Friday, August 16, 2019

Where to Find Information

We get lots of questions from families about how they can learn about topics relating to schools, special education, advocacy, and more. Sometimes, we are able to direct them to one of our blog posts (there is a search feature on the right hand side of each post that includes topics covered in our more than 1,000 posts). Other times, our administrative staff has the information at their very able fingertips, and can answer their question.

It's been a while since we shared a list of our favorite resources - websites and organizations that can provide important information that families need as they navigate their child's needs. Some are New York based, but others operate nationally. We've grouped them below by category and include our comments on what they provide. We hope you find them as helpful as we do.

Information on Schools

Great Schools is a national nonprofit that provides information about specific schools throughout the U.S. Parents can search by state or zip code and the data includes specific areas of academic performance as well as diversity and special education services. The site also provides other information for parents, but the school search feature is by far the most valuable tool. Families should use it as a starting point, not a decision-maker, but it can be very useful when exploring an area that is unfamiliar.

InsideSchools is a New York City resource that includes detailed reviews of specific schools as well as information about how to apply to schools in New York City. Also included is information on  things such as deadlines, districts, and decision dates. There are also helpful guides about topics including transferring schools within the City and special education. The quality of the information is excellent and we always recommend this site as the first stop for families looking into New York City public schools. 

Advocacy Resources


COPAA, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, is a membership organization for both parent and attorney advocates. Families who want to engage with their school system to obtain the best services and supports for their child can find information here about how to do this. As we noted in a post about COPAA back in 2011, "COPAA members communicate with one another through two separate listservs -- one for attorneys and one for parents and lay advocates. The listservs allow parents, advocates, and attorneys to seek guidance about specific issues that they are facing and to offer information about best and worst practices they have encountered in their local area. New court decisions impacting education are quickly shared, and COPAA maintains an archives with forms, court cases, and legal briefs that can be accessed by its members." A particularly useful feature for families offered by COPAA is "find an attorney" -- which does not require membership and which allows families to locate a special education attorney in their state or city.

Wrightslaw is a wide-ranging resource on special education. When we first wrote about this site in 2009, we noted, "Wrightslaw.com is a commercial site, written by Peter Wright, an attorney, and his wife, Pam, a clinical social worker. The site is cluttered with announcements about their workshops, books, and other products for sale, but there is real substance behind this site and it is a great place to find an article explaining how the legal end of the special education system works. If there is a new court case that impacts special education, you can be sure that Wrightslaw will have both the text of the case and a discussion of what it means before almost anyone else."

Advocates for Children of New York provides information and advocacy on behalf of children in New York City who are at greatest risk for school-based discrimination and/or academic failure due to poverty, disability, race, ethnicity, immigrant or English Language Learner status, sexual orientation, gender identity, homelessness, or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.They also have an education "hotline" to answer questions about New York City schools and services. [866-427-6033- Monday to Thursday- 10 am to 4 pm]. They offer guides on a number of topics, such as suspension and discipline, graduation requirements, and special education

General Information on Learning and Special Education


Understood is a consortium of 15 nonprofit organizations that have joined forces to support parents of children with learning and attention issues. Dr. Yellin is one of the experts who provide information for families via webcast "chats" and Understood also contains articles on a wide range of subjects, including academics and social-emotional issues.


Monday, August 5, 2019

Paying for IEEs - Revisited

Parents frequently ask us about having their school district pay for an independent educational evaluation - an IEE - such as those we provide here at The Yellin Center. We wrote about this subject at length in a post from November 2013, but it has become clear to us that it is time to share this discussion again. We have added some additional information, (see the boldface text below) and hope this post helps answer questions that you may have.


 
When Must School Districts Pay for Evaluations?
Parents sometimes ask us if they can have their school district pay for their child's evaluation at The Yellin Center. The simple answer is "maybe, under certain circumstances," and we thought it might be helpful to explain the laws and regulations that govern this area.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes that an evaluation of a student in all suspected areas of disability is a crucial first step to determining whether that student is eligible for IDEA services and what kind of services will help that student to succeed in school. In fact, the "clock begins to run" with respect to the time limits set forth in the IDEA only once the parent consents to an evaluation of the student. The law anticipates that the school will then conduct an evaluation of the child and share the results with the parents and the IEP team, the committee that creates the student's Individualized Education Program. 

In many situations, this works out well for all concerned. The school district conducts an evaluation at no cost to the family; the findings make sense to the parents; the findings are incorporated into the student's IEP; and nothing more needs to be done. 

However, sometimes families do not agree with the findings of the school district evaluators and feel there may be something more going on with their child. Sometimes parents have had a long history of difficulties with the school and simply do not trust them to do an evaluation. Some parents of children enrolled in a private school do not want to have to work with the local public school district (especially in New York City). And, quite often, parents want the kind of in-depth, multi-disciplinary evaluation done here at The Yellin Center, rather than a more "cookie-cutter" series of tests given by their school's evaluators. In each of these situations, the parents seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) such as the ones we conduct here at The Yellin Center.

