It this video was not so true it would be very funny. It rings so true to a number of cases that I have had especially in this age of RtI.
I was asked to write an article on preparing for your next IEP meeting for the website specialneeds.com. Here is the article that I hope will be useful this IEP season.
Mediation and resolution meetings are among the primary ways that many special education cases get settled. For many parents they have never attended anything like a mediation or a resolution session. An advocacy center is DC has published a useful handbook that is very accessible guide to mediation and resolution meetings.
RtI despite its frequent inservicing and discussions appears to be an elusive topic for many schools. Parents need to understand RtI if they are to effectively advocate for a meaningful process to take place for their child. The following guidance is a useful guidance document from NCLD.
Suicide is a serious and widespread issue for many students and in turn schools. Unfortunately the magnitude of this issue is sometimes only realized after a death occurs or even more than one. Administrators and principals in the Coeur d’Alene School District recently held a management retreat to address the issue of suicide prevention. The special session was the result of four tragic suicides committed students within the district in the past 15 months. One of the saddest things about this brief blurb in the local paper was the comment posted to the newspaper’s online website, which said, “Why are we coddling these people and using taxpayer money to do it? School is only to teach the 3 R’s, nothing more. And only through the 6th grade, then these parasites are on their own!” [Can only hope this person is not a parent or at least has no children under his roof!]
The callousness of the writer, who is clearly fortunate to not have had loved ones struggle with suicide or mental illness, is stunning. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults from 15 to 24 years in the United States. The National Health Association estimates that up to 2.5% of children and 8.3% of teens in the United States suffer from depression. At any given time, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology estimates that about 5% of children are suffering from depression.
And what about our children with special needs? The data is limited, but Steve Forness, professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at the University of California, estimates that 30 to 40% of students in ED classes and 10 to 20% of students in LD classes suffer from depression. Experts believe there is no mystery as to why students with special needs are more prone to depression. These children may be predisposed to depression due to biological factors related to their disorders. In addition these kids may suffer from the stigma of having a disorder, and their disabilities may make them stand out to their peers. As a result, children with special needs are two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-disabled peers. A study in a British journal stated that 60% of students with special needs reported being bullied compared to 25% of their non-disabled peers. The unfortunate reality even faced with empirical and reliable subjective data from parents and other sources, many schools continue to deny that there is an issue with bullying especially towards students with special needs. If only denying a problem could make it true, but it cannot.
Children with special needs are not alone with higher rates of depression. Many experts believe that gifted students are also prone to depression. These are the students who tend to be perfectionists and who are overly harsh in their self-criticism. According to James Webb, the founder and co-director of Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted, a “B” on a report card can be shattering to a gifted student. Furthermore, Webb argues that these students can suffer from “existential depressions,” where they confront basic issues of existence, death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness—all issues that are difficult and painful for any 16- to 18-year-old to confront. The even larger problem here is that given the good and even exceptional grades that gifted students receive, schools refuse to even consider these students for a case study, even in the face of a clear and imminent risk to the student’s emotional well being in school.
Fortunately, organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), as well as the Coeur d’Alene School District, are attempting to be proactive in an effort to help depressed students and head off potential suicides. NASP, which states that suicides may be preventable, offers detailed information and suggestions on risk factors, warning signs, what to do, and the role of the school in suicide prevention. Many, many, many other groups are also recognizing this sobering issue and confronting it. Parents must be aware that our children are at risk for depression. We must not be afraid to seek help in the form of an IEP or out of school mental health services, when we suspect our children are in trouble emotionally, even when that student is getting average or above average grades.
For many parents and students August means that thoughts turn to back-to-school sales on clothes and school supplies. While those items are on the minds of parents of students with special needs, they often have much weightier things on their minds; how to make this school year experience significantly better and different than last year. At the annual review IEP at the end of last school year, schools often make promises that the issues from last year or the unmet goals will be accomplished, or progress will be made, next (school) year. Well it is time to make good on those promises and representations, as this year IS next year. Those promises need to have more meaning than the average New Year’s resolution. Here are my thoughts on some things to consider, as an attorney who practices in the area of special education law, at the start of this new school year:
I have recently run into a series of IEP teams that all seem to have been making the same claim that students with intellectual challenges can not learn to read beyond the most rudimentary level. When faced with lack of progress even on IEP goals, I am told that students "like that" just do not progress. It is enough to make my head explode when faced with the bias of low expectations. Schools feel that they have a literacy loophole that negates any need to show progress on a basic area of academic developement--literacy.
Pam Labellarte, an experienced special advocate and a parent of a child with Downs Syndrome who works for me, authored the following first person account of her struggle with school to recognize that her daughter can read if taught appropriately, and her wonderful success in recent years with the SLANT method. At the end of the first person account is her tutor's Masters thesis on her work with SLANT with students with Downs and her data. It is good stuff and should help in the future when faced with the same argument that students like that can not learn to read.
The Office for Civil Rights recently provided guidance on when bullying can rise to the level of a federal civil rights violation. Discrimination based on disability status was a topic covered in the OCR letter. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) prohibit disability-based discrimination. The recent OCR letter outlines several examples of harassment and discrimination, here is just one example and the letter's response:
Several classmates repeatedly called a student with a learning disability "stupid," "idiot," and "retard" while in school and on the school bus. On one occasion, these students tackled him, hit him with a school binder, and threw his personal items into the garbage. The student complained to his teachers and guidance counselor that he was continually being taunted and teased. School officials offered him counseling services and a psychiatric evaluation, but did not discipline the offending students. As a result, the harassment continued. The student, who had been performing well academically, became angry, frustrated, and depressed, and often refused to go to school to avoid the harassment.
In this example, the school failed to recognize the misconduct as disability harassment under Section 504 and Title II. The harassing conduct included behavior based on the student's disability, and limited the student's ability to benefit fully from the school's education program (e.g., absenteeism). In failing to investigate and remedy the misconduct, the school did not comply with its obligations under Section 504 and Title II.
This is just one example of the type of discrimination that is occurring in schools across the country. Bullying is an issue that we hear about from parents far too often. It is important that parent's and student's understand their rights and that schools are held accountable for turning a blind eye. A critical element of establishing responsiblity is for the parent to write to adminstrative staff who have the power and control to make meaningful changes and after being informed failed to take reasonable actions. It is also important for parents to review and know the bullying and harassment policies for the school/district.
Fortunately President Obama has brought the power of the presidency to this issue. Many schools that I see, however, are in a profound state of denial when it comes to bullying. I have even had a few schools who meet parents' cliams of bullying with bullying conduct of their own to squelch advocacy on this topic. We should mark the just passed "Columbine" anniversary with more action especially since bullying is still so prevalent in our schools.
School district's frequently surprise me with the depth and scope of knowledge that they have on parents. A typical first conversation I have with opposing counsel goes something like: "are you aware of the fact that the parents are on the verge of divorce, mother takes valium and they are nearing foreclosure, so I am concerned that any settlement we enter into will not be viable because of residency issues!" Quite remarkable and far beyond information that should ever be within the ambit of a social developmental study, but this type of information comes to me on a regular basis.