teachers and related service providers are prevented from doing by the internal politics of the agencies they work for can also hurt a child, and most teachers and providers who find themselves in these kinds of circumstances are sickened by them. I’ve spoken to many people over the years who left the teaching profession because they were unsupported by their administrations, were denied the tools they needed to teach all of their students (particularly those with unique learning needs), and were told not to say anything to parents or make waves lest they find themselves unemployed. This is entirely unacceptable on a variety of levels, not to mention unlawful.

In many of the difficult instances I’ve seen, teachers and related service providers have not been properly trained on what to do and/or have had critical resources withheld from them by the powers that be.  When parents understand that teachers and service providers are usually jumping nervewracking hurdles within their agencies behind the scenes, a more constructive and collaborative way of working together can be developed and the professionals can come to regard the parents as resources rather than additional obstacles.

Teachers and related service providers, like parents, need to check their emotions at the door when it comes time for meetings with parents and co-workers. I once attended an IEP meeting for a little girl who was being raised by her single dad and the little girl’s teacher, as it turns out, had a mad crush on the dad. This same teacher was actually a pretty decent special education teacher in terms of her caring for her students and how effectively she communicated with them. But, the school district she worked for had trained its special education staff incorrectly on how to write IEP goals, resulting in IEPs filled with nonsensical gibberish. 

The exasperated father kept going back to her asking for clarification, which she was more than willing to oblige, and calling new IEP meetings to better describe the goals without really getting anywhere productive. As a professional person, he knew what kind of standards he was held to when it came to goal-setting and he just couldn’t fathom his daughter’s IEP goals. 

I wrote a letter to the district explaining why the goals were completely unacceptable and an IEP meeting was again called to address the goals. He and I went to the IEP meeting where this teacher, who had tried so hard to please this frustrated parent using the knowledge and information she had, bawled uncontrollably throughout the IEP meeting.

The teacher took the parent’s hiring of advocates to address the goals she had written as a personal attack, despite the fact that the real failing was in the way the district had trained her to write the goals and not something that we’d ever blamed her for specifically. Her sense of rejection was only further amplified by the fact that part of her motivation in working so hard with this parent was because she was attracted to him and, clearly, if he had hired a quasi-legal representative to respond to her efforts, her affections were not?being returned.  It was one of the most uncomfortable IEP meetings I’ve ever attended.

That certainly doesn’t happen to me every day. But, I’ve gone to a number of meetings where teachers or service providers were defensive, rude, condescending, and inappropriate because they were bad people doing bad things. I went to a meeting once where a mean and nasty speech-language pathologist had produced a very poor assessment report on behalf of the district that failed to include any subtest scores, making it impossible to see whether the child had demonstrated subtest scatter (subtest scores that are not close together, indicating relative strengths in some areas and deficits in others, as opposed to the subtest scores more or less being about the same regardless of the areas tested). When I asked for the subtest scores, she sneeringly advised that she couldn’t provide them because she had shredded the assessment protocols (the booklets in which the student’s actual answers and scores are recorded). Shredded them!!!

In California, unlike many other states, assessment protocols are considered part of a student’s records and, therefore, must be maintained as such (meaning that parents have the right to copies of them). Here, the assessor had destroyed a protected student record and for what She couldn’t prove that she had properly administered and scored the assessments in addition to the fact that she couldn’t really show how the child had performed on them. 

On behalf of the parents, I immediately disputed her results and asked for an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”), which is basically a second opinion by an outside assessor not employed by the education agency, at public expense.? The only way the district could have turned down the request would have been to take the family to hearing to assert the appropriateness of its assessments, which it couldn’t do because the speech-language pathologist had shredded the evidence.  The district sensibly agreed to the IEE.

The thing I hope you take from this posting is that teachers and service providers are people too. Parents and administrators need to understand this but nonetheless expect the utmost ethical conduct from teachers and providers as well as a legitimate interest in learning whatever they can to make sure their students receive meaningful educational benefit. 

Teachers and providers need to understand that protections are in place (see our first posting of November 11, 2008) to prevent them from being retaliated against by their employers for doing what they think is right by their students with disabilities.  Administrators need to be sensitive to the feelings of pressure they may be inadvertently placing on teachers and providers to say and do things that betray their moral judgment. This is the kind of thing that leads to teacher burn-out and prompts service providers to leave public education and go into private practice.

Teachers and providers need to have confidence in their own voices and insist that they be provided with the training and supports they need to do their jobs well. Disenfranchisement is the usurper of success and depriving our children of success is an unacceptable outcome for us all.