Before we look at specific rules and scenarios, we need to emphasize one important point. Parents have the absolute right to have their child independently evaluated and federal law requires that the public school district must consider the results of such evaluation. Dr. Yellin and his team frequently attend IEP meetings (via phone or other technology) to discuss the results of our evaluations and have been universally well-received by schools. However, the law does not require that districts follow the recommendations of our reports (or any outside evaluator).

So, when can a parent have a district pay for an IEE? 

  1. The parent must disagree with the evaluation conducted by the district or consider it inadequate and notify the district of their intention to obtain an IEE.
  2. The district must then either file for a due process hearing with a State Hearing Officer or agree to pay for the IEE.
  3. The district can set criteria for the IEE's they will fund -- how much they cost, the geographic location of the evaluator(s), and the specific qualifications of the evaluator(s). However, the U.S. Department of Education notes that, "the district must allow parents the opportunity to demonstrate that unique circumstances justify an IEE that does not fall within the district's criteria. If an IEE that falls outside the district's criteria is justified by the child's unique circumstances, that IEE must be publicly funded." So, even if your district tells you that you are restricted to using the private evaluators on a list they provide, that is not strictly correct and you can and should push back to obtain the services of the evaluator you choose. 
  4. An IEE can also be ordered by a State Hearing Officer as part of a due process hearing when aspects of an IEP are in dispute. 

We also encounter situations where a district paid evaluation at The Yellin Center is part of an ongoing discussion between a family and a school district, especially when the district has not been successful in addressing a child's educational needs. And families need to keep in mind that The Yellin Center has always had a sliding scale for families who need assistance in paying for our services. 

There are countless resources available to explain this process to parents and school administrators, but some you might find useful are:
One subject not addressed in our original post on this topic is the rights of parents when a district refuses to evaluate, either because they do not believe that the child has a disability, or without even providing a reason. The IDEA only addresses the situation where a family disagrees with an evaluation that has been already conducted. To the frustration of many families, if the school district declines to evaluate a student, the only remedy of the family is to file a complaint with a State Hearing Officer to challenge this decision. In addition, as noted above, parents always have the right to go ahead on their own to seek an IEE. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Legal and Medical Checklist for College



A family member recently reached out for help; her 18-year-old daughter is leaving for college at the end of August and she wanted to know if there were any documents she should have her daughter sign that would make both day-to-day and emergency situations easier for them both. In addition, the family lives in one state and the college is located in another. She wasn't sure if that made any difference. I've always know that this mom was a smart woman, and her excellent questions and concerns just confirmed that. This is what I advised:

HIPAA
The federal law governing privacy of medical records applies in all states and would mean that the medical records of this college freshman would not be accessible to her parents. In addition, the student's doctors could not discuss her medical condition with her parents, even in an emergency. I suggested that the parents speak to the young woman and that they should discuss the benefits (and privacy concerns) of having her execute a general HIPAA Release Form allowing her doctors to speak with her parents. In addition, many student health services have their own forms and, if the student agrees, she should execute that form as well.

FERPA
While we are on the subject of federal laws, FERPA, which protects the privacy of student records, gives students over 18 and those in college the sole right to their educational records. As we noted in a post back in 2010  (it's sometimes hard to believe we have been blogging for ten years and have posted almost 1100 blog posts!) FERPA has numerous exceptions, but we advised that our family member should have her daughter execute a FERPA release form (often available at the office that generates student grades/records) to allow her parents to access her educational records. In addition, students who are registered with their campus Office of Disability Services should check to see if there is a separate form that is used by that office.

HEALTH CARE PROXY 
This form, which can have different names in different jurisdictions, would allow the student's parents (or anyone else she designates) to make medical decisions when she is not able to do so. This is different than just medical information (covered by the HIPAA release) but is used for such serious situations as where someone is unconscious or so ill or injured that issues of life support come into play. I urged that the parents and student have a serous conversation about this form and that all involved understand its purpose and the wishes of the student executing it. Sometimes, this form is prepared in connection with a document called a Living Will, which is a written expression of how the party executing it feels about issues like artificial respiration and tube feeding. Note that this latter document is advisory, while the Health Care Proxy is a binding authority. Different states have different forms for this document, so I suggested to my relative that she search online for forms from reputable sources in each relevant state and make sure that the form they use covers the requirements for both state of residence and the state where the college is located. In general, these forms need to be witnessed. A form from the New York State Department of Health, fillable  and with a lengthy Q and A section, is available online.

