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Potential Disclosure of Records Impacts Students with Special Needs

June 22nd, 2016

New York City special education students and their parents should be aware of a potential disclosure of student records for the purpose of a class action lawsuit.

Littman Kroooks Special Needs PlanningThe potential disclosure may affect students who had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) prepared between 2003 and 2016 by the New York City Department of Education (DOE), and either attended a state-approved non-public school or were diagnosed or classified as autistic.

The student records are covered by a confidentiality agreement and would only be disclosed to the parties to the lawsuit, their attorneys, experts and the court.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, M.G. v. NYC DOE, are children with disabilities (and their parents) who attended State-approved non-public schools or were diagnosed or classified as autistic and claim that certain DOE policies violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by preventing them from receiving special education services.

Parents who object to the disclosure of their children’s records may file an objection form by August 7, 2016 requesting that protected personal information be removed from those students’ records before they are released. Objecting to disclosure will not affect any rights that students and parents may have under the lawsuit or in relation to the DOE.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Autism Speaks Teams Up with Major League Baseball

June 2nd, 2016

 Stacy M. SadoveBy Stacy M. Sadove, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

As school is closing and summer is starting, many parents are looking to find ways to integrate their children in community events and activities for summer. Americans consider baseball a national pastime.  Children of all ages look forward to attending a ball game with friends and family to root on their favorite team.  Yet for children with disabilities, and particularly for children on the spectrum, attendinga baseball game may be too overwhelming.

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Autism Speaks and Major League Baseball have teamed up for their Annual event in recognition of Autism Awareness Month to bring a unique experience to fans on the spectrum. Both the Mets and Yankees are participating in this event. The Mets held their game on May 1, 2016, and the Yankees game is set for August 6, 2016.

The games specifically targets fans with Autism, and seek to provide a friendly environment for individuals and their families affected by Autism. Individuals with Autism often have difficulty integrating in community events. Loud noises and over-stimulating environments often prevent individuals on the spectrum from being able to attend events such as a baseball game.

new_york_mets copyBy providing certain accommodations such as dimmed lighting, muted announcements and certain deemed quiet zones with sensory friendly environments, individuals on the spectrum can enjoy the ball park in a whole new way.  A part of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to Autism Speaks. This exciting event is just one of many events scheduled in our area to promote further awareness for Autism. It is encouraging to see so many people educating and reaching out to provide support for Autism awareness.

Littman Krooks applauds and encourages Autism outreach activities. I look forward to this and many more events in our community that our clients can share with children on the spectrum. Let’s play ball.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Walter Panas Warr;ors: Fighting Stigma Against Mental Illness

May 9th, 2016

Our guest blogger this week is Melissa Smith, MS Ed, Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer, High School Counselor, Advisor of the Warr;ors, Founder of ADHD A New Vision Camp and most importantly proud mother of an 11 year old amazing son who happens to have an ADHD diagnosis.

walter panas warr;or

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can scar you for life.  A newly formed high school club at Walter Panas High School called The Warr;ors, is fighting the stigma against mental illness.

The idea to start the club came from an amazing student of mine last year.  She had experienced mental health struggles of her own and wanted to reach out to those she knew struggled with that stigma daily.  We had a lot of leg work to do and we took our time researching if there were any clubs like ours in the region or even the country.  There are movements at colleges around the country but very little mental health advocacy is done at a high school level and nearly none were available in middle schools.

The students decided on the name the Warr;ors; a person that stands up for what they believe in and rights’ ignorance.  We thought using the semi colon to support the “Semi Colon” project was so symbolic: www.projectsemicolon.org.

The Warr;ors Mission Statement:

  • To inspire, lead and educate others about mental health and wellness
  • Combat stereotypes through school-based trainings and education
  • Act as a link to resources for the Lakeland Community

Learn more about The Warr;ors by watching this video.

All Warr;ors 16 and older have participated in the Youth Mental Health First Aid training and inspired me to get certified as a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid. My students have already touched so many lives and saved two that I am aware of.

We have had two all school assemblies, presented at PTA and SEPTA meetings, pushed into health classes and AP Psychology.

If you would like to see us present, “We All Have Mental Health,” we will be at Lakeland High School on May 17th at 7:30. Email Msmith@lakelandschools.org for more information.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Signs of Mental Health Problems In Children

May 1st, 2016

To learn more about both the effects of bullying and mental health and what you can do, you are invited to a seminar on May 10, 2016:  Understanding the Legal Obligations of a School District Regarding Bullying and Student Mental Health

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

Every parent and school professional must be aware of the mental health crisis confronting our youth and take steps to understand and advocate. Parents and schools must act together to protect children become educated on risk factors and symptoms.

If your child has a mental health issue, it is important to understand how to seek community supports and to understand the legal obligations of your school district.  Too many parents view mental health issues as a “private issue” or believe that things will improve. It is almost impossible for parents to handle mental health issues alone.

Signs of Mental Health Problems in Children:

Parents must be aware of signs of mental illness. Early identification is key to help children.  The Mayo Clinic and other professionals list the following signs of mental illness in children, but the list is not exhaustive:

  • Mood changes: Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school. Some students simply withdraw. School avoidance or physical symptoms without physical causes can also be a sign of mental distress.
  • Intense feelings: Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Behavior changes: Look for drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently or expressing a desire to hurt others also are warning signs.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
  • Unexplained weight loss: A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
  • Physical harm: Sometimes a mental health condition leads to suicidal thoughts or actual attempts at self-harm or suicide.
  • Substance abuse: Some children use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

School District Legal Obligations to Help:

Littman Krooks special needsIf a child is showing signs of mental illness, it is important for parents to understand school district legal obligations and also how to get community support.   Not every child with mental health issues has a disability but if a condition affects educational performance, the school district has an obligation to refer a student for special education and related services.

  • Pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), 20 USC §1400, seq. and parallel state law, school districts have a responsibility to identify and provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, including those who have an emotional disturbance or disability, including another health impairment, such as ADHD.
  • As the Supreme Court noted in Honig v. Doe in 1988, “Among the most poorly served of disabled students were emotionally disturbed children: Congressional statistics revealed that for the school year immediately preceding passage of the Act, the educational needs of 82 percent of all children with emotional disabilities went unmet. See S. Rep. No. 94-168, p. 8 (1975).”  

If your child has mental health needs impacting education, you should refer your child for special education services and, if the child has a disability, he or she should qualify for an IEP and receive special education supports, such as counseling, flexibility with assignments, or a therapeutic environment. Some children with mental health needs may need building level help or need accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  

Steps to Take:

On a broader scale,  work with your school district and community to develop a task force to create systems and policies to proactively address student mental health needs and make sure interventions are in place.  Talk to your child’s school district administrators about making mental health and social emotional health a priority in your school district and ask about what programs are in place to ensure children are served.   Much training is available and many organizations have resources to help.

As just three examples of what you can do:

  1. Become Certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid
  2. Consider taking the Sandy Hook Promise, which encourages safer schools and more mental health treatment.
  3.  Attend a screening of No Letting Go, on mental health and youth and one family’s story, aimed at helping to end the stigma:

Read more on how to educate, advocate and support mental health awareness month by clicking here.

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Updated Testing Accomodations For Students With Disabilities

April 21st, 2016

The New York State Education Department has published guidelines on testing accommodations for students with disabilities.

Mother And Teenage Son Using Laptop At HomeIn order for students with disabilities to participate equitably in state and local assessments, changes in testing procedures are necessary. However, in September 2015, the Common Core Task Force formed by Gov. Cuomo received reports from special education teachers and parents stating that many special education students were not receiving the testing accommodations specified in their individualized education programs (IEPs). The Task Force therefore recommended that formal guidance be issued to districts to ensure that students get the testing modifications they need.

The Department of Education guidelines state that the Section 504 Multidisciplinary Team or the Committee on Special Education must identify and document the testing conditions needed by each student, in the student’s IEP or 504 plan. The guidelines provide that all students with disabilities, including students taking the New York State Alternate Assessment, should have testing modifications recommended as appropriate.

In order to recommend the appropriate changes to the testing procedures, the guidelines state that committee members, including students and parents, should be aware of the purpose of the test being administered, the rationale for the necessity of testing accommodations, and what kinds of modifications are available and how they are administered.

The Education Department guidelines make clear that each teacher and provider must be informed of the need for testing changes and their responsibilities in implementing the recommendations in the student’s 504 plan or IEP. They further state that if a school fails to provide needed modifications, a student’s test score may be invalidated.