This forms above will be sufficient for most situations, but some families also may choose to have their student execute a Durable Power of Attorney, a form that allows the person who signs it (here, the student) to give someone authority during the signer's lifetime to handle financial, business, banking, and other matters. The form can be useful if the student has assets or an interest in property. Different states use different forms and these forms can be a bit confusing to create. You may want to speak to an attorney if your family circumstances warrant creating this document. Likewise, most students this age neither need nor have a Last Will and Testament, but special situations may make this document important and now would be a good time to have one prepared by an attorney.

With all the paperwork completed, students and their families can concentrate on much more enjoyable issues, like decorating their dorm room, meeting new roommates, and hitting the college store for their stock of mugs, banners, and t-shirts. Here's to a great start to college!


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Getting Back to Work and School

While it is still July and summer has weeks more to run, in many parts of the country, school begins by mid to late August. Your blogger has just returned from a couple of weeks of castles, cobblestones, and cake and, like many other adults going back to work after vacation, returning to the office took some determination.


For kids of all ages, returning to school after summer vacation requires some adjustment. By beginning a few weeks before the first day of school, parents can help smooth the transition from vacation mode to the early rising and more structured days once school starts. There are important ways to make the first day back to school less stressful for everyone.
  • Clearing Out Last Year's Backpack
Way too often, kids toss their backpack in the corner of their rooms as they come home from the last day of school, often leaving them untouched all summer. If you haven't done so yet, now is a good time to work with your child to locate and unpack this bag. Much of the contents can be tossed -- into the trash or the washer -- but there may be important papers that should be retained as well as information about summer assignments that will be due in the fall. And you may want to check out this guide from our colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics to selecting a new backpack.
  •  Summer Assignments
Most children have some kind of assignment to complete over the summer: a list of books to read, perhaps a book report to prepare, or even a longer report to hand in when school begins. The due date for these assignments seems far away in June, but leaving them to the days before school begins inevitably results in crisis mode. By locating these assignments (see the first item above) and getting started on them reasonably in advance, they can be completed slowly and carefully over the course of several weeks and families can avoid havoc the night before classes begin.

  • Sleep
We've written before on the importance of easing into a school-year sleep schedule and how it needs to be done gradually. This is especially important when students have had few, if any, limits on their schedule during the summer months or when they are moving to a new school where their start time will be significantly earlier than it has been in past years. Teens, in particular, need far more sleep than most regularly get, and lack of sleep can have an impact on school performance.

  • For Children with IEPs
Parents of children with IEPs or 504 Plans should take time over the summer to review these documents, making sure that they (and their older children) know what services, modifications, and accommodations they provide. Sometimes, these can fall by the wayside with new teachers or new schools. It's reasonable to give schools a week or two to put services in place, but not much longer. As we have written before, if your summer includes a move to a new school, school district, or even a new state, you should be aware of your rights with respect to your child's IEP. 

  • Time to Get Comfortable
Summer is also the time to make sure your child is familiar with the route to school, or the bus stop. If he or she will be attending a new school, they may have had a tour before the last school year ended. If not, try to visit the school at least a few days before it opens. Going to a new place can be scary for anyone, especially children. The more comfortable they are with the school and the routine, the easier things will be when classes begin. 

Keep in mind, that there still are a number of weeks of summer fun ahead, and these tips aren't meant to cut them short. But, by doing some planning while summer is still in full swing, the end of the season will be a bit easier for children and parents alike.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Summer Subjects

We've noted before that the questions that families ask us tend to come in bunches. Many of them are seasonal, and lately we have been asked lots of questions that relate to changes that families may make over the summer and to summer activities. We thought these might be of general interest, so are sharing them with our readers.

Moving
For many families, summer is the ideal time to move. There will be less disruption in school and by the time the new school year begins, everyone will be unpacked and ready to roll. But what about families where children have IEPs? These have been worked out with the student's current school. But how does a child get an IEP by the time classes start in her new school?

Fortunately, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out very specific rules for all kinds of moves -- to a new school within the same district, to a new district, or even to a different state. You can read one of our prior blogs- What Happens to My Child's IEP When We Move? to learn the details that may apply to your family. 

College Road Trip
Back in 2010, we wrote about a summer activity for many families whose children are approaching college age -- the College Road Trip. Take a look at our timeless suggestions for ways to get the most out of your travels to college campuses. And remember, even if your trip isn't focused on visiting colleges, any road trip can include a stop at a local campus, even if it is not somewhere your student plans to apply. Seeing a variety of campuses helps give context to what different schools look and feel like. 

Summer Vacation
We also have suggestions for Making the Most of Summer Vacation, tips like how to get ready for a new school, ways to keep skills fresh, and how to handle summer assignments. [Hint: don't wait for the last minute!]

Summer Skills Building
We've also got tips for ways to use the summer break to build vocabulary skills, phonics, and to improve math skills with a tool called Dreambox. 