Parents can learn more about testing accommodations at the Education Department’s Office of Special Education.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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The Right To Vote For Individuals with Disabilities

March 21st, 2016

 

The last day to register to vote for the New York Presidential Primary Election (held on Tuesday, April 19) is March 25, 2016. With this date quickly approaching, many parents of adult children with special needs question whether their child will have the opportunity to vote when they turn 18. In the last election cycle, 15.6 million people with disabilities voted, according to a 2013 Research Alliance for Accessible Voting survey report.  Parents who pursue a guardianship on behalf of their child, may wonder if their child will still have the ability to vote if they move forward with a necessary guardianship to assist their child in making decisions, both medical and financial.  Key issues that arise regarding voting are competence, legal guardianship and voter assistance.  While a guardian has authority to protect the interests and rights of the person with the disability and to make decisions on his or her behalf, certain fundamental rights are not taken away from a person with a disability even though a legal guardian has been appointed, if that person is not deemed incompetent.

Littman KrooksN.Y. ELEC. LAW § 5-106(6) states that no person who has been adjudged incompetent may vote in New York. The key word here is incompetent.  New  York’s Article 17A guardianship law is silent as to declaring a person incompetent. Rather, they are determined as a person with a developmental or intellectual disability in need of a guardian. Moreover, Pursuant to N.Y. MENT. HYG. LAW § 33.01, receipt of services for mental disability shall not deprive persons of the right to register and vote if otherwise qualified. It’s important to note there is no legal test for registering and voting but the individual must understand the nature of voting and decisions to be made. Similarly, persons who are not adjudicated incapacitated, but rather consent to being in need of a guardian under New  York Article 81 guardianship law, may also engage in voting so long as they meet the other requirements mandated by the law.

Speak to your child or family member with a disability about their right to vote and be sure to assist in registering in time to allow that person to vote come election day. Deciding if a guardianship is appropriate for your loved one is a difficult process, and there many decisions to be made with respect to the rights of an individual, and how a guardianship will effect those rights, such as voting. The lawyers at Littman Krooks LLP will happily assist you in providing answers to difficult questions with respect to commencing a guardianship proceeding and determining a plan of action that best suits you and your loved one.

(The last day to register to vote for general election should be postmarked by October 14, 2016 and received by October 19, 2016; or handed in-person by October 14, 2016).

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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March Is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March 1st, 2016

Littman Krooks attorneys and advocates are proud to celebrate National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM) during March. This month-long celebration recognizes the community contributions that people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities – as well as their advocates – make every day.

Littman Krooks Special Education AdvocacyMuch progress has been made in our society’s treatment of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Parents are no longer pressured to send their children away to institutions, and more doors than ever before are open to people with disabilities.

People with developmental disabilities have proven to be reliable workers and excellent volunteers, capable of meeting or exceeding expectations and standards. Thanks to organizations like NYSARC, people with disabilities are leading richer, more fulfilling lives. But there are still challenges: as many as 60% of individuals with disabilities—7 million nationwide—remain unemployed.

You can help by hiring a person with a disability; inviting people with disabilities to participate in your civic organization or community activity; contacting your legislator and asking them to support citizens with disabilities in your community; giving time or money to an organization supporting people with disabilities; or even just teaching your children that all people have something to contribute.

 

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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When You Suspect Your Child May Have a Disability…

January 19th, 2016

By Felicia Lebewohl Rosen, Esq., Ed.M. (Edited by Marion M. Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP)

Take a deep breath … It can be emotionally difficult to accept and deal with the fact that your child has a disability. If you want your child with a disability to receive appropriate services to make his or her life (and yours) easier and more productive, you should acknowledge the possibility and consider seeking services.   First, you need a good diagnosis, to which interventions can be geared. This diagnosis can occur at any point during a child’s development, most commonly during infancy or early childhood. However, some parents only realize that their child has a disability in adolescence, when work and social demands become more difficult. If your doctor or psychologist makes a diagnosis, keep in mind that you need to share this information with your school district or preschool and determine whether your child is eligible for services.

The Law Protects Students with Disabilities and Requires Evaluations and Services

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (“IDEA”), protects children with disabilities ages birth to 21 or until a student graduates with a regular high school diploma. The IDEA requires each state and school district to identify and evaluate all children who need special education and/or related services. Related services include physical, occupational and speech and language therapy and more depending on need.

Early Intervention (EI) is a system of services, free of charge to parents, that help children with disabilities or at risk for a disability, ages birth – 3 years old, and their families. For a child to receive EI services pediatricians, other service providers and parents may refer a child for EI. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during regular well-child doctor visits at 9, 18 and 24 or 30 months and additional screening may be warranted if a child is at high risk.

Once your child is school age and you suspect a disability or receive a diagnosis, parents may contact their school district and request that their child be evaluated for eligibility for special education and related services. School districts are responsible to provide educational and related services, free of charge to parents, for children with disabilities ages 3 – 21 or until a student receives a high school diploma. The law requires that school districts receive informed consent from parents before the child is evaluated by the school district to determine if the child has a disability under the IDEA. The individual evaluation must include a variety of assessment tools and strategies. A school district must conduct the evaluation within 60 days from the date that the parent consents to testing. At a minimum, an evaluation must include: a psychological evaluation, a classroom evaluation, a social history, a physical examination and other appropriate assessments or evaluations.

An evaluation is intended to address the following three questions:

  1.  Does the child have a disability that requires special education and related services?
  2. What are the child’s specific needs? and
  3. What special education and related services are appropriate for addressing those needs?

If parents disagree with the school district’s evaluations, they have a right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) and request that the school system pay for the IEE. A diagnosis from a doctor or psychologist of a disability does not guarantee that a child will be eligible for special education or related services. The law requires that the disability impacts the child academically.

Littman Krooks Special NeedsIn New York, a Committee on Special Education (CSE) for students in grades K-12, and a Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) for students ages 3-5, are multi-disciplinary teams that include, at the very minimum, the parent, a general and special educator, a school psychologist or another professional who is qualified to interpret evaluations, and a district representative. The CSE and CPSE will convene to review the evaluations and determine if the child is a “student with a disability”, as defined by the IDEA. If the parents do not agree with the evaluation decision, they may ask for an impartial hearing to challenge the decision. Some neurological conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD/ADD) and a Learning Disabilities (LD) are often difficult to diagnose because there is no medical test, like a blood test or an MRI, to diagnose these disorders. Further, many other conditions have symptoms that are similar to those of ADHD/ADD and there is a great deal of comorbidity with other conditions. For example, anxiety can mask as ADHD.

At the CPSE and CSE meetings, if a child is deemed eligible, the team will draft an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a legal document which discusses the child’s strengths and areas of need. It specifies the special education and related services that the child will receive free of charge to the parents. If the parents disagree with the IEP or the placement recommended by the CSE, the parent may request a Due Process Hearing. In some cases, filing a complaint with the New York State Education Department may be appropriate. Parents may proceed pro se (without a lawyer) or be represented by counsel.

Personal Advice on Keeping it all in Perspective

If your child has a disability, try not to waste your emotional energy on self-blame. Disorders such as autism, ADHD, and emotional and learning disabilities can be disorders in certain regions in the brain. They are not caused by bad parenting, chaotic home environments, ineffective teachers, too much sugar in the child’s diet or the child himself. Your child is still the same child you had before the diagnosis. Love, play, engage, have fun, enjoy, hug and laugh with your child. If your child is an adolescent, give your child support along with the space he or she needs to grow at their own pace.

Take care of yourself or you will not be able to take care of your child. We are all familiar with the stewardess’ message on airplanes to put your oxygen mask on before you place one on your child. So take care of yourself so you can better take care of your child. Put on your oxygen mask by joining support groups, finding solace in supportive family and friends or religion, joining support groups, exercising and eating well and remembering to enjoy and laugh. It can be a long journey.

For more detailed information about disability laws, see www.nysed.gov/specialed.

 

Felicia Rosen is a legal intern with Littman Krooks LLP and is an attorney. She graduated from New England School of Law and Columbia University Teachers College. 

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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Every Student Succeeds Act Brings Incremental Shift and Changes

December 21st, 2015

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

By now, parents have heard the news.  On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaces the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (“NCLB”).  This represents a positive development for all students and gives states more flexibility in how to implement standardized assessments for children and continue to set high standards.    In truth, however, ESSA does not dramatically change the federal emphasis on standardized testing.

Littman Krooks Special Education AdvocacyNCLB revolutionized education.  At its best, NCLB highlighted achievement gaps that many school districts tried to mask for years.  It fought “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” which remains pervasive for minority students, English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.   At its worst, it created an inflexible and regimented system that required annual assessments each year and an unrealistic level of “adequate yearly progress” (AYP).  School and districts that could not make AYP had to implement corrective action plans.

The ESSA removes much of the teeth and corrective action behind NCLB, but the law essentially maintains the status quo, while strengthening important federal objectives. It’s important to note that the federal law still requires annual assessments for all students grades three to eight and one time in high school.

We have provided 10 basics that parents should know about ESSA and its changes and how they affect their children, particularly the most vulnerable children with disabilities. ESSA continues the strong alignment of NCLB with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act and continues to push for scientifically based services and more assistive technology for students with disabilities.   We will provide more in the future as regulatory guidance becomes available.