Sun Safety
Finally, we have suggestions on keeping kids safe in the summer sun. It's not always easy to get children to use sunscreen or to cover up, but the evidence is overwhelming about the dangers of too much sun exposure over time. 

So, enjoy your summer, which is flying along way too quickly!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Changes Coming to NYC School Discipline

One of our favorite quotes from a NYC public high school administrator is that "Kids do dumb stuff." To be fully honest, he didn't say "stuff", but we assume our readers can make the substitution.

He uses this statement to describe the kinds of things that students do that can get them into trouble: fighting, smoking, wearing disruptive clothing, cutting class or unexcused absences, setting off alarms, misusing school property, gambling, and even "engaging in verbally rude or disrespectful behavior", something that teens can do with regularity. These are behaviors that school personnel are trained to deal with and often do so very effectively. However, since 1998, overall responsibility for school safety has been in the hands of the NYPD, primarily through its School Safety Division. These officers are in charge of security, such as building access, and can also get involved in incidents of student misbehavior either because they witness them or because school administrators seek their involvement. It is important to note that School Safety Officers receive special training in dealing with students and generally are familiar with a particular school and its students.

A major issue with having the NYPD in charge of school discipline is that it perpetuates the “school-to-prison pipeline,” described by the American Civil Liberties Union as "a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems." In recent years, arrests by School Safety Officers have declined. As noted in a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) looking at the 20017-18 school year,  School Safety Officers"were responsible for less than 20% of arrests and just 5% of summonses." The report stressed, however, that regular NYPD officers "who are not members of the School Safety Division continue to arrest kids with near total discretion" and that "369 arrests in schools (32% of the total) were for alleged incidents that occurred off school grounds and had no relationship to the school, indicating that the NYPD is using schools as a place to locate and arrest young people."

There is also substantial racial disparity in the students who are arrested and in the use of handcuffs, even when an incident doesn't ultimately result in an arrest. These are laid out clearly in the charts in the NYCLU report. 

All of this serves as background to a new agreement which will go into effect when schools open in the fall. This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the NYC Department of Education, the NYPD, and the City of New York is designed for "keeping schools safe places of learning; ensuring that discipline is administered fairly; eliminating disparities and inconsistencies in the punishment of students, and eliminating the use of summons and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety."

Among the changes in policy and practice set forth in the MOU are:

  • Police officers should not arrest or issue summons to students "whenever possible" for "low level" offenses such as disorderly conduct, graffiti, or possession of marijuana. 
  • School staff are not to involve either the School Safety Officers or the NYPD when students commit infractions such as clothing violations, cutting class, lateness, smoking, lying, or gambling (unless they can't be handled safely).
  • Both School Safety Officers and the NYPD, to the full extent practicable, in instances not requiring immediate arrest or other immediate action, shall consult with the principal of a school  prior to placing a student under arrest, or issuing to such student any form of criminal process on school grounds. Further, in the course of any such consultation, officers shall take into account any information provided by the principal.
  • Limits will be placed on use of handcuffs.
  • Both School Safety Officers and NYPD officers will receive additional training in areas relevant to dealing with students.
Although not included in the MOU, NYC will be hiring 85 new social workers for schools. In addition, schools will be using restorative justice practices that emphasize defusing conflict over suspensions in all middle and high schools starting in the next school year. Finally,  Mayor DiBlasio has also proposed that out of school suspensions be reduced to a maximum of 20 days from 180 days. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

KIDS + TRUCKS = FUN

When your blogger was the parent of young children, any large vehicle was a source of excitement. Bulldozers, fire engines, tow trucks, and cement mixers were fascinating to my kids and I went out of my way to point them out when they came past or parked near our home. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to re-live that experience when I attended the District of Columbia's 11th Annual City-Wide Truck Touch Event.


The morning-long event featured approximately 30 municipal vehicles used to clean and repair streets, change traffic lights, collect refuse, clear snow, provide emergency services, administer mobile health care, and more. Children (and the young at heart) were welcome to climb on all the vehicles, which sat in the large parking lot surrounding the old R.F.K. sports stadium. Doors were wide open and welcoming and uniformed D.C. employees were present in abundance. Horns, sirens, and all buttons were available for pushing, and the noise could get deafening -- but no grown-ups had a discouraging word. Questions were answered:  What was the biggest vehicle towed by a huge tow truck? A fully loaded cement mixer that had overturned on the highway -- and  explanations about the work of the truck operators and emergency workers were enthusiastically answered.

But this event wasn't just for fun. Grownups had a chance to register to vote, to enter the elementary school lottery, to learn about the municipal water supply, and other important activities. There was free water and shaved ice for all and free lunches for all children. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning, for folks to bond with their neighbors, and for children of all ages to get to know and become comfortable with the public employees -- firemen, police officers, sanitation crews, bus drivers and more -- who work in their neighborhoods. If your town hasn't yet tried this event, it might be worth looking into!