  1. ESSA Still Requires Yearly Standardized Assessments and Does Not Directly Address Opt-Outs

To emphasize, for elementary students the ESSA still requires annual standardized testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 (except states may except advanced math students from 8th grade assessments).    For high school students, the law requires the administration of math, reading and science assessments, at least once between grades 9-12.  The law also requires school districts to administer science assessments not less than one time between grades 3-5, one time between 6-9 and one time between grades 10-12.

With an emphasis that was not codified in NCLB, ESSA requires that states’ measures of student achievement include measures that involve “higher order thinking bigstock-Blackboard-3768193skills and understanding,” and clarifies that they may be partially delivered in the form of “portfolios, projects and extended performance tasks.” ESSA also contains new specific language, not included in NCLB, that State measures of student achievement must provide for appropriate accommodations such as  the ability to utilize assistive technology for children with disabilities.

Keep in mind that ESSA does give school districts the autonomy to develop their own measures of standardized assessments, which are different than the state-approved assessments, but they must obtain approval from the state.    Districts must notify parents if they utilize assessments that are not state approved.

ESSA aspires to foster parental engagement in the assessment process by requiring school districts to post comprehensive information on assessments.  ESSA allows states and school districts to set policies on opting out to the state and local districts.  States and School districts must provide policies and procedures on parental right to opt out of student participation in assessments.  However, the federal requirement for 95% participation in tests will remain.

  1. ESSA Does Not Eliminate the Common Core

Parents must also understand that ESSA does not affect whether states utilize the Common Core or administer Common Core-aligned assessments. NCLB never mandated the Common Core; it only required challenging academic achievement standards.    States led the effort to adopt the Common Core, based on research from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  However, because of Federal funding incentives in NCLB linked to challenging standards approved by the US Department of Education (USDOE), most states individually and voluntarily adopted the Common Core assessments. ESSA, based on recommendations from the States, continues to have flexibility in academic achievement standards.  The law prohibits the USDOE from forcing or encouraging states towards a particular set of standards or assessments.

  1. ESSA Continues Disaggregation of Data from Subgroups

NCLB revolutionized education by requiring states and school districts to shine a light on the achievement of vulnerable subgroups and to disaggregate performance data for students.  In the past, school districts only had to report on students as a whole and could mask achievement gaps between subgroups.    States and school districts must still disaggregate assessment data based on: each major racial and ethnic group, economically disadvantaged students, children with disabilities, English proficiency status, gender and migrant status.    However, ESSA aspires to an inclusive focus for all students, as Title I of ESSA changes the language of NCLB to “improving basic programs operating by state and local educational agencies,” rather than “improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged.”

  1. ESSA Removes Most Corrective Measures for Schools and Districts

NCLB mandated corrective measures for schools that did not make adequate yearly progress for all students or for students in any subgroup.     ESSA has removed most of these corrective measures, which included school choice and supplementary educational services.   School districts, however, may offer public school choice if schools are in need of support.  Yet the law still requires that states monitor progress of students and notify schools if students or subgroups of students are underperforming and provide targeted support to improve student outcomes.   The law also no longer allows states and school districts to lump subgroups together to show adequate yearly progress.   However, for lack of compliance with provisions, states or school districts could still face a loss of funding and a state takeover.

  1. ESSA Limits Alternate Assessments for Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities.

ESSA codified existing guidance from the USDOE on limiting the percentage of students who take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards.   The total number of students assessment in each subject using alternate assessments must not exceed 1% of the students in the State who are assessed in such subject.    Thus, for example, in a school district of 5,000 students, only 50 students should be tracked on alternate assessments.   The law requires that states and districts inform parents that their children will be taking alternate assessments and the consequences.   ESSA also requires that states must take steps to incorporate universal design for learning in alternate assessments.   The law further states that school districts may not prohibit students taking alternate assessments from attempting to complete the requirements for a full high school diploma.

  1. ESSA Requires States and School Districts to Foster Parent and Family Engagement

Littman Krooks special needsNCLB required States and Districts to develop parental involvement plans, but ESSA has changed the language on parental involvement to require plans for parent and family engagement.   The shift is subtle but represents recognition that school districts should conduct greater outreach and should not aim just to involve families but engage them in the process of improving their school districts as active participants.   ESSA encourages school districts to engage in meaningful consultation with community stakeholders, such as business leaders, employers and philanthropic organizations, to effectively engage parents.

  1. ESSA Emphasizes Preschool Education

The ESSA will allocate $250 million for preschool development grants for economically disadvantaged children, which will be funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDOE.    The law states that providing early education programs is an allowable use of funds and encourages planning for transition from pre-K programs to elementary schools.  The law states that states and school districts can use Title II dollars (funds to prepare, train, and recruit high-quality educators) for early educators.  Districts can use these funds, for example, to provide programs and activities to increase “the knowledge base of teachers and principals on instruction in the early grades, and strategies to measure whether young children are progressing.”

  1. ESSA Affirms Protection for Students who Are Homeless

The law amends the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  It requires review of any policy where compulsory residency requirements or other requirements may act as a barrier to the identification or enrollment of homeless children and youths in school and thus strengthens protections for students who are homeless.

  1. ESSA Confirms Privacy Protections

The law requires that each State and District provide an assurance that they understand the importance of following the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).  The law references FERPA in key provisions and emphasizes the need to keep testing and other data private.  It also encourages professional development to train school district staff on compliance with FERPA.

  1. Law Prohibits Aiding and Abetting Sexual Abuse 

In a tacit recognition of the problem of sexual abuse in schools, ESSA requires that states and school districts have laws and policies prohibiting any school employee from helping a sexual predator find a new job.  Specifically, the law prohibits a school employee, agent or contractor from assisting another school employee, agent or contractor find a new job, if there exists probably cause to believe that such school employee or contractor engaged in sexual misconduct in violation of the law, unless such individual has been exonerated or the matter officially closed.

In general, it remains essential for parents and school districts to advocate for change with their states and school districts.  ESSA provides for increased flexibility, but real change will occur at the state and local level.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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New York Parent Advocates for Ability to Appeal Regents Score

November 19th, 2015

By Sandi Rosenbaum, Educational Advocate, Littman Krooks LLP

Although special education students in New York can pass their Regents exams with lower scores than students without disabilities, they do not have the same ability to appeal if they fall short. One New York parent, whose son was one point away from passing a Regents test, is advocating for change.

Littman KrooksGenerally, students in New York who do not have disabilities must achieve a score of 65 or higher on five Regents exams in order to receive a diploma. However, such students can appeal up to two Regents exam scores as low as 62, provided they earn a passing course grade and demonstrate strong attendance. While a successful appeal does not change the Regents exam grade on the transcript, it does allow the school district to grant a diploma to students who have fallen short on the exam, but otherwise demonstrated mastery of the high school curriculum.

Students with disabilities benefit from the so-called “safety net” and must generally score 55 or higher to pass the Regents exams. On some exams, even a score as low as 45 may suffice if it is offset by another exam score of 65 or better, but this compensatory option does not apply to the Regents exams in English and Math. While the safety net provides meaningful relief to students with disabilities, those who approach, but do not achieve, a score of 55 on the English or Math Regents exams have no ability to appeal for a diploma as do students without disabilities who come within a similar margin of passing.

A Brooklyn resident and mother of an 18-year-old son with a learning disability, took action when her son was poised to come within one point of earning his diploma. He passed four Regents exams, earning scores as high as 79, but was unable to score higher than a 54 in algebra, even after taking the exam three times. She said that, as a high school diploma was essential for her son to be considered for many jobs that he would be capable of performing, she was determined that he would not be denied a diploma over one point on one exam at his anticipated graduation in June 2016.

New York officials responded to her concerns and said that the Board of Regents would vote on a rule in December to allow special education students to appeal for the right to a diploma if they achieve a score of at least 52. Officials said the change would not be a lowering of standards, but an inclusion of special needs students without diminishing their ability to achieve.

Practical Pointer: Students with disabilities may remain in school and continue to receive services until age 21 or until they earn a Regents or local diploma, whichever comes first. Parents must keep in mind that students may earn a Regents or local diploma and a Career Development and Occupational Services Credential, which attests to important work readiness skills and requires work experience. For many students with disabilities, graduating with a Regents or local diploma at 18 does not represent the best option and may deprive the student of the opportunity to develop needed work-readiness skills, as a school district’s mandate to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) ends when the diploma is earned. Thus, the decision to appeal must be considered carefully against the benefits the student may receive from potential additional year(s) of schooling while he or she pursues the score of 55.

It remains to be seen whether the opportunity for appeal will apply to both of the English and Math Regents exams simultaneously, or only for one or the other.

 

Learn more about our special needs planning and special education advocacy services at www.littmankrooks.com or www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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